Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Sonoma Coast

The Sonoma Coast, California. Copyright (c) 2011 Wendee Holtcamp

On Thursday, we left San Francisco and drove to Sonoma Coast State Beach, which I'd preselected and reserved based on recommendations online from Yelp and other review sites. A lot of campsites near the Bay Area were already sold out two months ago when I made the reservations! I found this one, which still had sites available, and it had positive reviews. The state park/state beach has two campgrounds - Wright's Beach which has no showers and Bodega Dunes which has regular toilets and showers so I picked that one, naturally. :) Paige stayed in San Fran a little longer than we did because she wanted to take her kids to see the Gertrude Stein exhibit at the MOMA and I took my kids on a slower drive up the coast via Highway 1 which winds through Marin County and up to Sonoma County. Me and the kids visited the southern part of Marin County when we went to see my best friend Daline at Green Gulch Zen Center in 2007 and we also went to Muir Woods, Muir Beach and then Yosemite (See photos from the Bay Area and my kids crack me up!). I love Marin County! And Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors of all time, lives there. But I was excited to go further north and see what was there. It turned out that the windy Highway 1 coastal route was a bit longer and the state park was generally further north than I originally realized, but it was 'all good' as the kids and I arrived at the campground within minutes of Paige and her kids despite them taking the fast route after the MOMA and stopping to get groceries for camping! Serendipity!

As we drove, Sam kept seeing some flower that "looked like a tulip, only different" and yet he'd see it and we didn't have time to stop. Sam likes plants and gardening so he notices stuff like that. Savannah, not so much. So at one point he saw one at a place we could stop and I got out and shot some pictures. And then I noticed a couple of hummingbirds flitting around, sipping nectar from the flowers. Very cool! I don't know the species - does anyone recognize it? Maybe a ruby-throated hummingbird? They had a brilliant reddish-orange neck but the photos I shot didn't capture that color, unfortunately (UPDATE - a friend identified the species as Anna's Hummingbird - a new one for me!). There is a lot of agriculture and farming in the Sonoma Valley and in Marin too- obviously vineyards but also I saw a lot of tomato trucks driving through, and citrus groves. We also saw cattle grazing and I would remark to my kids, "Look! Wild Cows of California!" which really made Sam mad for some reason - "Mommmmm!!! They are NOT wild cows!" LOL!

