Dick's 2017 Northern California Journey


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Introduction          Montgomery Woods          Grace Hudson Museum         Mendocino County Museum          Hiking in the King Range

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Introduction - July 24, 2017

On Highway 101 between Santa Rosa and Ukiah

  Coastal mountain foothill country on Highway 101

I don't know where I heard about Montgomery Woods State Natural Preserve, but I think it was probably in the Triple A magazine Via. The article said it had a nice hiking trail through some of the tallest coast redwoods in the state. The trail length is given as two miles in some places and three in others. I immediately decided I would go there, and planned the trip for the summer of 2016. Life and other things intervened, and it was not feasible to go that year, but here I am only 15 miles away, in the Motel 6 at Ukiah on US 101, about 300 miles from home.

I got on the road about 8:30, driving north on Highway 99 and I-5 to CA 12. I took what seemed to be a somewhat convoluted route from Highway 12 to US 101, no doubt  because I partly followed my GPS and partly "just winged it." I think the winging might have taken me into less traffic than the GPS, but I already have an alternate route home in mind that will avoid the mess that is Napa-Sonoma-Santa Rosa. North of Santa Rosa the drive was very scenic - vineyards, golden brown grass, and tree covered hills.

After Ukiah, I will go on to Garberville, 90 miles north, and hike in the King Range above California's Lost Coast.

By the way, this is the first time in a long time that I have written one of these as I go; most of them have been composed completely after I got back home. This method may give a more complete and accurate account, but it may encourage me to go on and on more than I should. We shall see.


Montgomery Woods - July 25

Looking east from Orr Springs Road, west of Ukiah Redwoods in Montgomery Woods Trail bridge built on a fallen redwood log

I slept late, had a leisurely breakfast (stuff I brought, since the motel does not provide one), and got on the road about 9:30. Although the trip to Montgomery Woods is barely 15 miles, it is a very slow, steep, winding road. Top speed was about 25 MPH, with lots of 10 to 20 MPH sections. Some people drove faster (i.e. too fast). I stopped at least a half dozen times to take photos, but a non-stop trip would still take close to an hour.

Orr Springs Road starts about a mile north of my motel, goes west, and rises up to the 2,300 foot level, dropping back down to about 900 feet at the trailhead. Although it seems like "empty" country, there are many roads with several mailboxes and some large ranches, so there are plenty of people living up in those hills. There was not a lot of traffic, although one or two cars would usually go by during any photo stop.

Driving on  this road, like many mountain roads, I came to a sign that said "Road Narrows." Then I came to another one. How narrow can it get, I thought? Actually it got wider in between the two signs, but they don't seem to stock "Road Widens" signs.

Along the way I crossed a bridge that looked like it had been built from a ready-to-assemble kit. The roadway was large timbers, maybe six by four inches, spaced several inches apart, and very bumpy. At a driveway a short distance above, I stopped and walked back to take photos of the bridge, and was able to walk beside it to the creek it spanned. Here I could see that the old pavement ended abruptly with a 20 foot drop-off. The sound of vehicles crossing the bridge as I stood there was amazingly loud.

When I got started again my GPS became confused, thinking I was on the "unnamed road" that was really someone's driveway, and told me twice to make a U-turn, even though I was going the right way. Past this point the road descended steeply through mostly open hills with scattered trees, but once I got down to the bottom, I was driving through redwoods and thick vegetation for the last two miles to the preserve. The apparent dryness in the upper areas was belied by the presence of Spanish moss on the oak trees.

I started my hike at 11:15 with the temperature a nice cool 72 degrees. It would warm up to 84 by the time I returned, but the trail was shaded about 95% of the way. There were a half dozen cars at the trailhead, but I saw very few people on my outbound trip.

The trail, which turned out to be a three-mile loop, runs along a small creek and through a flat, narrow valley between steep, wooded hillsides. Except for a short, steep section up and down during the first quarter mile, it is nearly flat. The preserve consists of a half dozen named groves, but there are redwoods along the trail all the way. I did not see any other evergreens, but there are small bushes and a lot of tan oaks. Up on the hillsides you can spot madrones.

Many of the trees in this grove are very tall. The Mendocino Tree at 367 feet was once the tallest known coast redwood, but taller trees were discovered in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwoods National Park around 2005. The level flood plain, with rich soil carried in by the creek, encourages the growth of redwoods, and stifles other evergreens. A lightning-caused fire went through the grove in 2008, burning through a large percent of the preserve. Like their Sierra counterparts, these trees are highly resistant to fire, and few trees were killed. Fire scars remain, but the area has recovered to great extent.

Probably the most common plants along the trail are ferns, which are thick in many places. A sign at one point describes the three main varieties, and I was taking a photo there when I realized there was a chipmunk sitting on a log right in front of me. I was able to get several photos of him, and a short distance beyond, another one sat and posed for me.

As usual in most redwood groves, there has been logging in years past, so there are some large stumps along the way, although not as many as in some places I've been in. And like most such stumps, they support plants, trees, or in one unique case, rocks.

Along the trail there are several bridges across the creek, mostly very small, but the most dramatic one is about 50 feet long and is built on top of a fallen redwood log, which provides a ready-made superstructure for the crossing. It was just past this point where I made what I like to think of as an "enhancement" to my walk. All along the trail there are places where people have walked around among the trees, creating obvious paths that are not part of the official trail, and sometimes it was not clear whether I was on the official trail or not. As I stepped off the bridge, I turned right and saw a sign with an arrow pointing in both directions, so I continued up the creek.

Although the trail was still obvious and there were recent footprints, I began to encounter a lot of fallen trees across the trail, making progress difficult. The canyon started to become very narrow. I checked the mileage on my phone app, and saw that I had hiked 1.7 miles. Whether the trail was two miles or three, it should have looped back by this time. I found a comfortable log to sit on while I ate my snack and considered my options. To turn back and not complete the loop was not an ideal choice for a dedicated hiker, but to continue on until the trail fizzled out to nothing was equally unattractive. I decided to walk up another hundred yards or so without my pack, and if there was no sign of the return route, I would re-trace my steps.

