The Historic Pierce Ranch and a Herd of Tule Elk… Pt. Reyes National Seashore

Lichens found on a fence on Pierce Ranch at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Lichens, adorning a fence on the historic Pierce Ranch at Pt. Reyes National Seashore, remind visitors that it has been 46 years since the last cow mooed.

Marin County land speculators, real estate firms, and local governments had a dream in the 1950’s. They were going to turn Pt. Reyes into one vast housing tract. Mouth-watering profits were to be made. Local tax dollars would increase proportionately. Everyone would gain.

Well, not quite.

Local ranchers saw a life style they had loved for over a century disappearing. The Sierra Club saw one of the world’s richest natural environments falling under the blades of bulldozers. The National Park Service saw it’s dream of opening the beautiful coast and forests of the area to the public being replaced by a forest of no trespassing signs.

An alliance was formed. Environmentalists and ranchers joined together with visionary local and national leaders to devise a plan that would protect the environment, allow ranchers to continue ranching, and give the National Park Service the opportunity to create one of America’s premier parks, a gift to America and the world that would last for generations. In 1962, John Kennedy signed the legislation that would create the Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

The Pierce Ranch, located out on Tomales Point, ceased operation in 1973. Three years later it became part of the park as a historic representative of the dairy ranches at Pt. Reyes that had been milking cows and shipping butter to the Bay Area since 1866.

In 1978 a herd of Tule Elk was reintroduced to the area as part of the Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve. Native to California, Tule Elk had once roamed throughout the state in substantial numbers. By 1900 they were close to extinction. Saved by a Bakersfield rancher, over 20 protected herds are now located in California.

Photo of a lichen covered fence at Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

Another photo of the lichen covered fence. It’s like a strange forest.

Photo of cypress tree wind break on Pierce Ranch inPt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Possibly the mother of all cypress tree windbreaks stands above Pierce Ranch.

Photo of barn at Pierce Ranch, Pt. Reyes National Seashore.  Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A number of buildings make up the ranch, including this old barn.

Photo of one-room school house at Pierce Ranch, Pt. Reyes National Seashore including Leslie Lake and Peggy Mekemson. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Isolated out on Tomales Point, Pierce Ranch formed a small community that included a store and this school-house. Since our friend Leslie Lake spent many years as a third grade teacher and Peggy worked as an elementary school principal, I’ve included them in the photo.

Looking inside school at Pierce Ranch on Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Once filled with laughing children learning their abc’s, the school is now vacant and the windows are covered with cobwebs– ghostly reminders of the past.

Old cattle pen at Pierce Ranch at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Once upon a time cattle would have been penned up within these fences, ready to be loaded on to trucks using the blocked ramp at the top of the photo.

Aging fence at Pierce Ranch, Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A close up of the fence.

Bunk house at Pierce Ranch on Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This small bunk house would have accommodated ranch hands. Up to 20 were employed at the height of milking season.

Photo of dairy house at Pierce Ranch, Pt. Reyes National Seashore by Curtis Mekemson.

This dairy house was where butter was prepared to be shipped off to San Francisco in large kegs. Butter from Pt. Reyes was considered to be very high quality and was sold in gourmet shops and used in the best restaurants.

Old farming equipment at Pierce Ranch on Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

What’s a farm without equipment? This piece had morphed into a planter.

Close up of old farm equipment at Pierce Ranch on Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A close up.

Old soil tiller at Pierce Ranch, Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This tiller also caught my attention.

Rusted gear and chain on soil tiller at Pierce Ranch, Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Rusted gear teeth and chain on tiller.

Tule Elk grazing on a hill at the Tule Elk Preserve at Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

Having toured Pierce Ranch we climbed the hill next to the ranch in search of Tule Elk. We found them a long ways off. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Photo of bull Tule Elk at Pt. Reyes National Seashore Tule Elk Reserve. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Here’s how one looked a little closer.

NEXT BLOG: North and South Beach where the Pacific Ocean crashes ashore. Here’s a final shot of the Tule Elk. One of the big guys had obviously taken an interest in me. I was hoping it wasn’t personal. –Curt

A pair of Tule Elk at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

18 comments on “The Historic Pierce Ranch and a Herd of Tule Elk… Pt. Reyes National Seashore

  1. When I still was living in Iowa – which is to say, prior to 1973 – we often used the expression “Tule bushes” to refer to someplace so far out in the sticks it probably couldn’t be found. It took decades for me to know such existed, and I’ve never heard of the Tule Elk.

    I especially like the school. And now I have a hankering for some “real” butter, like grandma used to churn. I suppose the cows on the ranch had some pretty good pasture to browse on.

    • Tule Elk are indigenous to California, Linda. Don’t think any wandered as far as Iowa.:) I think they were down to about 30 in 1900. People thought they were extinct until a rancher near Bakersfield found the herd on his property and decided to protect them.

      No doubt, it’s dairy country. The quality of butter was such that other ranchers counterfeited it by putting PR (Pt. Reyes) on their butter kegs.

      –Curt

    • Something lost, something gained, I suspect Terri. Whoops, a deer is staring in my window from about three feet away. 🙂 It’s a teenage buck with only little nubs showing. But back to the subject (grin). There are still active dairy farms at Pt. Reyes. Many of the chores remain the same: fences have to be mended, cattle fed, and milking done– albeit with modern machinery.

      I always like the old. Man’s efforts take on a certain softness. Nature does its thing. As I wandered through Europe, I always appreciated the efforts to restore ruins, to see things as they may have been. But I also like the ruins that had almost disappeared, leaving only hints behind. –Curt

  2. Another history lesson mixed in with very nice photography… I particularly liked the lichen-covered fence. The abandoned schoolhouse was somewhat poignant when you think of the many children that had passed through those doors.

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Part of cnuiprtag scenes like this is spending a lot of time out doors, which, thanks to your kayak fishing, you should be able to find yourself in many beautiful situations that will challenge you to pick up your camera and keep shooting

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