POINT REYES, WEST MARIN
HIKING TRAILS GUIDES AND BOOKS
 

The Family Guide To POINT REYES
Sample Chapter

The fallow deer are native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and Asia Minor. They are a source of great delight for visitors because of their color variation: individuals can be black, light brown, chocolate brown, pure white, or spotted. The sight of a pure white deer, looking for all the world like that creature of myth, the unicorn (without the requisite single horn, of course) may be cause for amazed speculation. On closer inspection you’ll see that these deer are built as much like goats as deer. Their antlers are palmate, similar to a moose antler. These are not shed until April. Both of these exotic species were introduced for hunting.

The black-tailed or "mule-deer" are our native species and recognizable, as the name tells you, by its black tail which becomes a white flag when flicked upwards to expose the underside. Bush rabbits, or "cottontails," are a frequent sight along the trail as well as pairs of fawns, who all come down the mountainside to drink from Bear Valley Creek.

As the trail gently ascends toward Divide Meadow, it is bordered by an oak, bay and Douglas fir forest with alder trees congregating along the creekside, as they like to stand with their roots near the water. In the spring, Bear Valley Trail is trimmed first in white milkmaids, then blue forget-me-nots, yellow buttercups, maidenhair fern, chain fern, and five-fingered fern. Later in the season, pink star flower and pink flowering currant appear. This trail offers superb opportunities for close-up study of flora because of the high, vegetated banks on the west-facing side. Originally cut for the old wagon road, the banks have become densely populated with a wide variety of plants and insects at perfect eye level for wheelchairs and children - a vertical garden.

Just about a quarter-mile up the trail keep an eye on the creekbed to your left. You will notice a tall, spindly tree with shaggy red bark. In the fall it will turn a dead-looking rust brown; in the winter it will have no needles; and in the spring and summer it will look very like a redwood tree with bright green needles. This is the famous dawn redwood, known only through fossil remains as an extinct species until it was discovered growing halfway up the Yangtze River in the Szechwan Province of China in 1941. Thought to be related to the swamp cypress native to the southern United States, the dawn redwood is a true conifer (supposedly ‘evergreen’) that loses it needles much as the deciduous broad-leaved trees shed their leaves. Botanists brought back seeds from China and the dawn redwood was celebrated for some time - it was planted in botanical gardens from England to California.

In April you may be lucky enough to spot a magnificent pacific coast dogwood in bright bloom in a clearing across the creek to your left. It is beautiful specimen, very tall

 

 

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and broad, silhouetted against the cliff. Its large, saucer-shaped white blossoms virtually glow in the sunshine. When the tree is in full bloom it looks like it is covered in little white doves perched on the branches for a rest.

Both of these trees were planted by the owner of an old summer cabin, Robert Menzies, an early California botanist after whom a number of our native species are named. The summer cabin is gone, and a field of stinging nettle hold sway through most of the spring and summer, so you would be wise to satisfy yourself with admiring the dogwood from the trail.

It was just around here on spring that my Mother and I, on the way back from a hike, noticed something hanging in pendulous masses from the branches along the cliffside: thousands of lady bugs, all but invisible against the reddish brown of dead leaves and bark on the bank. They must have been camouflaged in the cold of early morning as we headed up, but now they were moving in the full rays of warm sunshine just creeping into the valley. There are several species of lady bug. The one that gathers here in winter and spring tend to congregate in large clusters in order to share warmth.

All along Bear Valley Trail there are sections of gargantuan logs cut roughly to provide benches for resting. These are great fun for children because of their scale. They look like custom-built giant’s furniture in the woods. Their addition also makes Bear Valley a good trail for those who like to walk but need places to rest along the way. You can, of course, turn around at any point.

If you do reach Divide Meadow there are more log seats, a picnic table and a lovely mowed bench of grass beneath giant Douglas firs. If you visit in late August you will be treated to the unlikely sight of a double chorus line of pink "naked ladies" at the far end of the meadow, shining and shocking in the sun. These are old world amaryllis lilies, probably planted by the owners of the hunting lodge many years ago. Because they are not palatable to gophers or other wildlife and because their large bulbs hold water and nutrients through the long California dry season, these lilies will survive with no cultivation at all for decades, long after their caretakers have gone. They are often all that remains of nineteenth century farms or old cemeteries. Traveling up the coast of California in August, when all around are weathered fence-posts and golden grass, you will glimpse a stand of these exotic pink flowers floating alone above the ground on red stems without benefit of greenery, and know that once a family lived there or maybe someone was buried there. Amaryllis are sweetly fragrant, making this spot in Divided Meadow a wonderful place to lie down for a rest before continuing on.

From Divide Meadow the trail dips down a slope to the marshy area below, then

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