In that short distance the canyon only got narrower, and appeared to stay with the creek. I should mention that at this point I expected the trail to climb up out of the canyon on one side or the other for the return route. As I retrieved my pack and headed back down the trail, I had another dilemma. If I saw the obvious loop back point, should I follow that, possibly adding a mile or more to the return trip? Or should I just stick with the trail I knew, which would still give me over three miles of hiking?

It turned out that that the decision was easy. Facing the double arrow sign when I came off the bridge, I assumed it meant "Go right and continue the main trail, or left and turn back across the bridge." What it really meant was "Go right if you want to explore a little further (intentionally or otherwise), or go left and follow that obvious trail that heads back toward the trailhead on the opposite side of the creek."

For much of the way back, the two trail sections were close enough that I could see hikers on the other side of the creek. And at this point I started seeing lots of hikers, going in both directions and on both sections of the trail. One family group had a double stroller, although it looked as if they were carrying as much as pushing it. Hopefully the little ones enjoyed what was for them a 4-wheel drive run.

Going back down along the creek, the walk was mostly level, with a short section where it went up the side of the canyon and back down. There were two fairly long sections that were a boardwalk. Eventually this "return" trail crossed the creek and joined the route on the other side, about a half mile from the trailhead.

When I got back to the car, the parking lot was full and there were at least five cars parked along the main road. There is a restroom, and a wooden platform with a picnic table overlooking the creek, and people were using the table.

More Montgomery Woods Photos


Grace Hudson Museum - July 26


Pomo Indian basket in Grace Hudson Museum This carving at the Motel 6 is over 20 feet high One of Grace Hudson's many paintings of the Pomo Indian people

When I began planning this trip, I had a number of places in mind that I wanted to see. In addition, I researched other things to do in the areas I would be in, and the one that stood out in Ukiah was the Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House.

Grace was born in 1865 in Potter Valley, not far from Ukiah, but lived in the latter town most of her life, which ended in 1937. A member of a distinguished and accomplished family, Grace showed a talent for art early in life, and entered the San Francisco School of Design at age 14. Although she worked in various media and with multiple subjects, her focus was the Pomo Indian people she had grown up among, and she created hundreds of luminescent paintings of the natives. Her husband, originally a physician, gave up his practice to study the culture and history of these early people.

I am far from a connoisseur of art, and rarely have any interest in paintings, but Hudson's work impressed me greatly. Her work is very realistic, without being photographic. She was influenced by her father, who was a noted photographer and portrait studio operator in Ukiah, and her mother was a good painter in her own right. Some of the pictures, especially of children,  just make you smile or laugh in recognition of how they reflect kids in your own life.

In addition to the paintings, there is a room full of Pomo baskets, displaying the incredible artistic efforts native people put into creating these utilitarian items. The descriptive notes are extensive, explaining the different types of baskets, material used, and the unique characteristics of baskets made by men as opposed to those made by women.

There is also a room recounting Grace's ancestry, with biographical information going back to her great grandparents, photos of many of them, and artifacts passed down by the family.

A rotating exhibit in the building currently features Japanese-style woodcut prints, mostly of the Mendocino and northern California coast. I don't care for this style, and would have much preferred to see a photo exhibit of this subject. I spent only a short time in this room.

Finally, I joined a docent-led tour (as the only tourist) of Sun House, the home built by John and Grace Hudson between 1910 and 1912. It was occupied by a nephew and his family after her death, and a few changes were made, but for the most part the original redwood building, furniture and artifacts have been preserved, and the property is now owned by the city of Ukiah.

With plenty of time left in the day, I looked in the Mendocino County guide that I picked up in the museum, and headed for Low Gap Regional Park. At first all I could see was a skate park and picnic tables, so I drove on past and up the road a ways. Not surprisingly it goes through a low gap in the hills, and soon turns to dirt. It's in a narrow, heavily wooded canyon, with not much to see except tree tops, so I soon turned around.

I drove into the park and walked in a ways, and I came to a map showing that it's actually a large area with many hiking trails. I started down a paved walkway, across the bridge over Orr Creek, and found myself on a steep, rough dirt trail. I was too lazy to go back to the car to get my boots and hiking poles, so I walked only a short distance, but even that was a difficult task for me; there was a lot of loose rock on the steep trail, and I just went around a short loop before heading back to the motel for lunch, a nap, swimming, reading, and of course, working on this report.

There was some art of sorts at my motel - several large wooden carvings, showing a much higher level of skill than the usual chain saw carvings sold at roadside stands. The most eye-catching was a bear up on his hind legs, holding a salmon, stretching up over 20 feet high.


Mendocino County Museum in Willits - July 27

Willits Creamery and Fountain reproduction Surrey with a fringe on top Old "wig-wag" railroad warning signal

Since I had only 90 miles to travel today, and all day to do it, I decided to follow the recommendation of a docent at the Hudson Museum and stop in Willits at the Mendocino County Museum.

Getting off the highway into Willits was a comedy of errors committed by my Honda's GPS system. Even before I got there, it showed me somewhere to the east of Highway 101 while I was clearly driving on it. It did not give me directions when I should have exited, so I went past the town, then was directed to make a U-turn. It then showed me ON 101 while I was on the access road that leads into town, and again when I followed that road back to the highway. However, I arrived at the museum safe and sound, and spent some time there.

It is typical of most small-town museums, with lots of local history. There is a focus on the more recent past - signs, artifacts and a re-creation of businesses that existed up into the 1970s and even 1980s, but plenty of much older stuff too.

