Fort Ross State Historic Park in Winter

Two weeks ago we visited the last main area on the coast we haven’t shared with you. Our destination: Fort Ross State Historic Park, which is 11 miles north of Jenner off Hwy 1.

Fort Ross up the hill to the ocean

Before it was a fort, 1500 “People from Top of Land” lived here. The native people, Kashaya, had an area that spanned 50 miles of coast and 30 miles inland. The Russians arrived in the early 1800s to establish an agricultural outpost  supporting their Alaskan fur trade. Fur, as in otters, was big business.

The Russians raised a variety of crops and domestic animals for almost 30 years. When the fur trade declined, they gave up the area in 1841, selling to John Sutter.

Fort Ross Buildings (replicas)

Other farmers followed. The Call family homestead survives on what is now Fort Ross State Historical Park. There is a museum describing the history of the area. The fort is mostly a reconstruction; with only one original building. Celebrations have been planned for 2012, the 200th anniversary of the Russian fort. (Click for Interpretive Association.)

We started our visit with a walk to the bluffs going north as long as the soggy land would let us. Towards the ocean from the parking lot, is a road that goes down to the fort and provides wheelchair access. At a pull out spot by the road a trail goes up and over a small rocky hill. The path is grass and dirt and narrow, but not difficult. Well, we did squeeze through a zigzag cow deterrent in the fence.

Fort Ross pass through to coast

I picked out the trail by spotting the brightest green grass. Down a gentle slope we made our way to the ocean. South we could see a cove full of kelp. The day promised some sunshine, but mostly it was dark gray, very calm, and the ocean moved in gentle giant swells.

We made our way across the meadow – still grazed – we watched out for cowpies. I got distracted by birds perching on rocks and ones who pecked in the grass. Groups of busy ground feeders moved together so the meadow looked like a moving carpet.

Fort Ross view to the beach

Nearer the cliff’s edge were lupine bushes, heavy with dew. After my pants got wet, I decided to head inland and walk in the grassier area. What I liked about this walk is the softness of the land. It just wasn’t that it was wet, but that it hadn’t been trampled to death, like many of the paths we walk on. Also, I liked that I could make my own path.

At ocean we could hear crashing waves and see stranded beaches and layered and creased rocks. It’s not as dramatic as Salt Point, the next State Park, a little farther north.

Fort Ross coast line

In over a ½ mile, we came to the next cove. Boggy spots across the meadow lead to a waterfall at the cliff. Mini-gardens of lotus, sea lettuce and the basel leaves of new growth thrived near the creek. The cove’s ocean water looked clear. At the next bigger creek, we decided we weren’t going to be able to cross in this winter’s wetness, but we admired nature’s planting of the walls.

Fort Ross waterfall to beach

It was a soggy path to parking lot. I wished we had taken the original trail without the dewy lupines. The wide path used by fisherman going to the sea, was best travelled in rubber boots.

See you on the trail!

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar

Fort Ross lichen covered rock

Directions: 11 miles north of Jenner on Hwy 1. Only open on the weekends.

Other paths: South from the fort, though this goes down to a beach and is best travelled in another season and at low tide. The trail goes through Reef Campground, now closed. Try Salt Point!

Cost: State Park pass or $8/car. $7 for seniors (age 62+)

Dogs & Bikes: As with most state area, not by the ocean.

Museum: Comes with entrance/parking fee. History of area in text and displays. Gift shop. Only open on weekends, due to state budget cuts.

Fort: Special anniversary celebration in 2012. But often there are other events with enactments of the life at the fort, both domestic and military. This is another State park slated for closure in July 2012.

Picnic: Near the museum and by the Call home, closer to the ocean.

Bathroom: Just outside the museum.

Other nearby walks: Try Salt Point. Or farther north Gualala.

Fort Ross outcrop, fence and birds

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