NorCal Coast for a Change

Thursday (Aug 5)

The smell of smoke all night long used to be a (slightly annoying) reminder that you are camping. Tonight however, I am wondering whether it’s my neighbor’s stupid campfire that they stupidly left smoldering all night, or if some new flaming horror has sprung up in the coastal range.

Happily it turned out to be the former. That is to say when I drove away from my stupid neighbors the air got nearly normal again. I think there’s a hint of smoke, but NBD.

The drive was real nice today. I was the slowest guy on the road. There are a lot of curvy parts of California 1, and even the big ole delivery trucks want to go faster than me on the curves. When that happens, you know you’re slow. All good, I would pull off whenever I could and make everybody happy.

Gualala was the first bit of civilization going north. I had an amazing weekend staying at the Gualala Hotel and going to a wedding and it’s attendant functions about 20 years ago (!!!). My how time flies…..

The town is a lot bigger than I remember, but in any event, the Gualala Market and it’s surrounding shopping center turn out to be a pretty useful place. I was too late for any of the breakfast places, so I went the coffee and donuts route. There was a little food court with a bakery with really well put together pastries. The Market set me up perfectly with good food for the next few days.

So I invested $55 in this place, and my initial review is not good. Sitting here in my narrow assigned spot. I have a cranky old dude neighbor with a cranky old dog on my back side. The shower requires quarters, the wifi is a bad joke, and a little dust devil just came out of nowhere to pick up the gravel dust and coat everything in the van with a thin layer of gray grime. [Spoiler alert, by the time I leave tomorrow, my review is quite good! :)]

As anyone knows who has spent time there, RV park society survives because all the camper are all designed with their main door on the passenger side and the utility hook-ups on the driver side. That’s sidewalk side when you park, etc, etc. So if everyone pulls in the same way your lounging area faces the backside of the next guy. So I have some modicum of privacy in my 20′ wide chunk of real estate because I’m looking at the back side of my neighbor. If a couple of families come together one RV will bark on the opposite direction so they will face each other and a double common party area between.

The wild card is who is in the row behind you, As it happened, I lucked out with a pleasant young couple in a tent. I had the feeling it was more of a weekend date than a longer relationship just by the dorky way the boy acted. Good for them! They were very nice, and it’s a good thing, because they basically sat in their chairs by their fire for most of the time I was at the campground, so we were pretty much unavoidable to each other. I coulda done way worse.

As you can see from the pictures I’m pretty obsessed with the giant wooden trestle bridge. Did I mention it’s entirely made of wood?! I guess back in the day wood was something they had plenty of around here.

The beach is really close as it turns out. I walked down late afternoon. There were packs of wandering teenagers that struck me as kids who had never met each other but were united by not wanting to hang around with their families back at the RV. It was cool seeing them try to organize their little society in real time.

Sunset is still an hour or so away, so I return to home base, get started on dinner and evening drinkin’, then head back when the sun is going down. It was gorgeous! Unlike most folks who seem to enjoy staring at the setting sun, I really dislike the glare. The shadow of the bluff on the south side of the river eventually reached my beach, then I was happy. I could stand in the shadow and watch the colors change without the glare. I only kept two of the many pics I took, but you can get the idea. In the first, the sun is stiil mostly above the horizon, but obscured on the left side by the bluff – sort of a sideways sunset. In the second, it’s mostly below the horizon so I can comfortably move over a bit and look right at it!

Friday

Well, $55 is still a lot of money, and the wifi really does suck, but I had a pretty good time here. That amazing bridge being 200 yards away and the beach 250 yards away are pretty darned sweet … and for that matter, the swift and reasonably pure Albion River right across the street.

I had a fun time this morning. I walked the back end of the campground, to the east, upriver end. It clearly is the corner where they throw all their junk. Derelict equipment and boat trailers that look like they haven’t been moved in a long, long time. Doing the walk I noticed how long the gangway along the river is. The longer the gangway the more riverside docking spaces there will be to moor all the boats that want to tie up here on a weekend.

Since I was paying about $3/hour to stay here I stayed till checkout time, then it was back up the hill, dodging the big ole boats and RVs coming down the hill for the last weekend in August.

Driving north I remembered to back in the day when I thought the town of Mendocino would be my destination. When you think of the Mendocino coast, that’s what you think of. It only takes a few minutes in that town to get that it’s for very rich people, and the rest of us can go somewhere else for our beach-ing. That of course turns out to be Fort Bragg, the beach town for the rest of us.

I am still in need of my morning coffee, so I did stop in Mendocino, and had coffee and a little cake a very busy upscale brunch place. It was fun to mix with my betters for a while, but neither the food or the coffee or the ambiance was anything to go back for. On my walk I found a little place tucked into a path between buildings that would’ve been much more my speed. Anyway, I spend an hour or so knocking around town and quite enjoyed it.

Check out campgrounds on the way up. Caspar looks cool. All are full. Beer at North Coast Brewery for old times sake. To everyone’s surprise, they were only open 4-8 on Friday night!  I loitered for 20 minutes, then got in the line a little after 4. Turns out a server tested positive and big chunk of the staff were isolating, so they simply didn’t have the staff to do anything else.

I drove out of town on 20, to check out a campground that wasn’t answering their phone (FAIL), then to try to find the alleged campground in the Jackson Demonstration Forest. That also turned out to be a FAIL, it just took longer. I found a gravel road and drove up it a couple of miles to a likely spot and pulled over for the night. But after sitting there for a while, I decided the heck with it and drove the 14 moles or so back to town to watch the sunset at Pudding Creek Beach and sleep on the street. That worked out great!

I ended up pointed south on Whipple St at Laurel, by a park and a big hedge. Turned out to be a great spot. Slept well.

