Pull out your tweed cape and imagine you've been transported to the Scottish moors
Bay Area tourists
who've been out to the tip of Point Reyes may be unaware
of Bodega Head, which is easier to reach and matches the point views and
hiking trails. On the clearest days it provides a panoramic view of Bodega
Bay, the Sonoma and Marin coasts, Tomales Point, and the long arm of the
Point Reyes peninsula. With a pair of binoculars you can spot the flash of
the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
On other days you just have a good view of a fog bank -- or else you're in the fog bank. Sometimes Bodega Head is socked in during the morning and clear in the afternoon. At other times the fog sweeps back over the head in mid-afternoon. Enjoy the view while you can. Then pull out your tweed cape and imagine you've been transported to the Scottish moors.
To reach Bodega Head, take Highway One to the town of Bodega Bay. Turn west on Eastshore Road. At the bottom of the hill, turn right on Bay Flat Rd. and skirt the bay for 3 miles. (Birders can spot loons, grebes, scoters, bufflehead and other ducks out on the water, especially in the winter. Egrets and Great Blue Herons frequent the mud flats at low tide.) At the sign for Campbell Cove, the road takes a sharp hairpin to the right. Go uphill another .6 miles and park (for free) in the lot by the cliffs.
Bodega Head's two chief hikes both begin here. The shorter, more spectacular hike leaves from the south end of the lot. The trail more or less follows the edge of the cliff (keep a safe distance from the precipice) going counterclockwise around the promontory. Hike up the dirt path, noticing the exposed granite - white rock with flecks of black and grey. The granite is a tip-off that Bodega Head, like Point Reyes, is part of the Pacific plate. Geologists theorize that hunks of granite from the southern end of the Sierras broke off and were dragged 300 miles northward along San Andreas Fault. The fault runs right through the bay -- a geologic detail that saved Bodega Head from becoming the site of a nuclear power plant. Locals, lead by a prickly local rancher Rose Gaffney, weren't keen on having a reactor next door, and when they realized the fault practically ran underneath it, they rallied to drive PG&E away from the Head.
Respect the signs or you might trample some poor graduate student's experiment
goes gently uphill, edged with buckwheat and iceplant, to a
series of high bluffs with great views of Bodega Bay and the Marin shore.
Near the southern end, you'll see (and hear) Seal Island, a favorite
barking lot for sea lions. The promontories are also a prime spot to
look for the spouts of California Grey Whales during fall and spring
As you round the point, the trail threads through expanses of waist-high lupine. Off to the east you'll see Bodega Harbor and the RV-filled campground on Doran spit. Fishing boats chug to and from the port, following a narrow channel that's been dredged through the shallow mud of the inner bay.
Across the bay is the small town of Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed much of The Birds in 1962, shortly after local activists had shooed PG&E away from Bodega Head. And although lightning or fame rarely strike the same person twice, Rose Gaffney figures in that story, too.
Hitchcock had to import gulls and ravens for the movie, but there are plenty of birds here anyway. Northern Harriers cruise low over the bushes. Kestrels and kites hover over land while cormorants and pelicans fly just offshore.
Although their main settlement was at Fort Ross, 25 miles to the north, the Russians used Bodega Bay as a port from about 1810 to 1840. The native Miwok were glad to have the Russians there to protect them from the Spanish, who raided Indian villages for workers. The name of the bay derives from Bodega y Cuadra, the name of a Spanish explorer who sailed into the bay in 1775 (not from the word bodega, which is Spanish for "warehouse"). The Spanish, by the way, assumed that Sir Francis Drake had anchored in Bodega Bay during his 1579 visit to the North Coast, though most scholars are now convinced he dropped anchor in Drake's Bay on the other side of the Point Reyes peninsula.
You can easily do the loop around the promontory in 45 minutes to an hour. The Head is crisscrossed by trails begun by deer and enlarged by hikers, and at almost any point you can cut across and angle back towards the parking lot, which is visible from the higher points on the promontory. The second major hike starts back at the cliff-side lot at the Bodega Head Trail sign. The trail goes briskly up hill with good views of the rocky shore below on your left. After about 50 feet a side trail goes down to the beach and rocky outcroppings. Stay off the low-lying rocks; they're a handy place to get swept out to sea.
A five-or ten-minute uphill hike brings you to a junction. A spur to the left goes another .2 miles and dead-ends at Horseshoe Cove Overlook, with a view of the cove and UC's Bodega Marine Lab. Respect the signs for the reserve or you might trample some poor graduate student's experiment. You can visit the Marine Lab itself 2-4 p.m. on Fridays.
From the junction, you can also hike north to Salmon Creek Beach (another 1.2 mi.) or Bodega Dunes Campground (2.2 mi.). Follow the easy trail downhill between six-foot lupine bushes, with views of Bodega Bay on your right. About 100 feet past the sign announcing the boundary of the Marine Reserve, the trail cuts sharply to the left (marked by the symbol of a hiker). The path crosses the paved road to the Marine Lab and then enters the dune system, where lupine gives way to high dune grass. (Ticks can be a major problem here; wear protective clothing or use a tick repellent.) The trail can be hard to make out in the dunes; follow the wooden posts across the dunes. The sandy trail eventually links up with the Salmon Creek/Bodega Dunes loop trail. You can go up and over the dunes to the beach for a picnic and return the way you came, or continue north to Bodega Dunes Campground.
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