Valentine's Day Missing Couple, Part 2: Location & People

Geography, Geology, Climate, & Landscapes

The Point Reyes Peninsula is a stretch of land on the coast of Marin County in Northern California, about 35 miles north of San Francisco and 20 miles west of San Rafael. Point Reyes National Seashore, owned and operated by the National Park Service, comprises most of the Peninsula at a gross area of 71,055.41 acres. Tomales Bay State Park, owned and operated by the State of California, occupies roughly 2,000 acres of the Peninsula. The rest of the land is under private ownership, mainly in the form of townships and resorts. A single road, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, connects the Peninsula to the mainland. [1] [2]


Point Reyes Peninsula, courtesy of Google Maps.

The Point Reyes Peninsula is a unique place. For starters, it’s not a part of the North American Continent; at least, not in terms of plate tectonics. The San Andreas Fault—the same fault responsible for the earthquake that ravaged San Francisco in 1906—is the reason for the Peninsula’s separation. The San Andreas runs right down the middle of Tomales Bay, and through the “bicep” of the “arm” of land that forms its southernmost end. Point Reyes, Inverness, Tomales Point, Drake’s Bay, and everything else to the west of the San Andreas Fault sits on the Pacific Plate, which has been and is still today moving slowly northwest, while the mainland and everything to the east of the fault, which comprises the North American Plate, slides southeast. The Pacific Plate is made up of an entirely different type of rock than the North American Plate. In other words, Point Reyes and the mainland across Tomales Bay can be thought of as neighbors, not siblings. [3] [4]



Since the rock types on either side of the fault line don’t match, neither do the soils. A difference in soils means a difference in vegetation; the iconic California redwood tree, for instance, grows heartily in the valleys through which a road-tripper from the San Francisco Bay Area must pass in order to visit Point Reyes, but on the other side of the fault, redwoods cannot grow. The Peninsula is host to a wide range of landscapes, however—forest, beach and coastal scrub, meadow, and marsh—each with its own unique flora and fauna. Forests range from high-ceilinged hallways of Douglas firs to cling-wrap-tight canopies of interwoven madrone, Bishop pine, coastal live oak, tanoak, and other mixed evergreen trees. The underbrush in these forests can be thin—a few wildflowers, a couple ferns, mostly grasses—or nearly impassable—a tangle of huckleberry, fern, poison oak, and various other shrubs—again, depending on the soil and climate. [5] [6]



In general, the climate on the Point Reyes Peninsula is classified as Mediterranean. This means that the range in temperature throughout the year is pretty small—the difference between the yearly average high and yearly average low is about 30° F—and relatively warm. Climate data indicate that the coolest months of the year are December, January, and February, averaging in the low 40s, and the warmest months tend to be July, August, and September, averaging in the low 70s. From 2006 to 2015, the lowest temperature recorded was 26° F and the highest was 100° F. [7]


That being said, the Peninsula’s terrain allows for the existence of a variety of microclimates—regions that differ significantly from the surrounding region in terms of weather conditions. The primary cause for these microclimates is the Inverness Ridge, a small mountain range that reaches only 1,000 ft in elevation at its highest, and which stretches from the tip of Tomales Point to about where Sir Francis Drake Boulevard crosses the estuary at the bottom of Tomales Bay. Along the coast of the Peninsula, the wind is moderate to strong, averaging about 20 miles per hour. Sometimes, especially during storms, gusts of 70 miles per hour are possible. The Pacific Ocean’s waves crash against the shore and can sweep any unsuspecting beachcomber out to sea in an instant. Heavy fog is common, especially in the summer, from the western flank of Inverness Ridge to some 50 miles off the coast. Rainfall on the west side of the Ridge averages about 12 inches per year. In contrast, the east side of the Ridge is characterized by warmer weather, sunshine, and a breeze that can sometimes pick up a little in the afternoon. The Ridge blocks the harsh winds, and the water of Tomales Bay stays calm, gently lapping at the little coves, its waters warm enough that swimmers can be seen enjoying them without a wetsuit in the middle of the winter. Humidity is much greater on the east side of the Ridge, and the average annual rainfall is about 36 inches. In general, the temperature difference between the east and west sides of Inverness Ridge is roughly 20° F. [8]