There is a room devoted to the natives of the area, and how the influx of white settlers changed their culture. A lot of it is very sad and a shameful commentary on how a nation of immigrants treated the people who were already here.

The trip from Ukiah to Garberville took a lot longer than I expected, since I made several rest stops, and got held up for about 20 minutes at one road construction site. Since a sign warned of 40-minute delays, I did not complain.

Highway 101 in this area, and in fact, north of Santa Rosa, is a combination of freeway, four-lane highway with cross traffic, and two-lane highway. It goes up and down through hilly country, so it's rarely possible to travel faster than 65 MPH, even on the freeway sections. Often 55 is the fastest safe speed. On the other hand, the route is pretty much 100% scenery, so traveling a little slower, and sometimes a lot slower, is not a bad thing.

I had an early, light breakfast, and spent quite a long time at the museum, so I was getting hungry well before I would reach my destination. At a rest stop I had a few pretzels and some veggies, then decided to stop at Laytonville, 45 miles from Garberville, for lunch. The restaurant I chose was crowded and had no available tables, so I left, and before I spotted another restaurant, I was past the town limits, so I decided to just keep going. At my motel in Garberville the clerk recommended Cecil's New Orleans Bistro, so I went there after a quick stop at my room, only to learn that it would not be open for another 90 minutes.

I went across the street to Calico's Deli, which proved to be a good choice, and I had an excellent roast beef sandwich with cheese, onions, etc. on grilled sourdough bread. Now I am full and ready for a nap.

Mendocino & Hudson Museum Photos etc


Hiking in the King Range - July 28

Tree trunks line many parts of the trail Long meadow beside first part of the Lost Coast Trail This young madrone stands guard where the trail begins its steep uphill climb 

My first knowledge of the King Range came when I visited Shelter Cove on the Lost Coast in 2011. This is a section of the California coastline that is so rugged, it was decided not to try to build a highway through it. So State Highway 1 veers inland north of Fort Bragg and joins US 101 near Legget. From that point north, only narrow, steep, winding local roads go to the coast until 101 reaches it at Eureka.

The road to  Shelter Cove from Redway, just west of Garberville, goes up over the King Range, whose mountains drop down almost directly to the sea, leaving no land to support roads or serious development. On that earlier trip I stopped briefly at the pass, but didn't explore the roads that lead away from the paved road. I saw signs indicating that hiking trails began a short distance in, and vowed to return someday. Today was that day.

The road out of Redway goes through some thick redwood forest, and at places it was almost too dark to drive wearing sunglasses. But the road comes out into open terrain, especially as it starts uphill. For a supposedly "lost" area, there was a lot of traffic headed inland.

My destination was Hidden Valley Trailhead, on Chemise Mountain Road a quarter mile from the road to Shelter Cove. This is a paved road which on the map at least will take you all the way to the ocean, although I suspect it's partly dirt. It also loops back to the Shelter Cove Road farther away from the coast.

The trail I took is the Lost Coast Trail, which goes much farther than I can hike, but as usual with such trails, I hiked until I had gone half of far enough, then turned back. Had I kept going, it would have taken me down from 2,300 feet to the ocean.

I went through some beautiful scenery, and some sections that I would call "interesting," but not quite beautiful. Starting at 1,800 feet, the trail follows a little creek which drains a nearby meadow. A section of the trail near the start was a built-up "causeway" lined with rocks, with water flowing parallel to the path on the uphill side, and crossing it in a couple of places. Then it started up very gently, above a long, wide meadow, mostly dry but with some green plants and wildflowers. A sign indicates that there is an orchard in that area, but I did not explore that fork of the trail. Along this first part I was walking through huge Douglas fir and tan oaks, tall madrones, a few bay trees, and various smaller bushes.

After following the meadow for a short distance, the trail veered to the left and started to rise, following a side branch of the drainage. Then began a series of switchbacks that eventually took me up to the 2,300 foot level. Many parts of the hike at this point were quite steep, and the scenery became mostly tree trunks. The greenery was still there, but it was high above me, and looking up or down the trail or to the side, it seemed to be endless trunks.

Eventually I could see that the trail was nearing the top of the mountain or the ridge, and after a few more steep switchbacks tantalizingly close to the top, it leveled off and went along a ridge top for some distance. From here I could see across the land on my left to some distant hills, with lots of forest country. On the right was the Pacific Ocean, but the view was never great on either side. The tall tree trunks were still everywhere. I tried in several places to walk off the trail where I thought I could get a better view of the ocean, but the land dropped sharply and the thick stands of smaller trees and brush mostly blocked the view. I did manage to find one spot where I could get a fairly good photo.

In a couple of places along the top of the ridge, I saw a lot of manzanita bushes, mostly dead. There were a few live ones, including some that displayed the peeling of bark that they share in common with madrones.

Considering the number of trees, which should produce lots of fallen logs, there were almost no places to sit and rest. The logs were mostly rotted, covered with sharp broken branches, lying at a 45 degree angle on the hillside - or all three. Rocks were plentiful, but they rarely exceeded one inch across. I finally found a small madrone log that had been cut off when it fell across the trail, and with the help of the long sleeve shirt I had brought along "just in case," I managed to create an acceptable seat for my snack break.

When I reached my turnaround point I had gone 1.35 miles, so I would get a total distance of 2.7. It was significantly shorter than my hike at Montgomery Woods, but much more demanding. The weather was a little cooler overall, but the uphill part was quite warm. As I neared the top of the ridge, I started feeling a breeze, and it was nice and cool on top. Surprisingly, it came from the side of the ridge away from the ocean.

On my way down I went by an area that displayed a geological phenomenon that I've seen in a number of other places. An area of earth or rock has sections that are harder than the surrounding material, so that the softer sections erode away, leaving a series of pillars. The unique thing about the ones here was that they were created by small pebbles, less than an inch across, and the result was dried mud pillars a few inches high.