Saturday

Up and at ’em at Mendocino Coffee before 9am! It’s amazing how much day there is when one gets going at 8:30 instead of 11:30! Anyway, Mendicino Coffee is still here and still funky after all these years. Still has free refills and good pastries, so that made me happy.

Then I spent an hour or so driving around looking at houses. You could get a nice, ready to move in house close to town for a mere $460,000. More expensive than I thought, but still pretty reasonable by California standards.

I have a lot of food to work my way through, most of it bought at the Gualala Market. So I drive over and score the coveted edge spot at what the internet calls Pudding Creek Trestle, but which I am gonna just call Trestles. The edge means of course that I can lounge around with my van door open, without some other vehicle coming or going right outside my door and ruining the buzz. Great idea, but in this case, it means that people walking this way across the trestle have nothing better to do than look right into my van for the last 30 yards or so. Oh well.

Sitting on my bench (sofa?) I am hidden from the trestle-walkers till the last 5 yards or so. So that is where I settle in and work my way through $6 worth of Gualala Market spareribs and corporate potato salad. It was pretty damn nice!

Now that I’ve had brunch, walk north over the trestle, get off the paved trail on the other side to follow the footpath that hugs the edge of the bluffs for a half mile or so. There was a fence up ahead, so back to the paved trail, very straight because it’s the old railroad tracks. Back across the trestle, and back to the van to regroup,

Put on my swimming trunks, pack a beach bag and head over to the bluffs on this side of the trestle to look for a way down to the beach. I eventually found one, and was soon up to my knees in actual ocean surf, after being on the coast for three days!

Hung out on the beach for a while, then walked to a path on the far side of the cove which looked easier than how I came down. Getting old sucks. Anyway, I made it up, walked back across the trestle to the van, called around motels in Willits to reserve a room for tonight, then drove about a mile down the road to the very busy parking lot for Glass Beach.

There was indeed plenty of glass at Glass Beach! Martha said she watched a show saying that thoughtless tourists had taken all the glass, but Mother Nature has apparently replenished this finite resource. So I joined the crowd picking through the quartz grains (i.e. sand) for little bits of colored silicate (i.e. glass :).

I would love to watch one more beach sunset, but a stronger imperative is to make the 40 mile drive to Willits in the daylight, so around 5:30 I hit the road. The first half hour was exactly what I did last night looking for the campground. Then in a few more miles I hit the center of the park, a meadow-y stretch with exhibits and such. Then to my surprise a few miles on I finally found the fabled campground. It’s right off the road!

For future reference, it’s a little less than an hour from Fort Bragg, and about 20 minutes from Willits, so not totally convenient to either, but it IS here! I would have stayed, but I’ve already paid for a room in Willits, so I pressed on. That’s what I get for planning ahead! :(

Ugly looking place from outside, but a pretty nice, functional room. I enjoyed the feel of a channel changer in my hand for the first time since Reno. :)

Sunday

Willits did not work for me today. Firstly, I’d forgotten how hot and nasty the weather is everywhere except the coast in summer. It was unpleasantly hot. Safeway was a FAIL, no SF Chronicles. Same with the quickie mart across the street. So punt that, head to Roland’s for coffee. That also was a FAIL. They have changed to seated service. They were super busy on Sunday (and kinda rude) and it was clear it was gonna take forever. As it happens, right across the highway was Happy Donuts, which worked GREAT. It was clean and cool and had tables right in the big window, so I had a wonderful donuts and coffee interlude.

Next stop Mariposa Market. Between Martha leftovers (which are getting pretty old!) and the Gualala Market, I have a lot of meat in my little fridge, but nothing else. So I stocked up on salads of various sorts. They also have great pastries, and a little cafe area to eat them in, and it turns out that it is literally next door to the Redwood Inn. So if only I’d known, this morning I could have walked a hundred yards or so around the corner of the motel and avoided the drama of failing at Roland’s and such as described above. sigh…

I’m still on the Sunday paper hunt, so on the way out of town I stopped at the big downtown liquor store. They do carry Chronicles, but by this time today they were sold out. Big sigh on that. If only I’d come here first … Oh well. I did buy a Sunday Press Democrat just to have a paper. It turns out to be a pretty good paper!

Onwaard north to Laytonville. Becasuse I’m STILL in the hunt, I tried the downtown independent market, and success!!! They had a big ole stack of Sunday Chronicles and I snagged one. I felt like buying two or three in case I needed an extra! :))

Finally I am at peace! I have now done the one thing I needed to do today. Anything else is gravy!

As discussed above, I’ve switched my thinking from “$35 is nuts for a place to park and a picnic table” to “$35 is just fine for a nice place to hole up for the evening”. So instead of zooming past Richardson Grove as usual, this time I stopped for the night.

My overall time here was very nice, but as described in the inset, the first impression of my campsite was very bad. It was super trashy. There was a plastic bag of dirty diapers or something nasty, and discarded plastic candy wrappers everywhere. More like a Dollar Store parking lot in a bad neighborhood than a state park in the redwoods.

In my small sample size of two campgrounds on this trip, I’m finding that California State Park campgrounds are not as deluxe as I thought they were. The $35 had me fooled. The bathrooms have running water … flush toilets are always better than the alternative. But both of my picnic tables were beat to hell, all carved up and charred at one end and generally quite unsanitary.

Anyway I settled in at my sketchy picnic table and read my two Sunday papers for a while. My kind of fun.

Then I took a very enjoyable hike. I decided to start on this side of the 101 first. Take the trail to the other campground (which turned out to be up a pretty big hill), then follow the road down and take the underpass to the Eel River side of the road. I did all that, but I started getting low blood-sugary. I didn’t eat anything before the hike, and that hill kinda wore me out, so I turned back sooner than I would’ve liked.

The Eel River was pretty sad right there.