Our next stop was the town of Bolinas, which is a bit off the path from the main Highway but we were hungry and I used my Droid Yelp App to find a good place to eat, and it recommended the Coast Cafe in Bolinas and I gave the kids a choice to go there or keep going a bit and visit the tule elk in Point Reyes National Seashore. They picked Bolinas. I had been through this whole Marin County area with my ex-husband and the kids back in 1996 or 1997 when he was talking at some conference. We brought Savannah and we stayed at some B&B and I got the flu and remember that she called the B&B the Flower House because it was surrounded by flowers! Wish I remembered where it was exactly. At any rate, on the way to the town, we pass by Bolinas Lagoon where I remembered there were harbor seals and sure enough, there they were! It was right across from the Audubon Canyon Ranch Preserve that I wrote about for Animals Magazine in the profile of an octogenarian mom turned bird researcher Watcher of the Herons - back in 1997 after we visited. I didn't have time to stop by the preserve again unfortunately! But we did see the cute harbor seals!!A closer view. I could watch wildlife for hours! I love how they look like they're smiling in some photos. We got to the Coast Cafe starving and Sam and I split the local halibut fish & chips and it was sooooo good. It was flaky and mild and the battering reminded me of the way they do it in Australia. I got the coleslaw rather than "chips" (aka fries) and a bowl of lentil soup. The prices were a bit high but the place has local, organic food so it was worth it I guess. :)Savannah looking cute in her new hat she got in Chinatown! I can't remember what she ordered...
I thought this sign was funny!Just outside, they had a sunflower with a ginormous flower head! Sam thought it was cool. This altar was right next door to the cafe. Then we headed on!Finally we made it to the campground like I said within minutes of one another, and selected our campsite after driving around and checking them all out. We got one that had enough space for our two tents, bought some firewood for the next couple nights, and set up camp. This is the boys being boys! It was an almost full or full moon! Not a great photo (phone pic) but still gives you the general idea! Savannah climbed pretty high in a tree! We made a campfire both nights of course, and made S'mores. Paige & I shared a bottle of wine we'd bought in San Francisco and I got giggly and had S'mores ALL over my face and hands and the kids thought I was "drunk" because I was being so silly and though yes I had a bit of a buzz I certainly wasn't "drunk"! But it was pretty funny playing it up and I was cracking up. The kids had some sparklers from Chinatown. The next morning we drove north to Goat Rock Beach which is the northernmost part of the state beach. We parked and walked out onto the dunes, which had dark-colored sand. It was foggy in the morning and cool, and it gave the area a mystical feel. This is apparently one of the most dangerous beaches in California!This sign was on the outhouse/toilet. I'd read about all this in the website and brochure and sure didn't want my kids walking along the beach close to the water... However if you go to a slightly different area it is not as dangerous. A path through the dunes.Another shot of the dune vegetation in the morning fog. A shot of the ocean and beach.The water was actually very blue and the sand was very dark. I find the ocean completely mesmerizing. Sam and Wylder found a big piece of driftwood to climb on.Paige strolling down the beach with the rocky coastline in the background! She did so much to make our camping trip wonderful including bringing air mattresses for everyone, two tents (one for us girls and one for the boys) and planning two days worth of meals with very yummy and delicious food she picked up in Petaluma on the way up. Thanks Paige - you are awesome!!Sam took this pic of us all on the beach (minus him).
Sam and Savi on the beach. Wylder dragged a big stick along the beach...
And after a pretty decent walk, we got to what I was looking forward to - California's largest harbor seal rookery! It's right where the Russian River flows in so I was told by the park ranger that they eat salmon there.I wonder why they are all different colors. Some are clearly smaller and young uns, but others are larger and dark, light, brown and in between. LOVE the little brown and white one on the right. So cute!Like I said, I could watch wildlife for hours... We walked out onto this jetty and one time got splashed by a big wave but mostly we watched the seals, and they watched us. I had a telephoto lens so without it you couldn't see in this detail, but in several of my shots you could see they would lift their head up to look at us.A couple swam right over to us to "people watch"! We walked over to this other little area and I saw a flock of terns. My ex used to call these monkeybirds because when we would kayak in Lake Houston we would see them and they would squawk like monkeys. And so the name stuck. I'm not sure what species this is. A closer view. I think I scared them...After exploring that for a while, we stopped briefly at Blind Beach which is actually where the Danger sign was and so I didn't want to stay at that location long! This is a view of Arched Rock offshore from there.Next we drove down to Shell Beach where we spent most of the rest of the afternoon, letting the kids climb over all the rocks, look for crabs, anemones, and other critters in the tidepools between the rocky crevices. The tide was going out but it was not a negative tide where you could actually really see stuff (like I saw on the Oregon Coast recently!). The negative tide in August was, around 450am! This is a view from the top of the trail. There's a steep staircase leading down.A tree at the top of the trail in the fog.Amazingly enough the sky started to clear around mid-afternoon.Some of the rocky formations.Paige noticed all the different kinds of seaweeds that were on this beach. What diversity!
The boys first found a tiny orange crab. Then a bigger purple one. This is a male. You can tell because of his large pincers.
Sam is having fun exploring the rocky beach! Wylder's got crabs! Err, crab! Just teasing Wylder! :) Try as she may, Savi just looks bored. She just isn't as into nature as the rest of us!
A shot of the beach/coastline. Sitting out on the rocks, soaking up the sunshine after it came out! "Please give me some of that yummy crust from your PB&J sandwiches." After a long while, we discovered a young seal chillin' on a rock offshore.
After a little while, I was getting antsy and wanted to explore more of the stops along the way back south towards our campground. The state beach is 19 miles long and has two larger chunks, one at the south (Bodega Dunes) and one at the north end (near Goat Rock) and a long, narrow bit in between with several access points. I wanted to see them all! So Paige stayed behind with the boys since they were intent on smashing one rock into another rock in hopes of moving it - gooood luck on that... it was massive. So Savannah and I drove up the coast a bit and stopped at nearly every single stopping point along the way, including one that had a field of these beautiful succulent plants. I thought I took more photos but most of them didn't turn out so this will have to do! It was a beautiful coastline and park and a magnificent adventure!

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