Friday, October 30, 2015

Cruising California's Coast

October 8, 2015: Mark, Mary, Sarah, and Chris pose for a picture 
on the side of the road somewhere along the Northern California coast.

On Wednesday, October 7, we spent the whole day at the resort while we recovered from the rigors of our day in San Francisco. We did some laundry, watched some television, napped, grilled, ate, and swam. I even found some time to blog. Then we turned in early because we had big plans for Thursday.

Our rental car, a 2015 Chevy Traverse, in Bodega Bay.

We left the resort just after 7:00 Thursday morning and headed south to Santa Rosa, about 15 minutes away. There, we stopped to pick up our rental car for our long drive up the coast. I had requested and been promised a minivan, but when we arrived they handed us the keys to an SUV instead. I wasn't too happy, especially given the cost, but I was assured that the Chevy Traverse had a third row seat, which was what I wanted so the people in back wouldn't be so crowded. While it wasn't nearly as roomy as a van would have been, it worked out okay. And I admit I enjoyed driving it. The Traverse handled well.

A view of Bodega Bay from Coast Highway 1.

We got on our way soon after, heading through miles of vineyard-covered wine country toward the town of Sebastopol, and then along Bodega Highway to the small town of Bodega Bay. We arrived around 8:30 and stopped to use the restroom at a '76 station. We paused to look out at the bay situated between the town and Bodega Head, a finger of land jutting into the Pacific, creating and protecting the bay. We were so near the ocean, and yet we couldn't quite see it. 

The Pacific Ocean at last! But notice the low gray line settled on the horizon.

After we drove a little further north, beyond Bodega Bay's town limits, there it was: the beautiful, blue Pacific. I had never been to any beaches north of the San Francisco/Oakland area before now (except in Oregon in 2010), so this was exciting to me. However, until we reached our final destination in Fort Bragg, we were never able to get down to the water's edge to walk in the sand or wade in the surf.

Unlike Southern California, where the beaches all have names and most are well-developed with easy access, the coast of Northern California is still largely rugged and untamed. Most of the shoreline is extremely rocky, and the beaches are small and hard to reach because they lie below tall cliffs and bluffs. Most of the access points we passed required payment for even a brief stop, which I didn't feel was worth just a few minutes to take pictures. So we pressed on, stopping occasionally to take pictures from afar.

My first selfie overlooking the Northern California coast!
It may not look that far down to the beach from the bluff where we stood, 
but that stick on the sand behind my head was actually a log large enough to sit on.

At our first stop, in the above two pictures (somewhere between Salmon Creek and Gull Rocks, I think), I noticed a long, low, gray cloud rolling along the horizon in the distance, hovering above the water. I pointed it out to my family. The sky above was sunny and vividly blue, but I said, "See that fog bank? It's probably heading our way. I hope we get where we're going before we get fogged in."

The first of many stops for roadwork along the way.
This is where the highway crosses Timber Gulch.

As we continued on our way, we soon learned that even the Coast Highway (or, later, it becomes Shoreline Highway) requires maintenance. We were halted by road crews several times before we reached Fort Bragg.

By our second photo-stop, the fog was making landfall just ahead of us...

...and closing in behind us, just half an hour after I first saw the fog bank.

Our third photo-stop, 10 minutes later, put us a little ahead of the fog,
after we rounded that headland which cut it off.
This is looking south, from the highway just south of Fort Ross.

Looking north. Fort Ross is around that corner and a little way beyond.
The fog bank is still visible, heading toward shore.

While we were at this third stop, Mark went off to answer nature's call.

Meanwhile, Dylan decided to get this photo of his mother.

A small market in the town of Gualala.

By the time we reached the town of Gualala around 10:45, we were all in desperate need of a restroom. We stopped at another '76 station, only to find that they had no public bathroom. Imagine that! They directed us across the street to the Surf Market. Thankfully, the market was equipped to help us out, so we returned the favor by loading up on snack items from their store.

Dylan entertains Sarah and Chris while they check out at the Surf Market.

Sarah, Mark, Dylan, and Chris load our goodies into the rental car.

Pirates Cove Restaurant in Point Arena, California.

From Gualala, we drove directly to our next planned stop in the town of Point Arena. By now it was 11:30 and we were ready for some lunch. I had located a restaurant called Pirates Cove that had good reviews for their Mexican food. So, of course, Dylan and Chris ordered burgers and fries while Mark got fish and chips. Sarah and I enjoyed our enchiladas, though.

Chris and Sarah in Pirates Cove. That's my yummy plate in the foreground.

Mark with his fish and chips.

The Point Arena Lighthouse, with the museum behind it.

About half an hour later, after lunch, we drove directly to the Point Arena Lighthouse, just ten minutes away. By the time we got there, around 12:30, the fog was seriously rolling in. 

Dylan's shot of the Point Arena Lighthouse.

None of us had ever been to a lighthouse before, so I thought this would be a fun experience, and it was. The Point Arena Lighthouse  was rebuilt in 1908, after the original was destroyed in the April 1906 quake. The lighthouse is 115 feet tall and is located on the one point of land (surrounded by water on three sides) in the continental United States that is closest to Hawaii, 2,285 miles away. I love trivia!

The entrance to the lighthouse.

I didn't dare to attempt to climb the tower with my knee swollen and painful as it had been for over a week now, so Sarah and I waited below while the three guys climbed the 144 steps to the top. Dylan said it freaked him out a bit at first, and he found himself hugging the wall once he'd reached the parapet at the top. Then he got busy with his camera and forgot to be nervous.

Dylan looks up at the spiraling steps above their heads.

I took this picture of the three men at the top of the lighthouse...

...while Dylan took this picture of me down below, taking their picture!

His camera has a good zoom lens!

I'm sure the view would have been magnificent without the fog!
The coastline here is quite rocky and rugged, so a lighthouse makes sense.
Dylan captured this misty shot from the top of the lighthouse.

Dylan, Mark, and Chris return from exploring the lighthouse

We spent a little time in the museum (where I got another awesome tee-shirt).
I believe this was one of the Fresnel lenses that originally illuminated this lighthouse.

Rocky waters below the lighthouse.

After spending about 45 minutes at the lighthouse, we drove back into the town of Point Arena and then resumed our journey northward on Shoreline Highway 1 toward Fort Bragg. We made just one more photo-stop along the way.

Multiple paths wound through this dense ground cover.

Somewhere between Point Arena and the town of Elk, around 1:30, we came upon a sign that seemed to direct us on an access road to a beach. We followed it to its end, where further signs warned us to stay clear of the cliff edges, but again seemed to indicate that one of the paths would take us down to the beach. We wandered around for a while, but all our paths led to the bluff's edge. We didn't want to be here all day, and my knee was hurting, so we finally gave up a little after 2:00. Nonetheless, the windswept area was strikingly, even savagely, beautiful.

Another selfie. My hair was pretty well whipped by this time!
We did find the beach, several yards below us.

And then we were off again, on the final leg of our adventure to explore the northern coast and discover the beach I'd most been anxious to explore: Glass Beach! Stay tuned...

I love these last two pictures most of all. Here, 
Dylan trudges north across the top of the bluff alone.

Then Dylan turns back and captures this moment:
Sarah, Mark, and Mary looking out on the misty Pacific.

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