There was a large pickup and camper at the parking lot when I arrived, but throughout my hike I didn't see another soul until I was almost back. As I was taking pictures of flowers beside the trail, a couple came down and passed me. I assumed they owned the pickup, but when I got back they were getting into a passenger car. I talked with them briefly and learned that they had gone in from a nearby campground. It turned out they were from Barcelona, Spain and were touring California, with plans to go to Humboldt Redwoods State Park the next day.

On my way back "home" I made a few stops to take pictures, and went to the grocery store in Redway,. before settling in for the evening.

King Range Photos


Garberville to Fort Bragg - July 29

Oops! First view of the ocean, about 15 miles north of Fort Bragg Guest House Museum in Fort Bragg

I have stayed at Fort Bragg twice previously to enjoy the ocean, to visit the many state parks in the area, and to wander around nearby Mendocino Village. I also stayed there one night only on my home from Oregon.

Looking for someplace to go to finish off this year's northern California journey, I decided on a return to this fascinating area of the Mendocino County coast. My previous visits were in 2011 and 2012.

I got a fairly early start from Garberville, around 10 a.m., and headed back south on US 101. At Legget I turned off on CA Highway 1, the famous Pacific Coast Highway that hugs the coast all the way to San Diego County. The first part of the highway goes through redwoods and other forest and is very slow, with lots of 10 and 20 MPH curves. It reaches the coast at Hardy, which is little more than a name on the map, about 23 miles from Legget, and from there it's about 20 more miles to Fort Bragg. Along this section there are many places to pull off and take in the view, as well as state beaches where you can camp if you go in for cold, windy conditions.

I had already looked through a travel guide, 101 Things to Do in Mendocino County, that I picked up in Ukiah, and had decided on a vist to the Guest House Museum. Despite my two previous visits to Fort Bragg, I did not know that this facility existed.

The main focus of the museum is on the lumber industry, but there are sections devoted to railroading and sailing, which are both connected to lumber in one way or another. There is also a room devoted to the original occupants of the land, and extensive information on the C.R. Johnson family, who operated the local lumber company for three generations. In 1882, when he was 23 years old, Charles R. Johnson purchased a small lumber mill north of Fort Bragg. Realizing that prosperity required greater capacity, he built a much larger mill at Fort Bragg, and purchased extensive timberland. His holdings grew into the giant Union Lumber Company, which also begat the California Western Railroad, the famous "Skunk Train." The Johnson's controlled the company until 1969, when it merged with Boise Cascade.

When I started traveling post-retirement, another traveling retiree and I would bring back magnets from places we visited for our friend Phyllis, who was still working. She has not been able to travel much even in retirement, but says that her refrigerator has been everywhere. After I rode the Skunk Train five years ago, I realized I didn't get Phyllis a magnet. So after I finished with the museum, I went to the Skunk Railroad depot and gift shop, a short block away. I got a magnet for Phyllis and toy stuffed skunks for my great grandsons.

By this time I was ready to eat. Right next door to the museum is the Company Store, which is now a small indoor mall with shops and restaurants. At the Sea Valley Cafe, I had the Fort Bragg Philly sandwich, which was perhaps the best version of that item I've ever eaten. It was very filling, and I got to enjoy the other half for lunch the next day.

Photos - Highways US 101, CA 1, Fort Bragg


Mendocino Coast State Parks - July 30

Rocks and surf at Pomo Bluffs Redwoods on the North Trail in Russian Gulch State Park The coastal plain at Jug Handle State Preserve

There are a dozen or more state parks along the Mendocino coast, several of them close to Fort Bragg and Mendocino Village. Today I went to two of them, as well as Pomo Bluffs, a city park just south of the main part of Fort Bragg.

I had walked and driven out on the bluffs several times on each of my previous visits, so I knew what was there, which is a rocky coast with steep 50-foot drop-offs, and lots of ice plant and flowers near the edge. The waves come in and crash against rocks and cliffs, sending up dramatic splashes of white water and mist. On the headlands that are separated from the accessible area, seagulls and other birds perch and launch themselves in front of you at eye level. On one such headland in 2012 we saw baby gulls, and I'm pretty sure the spot is used every year. There was an adult visible, but I did not see any little ones this time. I walked around the edge of the cliffs, taking in the different views, then continued south on Highway 1 to my next stop.

Russian Gulch State Park is another place I visited both times previously. It's one of the larger state parks in the area, with many miles of trails, both on the headlands and inland into the redwood forests. I walked out to the edge of the cliffs and along them on the various trails that wind through the level, grass-covered land that is part of the ancient sea bed. One unusual feature here is a blow hole, a 50-foot wide opening in the coastal plain, cut off from the ocean by 50 feet of flat land, but with sea water coming in through a tunnel. It's more spectacular when the tide is coming in. On a sign at the trailhead it's described as a "Sin  Hole," with a space where there was probably a K.

After I had seen all I wanted at this location, I  drove to the campground. From this location a trail follows the creek upstream for about 2.5 miles to a waterfall. I had hiked to the waterfall in 2012, and walked part way in 2011, so I planned to just walk enough to get in a mile or so of hiking. You have to park at the edge of the campground and walk about a quarter mile along a paved road to the trailhead, but before I reached it I saw a sign to my left for the North Trail. Why repeat old routes when a new one is available? So up I went, and up, and up. The trail went through heavily forested terrain with redwoods, Douglas fir, tan oak, and the usual small bushes and plants that are mostly unknown to me. The first part of the trail was a series of switchbacks, but it was considerably less steep than my hike in the King Range. About 3/4 mile from where I parked the trail leveled out, and I walked on this ridge top a short distance before turning back. Along the way I saw several examples of a common sight in the redwoods - a "fairy ring" or "family circle," which is a group of redwoods growing up around the roots of an ancestor that has been cut down or died. There were also a number of stumps that supported new growth, including small trees and various other plants. The redwood sorrel and other small plants were shining with moisture from the morning fog.

