Monday, January 23, 2012

Mendocino Coast - January 2012

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The Old Salt Sea

It had been a long time since we had seen the ocean. It was time to return. It was calling us. In the early years of our marriage we celebrated our wedding anniversary with an annual trip to the California coast. These trips had been as far south as Cambria and Hearsts Castle and as far north as Mendocino and Fort Bragg. When did those trips stop and why? Busy lives must have gotten in the way. The memories still work their magic.

Trips to the coast still continued but not on a regular basis. We know when it is time to return and smell the salt spray and hear the surf and the cries of the gulls. It calls to us. Maybe it’s in our bones.

With the lack of snow in the Sierra, other plans for the MLK weekend evaporated and the 3 day was free. We were going to the coast. The camper is kept ready for travel. Packing is easy; throw a few things together, a trip to the store for food. We didn’t even make solid plans. We would just let the road, the adventure take us.

That busy life did not allow a late Friday launch. We were off before dawn Saturday. The highways were quiet, our coffee good. We were in Point Reyes Station by 7:30 am and wandered about the quiet town waiting for the Station Inn Restaurant to open at 8:00 am. The Lady enjoys her first breakfast out. The food was good as was the service but the waitress was far too young to be telling us about her illnesses. That’s an old person’s habit. We grabbed a cinnamon roll for the road from the bakery up the street and headed north on highway 1.

We had no destination. We stopped at several places. We were surrounded by memories of past trips. We stood on bluffs and smelled the sea and took in the sights and sounds. We walked along the beach at the Navarro River and decided not to stay at the primitive campsites. We noticed how many other state park campgrounds were closed as we continued north.

After passing through Fort Bragg, we pulled into MacKerricher State Park. Only one campground was partially open, but the setting in the trees and the short walk to the edge of the ocean sold us on staying.

Laguna Point is set up with viewing platforms for sightings of migrating whales. We braved the cold wind on the point and scanned the sea with our binoculars. Birds and harbor seals were all we saw.

But just being back on the coast was more than enough.

The campground was mostly quiet, I’d guess only a third full on this holiday weekend. It is way too expensive compared to facilities managed by other agencies - $35 a night. It was a standard campground except the addition of coin operated hot showers. At least those were cheap and 50 cents worth did a good clean up.

We love our night walks. We get away from lights and give the eyes time to adjust. Although we have headlamps along, we try not to use them. We become part of the night and our senses become much more alert. We found a log in a cove to sit on above the surf. We sat and watched and listened until the cold slowly seeping deeper into our bones told us to move again. It was a glorious night. We were glad the ocean had called us here.

The wind was up in the morning, blowing hard as we carried our coffee mugs down to the sea at dawn. After breakfast we dropped the top and headed off to re-explore and rediscover some of our old favorite places. Our first stop was Mendocino and we spent a couple of hours wandering the headlands.

You have to love Mendocino. It has held on to its independence and its uniqueness. Go somewhere else for franchise food, big box motels, and the related sprawl that is making everyplace look and feel the same. Come to Mendocino for Mendocino.

We wandered north stopping often, Russian Gulch then the walk down to Point Cabrillo Light House.

We continued on to Jug Handle and Caspar, walking every chance we had. The wind was blowing in from the northwest, cold and hard. The sea was covered with white caps and heavy swells. At Jug Handle it was difficult to stand upright against the wind but so good to feel the brute force of nature. We stopped at Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg and then up to Glass Beach.

To soon the day was ending. We had done so much doing nothing but wandering. We returned to our campsite at MacKerricher, had hot coffee, a shower, and dinner and then our night walk. We wandered through the closed campgrounds, made our way around and through the dunes, walked through groups of deer, undisturbed by our quiet presence.

In the morning we headed inland on the road to Ukiah, climbing then dropping into small valleys white with the morning’s frost. We met only one other vehicle. It was 24° when we stopped for a couple of hours to walk through the redwood groves of Montgomery Woods. We were alone.

We remembered hearing about Orr Hot Springs. A soak sounded so good after our cold walk among the giants. Orr Springs was packed as we drove by, too crowded for us. They were having a great holiday weekend.

We took highway 20 east and then 16, Clear Lake, Cache Creek, Capay Valley, and into Woodland. We stopped in Sacramento and said hi to the guys at All Terrain Campers. We figured these hard working guys would not be on holiday. Campers were being built.

Our weekend was over. The road had taken us to places that touched us and refreshed us and make us want to return. The camper is ready.

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