Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mendocino, CA

We had toyed with the idea of going to Lassen Volcanic National Park after Crater Lake, but after doing some research on it, we decided to pass, and rather head to one of our favorite places--Mendocino, California.   As we left Crater Lake, we could still see lots of smoke from the fires in the park, and we could smell it as we drove.  Later, as we drove from Oregon into California we saw several large encampments for the firefighters, lots of tents with fire resistant covers, some mess tents and several groups of firefighters taking a break.  We knew there were a number of wildfires in lots of places in California due to the severe drought this summer, and seeing these folks out there like this just drove home the point of how dangerous their jobs are, and how much we all owe them a debt of thanks for what they do.  Just think of answering the call to pick up and go to some remote area and live in tents, taking turns with your shifts to gear up in all that heavy equipment and put yourself in harm's way to try to stop the raging fires--thank you firefighters everywhere!  Coming through various towns we often saw, as we had in Alaska, Washington and BC, marquees on businesses, and homemade signs saying "Thank you firefighters."

Our first day driving was gorgeous through the Northern Umpqua Canyon and scenic highway. We stopped for the night at Mad River RV Park in Arcata, CA, as we were getting close to the coast.  The next day, our drive to Mendocino was beautiful, but a little dicey in some places.  We had looked at the map to decide which route to take, as we remembered fondly our drive through the redwood forest from our first RV trip in 2013.  Then we had taken the Avenue of the Giants, an absolutely spectacular drive through the dense growths of these huge and magnificent trees, and we remembered how close some of the trees were to the edge of the road.  Since our current rig is about 8 feet longer and we're towing a car, we figured we'd better not try that road, so we were going down 101 for a big stretch of the way.  We had to take a smaller road to get over to the coast, though, and boy did that take some concentration!  We basically had to cross several mountains, with tons of switchbacks and hairpin turns, where the signs saying 20 mph, 15 mph, even 10 mph were absolutely serious!  In some places we really had to crawl, in order to make the turns, so naturally, cars were lined up behind us.  Fortunately there are lots of turnouts on this road, where we could pull over to let the other cars pass, but it seemed like just as we had let a line of cars pass and we pulled back onto the road, another string of cars came along, and we had to pull over again, just a mile or so down the road.  So it was very slow going, and quite tense.  Needless to say, when we finally made it to the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs right along the coast, we were greatly relieved!  We found a wonderful RV campground in Ft. Bragg, just up the road from Mendocino, in many ways one of the nicest campgrounds we've stayed in all summer.  They had huge sites, gravel and level, and each site was separated by some tall bushes and trees, so you really had a lot of privacy, plus it was only a short drive down to Mendocino.

We first came to Mendocino nearly 30 years ago--Trisha had surprised me with this trip to celebrate my 40th birthday, between Christmas and New Year's.  Our daughter, Shelley, was on tour in Florida with the Atlanta Ballet's Nutcracker performance, and Trisha's mother kept Todd and Jeremy.  We flew to San Francisco and when we got to the car rental counter, they told us they were out of the compact car we had reserved, and they only had one car available--would we be okay with this souped up Camaro?  Whoa baby, would we ever!!  It was black, had a floor shift, had mufflers that sang this throaty melody--sweet!  I felt just like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, driving the hills of San Francisco in that machine--I was in 7th Heaven!!  Of course, unlike McQueen, I didn't go quite as fast, or get air coming over the hills, as there was a bit more traffic than when the movie cleared the streets for the shoot--but in my mind, I was flying!!  What a treat, especially when we got out of the city and into the mountains, taking those curves just a wee bit faster than what we did in the RV!!

Anyway, neither of us had ever been to Mendocino, but when we arrived, it was just like the fairy godmother had waved her magic wand and cast a spell over us.  It was just magical in a way that few other places have ever affected us.  The rugged, rough Pacific coast, with rocky cliffs and waves crashing, actually the highest tide in 100 years, seeing the migrating whales off the coast from the bluff outside our little rental cottage, and the wonderful little downtown area, with lots of funky shops, old weathered wood shingled buildings, water towers that have been converted into restaurants and some into houses, and the most beautiful little Presbyterian Church, whose front doors open onto a spectacular view of the Pacific--it was instant love!  When we saw the church for the first time, Trisha had not started seminary, but we always remembered it.  And when she did become a minister, we used to fantasize about her being called to that church someday.  Indeed, right about the time I was first thinking about retirement, she saw in her Presbyterian magazine that this pulpit had come open and we briefly considered pursuing it for her--until we started looking at the cost of housing there, which we discovered was prohibitively expensive!  Anyway, we've been back several times since that first trip, and have loved it ever since.  When Jeremy was older he was with us on one trip and we stayed at the Sea Rock Inn, a fabulously beautiful B & B, where our suite had an unbelievable view of the ocean--we still have the Sea Rock coffee mugs that bring back memories with each sip.  And then in 2013 on our first big RV trip we stopped again, and it was just as special for us.

