ANO NUEVO ISLAND STATE PARK
The purpose of Ano Nuevo State Park, in San Mateo County, is to preserve and protect a substantial area on the western slope of the central Coast Range inland from Ano Nuevo Point. The property contains a diversity of plant communities, including old growth forest freshwater marsh, red alder riparian forest and knobcone pine forest. Its four perennial streams support steelhead trout and coho salmon, and its wetlands are habitat to the rare San Francisco garter snake and red-legged frog. Cultural resources include the remnants of a prehistoric Native American village site and a number of structures from the nineteenth century Cascade Ranch. In conjunction with adjacent and nearby public lands, the unit permits the protection of important regional ecological corridors.
Fifty-five miles south of San Francisco and the Golden Gate, a low, rocky, windswept point juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The Spanish maritime explorer Sebastian Vizcaino sailed by the point on January 3, 1603. His diarist and chaplain of the expedition, Father Antonio de la Ascension, named it Punta de Ano Nuevo (New Year's Point) for the day on which they sighted it in 1603.
Today, the point remains much as Vizcaino saw it from his passing ship. Lonely, undeveloped, wild. Elephant seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals come ashore to rest, mate, and give birth in the sand dunes or on the beaches and offshore islands. It is a unique and unforgettable natural spectacle that hundreds of thousands of people come to witness each year.
Ano Nuevo State Park is the site of the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant seal, and the interpretive program has attracted increasing interest every winter for the past 19 years. People who hope to see the seals during the winter breeding season are urged to get their reservations early. The males battle for mates on the beaches and the females give birth to their pups on the dunes.
During the breeding season, December through March, daily access to the park is available via guided walks only. Most of the adult seals are gone by early March, leaving behind the weaned pups who remain through April. The elephant seals return to Ano Nuevo's beaches during the spring and summer months to molt and can be observed during this time through a permit system.
Ano Nuevo Point was named on January 3, 1603, by Father Antonio de la Ascension, chaplain for the Spanish maritime explorer Don Sebastian Viscaino. A few days earlier, the ship's company had gone ashore at Monterey for wood and water, but they did not land anywhere near Ano Nuevo. If they had landed, they would have discovered that the area was occupied by the Quroste, a group of Ohlone Indians, who lived here at least on a seasonal basis in order to hunt, fish, and gather abalone and other shellfish from the sea. The Quroste also collected chert from the beach for use in making spear points, knives, scrapers, arrow points and other tools. This high-quality beach chert was also valuable in trade and has been found at Indian archeological sites in the coast ranges and central valley. Conversely, obsidian spear points from the eastern Sierra have been found in the middens at Ano Nuevo.
Ohlone contact with Europeans finally occurred in 1769, when the "Spanish Governor of the Californias," Gaspar de Portola, led an overland expedition northward as far as San Francisco Bay. After Mission Santa Cruz was founded in 1791, hundreds of Ohlones, including the Quroste, were baptized and brought into the mission where they contracted various European diseases, lost contact with their native culture and died in great numbers.
Ano Nuevo was used as pastureland by the missionaries. It became a private rancho in 1842, when Governor Alvarado officially granted the area to his uncle, Don Jose Simeon de Nepomuceno Castro, a prominent resident of Monterey. In 1851, Castro's heirs sold the 17,753-acre rancho to the rough and tumble American frontiersman, Isaac Graham.
In 1861, a subsequent owner sold land adjacent to Ano Nuevo to the Steele brothers, who developed a very successful dairy operation that continued for some 80 years. The old barns and other historic buildings at Ano Nuevo are relics of the Steele Brothers Dairy.
After World War II, changes in the dairy industry and new irrigation technology brought intensive row-crop farming to the Ano Nuevo area. Windbreaks of Monterey cypress were planted (some of which still survive), irrigation ponds were built, and straight rows of brussels sprouts were planted in the area just east of Ano Nuevo Point. The area was purchased by the State of California in 1971, and today recolonizing plants are slowly erasing the scars left by agricultural activity and the sand mine operation that was carried on during the 1950s for the construction of State Highway One.
As ship traffic increased along the California coast during the early 1800s, the often foggy, rock-strewn shoreline along this part of the coast became well known to mariners as exceptionally dangerous to shipping. Two fine new clipper ships were lost on the rocks between Ano Nuevo and Pigeon Point during the 1850s, and other maritime tragedies occurred in later years. To warn mariners, the federal government installed a fog whistle on the island in 1872 and added a five-story light tower in 1890. An automatic buoy replaced the station in 1948.
A Visitor Center features natural history exhibits and a bookstore offering educational items such as books, postcards and posters. Restrooms, drinking water and picnic tables are available near the Visitor Center only. Food and beverages are not sold at the park.