While most people celebrate Superbowl Sunday by gathering in front of a large screen TV to cheer their teams, half time, and million dollar commercials, like Apple’s Macintosh Computer’s 1984, Merlin looks forward to wide empty roads to interesting places like Point Reyes National Seashore.
Just north of San Francisco in Marin County is a world of redwoods, rolling ranch land, and Pacific Ocean beaches. So with hot coffee in travel mugs and fresh pastries from the Marin Farmers Market, we set off for a day outing, a road trip mini.
It’s a winding road to the coast, and the Merlin Mobile rear seat windows go all the way down to avoid chin bumping. Merlin has developed a special stabilizing tripod sit. He can lean into curves while keeping his chin to the rim. His nose telescopes out the window in focused drive-by sniffing, sifting roadside rodents from pastureland cattle and deer. Even I can smell skunks and horse stables. Cows are his favorite. His herder brain sparks, his ears enlarge, his nose extends, and his head stretches out the window, pinpointing the herd. He knows he’s supposed to do something about cows and looks smug to be herding them from his car. Drive-by herding. Got them right where he wants them.
Highway 1 doglegs through Point Reyes Station, passing master black and white landscape photographer Marty Knapp in his gallery, our favorite west Marin artist. Continuing west towards Inverness, we skirt Tomales Bay, cross the San Andreas Fault, and drive uninterrupted onto another continent. The land feels wild and ancient, shifting into undulating hills and historic dairy farms, still inhabited, to Merlin’s delight. Ranch parcels have alphabetical letter names, as if settlers were so exhausted by the time they reached this far west, they just sat down and declared, “M”.
Radio antennas shimmer into focus. We drive through the magnificent Monterey cypress tree tunnel to the 1929 “G” Ranch RCA / Marconi Wireless Station, the most successful and powerful ship to shore station on the Pacific Rim. Merlin prances through the dappled light, enjoying the grand trees, sniffing for deer and watching for squirrels. Low winter rim light ignites the southwestern edge of the ancient, wind twisted cypress. We have stepped into another land, another time. We dance in the empty road.
Cattle give way to oysters at Drake’s Beach Visitor Center. We hop out to see if winter low tides have revealed Sir Francis Drake’s plaque proclaiming this land for England. While circumnavigating the globe raiding Spanish galleons, Drake camped here in the summer of 1579 to careen the Golden Hinde to repair her hull. A notorious Sea Dog, polite speak for authorized Elizabethan pirate, Admiral Drake traded with the local Miwok Indians, and claimed all the land east for Queen Elizabeth. He named it Nova Albion, Portus Novae Albionis, the Port of New England. If anyone had returned to defend his claim, we could all be speaking British, instead of English. Meanwhile, the Spanish crept north from Mexico, naming Drake's Beach la Punta de los Reyes, the Point of the Kings, in honor of their shipwreck date, the feast day of the three wise men, January 6, 1603. Merlin’s not a digger so no plaque discovery today.
There are several dozen cars in the visitors parking lot and a few people waiting for the shuttle bus to take them to the lighthouse for whale watching. The ranger mentions that Sundays are usually overflowing with hundreds of cars and we smile in our Superbowl strategy cleverness. With a NPS map of dog friendly beaches we drive on. Passing a herd of Tule Elk posing by an elk crossing sign, we head west for South Beach.
Merlin romps joyfully along the tideline, dabbling his paws in the darting waves. The steep beach makes for dramatic crashing surf, and dangerous undertows. We know better than to swim in the Northern California Pacific where even surfers wear wetsuits. We also know to never turn our back on the ocean but in a moment of unguardedness a sneaker wave suddenly surrounds us, dousing me to the knees and immersing Merlin. Time to retreat up the beach. There’s a considerate shower and foot wash in the parking lot. Merlin tries the paw wash but prefers to dry off in the back seat towel pile to emerge white pawed and sand free.
Buoyed by a car picnic, we drive east to North Beach and settle onto a sensible dune well away from sneaky waves. At the edge of a continent, we look west off the edge of the world. Merlin whale watches. There she blows! The unmistakable water spout of a surface gliding whale sprays into the sky. Our perch affords a fantastic view of the surf as water reaches towards sky and beach to tumble, churn, and roil. Waves rise dark blue then, shot through with sunlight, roll over themselves as they break light green. Bubbling with white frosting they dissolve into white splashes and glide up the beach to kiss the toes of squealing toddlers. After 200 photos (gotta love digital) I clean the sea spray from my lens and herd everyone back to the car.
Refreshed, restored, revived, we greet the evening star Venus in the darkening sky as we approach the near empty freeway, flowing home from our Superbeach Sunday.
Point Reyes National Seashore loop: 100 miles.