READY FOR SENSORY OVERLOAD? TRY POINT LOBOS RESERVE

There are no wolves in Point Lobos State Reserve.

True, Lobos translates from Spanish to “wolves.” The original name, Punta de los Lobos Marinos, granted sometime in the 19th century, refers to the “sea wolves,” or the sea lions lazily sunning themselves in a heap offshore from Sea Lion Point. In that regard, there are no lions in the reserve either.

Etymological inquisitiveness though is far from one’s mind when walking along the reserve’s perimeter trails. Point Lobos, a scant 26 miles north of Big Sur, marks the beginning of the coastline’s mesmerizing splendor. It’s not so much pondering what Point Lobos means, but what superlatives to use to describe the wind-tossed, white-capped waves or the hills thick with blue-green woods. Wild. Rugged. Dramatic. Pristine white sands, ice cold blue waters, striated rocks.

Then the sounds penetrate, beyond the slap, slap, slap of the waters wearing away at black-gray rocks. Barking sea lions, grunting black Brandt’s cormorants diving for fish. And in the nearby tide pools, one can almost hear the skritching noise of a minuscule crab skittering away.

For such a relatively small area (the land portion constitutes 550 acres), Point Lobos is nature’s sensory overload. Hikers can make their way along the more rugged vistas of North Shore Trail, which look into Guilemot Island where western gulls, pigeon guilemots and cormorants nest in spring and summer. To the east, the Sea Lion Point Trail not only looks over the lolling mammals, but also the Devil’s Cauldron with its fiendish water currents. Inland hikers may see deer flit through pines and oaks along the Pine Ridge Trail while tiny birds twitter overhead.

In theory, a visitor to the sanctuary can walk the connecting trails and skirt Point Lobos’ circumference in under three hours. Driving on the automobile path can shorten the sightseeing even more. That takes a determined individual, or someone who has wisely allotted a day to this ecological museum.

The tools for a perfect day at Point Lobos would be a rain jacket, just in case, picnic items (food can only be eaten at the picnic tables), binoculars, a blanket and maybe a book. A blank journal or canvas might even be better, given the inspiring backdrop. While the waters constantly change the scenery, Point Lobos’ rocky foundation adds to the variegated landscape. Santa Lucia granite makes up the north shore cliffs while the undulating sedimentary rock called Carmelo Formation is the foundation for Whaler and Moss coves. The white sands at China Cove, accessible by a steep staircase, are swept in from the nearby granite while larger pebbles cover Weston Beach.

Seekers of California plant life should definitely head to Point Lobos with their field guides and cameras. Away from the ocean rocks are the perpetually green coast live oak and Monterey pine. The latter grows naturally only in three fog-moist areas of the coast. Even rarer is the Monterey cypress, whose wound-up branches and trunks perch on precarious granite cliffs. Wildflower lovers are just in time: The flowers begin to open in February, beginning with the white six-pointed star zigadene, followed by the lavender shades of seaside daisies, the summer yellow daisies and the winter blue lilacs. The apricot colored, sticky monkey-flower grows year-round.

While the sea lions’ bulky shapes and yelping seem to dominate, a great number make their home at Point Lobos. Though the state originally set aside a few hundred acres of land to protect the Monterey cypress and other species, today the reserve is expanded to 1,300 acres, including the underwater habitat.. The marine diversity here is because both warm and cold waters commingle here: The bottom of Carmel Bay measures 1,000 feet deep one mile from the reserve, and a steep 7,000 feet in the Monterey Canyon about six miles yonder. While binoculars aimed at the water can get a glimpse of the watery riches, scuba divers have the opportunity to delve into 70-foot-high kelp forests.

Harbor seals, for instance, similarly lounge on rocks, while Southern sea otters float by on their backs. In the winter and early spring, gray whales migrate through these waters on their way to western Baja California.

Manmade history has left its mark here as well. American Indians left shell mounds and mortars carved out of bedrock behind. When the Europeans came in 1769, they had livestock grazing at Point Lobos’ pastures and set up a whaling station, abalone cannery and a place to ship the coal mined nearby. More than 100 years later, A.M. Allan began buying up parts of Point Lobos, including the residential lots, with the purpose of preserving the land. Its status as an ecological reserve arrived in 1973. Some shell mounds or middens can be seen right at the end of Moss Cove Trail.

With its many paths, occasional picnic tables and friendly ranger staff, Point Lobos is a tame introduction to the Big Sur’s unrestrained beauty.

Resources: The distance that “The Monterey Bay Shoreline” by Jerry Emory travels is the 120-mile coastline stretch from Point Ano Nuevo to Point Sur. The book, though, with its gorgeous photographs by Frank Balthis, spans natural and human history. The section on Point Lobos takes a trail-by-trail look at the reserve, as well as highlighting species such as the giant green anemone and the abalone.

The reserve’s Internet site at http://pt-lobos.parks.state.ca.us/index.html also provides background on the area; most helpful is the point-and-click map. For general details, call 831-624-4909. To get a scuba reservation, call 831-624-8413 or book through the Internet site. Vehicular access to the park costs $7, which includes a trail map. The park is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, with longer summer hours posted at the entrance. Dogs are not permitted.

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