Sunday, June 17, 2012

High on the Northern California Coast

June 13-16, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte Counties, California
False Klamath Cove sea stacks 
The title of my blog serves several purposes--the main one is to get more blog followers! But in all serious,we have been getting high on this part of our California experience both in terms of geography and general attraction to the area. I always wondered what it was like here as I have heard stories going back to my own pseudo-hippie days in Missoula, Montana, to much later stories my former students told me about what it was like to try to study at Humboldt State. Vic added contrasting stories from his youth when his family came here to tent camp in Richardson Grove State Park in the Redwoods as a break from their urban lifestyle in the Sunset District of San Francisco. I also have to laugh when I think of "The Redwoods" as many English teachers in Oregon used a well-known sample essay called "the Redwoods" every year to improve word choice and voice in our students' writing. The notorious essay went on and on about how big the trees were, how much fun it was here, and what a really great trip it was--with no specific details. So now I get to fill in my own details.

We started this leg of the trip by staying overnight at a Harvest Host site, the Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery in Hopland, just south of Ukiah in Mendocino County. The drive there on Hwy 20 was very scenic, especially rolling past the lake region: Clear Lake, Lake Mendocino. Once we reached Hwy 101, we drove fewer than ten miles south to the winery which turned out to be a fantastic place to overnight. The manager, Vicki, requested that I come to the tasting room to sign in which I did while Vic was setting up the Big EZ (pretty simple when you are boondocking).  Since it was only an hour from closing, I thought I would also do a quick tasting so I could support the business with a purchase. I was unprepared for the beauty of the winery's historic setting which used to be a sheep farm and hop farm before prohibition. Hops were a major crop in the area--hence the name Hopland.  The late 1800s restored farmhouse has a wrap around porch with sweeping views and a water feature. I ended up having a wonderful time chatting with Vicki and Bill, a wine club member from Oakland who was staying in the guest house. It occurred to me that this routine, sipping Syrah in a beautiful setting while Vic sets up "camp," might be a perfect strategy to follow for Harvest Host stays in the future. After about an hour, Vic came to find me in the tasting room and was also captivated by the charm of the farmhouse and the quality of the vino. After closing, Vicki put cushions out on the wicker furniture and turned on twinkly lights so we could enjoy the use of the porch later that evening or for breakfast. Super friendly place.

The view from our motorhome at Jaxon Keys Winery

Jetta and Rico take a  moment to pose in front of the Petite Syrah grapes
From Mendocino County, we drove north on Hwy 101, parallel to the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile alternate route on old Hwy 101--not sure how good that would have been for traveling in the motorhome. We had not done much research on where we were going to stay and were a little surprised to discover that none of the state parks in this area was big rig friendly (most websites listed 31' maximum).  This reality became a little more understandable as we drove on the "new highway's" twisting and turning roads with 6 and 7% downgrades. The GPS on my phone said the trip would take three hours and it took us almost six. We also had to deal with road construction and wind, making the journey a bit more challenging but still worth it as we oohed and aahed over the impressive size of the trees and the beauty of the scenes along the Eel River. Our second discovery was that the private parks south of Eureka were pretty expensive, so we decided to stay at a more reasonable one in Eureka ($35 vs. $50), Shoreline RV Park and use that as a base from which to explore the area. (The park was adequate with roomy blacktop sites, but as often is the case, their website made it seem much more deluxe than it was--and the shoreline was a slough.) 

Another popular attraction in Eureka is its notable Victorian architecture and lumberjack history.  No surprise that the man who built the house below was one of Northern California's first lumber barons.
The Carson Mansion in Eureka, now a private club,  considered to be "the most grand Victorian home in America."
The Pink Lady mansion in Eureka, wedding gift to the son of the Carson Mansion owner
Aside from checking out the town of Eureka, we were anxious to take a hike in the Redwoods, check out the town of Ferndale, a picturesque little town with antiques and Victorian homes that is popular for movie sets, and maybe explore a beach in the area. The coastline near there turned out to be more cliffs than beach and the wind was still howling so we headed inland and further south to Fortuna. We discovered a lovely hiking area through old growth forest just south of there. I felt almost dizzy as I looked up two or three hundred feet to the tops of the trees that were swaying in the wind. I didn't realize how much the treetops move when they are so tall.  But my favorite part of the old growth forest is the lush forest floor covered with sword ferns. There were also thimbleberry plants, one of my favorite berries for jams if you have the patience to pick them, and clover-like Redwood sorrel with pinkish flowers blanketed the base of several trees. Since the temps were so cool (low 60s), we chose to take the dogs with us for the day (to scare away the mountain lions and bears J.)

When I checked in at the RV park in Eureka, I learned that the 22nd annual Oyster Festival in Arcata (about seven miles north) was happening this weekend.  After checking out the festivities on the internet, Vic and I decided we would go to it on the way north to a more inviting campground in Klamath. We both love oysters plus the Arcata Farmer's Market was happening at the same time. The day was perfect, with a high of 70 predicted; the festival was in full swing when we arrived around 11:30 am.  Imagine the smell of  burning charcoal, grilling oysters with all kinds of sauces, and random whiffs of the biggest local crop: marijuana. Grateful Dead style live music, plenty of local beer and wine, dreadlocks, crazy hats, and hula-hooping girls rounded out the scene.  

Take note of this great recycling effort! The shells are put back  in the water to help restore oyster beds.  
Our "more inviting" campground turned out to be even better than expected, especially since they honored our Passport America membership reducing the cost of one night to $15. This park, the Golden Beaver RV Resort, a no website, no-frills park, is situated in a gorgeous spot directly on the Klamath River just off Hwy 101. Most of the blacktop sites with full hookups have a view of the river as they are all "pull-ins" rather than "back-ins" so you face the water. The manager here may be the friendliest one I have ever met. He repeated several times that there are only two rules here: use common sense and have fun. We are also only a mile and a half from a boat launch where we can launch our kayaks if the weather warms up a little. 
Our site on the Klamath River at Golden Bear RV Resort

Our finale for the day (after enjoying the Oyster Fest for a few hours) was taking a walk on the beach just south of Crescent City about twelve miles north of here. It was fairly windy but it was a warm wind. The coast beaches here look a lot like Oregon and make us feel like we are very close to being back home. Even the dogs seemed to act like they were back in familiar territory as they raced along the shore off-leash kicking up sand and chasing each either in the waves. It is good to be almost back in the Northwest for the summer!


  1. Oyster fest sounded like a fun place to be... how are the farmers markets there? the one's here in Oregon don't have much produce yet as it seems to still be early spring here...

  2. The market in Arcata had only spring vegetables such as lettuce, kale, peas, and radishes. Oregon had a cold, wet spring which has probably slowed things down. Also some markets, like the one in Corvallis, offer organic hothouse items which adds to the variety. Perhaps you are too accustomed to the long hot nights in Texas?

  3. Your dogs are so beautiful.

    The BEST way to get more blog followers is to comment on other blogs! Come on, you can do it!


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