Northern California Coastal AdventurePosted by Adventure 16 | 11.09.2015
Bodega Bay to the Giant Redwoods 10/27/15
By Catherine "Cat" Hunt, A16 Graphic Designer
Cat's A16 Water Bottle on a piece of driftwood at Manchester Beach
This is the account of my coastal adventure to Northern California, taken with my boyfriend Ray!
We took this trip the last week of October, and while not necessarily the most extreme it was most definitely a rough and rugged excursion along the Pacific North Coast.
The two of us drove out to Bodega Bay after an overnight stop in Merced, making our first official stop at the broad, flat beach known as Campbell Cove. We arrived at high tide; at low tide this beach is expansive and at high tide almost completely underwater. Very nearby there is what remains of a natural freshwater upheave that was once used as a seasonal locale by indigenous tribes fishing off shores. The fresh water that provided sustenance to the tribes was the same reason this site was selected in 1958 to be the first commercially viable nuclear power plant by Pacific Gas & Electric. An enormous hole was drilled in to the ground in preparation for the reactor, which was to be cooled by the fresh water. The power company even started to build the foundation of their building on Bodega Head, until local opposition revealed that the site was actually dangerously close to the San Andreas Fault! The pit still remains and is now partially filled by the fresh water, creating a bountiful refuge for migrating waterfowl and local insects. During our time here we were able to observe several predatory birds that appeared to be vultures perched in the far trees, casually cooling themselves or occasionally swooping out over the water.
Cat at Campbell Cove Ray on Bodega Head Beach
Eventually we relocated a short distance to Bodega Head. The many rugged beaches nestled between crumbling bluffs was breathtaking to view from the dizzying heights. We made the steep descent down to Bodega Head Beach, where one of the first things I noticed was the sand texture; it was much more like miniature pebbles, which was very different compared to the fine sand on the southern beaches. We hiked around on the trails and beaches until sunset then proceeded to our campsite at the Bodega Bay Dunes Campground for the night. As we departed for the evening we saw a herd of about six deer who it turned out were following their stag! What a majestic sight to behold as he stood gracefully poised with his silhouette backed by the setting sun, massive antlers tall and dark against the pastel blues of the darkening sky. He melted into the dimming evening following his ladies before I could get a picture to share, so this incredible experience will have to remain a personal one.
Cat and Ray at Pt. Arena Lighthouse
The next day we gathered our gear and headed north on the 101 towards Manchester Beach. I couldn't resist taking a detour to look at the area around Pt. Arena while en route, pausing for some very amusing forced perspective images of us each holding up the Pt. Arena Lighthouse. A short journey back along the road we had just come down, we found a cluster of enchanting foot trails that provided for several hours of magnificent distraction. After a good hike that traversed the foothills and coastline, we made our way back to the car to get over to our campsite at the Manchester State Beach campground.
below: Cat hiking in the dunes around Manchester Beach
Driftwood on Manchester Beach Jellyfish at Manchester Beach Gopher found around Manchester Beach
When camp was set up we still had enough time to hike over to Manchester Beach to catch sunset. We walked many miles North along the coast with the sun slightly at our backs, in wonder at the enormous logs and timbers that have blown down from their distant forests and washed up to lie like stacked toothpicks or tossed like confetti on the otherwise barren, foggy shore. As our sun goes down we decide to turn around and head back, stopping to inspect the occasional battered jellyfish found pushed ashore and lying defenselessly on their heads. On the dusk hike returning to the campground we again observed a few Does sprinting away into the growing shadows, and made acquaintance with the most adorable albeit fussiest sandy ground hog, that I managed to snap a photo of as he studied me suspiciously from the safety of his burrow.
The next day we continued fairly early north on the 101. Even the drive north exudes such natural beauty that one cannot help but be in wonder at this majestic place. The road was windy but the day was very beautiful as fog banks from the ocean drifted up over the tops of the enormous vividly green trees that where crowding all around us on all sides except to the west, where the road ground would often simply dip away down out of view, exposing a massive expanse of glittering blue Pacific Ocean. In several locations the sun would shine down through the large trunks where the trees completely engulfed the road, and we would circle around in such a tight hairpin turn that there would suddenly be a glimpse of the waves crashing against the massive cliffs of the Northern California coast where the redwood and other giants pine trees would be growing very close to the oceans edge.
