If the cozy views of Carmel-by-the-Sea get too saccharine for your taste, head four miles south to witness “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world,” Point Lobos State Reserve, 554 acres of cliffs, meadows, and forest trails and over 700 acres submerged undersea (a scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking haven, I learned too late).
The quote belongs to Francis McComas, a transplant from Tasmania, who landed in California as a merchant seaman and found success as a landscape painter–the man spoke from experience.
McComas was not the only artistic spirit moved by the place. According to local legend, Robert Louis Stevenson imagined his Treasure Island along these very cliffs, and Robinson Jeffers, California’s great poet, was inspired by the scenery. Jeffers settled in Carmel, built his house from local granite, and named it “Tor” (this looks like a fascinating place to visit). Point Lobos is prominent in “Jeffers Country,” and there is an online field guide to the Reserve, tracing the “geologic features that represent the bedrock to Tor House and Jeffers poetry.” It suggests specific Jeffers poems as an accompaniment to the park’s most prominent landmarks and formations. I will have to read up next time I come.
Poetry aside, even on a monotonous grey day, the views were stunning: the cliffs, the trees, tortured by winds and the salty air (don’t miss the Cypress Grove Trail, one of only two wild Monterey cypress groves remaining in the world and the reason for this Reserve’s formation), the waves, and the great sky overhead–yes, drama was in the air.
Wildlife in Point Lobos is abundant. Spanish sailors named this land Punta de los Lobos Marinos, the Point of Sea Wolves, after the haunting barks of the California sea lions, still seen (and heard) on cliffs along the Sea Lion Point and Sand Hill Trail. Harbor seals, southern sea otters, and whales are a regular presence. We just missed two of the year’s highlights: seal pups being born along the shoreline rocks and gray whale mothers migrating close to shore with their calves in April and May (the Cypress Grove Trail, we were told, is the best spot for whale watching, December to May–bring binoculars).
Year-round, birds are everywhere. We saw western gulls glide majestically overhead, black-crowned night herons perch on boulders (in spring, watch for fledglings on Pelican Point), great blue herons inspect gnarled pines (March to June, they nest in pines along Coal Chute Point), black oystercatchers wade in low tide, and garrulous colonies of Brandt’s cormorants claim Bird Island. In mid-June, brown pelicans return for the season, alone a reason to visit again and again.
I’d like to spend a day or several along the Reserve’s trails, breathing in the ocean air, listening to the calls of birds and mammals, watching the fog coat the hills and the trees–then lift.
We lingered for as long as we could, but the hazy, moody morning flew by, and our afternoon plans called us 90 miles north toward San Jose and what turned out to be another memorable visit, the University of California’s Lick Observatory.