Walking the Mendocino Coast

We have gone to Mendocino about 20 times over the years. It’s good to find something new. And still do the old familiar.

Cabot Cove or Mendocino

Van Damme State Park

The old familiar started with a stop at the beach at Van Damme State Park. The new was entering the park on the other side of Hwy 1 and going to the Visitor Center and taking a short walk up Fern Canyon. We were surprised at the number of flowers in bloom. Plenty of forget-me-nots but also redwood violets, bleeding hearts, salmonberry (bush), and Solomon seal. The trail was lush with ferns – reed – and a nice mix of pines, firs and broadleaf trees.

Van Damme Beach

Van Damme has campgrounds – campers (abalone divers by day) were evacuated the night before due to high winds and rain. Besides wet road and soggy trail, it looked like paradise in the sunshine. We walked along Little River, past a waterfall, but gave up when a downed tree crossed the trail. It was a little muddy. There are miles of trails as the park goes up the canyon of Little River, some available to bicycles.

Van Damme Trail

Mendocino – Kelley House

For something else new, we visited the Kelley House. How have we missed this? Maybe now that more shops are closed, we were ready to visit the past. Kelley was one of the early lumbermen and built this house in 1861. He’s one of the few who stayed on, after visiting back east to find a wife.

Kelley House Mendocino

Russian Gulch State Park

After a night with a familiar extravagant meal at Café Beaujolais, we went to Russian Gulch State Park. In previous years, we have carelessly driven by this lovely gem. We walked around a coastal bluff on a narrow trail surrounded by coyote bush and blackberries at first. Nearer the ocean, the Devil’s Punchbowl intrigued us. If we’d waited until high tide, undoubtedly the surging water into the sinkhole would have been more dramatic. We continued our walk along the bluff back to another picnic area and spotted two dramatic Black Oystercatchers. Nearby, scouring the rocks like insects were a flock of Rock Sandpipers (possibly).

Russian Gulch

There are more trails here, than at Van Damme, along Russian Gulch Creek and above the canyon. At the bluff, we enjoyed the gentle pine needle path, but not the surrounding poison oak. Next, we drove to another part of the park and stopped at the beach near the campgrounds. We can never get enough of the ocean.

Devils Punchbowl Entrance

Pt. Arena LighthousePt Arena new light

Pt Arena old lightThe next day was our driving test down the coast on the often winding Hwy 1. A familiar ride, but this time we stopped at the Pt. Arena Lighthouse. Mike walked the 10+ stories to the top, for a spectacular view. I studied the museum and the gift shop. The lighthouse was originally built in 1870. Four lighthouse keepers (and their families) lived on site to take turns rewinding the weight to keep the light rotating and servicing the large oil lamp inside the Fresnel lenses. After the 1906 earthquake it was rebuilt with a light reflected through many lenses, that now sits in the museum. That was replaced in 1977 by a single light.

Pt Arena Lighthouse

An all-volunteer organization has maintained the lighthouse property since 1984. The Van Damme State Park is not slated for closure in July. But Russian Gulch is. Another nearby park, Jug Handle, has been temporarily saved through fundraising. The north coast and the whole state are looking for ways to preserve our parks.

Flowering Coast

Blackberry Bloom north of Jenner

Continuing down the coast, we resisted many familiar spots and just stopped briefly at Gualala Regional Park for a snack. We took a very short walk at mile sign 23.82 (only a few parking space next to the road.) Besides the buttercups that we’ve seen a lot of lately, there were suncups, checker mallow, blue-eyed grass, coastal iris, seaside daisies, coastal daisies and sea thrift. Not quite a garden yet, but the variety is there.

We’re looking forward to our walk on April 21st above Wright’s Beach. Please join us at 10am.

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar

For other walks along the Mendocino Coast: Up the Valley and Down the Coast; Trying to Walk Along a Wet and Wild Coast

Van Damme Redwood Violet

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