Bay Area Adventures - Exploring Point Reyes

Located about an hour drive to the north of San Francisco, the Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most underutilized and stunning choices for day or two away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area. Whether you’re into kayaking, hiking, backcountry camping, beautiful white sand beaches, eating fresh local oysters, or amazing landscape and wildlife photography... Point Reyes has a little something for everybody.

 Anybody home?  One of my favorite photo opportunities in Point Reyes is the Cypress Tree Tunnel.  Don't blink, or you'll drive right past it.

Anybody home?  One of my favorite photo opportunities in Point Reyes is the Cypress Tree Tunnel.  Don't blink, or you'll drive right past it.

The kayaking in Tomales Bay is second to none in the Bay Area.  It's easily my favorite location to guide year round.  The most popular launch is located in a small “town” call Nick’s Cove. I call it a town, but it really only consists of a restaurant, a few cabin rentals, and the Miller Park Boat Launch. Parking at the boat launch costs $5 a day per vehicle. Launching from this location allows you to paddle directly across to Hog Island. On any given day you may see a dozen different bird species including pelicans, cormorants, herron, and I’ve even seen a bald eagle on the island. During pupping season in the summer months you may also see a countless number of seals on the beach at the base of the island. Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times because chances are they will come off the beach and get up close and personal. Paddle past the island over to the cliffs of the White Gulch area, crossing from the North American Plate to the Pacific Plate over the San Andreas Fault as you do. Keep your eyes peeled for the Tule Elk peppered throughout the hills on the west shoreline of the bay. The northern tip of the Point Reyes peninsula is a Tule Elk Preserve, and one of the few locations in the world where these magestic animals can be seen. From here you can either head north or south and choose one of the many white sand beaches to stop for a break or even set up camp at. You and up to 6 people can camp on any of the beaches for a $20 permit fee that you can acquire from the visitor’s center in the park. If you grab a boat and a camping spot from May-September on a moonless night, you can see amazing bioluminescence throughout the bay. 

 Not a bad view to wake up to!

Not a bad view to wake up to!

If kayaking is too much work, check out one of the many incredible white sand beaches located in the park. My personal favorite is Limantour Beach, a several mile-long sand bar near Drakes Bay. On any given day you may see everything from rare birds, to pods of dolphins, to large groups of harbor seals, and if you go during the spring time you may get a chance to see families of gray whale swimming along the coastline. No matter how packed the parking lot is there is plenty of space to hike down the beach a ways and have your own little private spot. Dogs are allowed from the parking lot to the southeast, but not to the northeast towards Drake’s Estero to protect the harbor seal and snowy plover habitats.  Some other amazing beaches include McClure, North and South Beaches, and Kehoe.

 Betsy checking out Drake's Estero at the end of Limantour.

Betsy checking out Drake's Estero at the end of Limantour.

It would be easy to write an entire book (and people have done it!) on places to explore in the Point Reyes National Seashore.  It is a paddler, hiker, and photographer's paradise... but what is the fun in giving away all my secret spots? Get out there and explore this amazing location for yourself!

Pulling an All Nighter On the North Coast.

At this point, I might as well start a series called "Adventures with Conner."  I've basically become his personal photographer, but I'm cool with that.  This time we decided to roll up Highway 1 after getting off work to try and grab some astro/climbing shots on the coast.  Conditions weren't ideal, but they rarely ever are.  The moon was pretty bright which I figured wouldn't be great for stars but would also mean I could use the moonlight to light up the coast with some longer exposures.  We set off just after sunset and after grabbing some dinner we were off to the races.  The plan was to go up to Fisk Mill Cove where Conner wanted to solo Peg Leg (5.9) on Sentinel Rock. On the way up we decided to take a pit-stop at Dry Creek, so that Conner could solo a short route called Sand Bagger (5.7) with a pretty epic backdrop.  We got there about 10pm.  The hike down was steep but the views were amazing.  I set up the camera and took some test shots to see what different exposures and compositions would look like and once I got it all dialed in it was time for Conner to climb.  On his first few attempts he couldn't seem to get the feet right at the start so he would do a few moves up and come back down.  It's hard to tell from the photo, but once he makes a move off the ground he is immediately looking down at a 50ft+ drop to the boulders below... so I was in no mood to rush him up the route just for a photo.  If we would have bailed or if he chose not to climb, that would have been perfectly OK with me... the scene alone was amazing... warm enough to be hanging out in the t-shirt.  But of course he didn't bail and we ended up with some pretty incredible shots.  The hike out was a thigh burner, but it was worth every bit of pain to get an image like this.

 Conner soloing Sand Bagger (5.7)

Conner soloing Sand Bagger (5.7)

The second stop for the night was Fisk Mill Cove.  We got there about midnight and made our way down to Sentinel Rock, maneuvering through fallen trees on the trail and navigating the boulder field on the beach.  Once we got settled, the idea was that Conner would climb Peg Leg once on lead and then stash a rope, harness, and belay device at the top so that once he was finished with the solo he could just rappel off since the route doesn't go to the top of the cliff.  He began the climb, and a couple bolts up realized that a portion of the route was pretty wet, which would make a free solo attempt quite a bit more dangerous for him even though he can climb 5.9 in his sleep.  So we decide that since we already got a cool climbing shot we should just take some test shots so that we knew what it would look like on a future attempt once the route dried out.  Once again, Mother Nature was telling us not to get greedy. Even though the second climb didn't go down, I was super excited to be out playing with my camera on a beautiful night. I was so stoked to be learning about my camera and getting some fun images. By the time the night on the beach wrapped up, I was wrecked.... so sleepy and physically tired from lugging gear up and down trails and up and over boulders.  By the time I got home the sun was just peaking over the horizon. I maybe got an hour of sleep before my girlfriend's alarm went off for her to get up for work... and I was so excited to look at the images I couldn't go back to sleep after that.  I was basically a zombie the whole day, but it was worth every second and I would've done it again the following night given the chance.  Life is too short to not partake in the occasional all nighter chasing adventure up and down the coast. 

