Mesmerizing views hiking in the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of the California Coastal National Monument. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Photo opportunities seemed to be everywhere while hiking in Point Arena.

This section of the rugged California coastline is majestic. Waves crashing, water surging through the natural arches, sea lions oblivious to the chaos around them as they lounged on the rocks, and seabirds seeming at times to be fighting the air currents.

Bowling Ball Beach is aptly named. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

On a bench at the Pelican Bluffs Trail and Preserve we were treated to a show by the whales playing off shore as they migrated south.

It was a feast for the eyes; really all the senses were engaged on every hike this last weekend of September.

Fog and gray skies made it all seem even more dramatic.

Geological formations reveal a history about California’s past if one knows what they are looking for. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This swath of Mendocino County is home to the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of the California Coastal National Monument. The monument was created in 2000 to protect marine habitat, islands and reefs along California’s 1,100-mile coast, along with 200,000 seabirds and thousands of seals and sea lions.

In 2014, the first onshore land was added to the monument. These are the 1,665 acres north of Point Arena proper. It added coastal bluffs and shelves, tide pools, onshore dunes, coastal prairies, riverbanks, and the mouth and estuary of the Garcia River.

While there are 8 miles of paths, I hiked about 3.25 miles of them. I started at City Hall, then walked north toward the Point Arena Lighthouse The trail comes out just south of the beacon. Walking in this direction allows for the lighthouse to be a focal point much of the time.

Scenic vistas are everywhere when hiking near Point Arena. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With much of the trail paralleling the Pacific Ocean, it was hard to keep walking because I just wanted to stare at the beauty. And other times it was hard because my fear of heights kicked in. Luckily a trail a little farther from the cliff’s edge was available.

The sandstone cliffs along the Pelicans Bluff trail at times reminded me of Drakes Beach in Marin County. This 73-acre preserve south of the town of Point Arena has 2.2 miles of trails.

A sign reads, “You are standing on top of this jumble geologists call a wave-cut terrace. Eighty thousand years ago it was a beach. Very slow uplift and erosion due to changing sea level sculpted this terrace to its current height. You can see an emerging terrace at low tide, and a 100,000-year-old terrace is visible on the slope above you.”

All I knew is that it was beautiful.

As the tide goes out more “bowling balls” come into view. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

More information provided included, “Along the cliffs in the background and below you can see how the San Andreas Fault has warped the ancient ocean sediments, tipping them in nearly every direction.” I would not have known I was looking at this had I not been told.

Farther south is Bowling Ball Beach, so named because at low tide rocks (much bigger than bowling balls) reveal themselves.

Atlas Obscura says, “The so-called bowling balls are actually a geological phenomenon known as ‘concretion,’ sedimentary rock formed by a natural process wherein mineral cements bind grains of sand or stone into larger formations. These boulders are the result of millions of years of concretion and erosion, exposing the hard spheres as the mudstone of the cliffs receded around them.”

We were able to see some of the “balls” but the tide prevented us from seeing this complete phenomenon. But what we did witness was still sensational.

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