Riding with Elk on the Edge of the World

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I feel like the edge of the California coast might just crack off and drift away into the ocean one day. Maybe I have read too much dystopian literature, but sometimes, it feels possible. 

It is next to the sublime power of nature that I get to reset myself. In the sun-soaked early summer in Northern California, I head to Tomales Point, part of Point Reyes National Seashore, to ride with elk on the edge of the continent. To preserve the once-flourishing elk population, California has designated Tomales Point Elk Reserve as a place to save them. Since it’s open to the public for hiking and horseback riding, and just north of The Golden Gate Bridge, it is my chosen destination for a mini-vacation.

I decided to trailer my horse three hours from my house to the Point Reyes National Seashore to ride with California elk and to explore the area. The Seashore is a 71,070-acre park preserve located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County, California. The spring wildflowers in bloom are enough to draw anyone here.

 

Upon arrival, my horse snacks as he is anxiously tied to the trailer. I quickly brush the dirt off his broad back and throw the saddle on. As I groom him, he takes a bite of hay and dances around. His feet shuffle and his ears dart, showing his excitement. Since he is always game for adventure, we are a great match.

Like-minded

As we head to the trailhead, the ocean-laden wind blows, and my thoroughbred feels excited and responsive to my gentle leg. He doesn’t need much urging. On the way out, we ride on the finger of open grassland and coastal scrub surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean. The open sea spreads out as far as the eye can see. Around us, the seagulls dot the steep drops at the edge of the cliffs.

Summer skyline-straight cumulus clouds, puffy on top, backlit by the sun, hang above the cliffs almost within reach. The air tastes of salt and the chilly wet breeze blows my horse’s mane and tail all around. The trail sign boasts a ten-mile trip, out and back, and I’m glad because I can feel my horse’s need to gallop surging under me. Since there are a few people walking on foot, I wait for a bit of clear space to open him up.

I get the sense my horse smells the elk before he sees them. They stand fifty feet in the distance. Initially, he does not really react to them, probably because horses and elk have similar odors. They are both herbivores. The elk graze on this spit of land, but as we approach them at a rolling canter, they sense my horse’s energy. In unison, the elk herd pick their heads up and notice us. As my horse turns his jiggy trot into a canter, the elk come alive. My horse sees them move and picks up speed. As an ex-racehorse, any excuse for him to run lights him up. As the elk take off, so does my horse and before I know it, he catches up with them. We become one with the herd.

Grateful

Out on the edge of the world, my heart races. I grab my horse’s mane to stay balanced on top of him, I almost come undone with the beauty of it all. The sound of galloping hooves, the feel of dirt in my face, the taste of the sea on my lips, gliding amidst the herd for the length of a few minutes. In these precious moments, precariously balanced on the edge of the world, I feel lucky to be alive to experience the wild frenzy of life. I am grateful for another wild adventure riding with elk in Tomales Bay.

Pacific Ocean
Tomales Bay by Horseback

 Click for more information about the area: California Tule Elk

Sherri Harvey teaches, writes and photographs in Silicone Valley.

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