A recent Valentine’s Day visit to Abbotts Lagoon took us past the lagoon, adventuring along the sand dunes.
Abbotts Lagoon is an area within Point Reyes National Seashore, Northern California.
More info: Abbotts Lagoon Wikipedia.
Point Reyes is a unique place on earth because it is at the junction of two major tectonic plates: Pacific and North American. Located in the San Andreas Fault Zone, the Point Reyes peninsula has, as you can see from the map at the end, been slowly separating from the U.S. mainland over eons of tectonic movement. Wikipedia says “In the 1906 earthquake, Point Reyes moved north 21 ft (6.4 m).”
This ongoing plate movement has yielded many different land formations in Point Reyes.
Abbotts Lagoon, located on the northwest tip of the peninsula, has a two-stage lagoon, sandstone cliffs, and ocean beaches.
The trail starts at the parking lot on Pierce Point Road and is 3.6 miles long–to the ocean and back. For the first mile-and-a-half, the trail is gravel and relatively flat and lies in a protected valley. The surrounding terrain is coastal chaparral.
There are always California quail, white-crowned sparrows, and black-tailed deer in this section.
But the closer we get to the sea, the more things change. The gravel under your feet turns to sand.
Then slight hills begin to lift the hiker out of the valley, the dunes come into view, and we are greeted by brisk ocean winds. This photo (below) shows the lagoon in the lower half of the photo, the dunes in the middle, and the Pacific Ocean just above the dunes revealing whitecaps on our February day.
Although the sand is loose, vegetation takes hold in some places.
The trail ends at the upper lagoon and ocean; there’s a short bridge to cross. At different times of the year we see otters frolicking beneath the bridge. There were no otters that day, but we did find recent otter prints in the sand. In a couple more months, swallows will start nesting on the bridge’s underside.
Foraging around the lagoon are a variety of waders and ducks. That day we saw common mergansers; some days we have seen large flocks of white pelicans here, also cormorants, gulls, herons and many species of shore birds.
This great egret was enjoying a fishy snack.
We also came across three piles of feathers and bones, presumably from a prowling coyote’s success the night before.
Turkey vultures partake in these events too.
Beach strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis), vines and flowers, were taking hold in the loose sand. Chilly February temperatures will eventually give way to warmer days when the strawberries will leaf out more.
This giant tree has been occupying the beach through all the decades I have hiked here. It is a popular place for hikers to stop and take a rest from the laboring loose-sand walk, and little kids climb all over it. We perched here and turned our backs to the wind, enjoying the fresh air and moody sky.
At this point, the beach starts to open up, leading to the ocean’s shoreline. Climbing the dunes yields ocean views.
This area of open sand is meticulously marked and roped off from Memorial Day to Labor Day to give the snowy plovers a safe, protective place to lay their eggs in the sand.
But on a gusty Valentine’s Day, there were no snowy plovers and few humans…and my heart was filled with the beauty and wildness that is Abbotts Lagoon.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.