So we had a beautiful few days here in this lovely place, going back to one of our favorite natural food stores, Corners of the Mouth, where we found lots of fresh goodies and delicious fresh baked bread; we twice ate at the Good Life Cafe, with outstanding vegan soups and stews--if ever any of you dear readers have the chance to be in Mendocino, this is definitely a must go to place--and, yes, they do have plenty of selections for the carnivores out there!!  Right across the street is a place called Anderson's Alternatives--Eco Lumber and Building Materials, where you can find some of the most beautiful and unique furniture, bowls and artwork, handcrafted from native northwest hardwoods, plus they have lots of slabs and pieces of raw wood for sale, for the woodworker.  The last time we were here we bought a big chunk of redwood for Todd, our son who is now a master woodworker, and he turned it into the most beautiful bowl for Shelley and Ken for Christmas.  So we loved going back there and coming up with some interesting burls and pieces of raw wood that I hope to do something with when we get home.  Just loved strolling the streets, going into shops, talking with some of the interesting locals and just soaking up the ambience of the place, with the barking of sea lions down by the rocks as accompaniment--what a place!

One day we spent going to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, just up the road from our campground in Ft. Bragg.  We had not been there before, but had read about it in one of the Things To Do magazines, and boy was it worth the trip.  As you drive off the road, you have no idea how huge the place is, but once you go through the little store and out into the gardens, it's just immense, 42 acres of garden after garden, plus wide open spaces and trails leading down to the rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean.  We encountered just tons of volunteer workers, pruning and trimming, and caring for the grounds and flowers.  They have one section devoted just to trees, with so many varieties of spruce, fir, and other trees; a huge vegetable garden with great big pumpkins and other veggies; the most gorgeous dahlia garden that's set up as a wedding venue, with rows of flowers down the sides, bordering a grassy area where they set up chairs for weddings, and a lovely raised and covered platform area.  As we rounded the bend in the path leading up to it, we really didn't know what to expect, but it just took your breath away when you saw these huge blossoms of so many different colors!  Later that day we went to Glass Beach in Ft. Bragg, where they have lots of trails, and you can go down to the beach to collect beach glass.  We found some interesting pieces along the beach, and can't wait to get home to clean them up and see what creations will come out of them!

Unfortunately, on the Saturday we were driving toward Mendocino, a huge wildfire had started near the Sonoma Valley, and was raging for the next two days, with over 2000 firefighters deployed; it consumed nearly 70,000 acres, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.  As it was right along the route we had originally planned to take out of Mendocino, we had to keep a close watch on the news, with calls to CalTrans to learn the latest conditions of road closings, etc. and we ended up figuring an alternative route, to come farther south before turning east.  Fortunately, Monday and Tuesday brought cooler temperatures and higher humidity, and Wednesday brought rain, so that really helped the firefighters get the fire more contained, and we were able to successfully avoid the fire on our way east.  Anyway, here are some pics from Mendocino:

Where we took a rest stop on the way, a lovely little area near a stream where we saw some folks fly fishing

 In Mendocino at Anderson's wood shop

 Amazing redwood coffee table

 A few shots from downtown, with one of the old water tower structures that had been turned into a residence
 And one that still stands as it did during its days as a water supply
 a lovely old home, that's now a B & B
 and gorgeous pink lilies!

 Lots of old homes, right downtown, have these lovely flowers in the front yards
 And Trisha especially loves these lace curtains!

 And old trees!
 What a spectacular flower!  It was paper thin and very delicate
 In the courtyard of the Mendocino Arts Center
 we found this lovely flower pot, with stacked small stones--beautiful!

At the Botanical Gardens

A whole houseful of fuchsias and gigantic begonias

Picture of the longtime volunteer for whom this particular exhibit is named
In one of the main gardens, just outside the gift shop

Several sheep in a fenced off area

 The sign said:  "It's okay to pet the dragon!"  Sculpture near the dahlia garden
 Entering the dahlia garden

 These huge blossoms were just hurt your eyes beautiful!!

 The platform for ceremonies

 The path leading from the dahlia garden to the ocean overlooks

 Through some wonderful weathered overhanging trees

 And a huge old tree trunk, shaped by the wind and weather into an interesting sculpture

 Gorgeous home we could see as we looked down the coast
 The fascinating rocky shores of the Pacific

 Loved this bench with the natural wood pieces in the ends

 I thought this pile of dried kelp, washed up in an inlet, was interesting
 Huge eucalyptus trees

 Here was a whimsical children's area, where fairies dwell, and butterflies play!

 Trisha found these star patterns in the acorns
 Gravesite of some of the original owners of this land

Scarecrow in the vegetable garden
 Man, these are some pumpkins!

 Amid the nasturshins

 Just beautiful--the flowers, too!!
 Gorgeous Swiss chard--would love to have some of that!

At Glass Beach

Trisha finding some beautiful beach glass

This big fat squirrel was not shy about coming close, hoping for some food
Just can't get enough of this rugged coast line--so different from the southern Atlantic coast I grew up seeing

Oh well, if these darn humans aren't going to feed me anything, guess I'll just have to rely on the natural stuff!

And so long Mendocino--not goodbye, just so long 'til next time!

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