Point Reyes National Seashore is located along northern California’s spectacular coast. Accessible via scenic U.S. Highway 1, Point Reyes is 40 miles north of San Francisco. Because of the curvy, two-lane roads, expected travel time is about an hour to the Visitors Center at Bear Valley, and Pierce Point Elk Reserve is another half-hour beyond that. Tule elk rule the grasslands above the sea at the Tomales Point Elk Reserve. Half a million Tule elk once roamed California’s valleys and coastal hills, but the influx of people during the Gold Rush decimated the species. In 1978, two bulls and eight cows were brought to Point Reyes, and today over 500 roam the bluffs above the beaches. Tule elk are often visible from the road at Pierce Point Elk Reserve.
Weather at Point Reyes National Seashore can be variable, with warm inland temperatures and sometimes very cold, wet and windy conditions along the coast. Point Reyes is the windiest place on the West Coast and is infamous for its thick fog during the summer and early fall months. Temperatures sometimes vary by more than 30º between the inland valleys and the coast during summer months. The day I shot this image, thick fog obscured the landscape all afternoon. The sun peered between the fog bank and the horizon for a few minutes just at sunset and enveloped the herd in a misty glow. After a few shots, the sun dipped below the horizon, and fog ruled the landscape again.
Due to the breadth of photo ops at Point Reyes, I always carry a variety of lenses, with focal lengths from 11mm to 300mm. (With my Olympus E-520, this translates to a wide angle of 22mm to a length of 600mm.) A macro lens is required for wildflower season, and a sturdy tripod is necessary for shooting with long lenses and during low-light conditions or for long exposures on the beach. Out at the Tomales Point Elk Reserve, a beanbag or window-mounted tripod head can come in handy if the elk are close to the road. Other essentials include layered clothing and a waterproof shell, hiking boots and weather protection for sensitive camera gear. While changing lenses, it’s important to remember that moist conditions can translate to spots on digital camera sensors, so take precautions near the coast.
Late summer and early fall are great times to visit. The breeding season means that elk are often more visible from the road and trail, but they’re also more dangerous so be cautious. Spring brings opportunities to photograph elk with calves, though they tend to be less visible during calving season. You’ll find marvelous displays of wildflowers, too, especially along the Chimney Rock hiking trail. January, March and April are whale-watching months, as gray whales migrate south to their calving lagoons in Baja California and then north to feeding grounds in the Arctic. December through February is prime time at the elephant seal beaches. Birding opportunities are great year-round, with the highlights of the year occurring during the fall and spring migration of raptors. Contact: Point Reyes National Seashore, www.nps.gov/pore.
The necessity of a GPS system while hiking remote areas can’t be understated, and a carrying case that protects while keeping your GPS device accessible is a must. The Lowepro Navi Series of GPS cases and pouches are tailor-made for the units, providing tough exteriors and cushioned interiors, plus dedicated spaces for charger cords and other accoutrements, like the included microfiber cloth for cleaning the screen. Contact: Lowepro, (800) 800-LOWE, www.lowepro.com.