Ian Irwin and Carol Kiparsky, the couple who went missing on Valentine’s Day in 2020, were staying at an Airbnb in Inverness. The town of Inverness lies on the east side of the Ridge, but the Seahaven neighborhood—in which the couple’s Airbnb is located—is perched right on the edge of a break in the Ridge, through which Sir Francis Drake Boulevard passes and eventually forks to take visitors either north to Tomales Point or south to Drake’s Bay and the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Just north of Seahaven is Tomales Bay State Park, most accessible to Seahaven residents on foot via unofficial paths through the woods, which cross the Park boundary and join with the Park’s established hiking trails. Most of this section of Tomales Bay State Park is comprised of Douglas fir forest, salt marsh, and riparian corridors, with a strip of Bishop pine forest on the west side of the ridgetop. [6]





Cultural Background of the Point Reyes Peninsula


Point Reyes has been inhabited by indigenous peoples for more than ten thousand years. These people are referred to as the Tamal, also known as Tomales Bay Indians, and they speak the Coast Miwok language. The Tamal made their homes in little coves lining Tomales Bay, since those tend to stay warmer year-round than anywhere on the oceanside of the Peninsula. Believing that “the people are the land,” they buried their dead near their homes. With multiple generations of a family buried in the same area, other Tamal families knew and respected that area as belonging to that family, since their blood had literally become one with that land. For the Tamal people, Coyote was the Creator, having traveled across the water from the West in a canoe until he found land—the top of Mount Diablo, poking up from the deep—and, upon finding it and running his canoe aground, built the world and all of its beings. Like many Coast-Miwok-speaking tribes, the Tamals thought that when a person died, their spirit would need to travel west in order to rejoin Coyote beyond the ocean. In order to get there, they had to get first to Point Reyes, known to them as Tamal-Huye, on a cloud path. There was a place at the end of the Peninsula where a rock protruded over the ocean from which the dead had to leap, and that was how they got back to their Creator. [9] [10] [11]


The first white person to visit Tamal-Huye was Sir Francis Drake. He landed at what is now known as Drake’s Bay, a cove sheltered from the ocean in the tight curl of Tamal-Huye. Drake, as many white men would do back then when they arrived at a new place that was already inhabited by other people, named the tiny spit of land known as Tamal-Huye to its inhabitants Punto de los Reyes—Spanish for “Point of the Kings.” Over time, that got shortened to just “Point Reyes.” Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, is also named for the old Spanish explorer. [10] [11]



Ian Irwin & Carol Kiparsky


Ian Irwin was 72 years old in February of 2020. He’s a well-seasoned Parkinson’s disease researcher, having been the chemist on the team of researchers that discovered the toxin in heroin responsible for the 1982 outbreak of Parkinson’s disease amongst heroin addicts. Irwin was the director of translational drug development at the Parkinson’s Institute in Mountain View, California from August, 2008 until June, 2013. He has also worked in the pharmaceutical industry, having served as a supervisor at the Stanford University Drug Assay Lab from 1978 to 1984. He’s not only a scientist, though—he’s an outdoorsman. Ian has done a lot of backpacking in California’s Sierra-Nevada mountains, sometimes spending weeks at a time up there, and enjoys weekend day-hikes with his wife, Carol. [12] [14] [15]


