Bare naked ladies

My son went on his scout troop’s annual weekend outing trip to the Bodega Dunes campground in Bodega Bay. Though he had a ride there on Friday afternoon, I was to pick him up and ferry two other scouts back home on Sunday morning. I thought it would be a nice opportunity for photos, so I decided to go up a day early, stay the night at a motel and then pick up the boys early the next day.

Unlike a place like, say, Yosemite with its dramatic landscapes, Bodega Bay has a quiet, serene beauty about it. There’s not much to do there other than take a hike and contemplate the beauty of the coast and sea. A great place to do that is along the Bodega Head trail, which is a part of the larger Sonoma Beach State Park. It’s roughly a 3-mile loop that circles the headlands of the curved peninsula that juts out into the sea and helps make the bay of Bodega Bay.

If you never left the trail head parking lot, the view is spectacular enough. It overlooks a small but pretty beach nestled between the bluffs and some craggy coastline. However, walking the trail provides a great vista of the grand expanse of ocean on one side and scenes of the bay on the other.

According to the Bay Area Hiker website (http://www.bahiker.com/), wildflowers abound along the trail. However, the best time to view them is during the spring. At this time of year, the very end of summer and beginning of fall, most of those vibrant blossoms are gone.

When I got out of the car, a handful of California poppies grew singly and sparsely, their golden color blanched to a pale yellow and their petals withered and deformed. Though they defied the odds and were continuing to blossom, they were doing it feebly and well beyond their prime. It wasn’t a good harbinger of things to come. Combined with the dirt parking lot and the near-colorless landscape, the opportunities for colorful photos seemed at best limited.

Just out of the lot at the beginning of the trail there were some bits of color. Some lavender and yellow seaside daisies grew in small bunches along the rocky edges of the bluffs, as did the more abundant sea fig ice plant. Only a few of their purple flowers bloomed, but the rust-colored thick fleshy leaves provided the most concentrated color along the hike.

Moving along the trail, the hillsides were mostly covered with dried brown grasses with spots of dusty green coyote brush. Bright red and white puffballs of the coast buckwheat are among the last flowers to bloom in the summer, but even they were all but dried and colorless. Miraculously, I found a single clump that still held some color, though fading.

There remaining spots of color were few and far between. Walking farther down the trail, the monotone landscape was beginning to wear on me, and my eyes turned toward the clear sky and the deep blue ocean. Near the edge of a cliff I spotted a small spot of fiery red. I scrambled toward it like a thirsty man finding an oasis in the desert. It was a lone wildflower, an Indian paintbrush. The vibrancy of its color stood out even more against the drab surroundings. I drank in and reveled in its intensity.

Around half way on the hike I heard the distinct barking of seals or sea lions. About 200 yards off the northern shore of the bluff was a small rocky island that was covered with the sea mammals, though they were hard to spot at first because they were nearly the same color as the island. Though I had a moderate telephoto lens with me, it wasn’t enough to pull the seals in closer. The trail was about 100 yards from the cliff’s edge, so I made my way though thigh-high dried grasses to get a closer shot.

Drawn by the azure of the ocean, I walked through the colorless sea of grass until I could go no farther. When I stopped, I glanced to my right and I saw three naked ladies. No, they weren’t nude sunbathers, but rather bright pink blossoms at the end of three bare and slender stalks growing up from the surrounding blandness. I had seen these flowers on the drive along the road to Bodega Bay. I thought they were some sort of landscaping homeowners planted along the way. But here were three sprouting hale and hearty seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

According to Wayne’s Word online textbook of natural history (http://waynesword.palomar.edu/pljuly98.htm), naked ladies, or amaryllis belladonna, blossom during the late summer and early autumn, but I finished out the rest of the hike and the three stalks were the only ones I saw through the entire headlands.

The Bodega Head trail is a great and accessible hike for the beginner, but if you want to enjoy the wildflowers that the area has to offer, you should go during the spring. But if you do go off season you need to keep and eye out for bits of surviving color and perhaps a few naked ladies.

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