Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Point Reyes National Seashore, My Happy Place

A firey sunrise over Inverness Ridge in Point Reyes National Seashore
The sunrise over Inverness Ridge in Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Point Reyes Peninsula is a very special place to me. It’s where I go to relax, it’s where I clear my thoughts, it’s where I feel so alive as the breeze touches my face or the scents of the coast reach my nose. When I close my eyes and let my mind drift to my happy place, it’s always Point Reyes.

There is something about the landscape there that captivates me. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it is. There are so many amazing places in California, some well known and still spectacular (i.e., Yosemite National Park) and some under the radar that can be just as amazing (pick any beach along the Sonoma Coastline). But yet, as I realized that my time was running short in California, and that I would only be able to visit my favorite places or try out new ones just a handful of times, all else was forgotten and my eyes (and my heart) were set on Point Reyes.

I think the landscape is beautiful, and I know I’m not the only one (it was even recently recognized on ABC’s Good Morning America during their segment on the 10 most beautiful places in the country) – but when I take a step back, set my emotions aside, and try to think about what makes it so special, it’s hard to say exactly what it is. Sure, the coastline is spectacular with gorgeous bluffs and long beaches of soft sand, but you can find this in other places. And perhaps surprisingly, a lot of the land is agricultural pastures, and you’ll often see far more cows than anything else on a trip. But somehow, that just makes sense there. And the miles upon miles of old weathered fences pull me in every time. I once thought to myself, there are so many interesting fence posts here, that if I had the time, I could make a photographic book of just the beautiful patterns in the wood, the interesting mosses and lichens growing on them, the wildflowers that bloom along them, the raptors and quail that sit on the posts, and the songbirds that so elegantly perch along the wire, and maybe, just maybe a deer or elk leaping over one.

Old fence along the dunes at North Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore
An old fence stretches along the dunes at North Beach

But set into this speckled land of fenced-off pastures are the rolling hills, the large sand dunes, and the small coastal mountains that add amazing depth and life to the landscape. Perhaps though for me, it’s not just that landscape that has gripped me so deeply. I know what wild things are out there, and the chance to spot one, and hopefully photograph one, always keeps me coming back for more.

So many times in the past few years, as I’m getting my camera ready the night before an outing, my wife will ask me where I’m headed the next morning. And with much regularity, I’ll say “Point Reyes.” She’ll often chuckle and reply, “Did I even have to ask?” It’s funny to me to realize that it took us a year of being in California to even take a hike there, but I can still remember that trip in much detail. After parking under a typical summer morning of heavy fog, we saw a quail for the first time near the trailhead, saw some tule elk off in the distance on a hillside, and we even saw a coyote (or maybe it was a grey fox?) through the binoculars. We sat on a large log that had long since turned into a piece of driftwood to eat our lunch along the beach, and we watched the pelicans skim the tops of the waves under the quiet foggy sky. Then, when we were ready to move on, we got back onto the trail, and the fog lifted and the blue skies came out – and we were in awe as we walked along the coast and saw the crystal clear sky reflected in the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Happy to be in Point Reyes
Me, excited to be in Point Reyes for the first time, but not yet knowing what this landscape would eventually mean to me.

While thinking about what I wanted to write in this post, I became curious about just how many times I’ve been to the park. A quick scan though my photo archives reveals that since our inaugural hike in 2006, I’ve been back to Point Reyes some 60 additional times. What is it that keeps pulling me back again and again? Shouldn’t I have gotten bored with walking the same trails, seeing the same sights, and driving the same roads?

A while back I read an interesting post on Greg Russell’s blog, which linked to a wonderful post about someone’s love of a specific desert landscape. In the comments, Greg replied back to me about how interesting it is that certain landscapes can capture the imagination and that he “thinks, perhaps, like choosing a mate; we need a fit with a complementary personality. Landscapes or people, it’s all the same…” This idea rang so true for me with Point Reyes.

Heavy fog over Kehoe Beach dunes in Point Reyes National Seashore
A foggy sunset along Kehoe Beach in 2007.

There is something in the personality of the park that just connects with me. I’ve been to many parks in California, and I’ve really enjoyed all of them. But there is just something so special to me about this one piece of land that it just keeps pulling me back. Perhaps it’s not worth my time to try to pinpoint what it is that I love about that park so much. But rather, just to enjoy the fact that I have a place that is so special to me, and that always makes me smile when I think of it. Point Reyes is my Happy Place, and I like to think that no matter how often or how little I’m able to visit throughout my lifetime, it will always give me that warm feeling of freedom inside my heart when thoughts of it cross my mind.

If you're interested to see more of Point Reyes, please visit my Point Reyes National Seashore Special Collections.


  1. Fabulous shots, Pat. I am at a loss for words, and trust me, that's rare!

  2. Stunning! The sunrise, the fence, and the beach where I especially love the texture of the grass.

  3. That was a wonderful post. I am sorry for you having to leave behind something that is so special for you. Just know, Point Reyes will always be there waiting for your return. And who knows, you just might find a new Happy Place in New England.

  4. This inspires me to visit Point Reyes. It's so beautiful...great shots!


  5. A most beautifully written post filled with stunning images. Point Reyes looks and sounds like a most glorious place to visit. I can see why you return often. Your photographs are exceptional, as always.

  6. Great pictures I loved the first one and then the second and the rest. Couldn't pick the best as all good.

  7. Great post and stunning photography.

  8. Pat, I really enjoyed reading this post (and the many others that preceded it). Point Reyes has made a lasting impression on you. You'll find another special place -- maybe Cape Cod National Seashore. Wherever it is, I look forward to reading why it is special.

  9. Nice Pat, Way to get your Henry David Thoreau on! Truly a post that needed no pictures, I could feel you walking the land in your imagination. For those of us who have enjoyed your picture taking these many months, no explanation of it's hold on you is necessary. I think your comparison of a long standing relationship with a lover and a landscape is inspired. Your "aw shucks" self portrait with the ocean breaking in the background on your first day at Point Reyes really shows the power of love at first sight. It's wonderful your wife understands!

  10. Nice writing Patrick, I'll have to make a trip down there soon...

  11. So glad you have a happy place, I do too but mine is the oddest place in mountains in a desert area, scenic but not particularly so. It is just that I have an inner knowing there, my feet automatically follow old kangaroo trails and the first time we were there I knew exactly what we would see when we climbed the hill. I was so at one with the landscape I felt that at some long ago time I had actually been a kangaroo there. I'm not even a native Australian, which makes it even more strange. I have met a number of places where I was at one with the very earth of the place even though I had never been there before.
    Your place is so lovely and the sound and sight of the see alone is balm to the soul.