Hidden between the fog of the Pacific Ocean and a vast swath of towering coastal redwood trees lies a magical landscape along the California coastline. A place where the bark of sea lions or bellow of fog horns is only muffled by the crash of waves against the majestic cliffs that jut violently from the crystal blue sea. A place of extraordinary beauty reached after following the twisted byway that winds west from a scorching inland summer through dreamlike vineyards, colossal forests and oak-covered canyons towards the sea.
While most of the country bakes in the humid blister of a summer heatwave this coastal dreamscape remains immersed in endless spring. Even on sun-filled afternoons of cloudless blue the cooling breezes of the vast sea drift inland to cool the headlands and tiny hamlets that dot the coast. On most days the morning fog holds the town in a cooling embrace just long enough to ensure comfort as the day awakens.
The town was settled by fortune seeking entrepreneurs who, upon witnessing the seemingly endless bounty of over 2 million acres of ancient redwoods that lined the coast, built sawmills and other infrastructure designed to take down as many of them as they could in the shortest amount of time possible. Within 50 years they had accomplished 97 percent of their task. What took 2000 years to develop was gone in, to these trees, a blink of an eye.
With their task completed the mills began to close. Almost entirely cut off from any access besides the sea, the town languished by the edge of the continent. The Victorian era houses built strong by the mostly New Englanders that worked in the area remained but by the mid-1900’s the population of the area was in significant decline.
Artists eventually were drawn to the rugged beauty of the coast and many set up residences in the 1950’s. The incredibly engineered route of the Pacific Coast Highway gave access to travelers willing to brave the never ending twists and bends to reach the area. Old Victorian mansions became charming inns and many of the houses of the town were transformed to restaurants and shops designed to entertain these visitors. The counterculture kids who flocked to San Francisco in the late ’60’s and ’70’s made their way north to set up communes and find the utopian paradise they envisioned creating.
While nature’s forces have kept this an isolated land in the past, today’s attentive visitor will soon get the feeling that the remoteness is now by choice. The 800 citizens of this town seem to prize the uniqueness that blossoms with distance from more urban locales. A feeling of hip funkiness is pervasive along the waterfront main street. Colorful characters mix easily with more gentrified visitors who make the winding trip north from the Bay Area for long weekends.
Mendocino’s remoteness should not in any way be confused with detachment from the rest of the world. The rambunctious and rebelliousness of the towns Fourth of July Independence celebrations displayed the citizen’s passionate patriotism while still making clear their non-support of current Washington politics. The parade along Main Street has become rightfully famous and was so hugely attended that the population of the town easily tripled for the day. A massive tent was set up in town for 2 weeks to host an incredible music festival with a full opera as well as orchestra, jazz, folk and pop concerts nightly.
We found ourselves embraced by the redwoods in a tiny cabin just inland from the main area of town. We spent our mornings and evenings sitting on the deck overlooking a rough garden full of late spring beauty. We had daily visitors to our garden including deer with new babies, foxes, hummingbirds and even a pair of playful skunks. The towering trees often had fog blowing through them in the mornings and evenings.
Our afternoons were spent wandering the streets of the town or sitting in one of the town’s coffee shops watching people pass. We planned car trips to some of the tiny towns that hang precariously a the cliffs of the coastline. The towns of Elk, Albion and Point Arena were afternoon destinations. With populations of less than 200, these enclaves still provide plenty of rewards for slowly paced visits. Nearby secret inlets and tiny beach lined coves provide picturesque picnic spots. Jagged headlands push precariously into the ever pounding waves of the sea. Winding paths through late spring tall grass provide unparalleled views over the often raging waters below. Wildflowers of abundant colors defy the wind and harsh conditions to add color to every nook and cranny they can get into.
Other days we made our way on tiny roads through thick redwood forests by small streams. A profound quiet exists in these forests that can be found nowhere else. All sound seems to disappear into the thick trunks and the spongy forest floor masks even the sound of one’s own footsteps.
Abundant vineyards lie just inland in beautiful valleys. The wines produced here compare favorably with any from the more famous vineyard areas of California. The small towns of Philo and Boonville provide perfect stops to find local products for picnics or just window shop for an afternoon.
We celebrated the completion of our 7th year of continuous travel in an area that is as close to home as we have been in a long time. Our last of 3 stops in our home state has made us realize how much we are missing by being gone for such a long time. While sitting on our porch in the redwoods our thoughts drifted to when we may settle down to a more conventional lifestyle permanently. Seeing relatives that we too seldom visit made us realize that we might soon feel our trip is complete. Seeing this beautiful area located so close to home made us think that we might eventually be content to stay closer to home sometime in our near future.