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Point Lobos State Reserve

[Point Lobos]
View of Point Lobos State Reserve


A Brief History

Mounds of numerous shell fragments and the presence of mortars hollowed out of bedrock indicate that Indians gathered and prepared food here. A permanent settlement was never established because fresh water disappeared during the summer and fall.

After the arrival of Europeans in 1769, Point Lobos became at various times a pasture for livestock, the site of a whaling station and an abalone cannery, and a shipping point for coal mined nearby. A portion was even subdivided into residential lots. In the early days, ownership of the land changed frequently -- once supposedly in a card game.

By 1898, Point Lobos had been acquired by an owner whose foresight led to its protection. A. M. Allan bought a parcel that included portions of Point Lobos and began to buy back the residential lots. With funds from the Save-the Redwoods League, encouragement from an aroused public, and the gift of the Cypress Grove as a memorial dedication to Allan and his wife. Point Lobos became part of the new state park system in 1933. Additions since then have expanded the Reserve to 554 acres. In 1960, 750 submerged acres were added creating the first underwater reserve in the nation. This portion was designated an Ecological Reserve in 1973.

The natural processes occurring at Point Lobos are generally left undisturbed. Management does, however, include the use of fire, which has always been a natural feature of the environment. Evidence of burns may be visible. Roads and signs have been kept to a minimum and strict rules have been enacted to protect the area for future generations of visitors.

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The Record of the Rocks

The Point Lobos landscape, a mosaic of bold headlands, irregular coves, and rolling meadows, was produced over millions of years through interaction between land and sea. Rocks formed below the earth's surface were uplifted, exposed, and then shaped by waves and weather into a variety of forms. Sands and gravels, eroded from these rocks by changing sea levels, were deposited into an array of beaches and terraces.

Two contrasting rock types dominate the Reserve. The Santa Lucia granite, a course-grained igneous rock that solidified underground 110 million years ago, makes up the craggy landscape of the North Shore and Hidden Beach, while the terrain of Sea Lion Point is comprised of the Carmelo Formation, a sedimentary rock at least 60 million years old. This more easily eroded conglomerate is rocks recognized by its bumpy collection of water-rounded rocks deposited by ancient avalanches that occurred in an underwater canyon. Both formations are visible from Sea Lion Point. Looking north across Headland Cove, you see cliffs of Santa Lucia granite; at your feet, rocks of Carmelo conglomerate.

Wave action has eroded these rocks type in different ways. In granite, erosion generally occurs along parallel joints (weaker areas within hard rocks), forming deep inlets. The Carmelo Formation, because it is less uniform than granite, erodes in a more complicated pattern of cliffs and coves, as at Whalers Cove and Western Beach. Yet when tightly compacted, sedimentary rock is as resistant to wave action as granite.

Beach sands and gravels are products of different kinds of source areas and wave action. The fine-grained sands protected China Cove are eroded from nearby granite and then deposited by gentle currents. Weston Beach, open to storm surf, is made up of large pebbles eroded from the Carmelo Formation.

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The Reserve Underwater

Half of the Reserve is all you see unless you're a diver and visit the underwater world just offshore. This is one of the richest underwater habitats in California. Its animals and plants are fully protected by state law from any disturbance.
The Underwater Reserve owes the its richness to a combination of weather and location. In spring and summer, prevailing northwesterly winds drive surface water out to sea. The void is filled by mineral-rich water upwelling from the depths of submarine canyons. The bottom of Carmel Bay drops of at a steep rate from Monterey Beach. One mile north of the Reserve, the canyon becomes 1,000 feet , continues to drop in a northwest line, and joins with Monterey Bay's submarine canyon about six-miles offshore, at a depth of 7,000 feet. 
[Whalers Cove]
Whalers Cove, Point Lobos
[The Bluffs]
The Spectacular Bluffs at Point Lobos
Upwelled nutrients are used in the photosynthetic process by tiny floating plants life call phytoplankton. Their abundance provides the basis of a food pyramid that supports an amazing number and variety of animals. Two water temperature zones meet and overlap on the central California coast. Animals and plants from both warmer and colder waters account for the large number of species found here. 
Divers explore a realm of beauty that until this century was inaccessible except to a handful of pioneers. In the subdued light of the 100-foot-high kelp forests, animals without backbones and plants without roots create a world of vibrant color. Lingcod, cabezone and rockfish swim in and out of view. The unexpected appearance of a seal, an otter, or a whale quickens the heart.
To obtain permission to dive in the Reserve, teams of two divers each must show proof of certification, register at the Ranger Station, and abide by current posted regulations. The number of teams is limited and diving is restricted to Whalers and Bluefish Coves.