Carol Kiparsky was 77 years old in February of 2020. She’s a retired linguist. She’s written a few books and several articles on language, most prominently of which is “Fact:” a chapter from the book Progress in Linguistics, which Carol co-authored with her ex-husband, Paul Kiparsky, who is also a distinguished linguist and professor, at Stanford University. Carol is also known for co-authoring a book with Marina K. Burt in 1975 called The Gooficon: A Repair Manual for English, which is a sort of instructor’s manual for teaching English as a second language. Carol, like her husband, loves the wilderness. She frequently accompanies Ian on backpacking and day trips. She’s an amateur mushroom hunter and herbalist, having been taught about edible plants in her childhood. [12] [13] [15]


Ian and Carol live together in Palo Alto, California. Although I have no source to confirm this, I would imagine that they met through their mutual connection to Stanford University. Both had children before they got married, each having separately been married prior, and they have several grandchildren. They also have a cat. [15]


Now, with all of that information in mind, the couple’s story will be easier to understand. Some of these details may seem irrelevant, but I’ve included everything I found because you just never know what’s important. I wish you luck in drawing your own conclusions.


 

Sources

 

[1] Park Statistics. U.S. National Park Service, 2022, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/statistics.htm. Accessed 21 February 2022.


[2] California Department of Parks and Recreation. Tomales Bay State Park. California State Parks, 2010, https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/470/files/TomalesBaySPFinalWebLayout050917.pdf. Accessed 21 February 2022.


[3] Geology at Point Reyes National Seashore and Vicinity, California: A Guide to San Andreas Fault Zone and the Point Reyes Peninsula. U.S. Geological Survey, 2005, https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1127/chapter9.pdf. Accessed 19 February 2021.


[4] U.S. Geological Survey. Geology of the Point Reyes National Seashore and Vicinity. Map. Open-File Report 97-456, https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1997/of97-456/pr-map.pdf. Accessed 19 February 2021.


[5] Plant Communities. U.S. National Park Service, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/nature/plant_communities.htm. Accessed 19 February 2021.


[6] Fire Ecology - Vegetation Types. U.S. National Park Service, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/firemanagement_fireecology_vegtypes.htm#CP_JUMP_6189676. Accessed 20 February 2021.


[7] Weather & Tides. U.S. National Park Service, 2021, https://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/weather.htm. Accessed 21 February 2022.


[8] Weather. U.S. National Park Service, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/nature/weather.htm. Accessed 21 February 2022.


[9] Byrne, Peter. "Tamal Huye: Coast Miwoks Fight for Recognition of Point Reyes' Indigenous History." Pacific Sun, 5 May 2021, https://pacificsun.com/tamal-huye-coast-miwoks-fight-for-recognition-of-point-reyes-indigenous-history/. Accessed 18 February 2022.


[10] Kroeber, A. L. "Chapter 18: The Coast and Lake Miwok." Handbook of the Indians of California, 1925, U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 78, pp. 272-278.


[11] Russell, Matthew Alan. Encounters at tamal-huye: An Archaeology of Intercultural Engagement in Sixteenth-Century Northern California. 2011. UC Berkeley, PhD dissertation, pp. 39-56.


[12] Toledo, Aldo and Annie Sciacca. "Inverness searchers stumped by couple's disappearance." Marin Independent Journal, 19 February 2020, https://www.marinij.com/2020/02/19/mysterious-disappearance-of-palo-alto-couple-has-search-crews-baffled/. Accessed 15 February 2022.


[13] Kiparsky, Paul and Kiparsky, Carol. "FACT". Progress in Linguistics: A Collection of Papers, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, 2014, pp. 143-173. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783111350219.143


[14] "Ian Irwin, PhD." The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, https://www.michaeljfox.org/researcher/ian-irwin-phd. Accessed 17 February 2022.


[15] Dremann, Sue. "A Lost Palo Alto Couple. A 'miraculous' rescue. Here's what happened to Ian Irwin and Carol Kiparsky." Palo Alto Online, 4 December 2020, https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2020/12/04/a-lost-palo-alto-couple-a-miraculous-rescue-heres-what-happened-to-ian-irwin-and-carol-kiparsky. Accessed 19 February 2021.

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