On the way down I met a group of hikers who told me that the trail goes up and connects with the waterfall trail, and they planned to hike the entire loop, about six miles. When I get to be 20 years younger, I will hike it too. Reincarnation anyone?

My last stop was at the Jug Handle State Natural Reserve. A quote from the web site explains it best: "The reserve’s 2.5-mile Ecological Staircase Trail explores three wave-cut terraces formed by the continental glaciers, rising seas, and tectonic plates that built the Coast Range. Few places on earth display a more complete record of how geology, soils, and plants change over time."

One of the more fascinating parts of the reserve is a pygmy forest, which the ranger at the parking area was explaining to a family with two young girls. She had samples of the soil that limits native trees to a height of two to six feet, despite being 50 to 100 years old. She also had a bottle of vinegar, which she said is basically what these trees are drinking. When she said it was over two miles to the trees, it was obvious neither the family nor I would be making that trip. However, the ranger told them about Van Damme State Park, several miles south of Mendocino, which has a short boardwalk trail through a pygmy forest, starting right next to the parking area, and which Janell and I visited in 2012.

I set off on the trail, intending to go my usual "half of far enough." At the beginning the trail goes through very dark "tree tunnels," with many large trees, mostly bishop pines. It crosses under the highway bridge that goes over Jug Handle Creek, and winds down to a staircase leading to the beach. This distance was not "half of enough," but the stairway was definitely enough. I went down a few steps to get a good photo angle, then returned to my starting point.

From here I followed another trail through the trees and out into the grass-covered coastal plain, and on to the cliffs above the ocean. This area was even more rocky than Pomo Bluffs, and I enjoyed various views as I walked along the edge, then followed a loop trail back to the parking lot.

By this time I was ready for lunch, so I drove the three miles back to Fort Bragg, stopping to get gas and milk, and enjoyed part 2 of the world's best Philly cheese steak sandwich.

I have stayed in Fort Bragg three times in the past, once just overnight. All three times the weather was sunny. This time I may have to write a sharply-worded letter to the chamber of commerce, because it has been foggy a lot of the time. It's not the all-encompassing fog of a San Joaquin Valley winter,  but rather a mist that comes and goes, and usually stays close to the ground at the coast. When I was hiking on the highlands at Russian Gulch, I could see well into the mountains above me. But I could not make out the Highway 1 bridge over the gulch that was fully visible from where I stood on previous trips.

The temperature changes quickly, particularly as you move away from the shore. I wore a heavy sweatshirt on part of my walk near the ocean, but just a light flannel on my  hike into the redwoods inland.

Mendocino Coast State Park Photos


Mendocino Village - July 31


In the Mendocino Headlands State Park The tall, spiky plants are Pride of Madeira Mendocino is known for its many water towers

During my previous two stays at Fort Bragg, I drove the nine miles south to the town of Mendocino. Originally a lumber and ranching town, it is now a prime tourist destination, and the center of a large artistic community, nearly all of whom have shops selling their creations.

It is also surrounded by Mendocino Headlands State Park, which consists of the coastal plains along the ocean and the forest land along Big River inland. I parked along the southernmost road in town, which has shops on one side and the park on the other, and walked out on the bluffs. I followed the edge for quite a ways, taking in the sights of foaming surf, driftwood huts on the beach, and a stairway to the sea which is closed and awaiting repairs.

I then made my way into town and walked up one street and down another, as well as east and west. Despite the large number of places offering goodies for sale, I resisted all but one of them, the Mendocino Chocolate Company, where I bought eight irresistible dark chocolate candies.

The thing I like best about Mendocino is the old water towers that are scattered throughout the village. These date from the early days when residents built tanks high enough to provide good water pressure, and pumped water into the tanks with windmills. There are a number of fascinating designs, including one tall tower with two tanks. Some of these artifacts have been converted into shops, and some are obviously now used as part of a residence.

The other thing I consider "uniquely Mendocino" are some tall, spiky plants, six to ten feet high with tiny pink or purple flowers. They do appear elsewhere, but Mendocino is where I have seen them in large numbers. They are echia, common name Pride of Madeira, and are a biennial, although some survive longer. It was obvious that some I had seen five or six years ago were gone, but there were other places where new ones had grown. There are also many flowers and other unusual plants.

By the time I finished my walk in the headlands and through the village I  had completed 2.12 miles, so I returned to the car and drove out the road that parallels the bluffs to a parking area at the northern end. I did a short walk at this spot, through a small forest of huge cypress trees and out to the bluffs, then walked back and returned to the hotel. I fixed a sandwich, with one of my chocolates for dessert, and took a nap.

For my final outing in this area, I drove to the old downtown section of Fort Bragg and walked around, looking in store windows and going into a couple of shops, without buying anything. I then went out for a last look at the ocean at Pomo Bluffs, set up my folding chair where I had a good view of a rocky cove, and alternated between reading and watching the waves.

By this time I had decided that on my journey home I would go back inland via Highway 20, which runs from just south of Fort Bragg to Willits on Highway 101. This is known to be a very slow, winding route, and there are places I might want to stop, so I did not want to try to drive the 350 miles back home in one day, and made reservations at Woodland, north of Sacramento. After enjoying cool weather, not quite 70 degrees at the highest, I will be back in triple digit temperatures, with a forecast of 105 on the day of my return.

Mendocino Village Photos


Fort Bragg to Woodland - August 1

On my last morning in Fort Bragg, the sun finally came out Donkey engine at Jackson Demo Forest, used to drag logs out of the woods The view along State Highway  20 between Fort Bragg and Willits

When I stepped out onto the balcony from my room this morning, my unhappiness with the Fort Bragg chamber of commerce increased another level. Now that I was leaving, it was sunny and the ocean was a brilliant blue.

