Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Bay is illuminated: Magical bioluminescence paddles at Point Reyes

Imagine you get in a kayak at night and paddle out onto mystical Tomales Bay in the dark - just hearing the kayak sliding through the water and some birds chirping in the trees along the shore. That's already a romantic and relaxing experience by itself - but it becomes a show of magical beauty with the so-called 'Bioluminescence'. That's exactly what my friend and I did last weekend. 

To get an idea about what was expecting us I asked Dallas, a tourguide at Blue Water Kajaking in Point Reyes. "You will paddle through water, which will light up in blue, white and green colours - just move your paddles and you will see the bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by living organisms and you observe it as bluish white flickers in the water, coming from blooms of bioluminescent "dinoflagellates"".That sounded like an adventure and so we got on the water - just prior to dusk and after a short introduction on how to use the kajaks in a safe way. In a group of eight people we paddled across Tomales Bay - filled with excitement for the night and the bioluminescence to start its show. Dallas told us, that it reaches its peak every year around August and September "This year is the strongest ever", he told us and pointed on the dark surface of the water. 

An then - when we reached the other side of Tomales Bay and it was dark, we were able to experience bioluminescence first hand: When you move with your paddle through the water the tiny dinoflagellates emit short flashes of light. Light produced during day in the process of photosynthesis is generated and can be experienced as a phosphorescent trail when you create movements in the water. I reached my hand into the water and a chatter of herons was swimming by. Later in the tour we spotted seals, osprey, pelicans, jellyfish and kingfishers. There was even a moment when a huge bat bat ray was right below our kajak and jolted the boat from beneath. Just a few minutes later - just right in front of our boat we witnessed a leopard shark - which got disturbed by us and hastily swam away - followed by a lite-brite green shooting star-like arc. During the tour Dallas gave us more information and we learned that the bioluminescene was not the only thing specialty around here. "Do you guys know what kind of ground you are kajaking upon?", Dallas asked and an older guy had the answer instantly: "On San Andreas Fault". Exactly!  “The world is made up of seven major tectonic plates." He draw the line of plates into the dark night sky and added: "The San Andreas Fault—the line along which the Pacific and the North American plates met, is thousands of kilometers long. And right at Tomales Bay you are on top of it. Suddenly, with the thought that I was now paddling over one of the world’s most active earthquake zones, I felt a little unsettled. But Dallas calmed us down: "Don't worry guys - we consider the water to be one of the safest places during an earthquake. So if something should happen: you should be fine!"
We paddled along the bay for about 2 hours and got back to the shore at around 10.30 pm - it was an spectacular trip and totally worth driving up from San Francisco on a Friday night. 

But if you want to extend your Point Reyes and stay for longer in the area, make a day trip out of the Point Reyes experience. In the morning head to the Bear Valley Visitor Center. From there you can hike different trails, such as the Earthquake Trail or the Palomarin Trail. Notice that with 11.5 miles the Palomarin Train is the longest of all the trails offered. If that's too much for you, try the Arch Rock and Wildcat Camp trails - they’re only about half as long. Later in the afternoon you can head up to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Grab some sandwiches at Inverness afterwards or Oysters at one of the Oyster spots (such as Tomales Bay Oyster Company) and then get ready to experience the highlight of the day: Bioluminescence padding.