Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore

Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore

by | Dec 20, 2021

Tomales Point is a headland forming the northern tip of Point Reyes Peninsula within the Point Reyes National Seashore, about 45 miles (72 km) northwest of San Francisco and 7 miles (11 km) south-southeast of Bodega Bay, California. Tomales Point and the Point Reyes Peninsula are geologically separated from the mainland by the San Andreas Fault that forms Tomales Bay. The San Andreas is a continental transform fault that extends roughly from the Salton Sea in the south to Cape Mendocino in the north, a distance of about 810 miles (1,304 km). The fault forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate to the west and the North American Plate to the east, with right-lateral strike-slip motion meaning that the Pacific Plate is moving north relative to the North American Plate. The slip rate along the fault ranges from 0.79 to 1.38 inches (20-35 mm) per year. Point Reyes Peninsula is a piece of the Salinian Block with a granitic core unlike the terrain east of Tomales Bay. The granite rocks that form the peninsula were once contiguous with the Tehachapi Mountains, which are now situated 350 miles (563 km) to the south. The 1906 earthquake resulted in Point Reyes moving north 21 feet (6.4 m). The peninsula consists of three major geological formations: the Salinian Cretaceous granitic basement, the overlying Pliocene sedimentary rocks, and the late Pleistocene marine terrace deposits of the southern peninsula. The name for Tomales Point is derived from the name of the indigenous Tamal Indians. The name first appears in the baptismal records of Mission San Francisco de Asís as early as 1801. The tribal name is from the Coast Miwok word ‘tamal’ meaning ‘west or west coast’. Tamales as a place name was first mentioned in 1819 by Padre Juan Amoros of Mission San Rafael when he baptized about a hundred Natives from the region called the Tamales, a territory that includes present-day Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay, and several smaller embayments that communicate with the ocean. The name has been spelled both as Tamales and Tomales, for example, Mount Tamalpais, and appears in the titles of three Mexican land grants as Tomales.

The historical inhabitants of the Point Reyes area at the time of European arrival were the Tamal Coast Miwok who had lived in the area for thousands of years. The Coast Miwok subsisted as seasonal hunters with a diet consisting of fish, clams, mussels, and crab, in addition to the deer, elk, bear, mud hen, geese, and small game they hunted with spears and bows. They also gathered a variety of plants for both immediate consumption and for storage in granaries. The land of the Coast Miwok remained undiscovered by European explorers until Captain Francis Drake first sighted and mapped the fog-shrouded headlands in 1579 from the Golden Hind, which was ladened with gold and treasurers such as porcelain taken from Spanish galleons traveling between Manila in the Philippines to Acapulco in New Spain. Drake came ashore somewhere in the vicinity of Point Reyes or Tomales Bay and near a village of Coast Miwok. The ship’s chaplain described the ever-present fog, the Coast Miwok, landscape, and the wildlife. Drake claimed the land for Queen Elizabeth I and named it New Albion before setting sail southwest to complete his circumnavigation of the globe before returning to England in 1580. During the late 1500s, Spanish galleons were making numerous voyages between New Spain and the Philippines. To sail across the north Pacific, ships from Manila would sail north before catching the prevailing westerly winds, arriving along the North American coast north of present-day Cape Mendocino, and then sailing south along the coast. In 1595, Captain Sebastião Rodrigues Soromenho on the San Agustin anchored in the calm waters of what is now called Drakes Bay on the southern shore of Point Reyes. He was greeted by the Coast Miwok in a manner similar to that of Drake’s experience 16 years earlier. A severe storm arrived with high winds from the southwest and the ship dragged anchor, drifted ashore, and broke up in the surf. The survivors used a launch that had been brought from the Philippines, and with 80 people on board sailed south on December 8, arriving at Puerto de Vallarta, New Spain on January 17, 1596. The Spanish were expanding their domain north into Alta California and Point Reyes was officially documented on Spanish maps in 1603 when Sebastián Vizcaíno sighted the headlands on the Roman Catholic feast day of the three wise men, and named the point ‘la Punta de los Reyes’ or the ‘Point of the Kings’. The Coast Miwok continued their habitation of the area until late in the 18th century when the Spanish built Mission San Rafael and Franciscan padres journeyed to Point Reyes to convince them to move to the mission where they were converted and forced into labor.

In 1821, the Mexican War of Independence ended and the Spanish mission lands were broken up into private land grants after the Mexican secularization act of 1833. Point Reyes Peninsula was divided into two Mexican land grants. In 1836, Rancho Punta de los Reyes was 8,878 acres (3,593 ha) given by Governor Nicolás Gutiérrez to James Richard Berry and re-granted in 1838 by Governor Juan B. Alvarado to Joseph Snook. The grant extended along the west side of Tomales Bay. In 1839, Snook sold Rancho Punta de los Reyes to Antonio Maria Osio of Rancho Punta de los Reyes Sobrante, and in 1843, Osio was also granted 48,189 acres (19,501 ha) called Rancho Punta de los Reyes Sobrante by Governor Manuel Micheltorena. The name means ‘Leftover of Point Reyes Ranch’. It comprised much of what is now Point Reyes National Seashore. In 1846, during the Mexican-American War, Osio fled to Honolulu, where he lived until 1849. After returning to Monterey in 1850, Osio sold his Rancho Punta de los Reyes Sobrante to Andrew Randall, who also bought Rancho Punta de los Reyes, and Rancho Aguas Frias. Randall was fatally shot in a San Francisco hotel in 1856, and the properties were acquired by the Shafter Brothers, Oscar and James, and son-in-law Charles Webb Howard. They established large-scale dairies to supply booming San Francisco with milk and butter. In 1857, the partners began fencing huge expanses of land, building homes and barns, and stocking the dairies. Within 10 years, they had 3,500 cows on 17 dairies and were producing over 700,000 pounds (317515 kg) of butter per year. In 1858, the Shafter brothers sold 2,200 acres (890 ha) on the end of Tomales Point to Solomon Pierce. The Pierce Point Ranch was the largest of four independent ranches on the Point Reyes Peninsula in the late 1800s and excelled in the production of the finest quality of butter. Beginning in the 1880s, the ranch was leased to a series of tenants, and in the mid-1930s it was sold to the McClure family which operated it until about 1945, when dairy ranching ceased after 90 years of continuous operation. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed the bill authorizing the acquisition of 53,000 acres (21,448 ha) of Point Reyes for Point Reyes National Seashore, and today it includes 71,028 acres (28,744 ha). In 1973, Pierce Point Ranch ceased operations and three years later, Congress authorized the creation of a wilderness area incorporating the ranch lands as habitat for the reintroduction of tule elk on Tomales Point. Efforts are also now underway to re-establish the native northern coastal prairie to the peninsula. Read more here and here. Explore more of Tomales Point and Point Reyes here:

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About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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