Sunset Bay to Cape Arago & Shore Acres Christmas Lights - December 8, 2012
Coordinator Richard O'Neill, narration and pictures by Richard O'Neill

We've been hiking at Cape Arago so much that one December day several years ago, Dollie and I changed it up a little by beginning the hike at 2 P.M. in order to catch the sunset at the cape. Whipping out our headlamps after an awesome sunset, we detoured through the famed Shore Acres garden, festooned with Christmas lights this time of year.

The next year, I heard a chorus of "Take me, take me" and this hike has wound up being sort of an annual event, depending on the weather and whether enough praises have been sufficiently sung to me. The latest installment took place this last December when 9 hardy headlamped adventurers set out on the trail at Sunset Bay State Park.

The rambunctious ocean had taken out a large segment of the cliff hugging path but nonetheless the trail eventually worked its way out on top of the cliffs but at a reasonably safe distance from the edge. We could still enjoy the mild waves (it was low tide) rushing over the shoals and the rock formations below.

After some ups and downs from cliff to beach and back to cliff again, we reached the parking lot of the Simpson Reef overlook. The sea lions were congregating on Shell Island for a sea lion bacchannal and other pinniped debauchery. They were probably having a wet-flipper contest, judging by all the raucous barking on the island.

The sun was getting low, so we hightailed it to the cape, walking down to the North Cove overlook for a closer look at the sea lion colony. There was plenty of barking, grunting, belching, and farting; it was kind of like a NASCAR race, but without the race cars. And the slight breeze wafted the pungent aroma of "eau de sea lion" into our unsuspecting nostrils.

The sunset show was now beginning, so we killed time watching the day end. There was a bank of clouds that diminished the sunset somewhat but nonetheless nobody felt disappointed, or if they did feel disappointed they were kind of enough not to complain to the hike leader.

Heading back to Shore Acres as the night became more nighty, headlamps were eventually donned. From my vantage point at the rear of our group, we looked like giant fireflies dancing in a conga line. An orange glow in the trees ahead signaled our arrival at Shore Acres and the other reason for doing this hike at night.

Shore Acres is the former estate of timber magnate Louis Simpson, no relation to Bart or Homer. What remains of the estate are the formal gardens and the caretaker's cottage. And this time of year, the place is decked out in Christmas light glory.

Every branch on every plant, bush, shrub, and tree was wrapped by lights of every color. The brown muddy waters of the reflecting pond were transformed into a mirrored wonderland of twinkling lights while neon frogs hopped across the pond. The cottage was equally bedecked with lights and offered hot cider to cold visitors.

We regrouped at the entrance and took a short cut that, most unusually, was just that: a short cut. The temperature had dropped and our breaths hung visible in the cold air. Those of us with headlamps learned that the beam of light lit up our vapor and, in effect, blinded us. Lois stated that she learned a new skill: breathing sideways.

Arriving at our cars at Sunset Bay, we snickered at the long line of cars on the Cape Arago Highway, each waiting their turn to enter the parking lot and see the lights at Shore Acres. Avoiding the traffic would be another reason for hiking to the Shore Acres gardens.


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