During "down time" in Fort Bragg, I looked at possible stopping points along Highway 20, and found the Jackson Demonstration State Forest. Somewhat oddly, it is operated by Cal-Fire, but then, that organization is properly called the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Jackson is one of eight such forests, and offers camping and hiking trails, although sections are subject to closure due to logging activities. The directions given on the web site were not all that clear, but about 20 miles into my drive I arrived at a large parking area with bathrooms, picnic tables, an old donkey engine, and informational signs. A short search, with help from a couple that had also stopped to hike, revealed a trailhead across the highway, and I changed into my boots, got out my hiking poles, and stepped into the woods.

It's a self-guided nature trail, and a sign suggested that you take a brochure. Unfortunately, someone else had taken all of them, so I could only assume that the numbered posts next to a redwood "family circle" or "fairy ring" was calling attention to that phenomenon. A short distance up the trail were two signs: "45 minute trail" and "15 minute trail." Experienced hikers will realize that one man's 15 minute is another man's 45, and the 45 could be 90. I chose the shorter route, which led up through a redwood forest and and looped back to that same starting point.

Along the way some of the trees had old, weathered signs giving the common and scientific name of the species, so the guide was not necessary in those sections. Actually I could have identified just about all of the signed trees. In addition to the usual small bushes and plants, the forest was the usual mix of redwood, Douglas fir, tan oak, madrone, and California laurel or bay.

I walked a little over a mile here, then got on the road again. I kept looking for the difficult and scary places friends had warned me about before I left home, but did not find them. Some parts of the road are very winding, and it's steep in places, but it's a two-lane road with a center line and smooth pavement all the way over the low mountains to Willits.

Although it was only 12:30, earlier than the usual time for my main meal, I had a light breakfast and a good hike, so I stopped at the Lumberjack Restaurant in Willits and had a delicious turkey melt sandwich, half of which became my evening snack.

South of Willits Highway 20 is contiguous with US 101, then branches off to the southeast. From there it goes past Lake Mendocino, then parallels Clear Lake, the huge natural lake that is a major tourist destination in Lake County. Although it was a weekday, I expected to see a lot more activity along the lake than there was. Most of it seemed to be confined to the several small towns that have grown up along the shore. Maybe the 101 degree heat kept people indoors.

The second half of the trip was through typical California foothill country, with dry grass, oak trees, bull pines and a few other species that are not seen in my part of the country, but seem to fit right in. The GPS wanted me to stay on Highway 20 all the way to Williams on I-5, so that was probably the fastest route, but the shortest and more interesting route was to turn off on Highway 16, which comes in to Woodland on I-5. A good part of this trip was through country that seemed very remote, with little traffic, but with several campgrounds and trailheads along Bear Creek.

I drove for some distance through a very steep, narrow canyon, which eventually widened out into an agricultural valley at Rumsey, population 50. This began a series of small towns, each with something interesting to make it memorable, and all of them in Yolo County. There were low growing crops that appeared to be vegetables, and lots of orchard land, mostly walnuts with a few almonds. Then game Guinda, boasting 500 people and a store, followed by Brooks, with only 92 people but the huge Cache Creek Casino. Probably 90 of them work there.

At this point I began to see a crop I had not seen since 1970 in Michigan - sunflowers, as well as some hay. Copay had 200 people, a restaurant, and more sunflowers. Finally came Esparto, with 1,800 people and a large modern residential subdivision, followed by Madison, with 500. This brought me into the Central Valley, so all the rest of the way to Clovis it would be flat country, towns, cities, and crops of all kinds.

I reached my destination, the Econolodge in Woodland, a little after 4, glad that I had not tried to make the final 200 miles this day.

Fort Bragg to Woodland Photos


Home - August 2


I had a great time, but I was ready to be home. I got on the road around 9 a.m., with only 190 miles to go. Of course, I stopped at a rest stop and for gas, and stayed close to the speed limit so it took close to four hours, as I expected.

After the 67 degree high at Fort Bragg it was somewhat of a shock to be back in the San Joaquin Valley, but not a surprise. It was about 105 when I got home. 

Final thoughts
: I didn't mention flowers I saw as I was writing the day by day account, but there were lots of them. In the redwood forests and other inland areas, most of them were small, though there were a few more noticeable ones. In areas close to the ocean, flowers were bright, big and varied, especially in Mendocino Village. The sea air seems to encourage prolific growth, and Mendocino has some unusual plant and flower varieties I've never seen anywhere else. Out along the bluffs there were lots of orange flowers a little over a inch in diameter, with foliage that looked familiar. I also saw them in yards in the town. Of course, the Pride of Maderia were among the more spectacular, although it was the stalk and foliage that drew the eye - the blossoms were barely a quarter inch across. Probably the most frequently seen flowers were sweet peas. In the last few years I have seen them growing "wild" along roads nearly everywhere I've gone, and they appeared in a half dozen places on this trip.

Since I got an altimeter app on my phone, I try to check elevations when I hike or travel. I realize not everyone is looking forward eagerly to this information, but just in case, the elevation at Ukiah was 660. The highest point on the road to Montgomery Woods went up to  2,300, down to 900 at the grove, and about 1,100 at the farthest point on the trail.

Going from Ukiah to Garberville I went over Ridgewood Pass, the entry into the Eel River Drainage, at 2,200; then dropped down to 1,400 at Willits

At Garberville I started from 535, and went up to 1,800 feet at the start of the trailhead in the King Range. The trail went up to 2,300 at the top part of my hike. 

The weather was warm in Ukiah, even hot hiking in Low Gap Park in the afternoon, but between 70 and 80 at Montgomery Woods. There was a very cool breeze at Garberville and at the top of the road to my hike from there. When I got up the second day there was fog above the hills around town, but it was; gone by the time I started my drive. It was 61 degrees at the trailhead at about 10:00 a.m.