Adventures to Treasure Island

I had my new camera delivered to work. The day it showed up I didn't get off until 6 and I really wanted to find a place to get out and see what it could do. Since I don't get off until 6, I figured trying to find a cool night shot would be my best option... and it would give me a chance to see what the camera could do in low light.  I had never really been to Treasure Island but I see it everyday on my way home and have occasionally thought about stopping there when the sunset is going off. Paying the toll was never super appealing. That night it was worth it.  I drove out and took a lap around the island, settling for the pull off parking near the churro guy.  I wasn't too stoked at the composition from right there and the amount of people that were coming and going, so I took off on foot up the road towards the Richmond Bridge.  Near the first bridge I dipped off into the woods to the right and bushwacked my way out to the cliffs.  There is a very thin trail that traverses the tops of the cliffs below.  I don't recommend this way unless you're cool with a skinny trail on the edge of a steep drop off with a steep hill on the other side. Kinda sketchy.  I found a precariously balance the tripod and waited for the sun to set and the last rays of light to fade. The night was clear and I got some great images! Not knowing how to use the camera properly yet, I was very excited.  So excited that I brought my girlfriend back the next day to follow that trail a little further and see what kind of trouble we could get into.  We followed the trail that I cut off of the night before and traversed the base of the bridges, eventually dropping down to what looked like an old bunker on the water. It also looked like someone could be living there? Helluva view if they do. We tried to walk along the beach to try and get under the Bay Bridge since it was low tide, but Betsy fell and face planted on the mossy rocks before we could make it that far.  She wasn't hurt but I felt really bad and it was suuuuuper mossy, so we decided to hang at the bunker.  We had a beautiful view of the city, and I got some fun shots of her and the San Francisco skyline.  The best part? We had the place all to ourselves.

 View from the cliffs.

View from the cliffs.

 I thought this one was kind of cool with the plane flying by.

I thought this one was kind of cool with the plane flying by.

 From the roof of the bunker.

From the roof of the bunker.

Sometimes things don't go as planned, and that's alright.

Yesterday we planned to go out to St. Helena to set up a highline during a brief break in the storm.  The forecast called for rain before 10am, then mostly cloudy the rest of the day... so we were in no rush to get there early.  After a miscommunication with my buddy Conner about where I was meeting him and his friends, we finally linked up (after a detour through San Francisco, 1.5 hours later than an already late start).  We make it up to Helena and slog all the highline, climbing, and camera gear straight up the mountain, only to find that our two locations are clouded in so heavily that you could barely see anything.  We decide to go ahead and begin setting up the highline and pray for a break in the clouds long enough to try and snap some photos.  Conner had been mentioning free soloing Hailstone Arete, and decides he wants to go for it real quick before we begin the highline setup.  I've seen Conner solo before, and much harder routes, but this never really sits easy with me.  As much as I love taking pictures of him soloing, I hate taking pictures of him soloing. To try and get a usable photo I scramble up a nearby tower to get a better view of the route.  I can barely see across they way due to the clouds, but as Conner begins climbing something amazing happens... the clouds open up and we get about 8 minutes of light, just enough time for him to climb the route. Incredible.  I snap shot after shot of him climbing and I feel the adrenaline of capturing such a unique moment each time my shutter clicks. I'm also thinking I will have taken the last shots of my friend if he falls...what a rush! Conner is cool and calculated the whole way up, never losing focus. He tops out, and we hoot and holler while we are again engulfed in clouds and wind.  Now the fun begins...we struggle to build anchors on the towers for the highline and string the gear across because our fingers are cold and numb.  The cold wind is cutting right through my pants.  We battle the elements and the light and eventually decide to call it off due to the conditions, just minutes away from a potential walk.  Mother Nature allowed us a window to get some shots, and was now telling us not to get greedy.  So we break down the anchors and gear and head back down the mountain in the dark.  The "trail" we took down was not very straightforward, and I begin to think we are going to have a mini epic and sleep up here on the mountain... but eventually we find a solid trail and make it back to the car.  Maybe we were a little disappointed about not getting the highline up, but we got some good shots and we were heading home happy and healthy.  Sometimes things don't go as planned, and that's alright.

Sundays are for sunsets.

Driving across the Richmond Bridge last night looking back to the west, I could not take my eyes off the sunset except to occasionally slam on my brakes to not hit the car in front of me.  The sky was on fire. I had to pull over and try to catch the last few minutes of light. I only had my cell phone to take video with, but it was so good it almost didn't matter. Enjoy.

My First Blog Post!

When I graduated college I used the last of what was in my bank account to buy a big white creepy looking van, and a cheap DSLR that a photographer buddy recommended to me. I set my sights to the west and hit the road.  I had a job in Santa Cruz but didn't have to be there particularly fast, so I took my time getting to the Pacific. I went from Durango, to Moab, to the Grand Canyon, Zion, Red Rocks, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, to the Salton Sea, and west until I hit the ocean.  From there I took off up the coast through Big Sur to eventually get to my new home in the Santa Cruz mountains.  

This month long road trip allowed me to explore places I had only read about in books as a kid, as well as document the entire experience in high definition with my shiny new camera. I loved pulling out my memory card at the end of the day and looking at the photos on my beat up lap top.  I loved putting on some music and touching up photos here and there to try and get the most out of them, and watching tutorials about my camera to try and get the most out of it as well. I was hooked.  Since then I've wanted to create a website where I could share stories and photos from experiences with others, and hopefully you'll enjoy them as much as I do.