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Climate and Vegetation

Fair, sunny days, occassional winter rains, and dry summers moderated by fog characterize central California's coastal climate. Most plants growth occurs during winter and spring when the ground is moist. To prevent water loss during the arid summer and fall, drought-tolerant plants drop their older and drier leaves. At that time, danger of wildfire is high.

Adapted to a frost-free environment most shrubs and trees, including the Coast Live Oak, remain green year round. A notable exception is one of the most abundant shrubs in the Reserve -- Poison Oak, which drops its bronzy foliage to reveal bare winter stems. Pinkish, pale green spring leaves turn bright green in summer. The leaflets grow in groups of three and have a waxy sheen. In any season, the oils of this plant can cause a blistery, red skin rash.

The Monterey Pine is found growing naturally in only three areas of the coast where its seedlings can survive because fog-drip compensates for the rain free summer. It has needles in bundles of three, and lopsided, pear shaped cones. In a crowded forest, the pines grow tall and narrow, their mature trees will appear stark, solid and massive. Considered the most important cultivated tree in the world today, the Monterey Pine is grown for timber in extensive plantations in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.
The Monterey Cypress is the Reserve's most celebrated tree. Gnarled, buttressed trunks and contorted branches reveal how it has adapted to survive on the outermost granite cliffs at the continent's edge. Notice that its tiny overlapping, scaly leaves and walnut-sized cones distinguish it from the pine. The Monterey Cypress cannot be successfully be cultivated away from the cool, moist sea breeze, for it succumbs to a fungus disease. The cypress and Monterey Pine require heat or fire to release seed from their cones.

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Where am I and Why so Many Rules

A STATE RESERVE: is an area embracing outstanding natural or scenic characteristics of significance. The purpose of a State Reserve is to preserve the native ecological associations, unique animal and plant life, geological features, and scenic qualities in an undisturbed condition. Public enjoyment and education must be conducted in a manner consistent with the preservation of natural features. The Reserve is thus only open for day use, and entry is limited at any one time to the carrying capacity of 450 visitors. This figure is a predetermined number beyond which human impact not only causes damage to the resources, but also is detrimental to the quality of the visit for all concerned.

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Point Lobos Natural History Association

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How to Get There

Pt Lobos is located just south of Monterey and Carmel on Highway. Highway 1 can be reached via Highway 68 which connect to Highway 101, in Salinas, California.

Detailed Map of Point Lobos Area

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Additional Information

For more information on Point Lobos State Reserve the agencies listed below. (back to table of contents)

[back]Back to Natural Wonders of California's Central Coast.

[back]Back to Santa Lucia Chapter.

[home]Back to Sierra Club home page.

Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club
P.O. Box 15755
San Luis Obispo, CA 93406
Telephone 1-805-544-1777.

Sierra Club National Office
85 Second St., Second Floor,
San Francisco, CA 94105-3441, USA.
Telephone 1-415-977-5500 (voice), 1-415-977-5799 (FAX).

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Explore, Enjoy and Protect - Santa Lucia Chapter hike in Machesna Wilderness
Machesna Wilderness hike
April 2002
Photo by Gary Felsman

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