I've mentioned the fog at Fort Bragg, and the high there was around 67.

The price of gas varied widely up and down the state, but mostly was in the same range as the Fresno area. The name brand stations as usual were higher, often $2.99 or more. The price at the Petaluma Mobile was $2.91. This was the place that didn't have a bathroom when I badly needed one, and when I learned that, I shut off the pump and left. I found the lowest price on the trip at Ukiah, but I had to pay inside and didn't realize until I got home that the amount and price per gallon were not shown on the receipt. To the best f my memory it was under $2.80 

My next gas fill up was at Fort Bragg, where it was $2.89 at a Mobile station, the lowest price I saw in that area. Around Clovis it's usually $2.79 to $2.89, although there are many cheaper places across town, not convenient to where I live. I did not need gas again till I was almost home, and I stopped at a Pilot truck stop north of Madera where regular was $2.59. Might almost be worth driving 30 miles to get that price.

The four motels were all fairly good. Each had a negative feature, some of them more negative than others. They were all clean, comfortable, adequately stocked with towels and such, and in good to very good condition. The Motel 6 in Ukiah was a large, spread-out property with only two ice machines, and as often happens, one was out of ice when I needed it. This location needs at least two more machines.

The Motel Garberville was clean, but a bit shabby. The toilet seat was loose (same problem in  Ukiah). The shampoo was in hard to open plastic packets like ketchup instead of a bottle or tube. The TV system had that scrolling guide that shows only the next two hours and can't be paused or controlled in any way. This motel had the tiniest soap bars ever. They changed the WiFi password during the night without notice.

The Super Eight in Fort Bragg was nice overall, but very small. The refrigerator was small and not well designed; it was hard to get all my stuff in, after five days of using up "stuff.". The biggest negative was the lack of electrical outlets near the table. I had to stretch my computer power cord across the walkway and carefully step over it every time I wanted to use the computer or go out the door.

The walls are apparently very thin; you can hear people talking in the next room and you can hear their shower. It was so loud I got up from bed to make sure the water had not somehow got turned on in my bathroom. The TV system had no guide. There’s a channel for it, but all it showed was “no signal.” On Sunday night the only channel I wanted to watch had a loud hum in the audio, making it impossible to watch.

Overall the people working here demonstrated more concern for my needs than either of the others. I just wish they had shown that concern when they were planning the wiring and selecting a TV system. The WiFi password was ten 8's, which is very hard to read; or more precisely, hard to count how many 8's.

The motel in Woodland was fine for my one-night stay. There was no coffee maker, which is unheard of. I don't drink coffee, but use the machine to make tea. The chair was a straight back model which was too low. They need a rolling, adjustable chair. This was the quietest location of any on my trip. It also had the second best piece of art I've ever seen on a motel wall. Breakfast was a joke - instant oatmeal, packaged pastries and fruit. There was NO milk.

Ukiah and Woodland had swimming pools, very welcome since both places were hot.

I drove 948 miles, walked 16, saw the redwood forest, the Pacific Ocean, the remote trails of the King Range; sampled the food and ambiance of five small California cities, and traveled back in time with the displays of three very well-designed museums. I learned a few things, and met some nice people. I'll be ready for another 10-day road trip again next year.

--Dick Estel, August 2017


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 


Montgomery Woods           Mendocino Museums etc          King Range          US 101, CA Highway 1, Fort Bragg

Mendocino Coast State Parks          Mendocino Village and Headlands          Fort Bragg to Woodland


