Carmel, Carmel Meadows, Carmel River State Beach, Crespi Cross, Hike,

Wildflower Hike to the Portola Crespi Cross – Carmel River Beach

The river too is quiet, except when the winter floods rage down the valley to battle the waves across the sand-bar, or surge out in a tremendous bore through new-cut channels. At most times it spreads out like a placid lake, and trickles into the adjoining water-meadows. Here among reeds and tough grasses the pools reflect every changing hue of sky and clouds, and the shadow of the hills lies darkly.”
 (Una Jeffers describing the Carmel River Wetlands)

The historic Portola Crespi Cross is an easy one mile loop that can be reached from either the Carmel River Beach (Carmelo and Scenic)  or Carmel Meadows (Highway 1 and Ribera Road) see map.  

Today we hike from the Carmel River State Beach.  The first thing when making the hike from this side at this time of year, is to look southwest toward the highlands 

to see if the Carmel River has broken
through the sand bar.

If it has, care should be taken to make sure not to be trapped on the Crespi Cross side.  The picture below shows the river flowing to the ocean from the Carmel Meadows side in April of 2013. 

Though this does happen, 

Today this will not be a problem. With an unseasonably high temperature of 78 degrees, the entire town has descended upon the river side of the beach. 

 Our destination is the field 

of yellow beyond the beach and 

the Portola Crespi Cross.

On our hike we will first pass the Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands, a protected sanctuary for migrating birds.  This lagoon is formed by the opposing forces of the Carmel River and the Pacific Ocean.  This force is also what causes the Carmel River to periodically break through the sand dunes, as shown in some of the earlier pictures.  

While the ocean currents continuously deposit sand on the beach, the lagoon rises and falls according to the seasons. During the summer and fall the lagoon waters are low, tule reeds visible two feet above the marshy wetland water.   (Below  the Mission Ranch is seen in the distance during the summer over the lagoon.)

After winter rains, in early spring the lagoon is high and the tule reeds barely visible with most of the beach on the lagoon side covered in water. Below a Mourning Dove observes the high waters of winter over the lagoon. 

Walk past the lagoon
 and scan the reeds for Mallards.

 By the shore watch for Sandpipers. 

In the distance on the sand bar,
look for the meeting of the gulls.

Today the gulls appear to have invited a couple of Caspian Terns noticeable in the back. 

At the end of the beach,
climb the stairs to the loop trail

 to the Portola Crespi Cross.

Which is still in the distance.

The trail is clearly marked and goes in a circle. During wildflower season this is a spectacular hike. Word of caution, stay on the path! 

 There is a lot of poison oak,
and the only way to be sure of avoiding it,
 is to stay on the path. 

Since moving to Monterey County two years ago I have taken advantage of the Let’s Go Outdoors program a life long learning program for all ages.  It is here that I was introduced to the wonders of wildflowers (and numerous other things in the wild). Through the direction and knowledge of Michael Mitchell and Susan Hubbard the art of identifying the gazillion varieties of wildflowers became manageable.

Michael and Rod M. Yeager, MD, wrote Wildflowers of Garland Ranch – a field guide and manage an incredible web site Monterey County Wildflowers, Shrubs and Trees

Susan Hubbard, of the California Native Plant Society, lectured on the identification of wildflowers and their families. The information provided in this lecture made identifying flowers easier, by breaking everything down to the basics.  


The predominate flower on this hike is the yellow Field Mustard. There is an urban legend surrounding this plant.  It is said that Blessed Father Junipero Serra introduced the Field Mustard seed to California by scattering it as he walked from mission to mission.  As the years went by the seeds provided him with a “golden pathway” between missions. 

Mixed with the Field Mustard is the purple Wild Radish.  

Wild Radish and Field Mustard are both from the same family.  One of their distinguishing characteristics is that their four petals form the shape of a cross.

There are about 25 different forms of Lupine found in Monterey County.  I believe this one is Summer Lupine (don’t hold me to that). Lupine’s are a member of the pea family and they have flowers that look like Pac Man.

There were a whole gathering of Lupine
hanging out by the stairs and the
Angler Survey box. 

Besides the Pac Man shape flowers notice the palmate leaves. A palmate leaf is like a circle with leaflets growing out of the center. Remember it by thinking of the palm of your hand.

The next few wildflowers are a bit harder to spot.   So be on the lookout for Red-stemmed Filaree, a member of the geranium family.

Fun fact about the Filaree is their seed dispersal method.  The long seed heads in the picture will coil into a twisted tail; the seed at the end.  After the tail dries and falls to the ground it will act like a corkscrew, responding to wet or dry conditions, alternating between coiled and uncoiled, eventually planting the seed in the ground.  Amazing!

Don’t overlook our state
 flower the California Poppy.

Or the Seaside Fiddleneck which
 gets its name from
 the curve in the neck of the flower.
Think of the neck of a Violin.

They also have distinctive leaves
with sharp hairs and bumps.

The Fiesta Flower was a common corsage for women of Early Monterey. On their way to the fandango, a gentleman would pick a flower from the Fiesta Flower plant and place it on his dates lapel. The small “hooks” on the stem and leaf would stick to the fabric, becoming one of the first corsages. 

The Morning Glory always reminds me of my sister, it is just a joyful flower. Morning Glory’s varieties have different leaves.  This one is the Beach Morning Glory, you can tell because the leaf is kidney shaped.  

Sticky Monkey Flower
Who names these things?  
It is easily recognized by its bright orange
 tubular flowers that almost always are in pairs.

Beside wildflowers, be on the lookout for the large boulder which points the way to the Portola Crespi Cross. 

This cross is one of two crosses erected in 1769 by Captain Gasper de Portola and Father Juan Crespi. You may read more about the history here.   

From the location of the cross the view north 
over the Carmel River Wetlands is spectacular. 
When ready follow the path back down past 
a hillside of Seaside Coastal Paintbrush.

 The Coastal Paintbrush is from the
Broomrape family which can be parasitic.  
Parasitic or not, it is stunning in bloom!

If all goes according to plan you have
 made a full circle ending up back at the
top of the stairs to the Carmel River Beach. 

Until next time, get outdoors!

Photography – L. A. Momboisse –
Quote (Una Jeffers 1938 – From Jeffers Country, page 12)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s