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March 8, 2005 > Punta De Año Nuevo

Punta De Año Nuevo

by Karthik Raman

A small, windswept beach stabs the Pacific Ocean, just 55 miles south of San Francisco. This stretch of beach is Año Nuevo State Reserve, home to harbor seals, elephant seals, sea lions, numerous plants and animals and is a spectacular place to visit.

On January 3, 1603, Spanish maritime explorer Sebastian Viscaino and his diarist and chaplain of the expedition, Father Antonio de la Ascension, sailed by a point on the California coast. In honor of the recently celebrated New Year, they named it Punta de Año Nuevo, or New Years Point.

Año Nuevo proved to be more than any ordinary point along the coast. Unable to see the sand bar at Año Nuevo, ships sank there along with their crews. This sand bar took many lives, and the ruins of ships can still be seen today. When the government purchased the land, they installed a lighthouse and a light keeper's house. Soon, however, they realized that the nature at Año Nuevo should be protected and abandoned both the lighthouse and light keeper's house. Today, the lighthouse is a ruined frame and the light keeper's house on Año Nuevo Island is overrun by elephant seals.

The popular elephant seals that reside at Año Nuevo were, at one time, endangered. With the government's help, the population went from a few dozen seals to the approximately 5,000 existing today. With a scheduled tour, you can get within 30 feet of the fascinating seals and can see them mating, giving birth, and maybe even battles among the males. It is policy that park rangers do not interfere with life in the park, letting nature take its course, whatever the outcome may be.

The Año Nuevo State Reserve is a beautiful place to visit. It is colorful and peaceful, full of all that Mother Nature has to offer. There is much to be observed but beware; there is also plenty of Poison Oak. A Visitor Center features natural history exhibits and its bookstore offers educational souvenir items such as books, postcards and posters. Restrooms, drinking water and picnic tables are only available near the Visitor Center. Food and beverages are not sold at the reserve.

In order to keep Año Nuevo in its natural state there are some rules to follow when visiting the park. These rules are for your safety and for the safety and protection of plants and animals of the reserve. No pets are allowed in the park nor can they be left in cars. There are no available kennels at Año Nuevo State Reserve. Federal law states that you cannot damage or harass any wild life in the reserve. Elephant seals are wild and dangerous requiring at least a 25-foot distance from them. Shells, rocks, wood, plants, and animals are protected by law and no collecting of them is allowed. Smoking is not permitted in buildings or on guided walks and fires of all types are strictly prohibited.

During the breeding season, December through March, daily access to the reserve is available via guided walks only, for which reservations must be made. Most adult seals are gone by early March, leaving behind the weaned pups that remain through April. The elephant seals return to Año Nuevo's beaches during the spring and summer months to molt and can be observed during this time through a permit system.

Año Nuevo's is a popular spot for school field trips and reservations need to be booked a month in advance. For more information about Año Nuevo, visit

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