Montgomery Woods


Bridge on Orr Springs Road west of Ukiah Board road bed makes a loud, bumpy ride Entering the preserve
Panoramic view along Orr Springs Road
Coast redwoods dominate the area Sign shows the after effects of a 2008 fire An outstanding example of the redwood
Dick in front of a tree with big "toes" The fern forest Chipmunk poses for his portrait
Redwood sorrel growing on a redwood log Do you step over or duck under? Steps cut in a fallen redwood (there's a bridge built on top of the log)
Dick stepping off the redwood tree bridge Every stump has plants growing on top of it Well, not quite EVERY stump
That's the trail, going into a thick patch of ferns Damp climate of the redwood forest leaves most downed logs covered in moss Twin trees
This tree shows a scar typical of many older specimens Rock cliff thickly covered in moss The creek runs under the base of a fallen redwood
Redwoods' shallow root system makes for some tricky spots on the trail Big dead oak along Orr Springs Road Historic building in downtown Ukiah
Mendocino Museums etc.
     Sun House in Ukiah, built 1910 - 1912 Pomo basket in Grace Hudson Museum Another Pomo basket
      Pomo child carrier and baskets Grace Hudson painting of Pomo boy and dog Three key things in  Pomo life - child, dog and basket
Who has not seen this face on their own child? Hills along Low Gap Road west of Ukiah Buckeye seeds just developing
Old signs from downtown Willits Undertaker's wagon in Mendocino County Museum Willits soda fountain sign
King Range
Trailhead for the Lost Coast Trail in the King Range The trail is shady most of the way Sunshine backlights the madrone branches
Tan oak leaves Madrone leaves A young bay tree
Bridge over a small creek on the trail Some switchbacks are reinforced with rock Rugged branches
One of the few living manzanitas along the trail Close-up showing peeling bark That blue down there is the Pacific Ocean
My resting "log" Dick resting Little pebbles create columns of dried mud
Big fern Unknown flowers Berry blossoms
US 101, CA Highway 1, Fort Bragg
Near the Eel River along US 101 The Grandfather Tree Fort Bragg knows what time it is
Mendocino Coast State Parks
Just south of Fort Bragg Ice plant above the ocean Flowers thrive in the moist atmosphere
Dramatic, but the name is unknown Waves crash against the rocks Rocks show weathering from eons of wave action
About two miles north of Mendocino Lots of different flower species in the park Pink and kind of fuzzy-looking
Blow hole 50 feet from the ocean cliff where waves wash in through a tunnel One of these is the tunnel to the blow hole Birds keep watch out on the rocks
Back from the cliffs, the sea plain is covered with grass and trees Fishing in the mist The North Trail goes inland through the redwood forest
Every stump supports new life Redwood sorrel, glistening from the morning fog A typical redwood "family circle," new trees grown up from the roots of an ancestor
Just north of the town of Caspar More floral variety in the Jug Handle The Ecological Staircase Trail goes under this Highway 1 bridge
Cones of bishop pines require fire to cause them to open and disburse their seeds A dimly lit tree tunnel on the trail View from the trail to a rare sandy beach
Small forest of bishop pines near the trailhead
Mendocino Headlands and Village
Stairway to the sea at Mendocino Headlands State Park You are not allowed to build driftwood structures on the beach Mendocino is also a fishing village
These brilliant flowers appear on the bluffs and in town One of the more unusual plants in Mendocino A beautiful old home
A basic water tower This tall tower has two tanks One of very few remaining windmills
Out on the bluffs north of town Back in Fort Bragg, a Skunk Train passenger car  A last look at the ocean at Pomo Bluffs
Southern view of Mendocino Village 
Fort Bragg to Woodland (Mainly Highway 20)
On Highway 20 between Fort Bragg and Willits With no pamphlets left, it became even MORE self-guided Along the trail
There were some old-looking REAL signs by some of the trees California laurel Bridge on the trail
Another helpful sign Douglas fir, not a real fir Tan oak, not a real oak
Panoramic vista along Highway 20
One of several small towns along the shore of Clear Lake Clear Lake Excellent art in the Woodland Econolodge
Related Links
Montgomery Woods State Natural Preserve Ukiah More Ukiah
Orr Fire Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House Highway 101
Mendocino County Museum Garberville Lost Coast
More Lost Coast Southern Humboldt County Guest House Museum
Fort Bagg Pomo Bluffs Park Russian Gulch State Park
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve Van Damme State Park Mendocino
Mendocino History Mendocino Headlands State Park Jackson Demonstration State Forest
Coast Redwoods Redwood Reproduction

Travel Reports
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Before 2002
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Roundup 2009
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Hensley Reservoir, Mojave Preserve 2 & 3
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Roundup 2011
Mariposa, Hensley, Table Mountain
Frog Camp 2011
Parkfield Bluegrass 2011 Frank, Pat, Dick & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Northern Coast Journey 2011 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2011
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival Chilkoot & Stargazer Rock Camp
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Parkfield Bluegrass 2012 Four Squaw Leap Hikes
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A 3-Event Weekend
Farmer's Market, Kings River Bluegrass, Antique Fair
2012 Las Vegas CAN AM Hockey Challenge
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Finegold Trail; Bower Cave
Into Los Gatos Canyon
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Finegold Trailhead, Hensley Lake, San Joaquin Gorge
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Parkfield Bluegrass 2013 Shaver Crossing Station & Big Creek
Lake Almanor & Caribou Crossroads Mono Hot Springs
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival A Wedding in Duluth
Sequoia Park Hiking Roundup 2013
Kings River Bluegrass, Buena Vista Peak Hike, Hensley Lake Camp, North Fork Mono Museum, White Rock Road, Hockey in Denver
2014 Winter Hikes
Millerton South Bay Trail, Clovis Trail, Hite's Cove Trail
San Joaquin Gorge Campout
Colorado Springs Hockey Tournament Lake Havasu Bluegrass
2014 Spring Hikes
Stockton Creek Preserve, San Joaquin River Trail, San Joaquin Gorge, Millerton Lake, Sycamore Creek, Buena Vista Peak Again
NORCAL Hockey Playoffs and Santa Cruz Visit
Greeley Hill Road Trip Parkfield Bluegrass 2014
Journey of 2014 Journey of 2014 Photos
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2014 Fall & Winter Hikes
San Joaquin River Trail South & North, Red Rock Canyon Nevada, San Joaquin South Again
California Flat Campout
Snow Day with the  Upshaw's   
Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 2
Adventures of 2015 - February to May
(Goofy Smith Flat, Coast Redwoods & Big Sur, Pine Flat, Finegold Trail, Edison Point Trail, Nelder Grove)
Adventures of 2015 - June to December
(Lewis Creek Trail, Kaiser Pass, Kaiser Pass Again, Taft Point, Kings River Bluegrass, Shaver Logging Road, San Joaquin River Trail, Lewis S Eaton Trail, San Joaquin River Gorge, Thanksgiving at the Gorge)
Lake Tahoe & Virginia City Parkfield Bluegrass 2015
Colorado Springs Cousin Convention 2015 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2015
Stargazer Rock Camp 2015 Grand Canyon & Arches National Parks
Adventures of 2016 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 1
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Adventures of 2016 Part 4 A Pennsylvania Adventure
Adventures of 2016 Part 5 Parkfield Bluegrass 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 6 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 7 Stargazer Rock Camp 2016
Adventures of 2017 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 1
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Adventures of 2017 Part 4 Hiking and Hockey
Adventures of 2017 Part 5 Lake Almanor
Adventures of 2017 Part 6 Northern California Redwood Hike
Parkfield Bluegrass 2017 Stargazer Rock Camp 2017
Travel Blog 2017 (an experiment) Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks
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Adventures of 2018 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2018 Page 3
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Utah National Parks Rambler Hikes 2019 Page 3
Adventures of 2019 Part 3 Parkfield Bluegrass 2019
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Adventures of 2020 Part 3 Adventures of 2020 Part 7
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Updated February 12, 2018