Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cape Arago

It's weird starting a hike at 2 P.M. 
We've been hiking at Cape Arago so much that one December day several years ago, Dollie and I changed it up a little by beginning the hike at 2 P.M. in order to catch the sunset at the cape. Whipping out our headlamps after an awesome sunset, we detoured through the famed Shore Acres garden, festooned with lights during the Christmas season.

The crew, B.H (before headlamps)
The next year, I heard a chorus of "Take me, take me" and this hike has wound up being sort of an annual event, depending on the weather and whether enough praises have been sufficiently sung to me. The latest installment took place this last December when 9 hardy headlamped adventurers set out on the trail at Sunset Bay State Park.

The hike is shorter, now

Seeing as how we started mid afternoon, the sun's rays were already slanting through the forest as we started. The trail followed the cliffs along the rock shore and much gawking ensued at the scenery. Suddenly, we came across a fence barring our way...huh?

The cliffs were wowier
I don't know whether it is from climate change or from heavy storms, but our cliffy trail was now in the ocean as there has been quite a bit of land loss in the ever shrinking state park. What remains of the former trail lies on the other side of the fence and a new trail system runs through the woods and is nearly not as "wowy"  (is that even a word?) as the old trail.

Looks like petrified sea lions
Minor quibble though, as the trail eventually worked it's way out on top of the cliffs but at a reasonably safe distance from the edge. We could still enjoy the mild waves (it was low tide) rushing over the shoals and the rock formations below.

The wave show
The waves were putting on a better show as we entered Shore Acres State Park; we paused briefly to check out the scene from the whale watching observation building. Further south along the shore, we could see the rocks and islands of Simpson Reef, the barking of the sea lions carrying faintly on the sea breeze.

Spring Break for sea lions
After some ups and downs from cliff to beach and back to cliff again, we reached the parking lot of the Simpson Reef overlook. The sea lions were congregating on Shell Island for a sea lion bacchannal and other pinniped debauchery. They were probably having a wet-flipper contest, judging by all the raucous barking on the island. 

Kyle Bush fans
The sun was getting low, so we hightailed it to the cape, walking down to the North Cove overlook for a closer look at the sea lion colony. There was plenty of barking, grunting, belching, and farting; it was kind of like a NASCAR race without the race cars. And the slightest breeze wafted the pungent aroma of "eau de sea lion" into our unsuspecting nostrils.

End of the day
The sunset show was now beginning, so we killed time watching the day come to an end. There was a bank of clouds that diminished the sunset somewhat but nonetheless nobody felt disappointed, or if they did feel disappointed they were kind enough not to complain to the hike leader.  

Good nighty
Heading back to Shore Acres as the night became more nighty, headlamps were eventually donned. From my vantage point at the rear of our group, we looked like giant fireflies dancing in a conga line. An orange glow in the trees ahead signaled our arrival at Shore Acres and the other reason for doing this hike at night.

Welcome to Shore Acres
Shore Acres is the former estate of timber magnate Louis Simpson, no relation to Bart or Homer. What remains of the estate are the formal gardens and the caretaker's cottage. And this time of year, the place is decked out in full Christmas light glory.

Reflecting pond
Every branch on every plant, bush, shrub, and tree was wrapped by lights of every color. The brown muddy waters of the reflecting pond were transformed into a mirrored wonderland of twinkling lights while neon frogs hopped across the pond. The cottage was equally bedecked with lights and offered hot cider to cold visitors.

Walking through the gardens while breathing sideways
We regrouped at the entrance and took a short cut that, most unusually, was a kinder and gentler short cut. The temperature had dropped and our breaths hung visible in the cold air. Those of us with headlamps learned that the beam of light lit up our vapor and, in effect, blinded us. Lois stated that she learned a new skill:  breathing sideways.

Cottage at Shore Acres
Arriving at our cars at Sunset Bay, we snickered at the long line of cars on the Cape Arago Highway, each waiting their turn to enter the parking lot and see the lights at Shore Acres. Avoiding the traffic would be another reason for hiking to the Shore Acres gardens.

For more pictures of this scenic hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Wow ! Really enjoyed this entry -- both the natural and the beautiful Christmas light display !! If I lived nearer you folks I think I would have to learn to breathe "sideways" :)
    Thanks for sharing this delightful experience. Darlene

  2. Richard,

    I am disappointed that the fishy dinner afterward didn't warrant an entry. It was unforgettable . Lindsay

  3. Loved the "Good Nighty" shot and all the Christmas lights. I on the other hand, am a snug as a mouse in her house, but enjoy your hiking and photo's. Fay