Cat at the Noyo Headlands The "sand" at the famous Glass Beach
We made it to Fort Bragg in time to go out to the Noyo Headlands, which include the famous Glass Beach. According to locals we spoke with, much of the area was mitigated by the local government and returned to its natural state, and only a fraction of the debris remains. All the different color bits of glass still make this beach very unique. The area in the past used to be a local landfill and apparently people would push their trash over the edge over the cliffs right into the ocean and in many cases they first lit things on fire! They would dispose off dish washers, cars, trucks, practically anything you can imagine. Eventually the ocean regurgitated the materials back onto the shore, after being ground and crushed by the weight of the waves. This accounts for why all the glass, metal, and porcelain debris can be found on this beach. We explored the various trails around the Noyo Headlands until sunset when we made our way to the first hotel stop of our trip. The hot showers where a nice change from the quarter operated showers at the campgrounds.
The Elk Herd posing for a picture in Elk County
In the morning we started the trip north early to make good use of the day. After a period of driving north on the 101 we entered Elk County. Ray lived previously in Del Norte County, and explained that we would be going through an area that once was an Elk refuge and probably still was, where you could frequently observe large herds of them grazing lazily along the tree line. We were in luck as we almost immediately made a stop here, because we noticed a cluster of brown furry heads peering over the fence off to the side of the road! I couldn’t help but take a million photos of the Elk that were nonchalantly posing for me, chomping and staring curiously over the blackberries at us from their lush meadow. Farther along the highway we made another stop at the Redwoods State Beach; an expansive and somewhat stony shoreline where we hiked and explored for many hours. The beach was littered with beautiful white pebbles that appear to be bits of milky quartz or perhaps marble that have been tumbled for centuries by the sea until smooth and round. Along with the slate gray of the fine particulate sands, they dominate the beach spectrum, mixed in with the vast myriad particles and pebbles that resemble miniature boulders. We lingered here for a long time not wanting to depart, for in the distance we could see the sprawling footprint of civilization, and we knew by that night we would make it into Crescent City.
Birds on Crescent City Beach One of the trails we hiked at Tolowa Dunes
The next morning we rose early once more to explore Crescent Beach while enjoying the periodic sound of the lighthouse horn through the fog. Battery point Lighthouse could be seen through the haze resting atop its rocky outcropping, a squat building with a characteristic tower built on top and completely surrounded by the churning high tides. After a while of exploring we headed over to Point St. George in search of the lighthouse reported to reside offshore around the Tolowa Dunes area. The Point St. George Lighthouse was constructed about six miles off shore after a steamer ship named the Brother Jonathan struck the rocks in 1865 and sank, taking many lives with it. We hiked and explored around Tolowa Dunes for a few hours, but sadly we never actually glimpsed the lighthouse. Eventually we decided to continue our trip north so that we would still have some daylight to explore the towering Sequoia Redwoods that stood looming to the east. The old-growth redwoods were massive! I loved the way that the beams of light would filter through the trees and mist. Turning off to trek through a nearby grove, we noticed that many of them had been damaged at the bases by a past fire, but it was incredible to see how even the trees with the intense fire damage were still growing at the tops or sending out new branches below a scar. We even found a tree that had completely fallen over that was still growing. The limb of that tree looked like a little tree itself because it was growing vertically right from the fallen trunk. We explored the trees for hours! Hiking and exploring the undergrowth. Everything was covered in lichen, moss, and dew which created a magical green wonderland under the trees. We discovered several varieties of fungi and even came upon a banana slug. The sound of a myriad of different birds and the rushing waters of the Smith River all around us was very soothing.
Cat and Ray in front of the base of a fallen Giant Redwood Cat hugging a Giant Rewood Tree
As the day drew closer to an end so did the exploratory portion of our quest, and we continued north on the 199 into Oregon, heading to our final destination in Ashland to meet up with friends. This was the official end of the coastal journey segment of the trip, we both acknowledged with more than a slight pang of regret. Our much-less eventful return route would see us (as Ray phrased it), "dropping south straight down the I-5 from the north, like a shooting star falling from an emerald sky to land smack-dab in the desert."
And I suppose that would be aptly and poetically correct, how typical of him!
Light shining through the many trees The Banana Slug that we found while exploring the Giant Redwoods