Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Steep Ravine Camping

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It's not often that I go to Mt. Tam and photograph striped shore crabs (Pachygrapsus crassipes). But, being low tide and all, and having our tent set up on the bluffs above the coast at Steep Ravine Campground, shore crabs were the main wildlife attraction down at water's edge.

We showed up at the locked gate just before our 2 p.m. check-in time. There are two locks on the gate, a combination lock and one which requires a key. The park concessionaire gives you the combination over the phone, but they hadn't said anything about a key lock, so we waited outside the gate expecting someone to show up with the key. When two o'clock passed with no one showing up, I opened the combination lock and tried the gate. It opened! We had passed the first test.

Arriving at the campground at the bottom of the hill, we found a small parking area and soon realized we'd have to park there and carry everything to our campsite. I spotted a couple of wheelbarrows next to some bundles of firewood ($8/each), so we carried and trundled most of our gear to campsite #5 (Kelp). 

All the tent sites were pretty nice. We left the cooler in the Jeep since there was no "bear box" at the campsite, just a small wooden cabinet with shelves. We kept our wine in there since mice can't chew through glass, at least not in one night. 

There are two flush toilets (with sinks) near the cabins and a pit toilet near the tent campers. You can expect to wait in a short line in the morning at the flushers. There was a single freshwater spigot where I often saw kids washing dishes, but we had brought our own drinking water.

Although a cabin certainly has its attractions, it was beautiful to stay in our tent and be closer to the sounds of chaparral birds, shorebirds and sea birds, the rhythmic surf and the harmonious chorus frogs. I really felt like I was spending a night not just on the mountain, but with the mountain. 

Although fog came and went our first day out, I stuck my head out the tent sometime after midnight to see the sky directly above us was absolutely clear. Nothing to see but stars -- and a total lunar eclipse, the planet Mars just a tad to the north.

We treated ourselves to dinner that night (and the next) at the Parkside Cafe in Stinson Beach. Good food, and Epiphany Amber Ale on tap. We spent most of the day Tuesday driving around Pt. Reyes National Seashore, heading out to Pierce Point Ranch to stretch our legs and take in the profusion of Douglas iris (and cow parsnip) blooming on the verdant hills. That's Tomales Point in the distance above. 

We also drove up Mt. Vision and stopped at North Beach and Drake's Beach, where it was so windy that we ate our lunches inside the Jeep. The Drake's Beach Cafe was closed, and a ranger at the Bear Valley Visitor Center later told us it isn't just closed for the season. The cafe folks pulled up stakes. (Even the Point Reyes Light newspaper seems to have nothing about this online.) 

After strolling up and down the main drag at Point Reyes Station, then hiking the short (1 kilometer) Earthquake Trail at Bear Valley, we drove back down the coast and paid a visit to the town of Bolinas. We parked at one end and walked through the commercial center until we spilled out onto the beach. Being a weekday, the museum was closed, which was too bad because they were showing work by Walter Kitundu, whose skillful artwork is always fun to check out -- imaginative and beautiful.

Whether driving the Panoramic Highway over Mt. Tam, or Hwy. 1 out to Point Reyes, or just hanging out in camp, we were treated to April's finest verdure. Hard to believe we woke up in such a beautiful place just this morning.

Steep Ravine was a great "staycation" spot. We could see the lights of Half Moon Bay in the distance at night, but we never felt like were just a few minutes away from home in the city. Yet when it was time to leave, the drive home was short and sweet. I will say that we were lucky to have such great weather. We made the reservation months ago, and I would generally choose to camp here in April, with October as my second choice for tent-camping.

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