From the roadside three-quarters of a mile from Kehoe beach, I can hear the rhythmic crashing of the waves. There’s a High Surf Advisory for the coast at the trailhead. The warning posted notes “breaking waves 15-20 feet possible in the surf zone” and there’s this shark warning.
I wasn’t going to get in the water anyway. It’s mid-October. It’s the Pacific Ocean. It’s the Farallon Islands Red Triangle. For those of you aren’t fans of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week or otherwise familiar with great white sharks, this area has a robust population of elephant seals, harbor seals and sea lions – the favored prey of great white sharks. Over one-third of the world’s great white attacks on humans occur here. No offense, but in these murky, windy waters you look like a pinniped and the sharks make an honest mistake.
Back to the safety and comfort of this sandy path through coastal scrub. Songbirds are chattering and flitting about. White-capped sparrows, song sparrows other little brown jobbers (sparrow identified is a high-level skill). Turkey vultures soar overhead rising on thermals, never flapping, just cruising.
It was sunny at the trailhead, but the ocean makes its own weather so it quickly becomes overcast and cold. I added another layer. On the trailside, there is a surprising pop of vibrant tangerine yellow. A single blooming cluster of California poppies comes like a breath of spring in these gray-green, fall coastal scrub hills.
Closer to the beach, the trail turns to soft, loose sand slowing my pace as each footfall sinks in. I crest the barrier dune and a grand vista unfolds. The salty wind rustles through my hair. Craggy, orange and beige cliffs abruptly meet the small rolling dunes anchored by tufts of beach grass. The terrain flattens out into the crashing surf while the ocean disappears in sea fog.
It’s approaching high tide and each surge of waves creeps a little further up the beach. I’m reminded of the timeless advice, “Never turn your back on the ocean.” I spent some time mesmerized by the waves fracturing over rocks and watching the leading edge of the water rolling over the dry sand, making a new path with each new high surge. All the while cognizant of keeping my feet dry.
Then I turned to the piles of bull kelp deposited in intricate piles on the sand. I can entertain myself on a Pacific beach wandering and ogling for a ridiculous amount of time.
The bull kelp rests in knots and whorls accentuated by the small, delicate bladders that keep it upright in the water.
A minuscule, nearly translucent beach flea hops by, stopping just long enough for one hastily grabbed photo.
Passing the trailhead where I had turned north to the cliffs that curve out into the ocean, I now head south into a protected area (“no dogs”). It is a markedly different habitat. Here, the beach grass grows in bunches right up to the high tide line.
There are flowers on low bushes that grow in the habitat anchored by the grasses. This is classic coastal succession. One plant modifies the environment so that another can take root and so on and so on until there is a forest.
Clearly, the habitat is supporting more than just plants. There are tracks, oh so many tracks, in the sand. Coyote.
Gull. Crabs. And whoever this is – shorebird?
I love the stories the prints tell. I explored until I got too hot and parched in the fall sun on this fascinating dry, windy coast and wandered off to find Rob who had been napping in the sun on the dunes the whole time.
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