Sunday, February 19, 2012

Salt Point Prairie - Philips Gulch Falls - Day 3 - 2/19/12

          I got up early once again and hiked out to South Gerstle Point to watch sunrise. The tide was high and the surf was ruff. As I walked around the cliffs of South Gerstle Point I had to be very alert as every now and then a pounding wave would spray its white water high into the air, some blasting just a foot or two away, and raining down upon the sandstone. Temporary waterfalls were being created left and right but I was too slow to capture any images.

South Gerstle Point Sunrise

          The sky never did show any color save for a faint glow behind the fog as the sun rose.
          I explored a bit looking for any particularly unique formations. Most of the extraordinary fretwork presented itself in precarious places making viewing difficult.
          After walking back to camp we prepared ourselves for a hike to the Salt Point Prairie which is located in the parks' higher elevation terrain.
                    We set off hiking south along Highway One to the south entrance of Salt Point State Park and the Woodside Campground which is closed for the season. Shortly after the entrance booth is a parking lot and trailhead for the Central Trail. Although they are called trails on the Salt Point State Park Map most of them are actually fire roads and are open to mountain biking as well. I've ridden here in the past and had a blast but I must say there was an abundance of needle like thorns (similar to goatheads) along the trails that caused Sarah and I both to get flat tires.
          We began hiking up Central Trail which starts out at a steep grade with interpretive panels at intervals along the way. Right away I spotted a Trillium blooming on the forest floor.


          A few steps later revealed several blooming Calypso Orchids which love to reside beneath Douglas Fir trees.

Calypso Orchids

          The trail comes to its first junction with the Huckleberry Trail which veers off to the left and connects with the North Trail in .3 miles. We continued climbing up Central Trail which took us through a densely vegetated area including masses of Huckleberry, Manzanita, Madrone, and Rhododendrons to name a few. Small yellow blooms of Redwood Violet were nestled by the trailside.
Redwood Violet

          A few large water tanks come into view at the junction with the Water Tank Trail which also leads to North Trail. Continuing on Central Trail the terrain levels out and was moist and muddy during this time of year. We passed a trail on our left leading to the Pygmy Forest. We've visited the Pygmy Forest before and were not that impressed. The rough soil conditions limit plant and tree growth hence creating a Pygmy Forest. It is similar to the Sargent Cypress Forests on San Geronimo Ridge and along the Simmons Trail on Mt. Tam, but not nearly as interesting.
          We soon arrived at the Prairie which is a large dry grass meadow that invokes a feeling of comfort and serentiy. We found a nice flat area off the trail to sit down and have lunch. Sarah nodded off while I sauntered around the meadow taking photos.
Nap Time

Salt Point Prairie

          As the afternoon wore on we hiked back to camp taking the same route we ascended on. We relaxed at camp and when early evening came we drove north a few miles and parked at a pullout, setting off on an unmarked path leading across the coastal bluffs to Philips Gulch Falls. Rain has been minimal this season and I expected the falls to be barely trickling, but I was delighted to see a healthy surge of water spilling over the cliffs.

Philips Gulch Falls

          It is hard to believe that although these falls are on Salt Point State Park Property, they do not appear on any map or brochure. Most parks tout their waterfalls as the main attraction. I really like how they've left the falls off the maps making it more of a hidden gem. There is another smaller waterfall a little farther north at Chinese Gulch but because I wanted to wait at Philips Gulch for sunset, I'd save that hike for the future.
          Steep cliffs hem in the falls on both sides with no immediate visible route to the base. Looking down I could see that the tide was low enough to walk around below if I could just find a way down. I started walking north along the bluffs looking for any sign of a way down and quickly realized that even if I had, there was no dry approach along the shore from the north. I turned around and walked south, ascending a steep hillside scattered with blooming irises. I continued along the edge of the cliff until I came across a depression which I followed down a rock face, zigzagging my way through the tafoni and barnacle laden boulders until I bottomed out at the waters edge. I hopped and skipped across the slippery shoreline and made my way over a few smaller gulches until I reached the base of the falls. The two plummeting cataracts of Philips Gulch Falls were far more defined from this angle, as the view from above is quite limited.

Philips Gulch Falls

Philips Gulch Falls with Small Rainbow

          I tried diligently to climb a large sea stack adjacent the falls but the tide was just high enough so that I couldn't make a safe attempt. I scrambled back along the shore and climbed up onto the bluffs to catch sunset above the falls. By the time I got back the clouds had come in, eliminating my chance for any golden light.

Sonoma Coast Sunset

          The area on top of the waterfalls consists of many small pools and rivulets resembling a Japanese tea garden.

Japanese Tea Garden on top of Philips Gulch Falls

          We ended up driving back to camp and relaxing the rest of the evening.


  1. Excellent story, Cole. I never knew about that waterfall! I'll definitely want to check that out next season.

  2. Thanks John, it's definitely worth checking out.

  3. Can you identify the unmarked trail you walked down after you parked at the pull out? Maybe a mile marker? Sorry I don't have any of the profiles in your list, but my name is Lana and I enjoyed your blogg.