Relaxation: Visiting Salt Point
Some of us relax by exploring. One of my favorite things to explore is the coast, the other is rocks. So you can imagine how I love exploring Salt Point. For those of you reading who are not familiar with Sonoma County’s rugged north western region, I have one word for you: tafoni.
Recently, I had the urge to visit Salt Point State Park, a place I remember from childhood. I wanted to understand the vague but happy memory of climbing on moon-rocks at the ocean, waves crashing, and mist in the bright wash of sunlight. We set out on a lovely day, went west toward Bodega and drove along the coast enjoying the air, but this time we passed beach after beach until the last familiar cove was out of sight, and wiggled our way up (what I think may be one of the windiest roads ever) towards Fort Ross. On the way to Gualala, before Stump Beach, you will find Salt Point State Park. This coastal treasure is 6,000 acres of rugged beauty.
We stopped by the visitor center where you can learn about native wildlife. One of the exhibits lets you touch the otter pelts which were the main export of the Russians at nearby Fort Ross. While animal furs are not really my thing (I believe they are much nicer on the animal), it was an interesting tactile experience to feel how some animals are so much softer than others. I could imagine why an otter hat might be desirable to ease a cold Russian winter. Sadly, sea otters were hunted almost to extinction and their population is very small (if existent) in this area. We were able to observe some human mammals enjoying the water in the cove below as they dove for abalone.
Then we went to the coast walk, for the main attraction: the rocks! Tafoni is a pock-marking which occurs when salt water interacts with the sandstone causing holes and divots in the rock face. It looks a bit like a “moon-rock” if you imagine the moon was made of Swiss cheese.
The fun of these rocks is that the best way to observe these dimples and the patterns they make, is by walking on them. Wear good supportive shoes because just walking along the path will only give you part of the experience.
If you want to have the full fun experience, get ready to scramble, scrape, and bolder you way along the water’s edge, placing you fingers and feet in the holes. Here, looking up from your odd new perspective on the world, glancing about at a lace-work landscape, you can easily imagine yourself on a foreign planet.
But there are bits of the familiar here too. Beautiful wildflowers are to be found in profusion (depending on the time of year).
We were delighted to find an enclave of playful sea lions who seemed to be aware of us and seemed almost pleased to have our company. In fact, one of them seemed to be putting on a show. This is one of the closest places to observe sea lions other than Pier 39 in San Francisco or the pier in Santa Cruz. They were so much fun and the gentle rock climbing was wonderful!
I highly suggest giving Salt Point a try. It’s a wonderful place to build your own memories with family or on your own.
If you are going, be sure to bring both sunscreen and a parka (in case it gets windy and cold), lunch, and enough gas (as it’s pretty sparsely populated up there). There is a fee for day use of the park or you can get a State Park Pass which will get you into great parks all over the state for a year for only $75. It will take you a good 2 hours or so to get there from Santa Rosa, but it is well worth the trip.
by Nadja Masura