Gray Whale Cove State Beach is a sheltered beach nestled in the cliffs of Devil’s Slide. It’s amazing that such a rugged beach exists so close to the concrete streets of San Francisco. The slopes of Montara Mountain rise abruptly from the ocean creating a very impressive backdrop. A steep road and then a very long flight of stairs leads down to the relatively small and skinny beach. The north end of the beach is widely recognized as “clothing optional” so beware if that is not your sort of thing. The parking area for the beach also serves as a trailhead for McNee Ranch State Park (part of Montara Beach) where paths and fireroads climb steeply up to 1,898 foot Montara Mountain with additional access to San Pedro Valley County Park.
Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park is known for the iconic McWay Falls, which is the epitome of Big Sur promotional travel material. A short path leads to this extremely photogenic waterfall that is walked by nearly every traveler through Big Sur. This attraction is heaven for tripods and large SLRs! Here is a photo of my favorite shot of the post-sunset glow and some shots I took on a drive in the morning.
We enjoyed the spectacularly rugged coastline of Garrapata State Park at Garrapata Beach and on the trails around Soberanes Point. Garrapata Beach is a gorgeous beach with solitary rocks protruding from the fine sands. We ate lunch on a rock and watched collosal waves thunder ashore. Soberanes Point is incredibly scenic with an intricately carved coastline that is very photogenic. I could spend hours exploring the rock formations here.
Cowell Ranch Beach is a little known beach just south of Half Moon Bay. The beach was purchased by the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) in the 1980′s and is now part of the State Park system. Reaching the beach entails a half mile walk through a farm easement to reach the bluff and then a staircase descent to the beach. Thus, there is much less visitation compared with many of the other beaches along the San Mateo coast where parking is available right next to the beach. One interesting facet of Cowell Ranch Beach is the consistency of the sand, which is course and more like tiny rock granules – not good for sand castle building. We enjoyed the unusually warm and clear weather for January by spending the afternoon on this beach watching the waves breaking and taking in the clean ocean air. We also had some hot, fresh-baked artichoke garlic herb bread from Arcangeli Bakery in Pescadero. We found out why this bestselling bread is so famous as we devoured an entire loaf between the two of us :)
Mendocino is a gorgeous area of the northern California coast. We visited six parks with incredible variety from giant redwoods to lush fern canyons to rugged coastline. Here is a list of the series of blog postings from the trip:
- Hendy Woods State Park
- Van Damme State Park
- Mendocino Headlands State Park
- Russian Gulch State Park
- Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park
- Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve
Below are a few more photos from the trip, including the Blackberry Inn and the Orr Springs Road.
The sixth park we visited was Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve in the heart of the coast range. It’s located about one hour from Mendocino on windy roads, or alternatively, the reserve can be reached by the equally windy Orr Springs Road from Ukiah in 13 miles. We decied to see this reserve and then continue on to Ukiah and highway 101 for a one-way trip. This is the best way to access this reserve and you get the added bonus of seeing the scenic views and meadows along the Orr Springs Road, which follows a high ridge. Either way, this is a long way to travel for a redwood grove, but for the true redwood aficionado this place is heaven. According to Redwood Hikes author David Baselt, Montgomery Woods is “one of the most scenic redwood groves in existence.” The sheltered and narrow alluvial flat with giant redwood “pillars” feels like a cathedral. Redwood sorrel and ferns cover the ground providing an especially lush setting.
This is a historic year to visit Montgomery Woods: the June 21st lightning fires burned surrounding hillsides and moved into the grove. Fortunately, the fire moved slowly and the redwood grove is still almost entirely intact. The evidence of the fire is most visible on the south slopes while the northern side was not impacted. However, exactly six months after the fire, even the burned areas are already beginning to recuperate. Fresh fern and redwood sorrel sprouts were bursting through the charred earth. We even spotted new redwood sapplings. This is further confirmation that periodic fires are beneficial to the forest ecosystem and it was amazing to see the regenerative properties of a slow-moving natural fire in action. The entire 2 mile walk is now open as areas of downed logs have been cleared.
The fifth park we visited was the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park. We parked near the visitor center and took the half mile walk down through meadows and wind-shaped vegetation to the lighthouse located on a protrusion of the coastal terrace into the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse was built in 1909 and has provided light to countless ships navigating the treacherous (often foggy) waters off the coast. The lighthouse and accompanying buildings have since been rehabilitated providing a great opportunity to see a historic site as it was a hundred years ago. View complete web album.
The fourth park we visited was Russian Gulch State Park for a Saturday morning run. We took the Fern Canyon Trail and then the Waterfall Loop Trail to a beautiful 36 foot tall waterfall in a very lush setting. We then continued to the North Boundary Trail where we saw an area of famous pygmy pine forest where mature, full size trees only reach six feet tall! Total mileage was about 6.5 miles. Be sure to check out the complete web album.
Later on that day we visited the headlands portion of Russian Gulch to see the Blow Hole and the iconic Fredrick W. Panhorst bridge.
The third park we visited on our trip to Mendocino was the Mendocino Headlands State Park. I was amazed by the beauty of the this park – the intricate and rugged rock formations chiseled by the powerful Pacific Ocean are a gorgeous site to see. We were expecting it to be cold (and we heard it was very cold the day before), but were treated to light winds, clear skies, fresh air, and perfect afternoon light for photography. We spent a couple hours exploring the paths of the headlands in the late afternoon soaking in the sun and the views. View complete web album.
The second park we visited on the trip to Mendocino was Van Damme State Park, located a couple miles south of Mendocino on Highway 1. We did a run up the Fern Trail along Little River. The trail is aptly named as a carpet of ferns covers under thick stands of second growth redwoods and mossy maples covers the canyon. The lushness reminded me of the forests in Western Washington. The pathway is wide for the first 2.5 miles and features eight beautifully constructed bridges spanning Little River. Then, it turns to single track as you continue up the canyon. The Fern Trail is always within earshot of Little River and much of the way it travels right along the stream with numerous cascades and small waterfalls.