Sunday, December 17, 2017     Volume: 18, Issue: 41
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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on March 15th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 2

Head for the hills: Hikers can find a geological gem outside of Guadalupe at Point Sal

By KEENAN DONATH

When the weather is right, there are few places better to be than atop the Point Sal hiking trail, staring out at Lion Rock, calves still burning from the steep uphill climb. Only a short drive from the small town of Guadalupe and adjacent to the Vandenberg Air Force Base, Point Sal at this time of the year is a site worth seeing for those willing to make the 10 mile trek.

The state park and official national natural landmark has become infamous in recent years both for its rugged terrain and its proximity Vandenberg. Access to Point Sal is subject to closure for missile launches and other base security reasons, even though the military outpost is barely visible from the panoramic views provided by the hike.


SEA OF GREEN
Thanks to recent rains, Point Sal is in the midst of its green season. Wild grass can be seen growing out of the cracks in the paths.
PHOTO BY KEENAN DONATH

Point Sal is a source for both danger and intense geological study. In September 2015, a man was reported missing there. The spot was also mentioned as a geological gem of California State Parks in a California Geological Survey report released the same year. Caution has to be exercised by anyone who plans to hike down to the beach area and back.

The land that runs along the coastline at Point Sal represents one of the most unique geological formations in California. The exposed rocks near the beach make up the Point Sal Ophiolite, an igneous rock formation that has been 165 million years in the making, according to the Survey’s report.

Ophiolite comes from the submarine eruption of oceanic crust and upper mantle material. The lava either cools under water or erupts onto land after it is exposed above the crust. At Point Sal and the property that lies slightly south, an approximately 3-mile deep section of ophiolite is exposed on land.


TECHNICAL TERRAIN
Caution must be exercised on parts of the Point Sal hike. After more than 4 miles of hiking, beach access is only a short slide downhill.
PHOTO BY KEENAN DONATH

This is the reason geologists have garnered an appreciation for the remote state park, but the presence of ophiolite also contributes to the instability of paths close to Point Sal’s beach. An access road was shut down in the 1990s after rainfall from El Niño caused major gully erosion, and now the beach can only be reached by slowly sliding down a steep slope of loose rocks. Hikers are advised to use extreme caution when navigating that section of the trail.

The waves that crash onto the shores there help to redistribute some of the excess land debris and keep the small beach smooth year round. But the larger waves that come into Point Sal continuously hit sensitive landslide areas made up of unstable material.

Despite the sketchiness of the terrain, Point Sal is a home to some typical California wildlife. To the sides of the hiking trail are thriving communities of coastal sage and chaparral. And as the springtime progresses, the pleasantly yellow flowering plant, Giant Coreopsis, will start to dominant the scenery.


SECLUDED SANDS
Hikers who have made it this far into Point Sal are deserving of a little rest and relaxation. This small but virtually empty beach is the ideal spot to do just that.
PHOTO BY KEENAN DONATH

Perhaps the most photographed part of Point Sal is Lion Rock, an important habitat in its own right. Located off the most western tip of the beach and inaccessible by humans, the small island is a bird-roosting site and a welcome perch for sea lions for much of the year.

With double-digit mileage and more than 1,200 feet of elevation change, hiking the full trail at Point Sal is not for beginners. Thankfully, the view out to Lion Rock is only a couple miles into the trail and doesn’t involve any dangerous maneuvering.

Whether you want to go on a casual hike to a sweet vista, or do some exploring down by the beach, Point Sal is a picturesque area worth an afternoon of uphill climbing.

Sports Contributor Keenan Donath can be reached through Managing Editor Joe Payne at jpayne@santamariasun.com.

Hit the trail
The Point Sal trailhead is accessable to day hikers by either Brown Road or Point Sal Road (depending on weather conditions and periodic closures by Vandenberg Air Force Base). Access is allowed from sunrise to sunset, and motor vehicles, bikes, and camping are strictly banned. More info: 733-3713 or parks.ca.gov.




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