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)

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

Hike to the Portola Crespi Cross

The Portola Crespi Cross can be reached by two different hikes; one from the Carmel River State Beach at the intersection of Scenic and Carmelo in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the other by following Highway 1 south to Ribera Road in Carmel Meadows.


In order to understand the signifcance of this cross we have to go back to 1796 when Jose de Galvez, Visitador-General of New Spain selected a fourfold expedition to travel by land and sea from La Paz to Monterey.  

As the ships, the San Carlos and San Antonio prepared to sail, the land divisions set out.  The first in late March of 1769 under Captain Rivera y Moncada and Fr. Juan Crespi. The second on May 15 under the command of Captain Gasper de Portola and Fr. Junipero Serra.

On July 1, 1769, the last of the four expeditions, Portola and Fr. Serra arrived in San Diego.  They found a camp of scurvy-ridden men from the San Carlos and San Antonio.  This discovery necessitated a change in plans. Those who were well enough to stand and board the San Antonio would sail back to La Paz and Fr. Serra and the expedition’s surgeon, Pedro Prat, would stay in San Diego to care for the gravely ill. The remaining 64 would continue overland on July 14th with Portola and Fr. Crespi.
By October the overland expedition had passed unknowingly by Monterey Bay failing to recognize the area as described by Vizcaino in 1602.  They continued all the way to San Francisco Bay before turning south and retracing their steps to two small bays withing five miles of each other.  In December 1769, they erected two wooden signal crosses, one by each bay.  Buried underneath was an account of the expedition in case someone came upon the crosses.

Portola and Fr. Crespi returned to San Diego by January 24, 1770, finding the settlement in a far worse condition then when they had left six months earlier.  But now they were convinced that where they had left the two wooden signal crosses was indeed Monterey Bay described by Viscano.

On March 19th,  the final day of a Novena to Saint Joseph, the San Antonio arrived in San Diego with the provisions necessary for Fr. Serra and Portola to make their way back to Monterey.  

On Easter Sunday 1770, the San Antonio set sail for Monterey with Fr. Serra and Miguel Constanso.  Portola and Fr. Crespi went overland 460 miles and arrived at the bay of Carmel River ahead of the San Antonio.  It is here that Fr. Crespi found the cross he had erected near the bay on the bluff above the river.  Surrounding the cross were gifts of food and arrows. 

Fr. Crespi recorded in his diary of this occasion:  “When the neophytes spoke Spanish well enough to be understood, they on various occasions explained that the first time they saw our men they noticed that every one wore on his breast a small glittering cross; that when the Spaniards had gone away and left this large cross on the shore, they dreaded to approach the sacred sign because at night they would see it surrounded by brilliant rays which would even dispel the darkness; that the cross appeared to grow larger so as to reach the skies; that in the daytime, when it stood in its natural size without the rays, they would approach it and offer meat, fishes and mussels in order to enlist its favor, lest it should harm them, and that, when to their amazement they saw that the cross did not consume those things, they would offer their plumes and arrows in token of their desire to be at peace with the people who planted it there.” (1)

Hike from Parking Lot of Carmel River State Beach

This hike, about one mile round trip, is fairly level except for a small climb to reach the actual cross.  During this winter and early spring when the mouth of the Carmel River connects with the salt waters of Carmel Bay this trail is not recommended. 

The rip-tides on the beach side are very dangerous.  When the water covers the sand bar use the hike from Carmel Meadows described later. 

Before leaving the parking lot, stop to read the information boards on the Carmel River Lagoon, wetlands, and wildlife.  Pay special attention to the caution regarding staying in the “safety zone” and away from the “danger zone,” the steep beach face and dangerous rip-tides. 
Look across the sand and river where it reaches for the sea, in the distance on top of the bluff is your destination, the Portola-Crespi Cross.

Depending on the time of year this view will be different. In the winter and early spring, the Carmel River flows through the sand to the bay (see picture above).  From the late spring to fall a sandbar interrupts the river’s flow to the Carmel Bay (see picture below).
To reach the cross from the Carmel State Beach side you have the added attraction of the Wetlands Natural Preserve, a protected sanctuary for migrating birds, shorebirds and ducks such as the dabbling Mallard and his mate, 
 the American Coot which nests in this freshwater habitat,

the striking Snowy Egret and possibly a Willet,  
bathing Brown Pelicans amongst Heermann’s and Western Gulls,

and the tiny but swift moving Snowy Plover.

Walk across the sand of the Carmel River State Beach the estuary (seasonal lagoon) to your left,
with the marsh beyond and the waves of Carmel Bay to your right – careful not to upset the gulls…

…too late

At the southern end of the Carmel River State Beach stairs ascend to the top of the bluff. 

Here you will find a dirt path that cuts through the coastal sage scrub, mixed with poison oak, to the Portola-Crespi Cross.
 Hike from Carmel Meadows
When the Carmel River makes it difficult to cross from the beach side, you may reach the Cross from Carmel Meadows. Head south on Highway 1 toward Big Sur.  In less than a mile turn right onto Ribera Road in Carmel Meadows.  Then in half a mile turn right onto Calla La Cruz which dead ends.  Park here and look for the entrance to a paved path that leads past a hillside of highly invasive and heavily packed ice plant intermixed with poison oak. 
The trail will wrap to the left and come to an “intersection” where continuing straight will take you to the rocks over Middle Beach. 
Or turn right at the rock marker and continue on up the hill to the cross.  
Whichever way you arrive at the end of this hike, before returning from whence you came, take in your surroundings at the top of this bluff. You are standing at the sight of the signal cross placed in 1769 by Captain Portola and Father Crespi.

Look north to the white sand of Carmel River State Beach…

…and south to the jagged rocky shore of Point Lobos.

(1) The Carmel Mission by Sydney Temple, page 11-12