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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Moors Of California


Point Reyes National Seashore is a photographer’s paradise. A local expert on the area shows us the hot spots.




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Point Reyes Beach and the Pacific Ocean at sunset, near the lighthouse.
I can’t recall the first time I visited Point Reyes, possibly as a young boy growing up in the Bay area, but when I began to teach photographic workshops here in the late ’90s, I knew it was a special place. It’s hard to take a terrible picture in Point Reyes, but not all that easy to get a really great one. Factors in the landscape and local climate create a quandary photographers find difficult to deal with, yet through patience and a keen eye, you can compose magnificent coastal landscapes, spend a day in and amongst beds of wildflowers or document elephant seal pups resting on a beach, fattening up during the first months of their lives. Many summer afternoons, banana belt fog sticks to this coastal area, obscuring scenic vistas, yet switch your mind-set to adapt to the weather, and you can create mysterious images of forests or macros of dew on spider webs, utilizing the soft ambient light. The beauty of Point Reyes may be evident at first glance, but to come away with a quality photograph forces you to go on the hunt and battle the elements. As Ansel Adams once said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

Over the past 10 years, I’ve led workshops through the Point Reyes National Seashore Association, a nonprofit partner to the park offering photo workshops, summer camps and bird-watching seminars. As I take groups of photo enthusiasts into the field, some are discouraged by the weather. But it’s possible to get solid images if you learn to take advantage of what seems to be a disadvantage. If you can’t freeze movement, play with slow shutter speeds for flower abstracts or long exposures of incoming surf. Play and wander, and you may happen upon a newly born fawn hiding in tall grass, a great-horned owl feeding fledglings or an elk appearing out of the pea-soup fog, scenes I documented over the past year.

Over two decades revisiting Point Reyes, I’ve come to love a number of spots; here are a few, with brief descriptions of what you may encounter there.

Bear Valley. Drop by the quaint, yet quite large Bear Valley visitor center to plan your journey through the park. Many hiking trails begin near the barn-like park headquarters situated along the eastern base of Inverness Ridge. Situated a bit inland, Bear Valley is usually sunny and warmer than most spots in the park.

Chimney Rock. Goldfields bloom low to the ground covering sections of this headland overlooking the Pacific. Strong winds blast the exposed rocky peninsula, yet the extreme conditions don’t deter the delicate flowers from blanketing the hillsides in spring. California poppies, coastal lupine, calla lilies and Douglas iris are among the varieties of native and nonnative wildflowers. Sea lions huddle on its sandy beaches as winter storms roll overhead. The historic lifeboat station (a rustic landmark and home to a few of my weekend workshops) sits below the bluffs on the eastern side with commanding views of Drakes Bay, an old rescue station for boats run aground, and the lighthouse Muybridge recorded lies on the western side of Chimney Rock.

Drakes Beach. Named after the English Vice Admiral Sir Francis Drake and backed by dramatic white sandstone cliffs and an eight-mile-long crescent beach, Drakes Beach is a great location to photograph. Considered by some to be near Drake’s landing place during his circumnavigation of the world by sea in 1579, the area is popular for elephant seal rookeries and long walks. I enjoy hiking up the western bluff to the Peter Behr Overlook—the panoramic views give you the vantage point to see the curve of Drakes Bay, as well as the moor-like cliffs to the east and west.

Resources
Point Reyes National Seashore
(415) 464-5100
www.nps.gov/pore

Point Reyes National Seashore Association
(415) 663-1200
www.ptreyes.org
Abbotts Lagoon. A small pullout along Pierce Point Road connects you to a flat trail leading to Abbotts Lagoon. The area is well protected, providing still conditions, a welcome alternative to Chimney Rock’s exposed windy promontory. Abbotts Lagoon beach lays a mile and a half from the trailhead, but with the diversity of wildflowers offering a plethora of macro possibilities, I’ve rarely made it as far.

Historic Pierce Point Ranch. At the south end of the Tule Elk Reserve, a picturesque 1860s California ranch sits where the road ends in this northern section of Point Reyes. Part of the National Register of Historic Places, the ranch is now an interpretive site, home to barn owls and graphic architectural images. Herds of elk roam the rolling coastal hillsides, providing great wildlife opportunities, and a short downhill trail to McClures Beach offers picturesque rock formations combined with powerful surf—a photographer’s paradise.

You can see more of Sean Arbabi’s photography at www.seanarbabi.com.

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