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HIKING / Pt. Lobos State Reserve

Memorable Mix of Land and Water at Pt. Lobos

September 30, 1990|JOHN McKINNEY

Sometimes it's the tranquil moments at Pt. Lobos that you remember: black-tailed deer moving through the forest, the fog-wrapped cypress trees. And sometimes it's nature's more boisterous moments that you recall: the bark of sea lions at Sea Lion Point, the sea thundering against the cliffs.

A visit to Pt. Lobos State Reserve, in good weather and bad, is nearly always memorable. Landscape artist Francis McComas called Pt. Lobos "the greatest meeting of land and water in the world."

Some of photographer Ansel Adams' greatest work was inspired by the wind-sculpted cypress, lonely sentinels perched at the edge of the continent.

At Pt. Lobos, the Monterey cypress makes a last stand. Botanists believe that during Pleistocene times, 500,000 years ago, when the climate was wetter and cooler than it is now, huge forests of cypress grew along the coast--indeed, throughout North America.

When the world's climate warmed, the cypress retreated to a few damp spots. Nowadays, the grove at Pt. Lobos and another across Carmel Bay at Cypress Point are the only two native stands in existence.

The Monterey cypress, with the help of humans, can cross hot and dry regions and become established in cool areas elsewhere.

In fact, this rare conifer is easily grown from seed and has been successfully distributed all over the world, so it's puzzling why the tree's natural range is so restricted.

Cypress Grove Trail, a 3/4-mile loop, visits Allan Memorial Grove, which honors A.M. Allan, who, in the early years of this century, helped preserve Pt. Lobos from resort developers.

When Pt. Lobos became a reserve in 1933, Allan's family gave the cypress grove to the state.

The trail passes near The Pinnacle, northernmost point in the reserve. Winds off the Pacific really batter this point and the exposed trees.

To combat the wind, the trees adopt a survival response called buttressing: a narrow part of the trunk faces the wind while the trunk grows thicker on the other side in order to brace itself.

The wind-sculpted trunks and wind-shaped foliage give the cypress their fantastic shapes.

Cypress Grove Trail offers great tree-framed views of Carmel Bay and Monterey Peninsula. Offshore are the rocky islands off Sea Lion Point.

The Spaniards called the domain of these creatures "Punto de los Lobos Marinos"--Point of the Sea Wolves. You'll probably hear the barking of the sea lions before you see them.

North Shore Trail meanders through groves of Monterey pine, less celebrated than the Monterey cypress, but nearly as rare.

This fog-loving, three-needled pine grows only in the reserve and two other areas along the California coast.

North Shore Trail wanders through the pines and offers terrific coastal panoramas. Watchers of the late, late show and admirers of spooky beauty will enjoy the shrouds of pale green lichen hanging from the dead branches of the Monterey pines.

Lichen, which conducts the business of life as a limited partnership of algae and fungae, is not a parasite and does not hurt the tree. It's believed that the presence of lichen is an indication of extremely good air quality.

The trail also gives a bird's-eye view of Guillemot Island. A variety of birds nest atop this large offshore rock and others. Pigeon guillemots, cormorants and gulls are some of the birds you might see.

As you hike by Whalers Cove, you'll probably see divers entering the Pt. Lobos Underwater Reserve, America's first such reserve, set aside in the 1960s. Divers explore the 100-foot-high kelp forests in Whalers and Blue Fish Cove.

Mineral-rich waters from the nearby 1,000-foot-deep Carmel Submarine Canyon upwell to join the more shallow waters of the coves.

Pt. Lobos State Reserve is three miles south of Carmel, just off Highway 1. There is a state park day-use fee.

Both Cypress Grove Trail and North Shore Trail depart from the northwest end of Cypress Grove parking area.

The reserve has an excellent interpretive program. Docent-led walks explore the trails and tidepools. Ask rangers or visit the park's information station for scheduled nature walks.

Cypress Grove and North Shore Trails * WHERE: Pt. Lobos State Reserve, south of Monterey. * LENGTH: Cypress Grove Trail, 3/4 mile; North Shore Trail, 3 miles or more. * TERRAIN: Pine and cypress woodland, coastal bluffs. * HIGHLIGHTS: Some call it "the greatest meeting of land and water in the world." * DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy * FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Monterey District, at (406) 624-4909.

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