Whalers Cabin at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve picture

The cabin at Whaler's Cove was built in the 1850s.

Whalers Knoll Trail view at Point Lobos State Natural Preserve picture

A mesmerizing view from Whaler's Knoll Trail.

Monterey Peninsula: The majesty of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Road Journals Blog—I had just stepped out of the car at Whaler’s Cove, one of the first stops along the drive through Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, when I saw it: a magnificent California brown pelican, standing on a rock 30 feet out in the water.

A stiff breeze blew. Roiling surf surged around the rock, sending spumes of lacy froth into the air. The pelican didn’t move, its head cocked slight to the side.

I wasn’t the only one to see it. Up and down the trail other people had stopped, spellbound by the sight. Cameras were clicking. Near where I stood on the rocky promontory, a young woman had opened a pad and was furiously sketching—racing to capture the extraordinary sight before the bird soared off.

I hope she got what she wanted. After a minute the magnificent bird rose effortlessly from the rock, stretching its wings as it skimmed low along the churning surface of the water and then up, banking against the opposite cliff. Its flight made me think of a Gerard Manly Hopkins poem I’d memorized in graduate school called The Windhover:

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air,

and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstacy! Then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend:

the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery

of the thing!

No place along California’s spectacular coastline inspires thoughts of poetry quite like Point Lobos, at the southern end of the Monterey Peninsula. Landscape painter Francis McComas, who lived and worked here in the early 1900s, famously called it the “greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.” Poet Robinson Jeffers, who built a magnificent home just north of the point, wrote of the pristine beauty that “lives in the very grain of the granite, safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.”

All of Point Lobos Reserve is spectacular, but by far the most stunning views are to be found on the Cypress Grove Trail, which winds through shady woods and out along the edge of the cliffs, with dizzying views down to the turbulent meeting of land and sea.

Not being a poet, I’ll stop right there. The best words I can offer are simple: Don’t miss it.

Peter Jaret wrote about Carmel, Monterey, and Pebble Beach for Viamagazine.com in February, 2011.

Photography by Peter Jaret (Point Lobos); amessf/Flickr (Whalers' Cabin)

This blog post was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.