To experience summer morning at its most beautiful, Point Reyes National Seashore’s Estero Trail is hard to beat. You park at the trailhead, you follow the path through grasslands. A rabbit leaps out of your way. California quail skitter. Cattle stand silhouetted on a far hillside and above them spreads a John Constable sky: white, buxom clouds, flashes of sunlight.
In 10 minutes you’re there: the estero, gray mudflats ribboned with silver water flowing toward Drakes Bay. As the place name
indicates, there’s history here — it’s said that somewhere along this inlet Sir Francis Drake became the first European to bump into
California. There is also an abiding sense of serenity.
That serenity may be deceptive. The San Andreas Fault runs a few miles to the east; this entire peninsula is being yanked away
from the North American continent. Sir Francis Drake? The location of his landing spot has sparked ferocious arguments for decades,
even if the park service is commemorating him with a marker here later this year. The national seashore itself was the product of
fierce debates. And those cows? They’re a controversy all to themselves.
It’s a beautiful place, Point Reyes National Seashore. But this year, as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday —
the official date is August 25 — it faces big questions about what the next century will hold.
JOHN DELL’OSSO IS HAPPY to enumerate all the ways Point Reyes National Seashore is special. “There’s the abundance of human
and natural resources,” he says in his office at park headquarters in Bear Valley. “Eighteen percent of all the flowering plant species
in California are found here. Fifty-two percent of the bird species in all of North America have been seen here. We have 60 species
of mammals, both marine and terrestrial. Then you go to the human history side with the Coast Miwok people, who have been here
Limantour Beach is a long and
narrow spit of sand between
Drakes Bay and an estuary.