Land Plants and Animals

As the terrain rises northeast of Highway One, coastal brush and grasslands blend into lush growths of bishop pine, Douglas, fir, madrone, tan oak, groves of second growth redwood and quiet meadow areas. At the top of the coastal ridge, at about 1,000 feet elevation, there is a large open "prairie" where elk once grazed. At Salt point's highest elevation, you will find pygmy forests where stands of pygmy cypress, pine, and even the normally gigantic redwood grow only to stunted sizes. This is caused by the combination of a highly acidic soil that is lacking in nutrients and a hardpan layer just below the soil surface. Similar stands of pygmy forest are found all along the Pacific Coast from Monterey County northward to Mendocino County.

Black-tailed deer, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, gray foxes, badgers, striped skunks, and dozens of varieties of rodents such as squirrels, chipmunks, and field mice are native to this area. Bears and mountain lions occasionally range the area, although visitors rarely see them.

The forest, grassland, and ocean's shore host a huge variety of birds. Look for pelicans, ospreys, woodpeckers (including pileated), and oyster catchers. Be wary of Steller's jays and ravens who ravage unattended campsites in search of food.

Marine Plants and Animals

Bull kelp thrives along the Pacific coast. In April, no kelp is visible from the shore, but its growth has already begun. Attaching to rocks with a holdfast, it will grow up to 10 inches per day as it reaches for sunlight at the ocean's surface. In August, the water is dark with the lush kelp forest that provides homes for numerous varieties of rock fish and marine organisms.

Sonoma Coast is famous for its red abalone. This slow-growing aquatic snail is an important part of the intertidal community. It takes an abalone an average of 10 years to reach a diameter of 7 inches.

Gray whales can be seen between December and April as they migrate southward to their breeding and calving areas along the coast of Baja California and then return to their summer feeding areas in the Bering Sea.

Gerstle Cove is an Underwater Reserve where no form of marine life may be taken or disturbed. The boundaries are marked with a yellow pole on the north end and yellow paint on the south.