Sunday’s Revisit: Trying to Walk Along a Wet and Wild Coast

Back when I first started this blog, I wrote a lot and covered a lot. This one, from January 2010, covers the magnificent Salt Point State Park (the coastal part) and MacKerricker State Park in Mendocino. There are also hints about Gualala and Sea Ranch – including Walk On Beach that I just posted more about. These are fine spots winter or summer or fall or spring.

It was a dark and stormy day. With jazz variations on gray. Yellow wowing us with blooming mustard in green pastures and vineyards. Acacias and broom glow yellow from Anchor Bay north on the Sonoma and Mendocino coast. Whites in Calla lilies and delicate ruffled daffodils. Ocean like green jade when not roaring in white surf or disappearing in the rain.

That was only the first day.

Salt Point Coast

Highway 1 on the coast of Sonoma and Mendocino counties is a slow winding affair, around mountains that slide to the ocean, down gullies populated with dense vegetations from ferns to redwoods, then climbs against rock faces and occasionally opens to vast pasture land and meadows racing straight ahead until the next set of curves.

Around Fort Ross, the Bishop Pines start dominating the landscape in what seem like gentle slopes to the east, but are really a series of uplifted plateaus. If you were a hiker, you could go up to the pigmy forest of these pines.

We chose to stop at Salt Point State Park. The Fisk Mill entrance is closed but Gerstle Cove is open on the weekends. It’s our favorite anyway.

Salt Point State Park: Take the road to ‘day use and the beach’, pass a couple of turnoffs and follow it left to a parking lot. To the south is Gerstle Cove, a marine reserve. You’ll see an A-frame visitor center (open April-October) that is at one of the turnoffs you passed.

At the south end of the parking lot is a paved path for a short distance (not much wheelchair access here) before it gives way to a dirt and grass path, sometimes rutted road bed. While it is uneven and soggy in places in winter, it has few elevation changes.Salt Point Path

There is not much beach here, but some fascinating rock formation in the sandstone that can keep you interested for the entire walk. There aren’t many flowers in January, a few dandelions, low lying white daisies. Indian paintbrush, Coastal iris and lilies are in more protected areas.

Salt Point Rock

In wetter areas blackberries and salal are blooming. Platoons of pelicans brave the wind heading south, a hawk surveys prey in a holding pattern and cormorants stand distinct on rocks near the shore. We walked north and back about 2 miles total. In the whole park there are about 20 miles for walking and horses. I’ll do that in shorter pieces.Salt Point Rocks

And here it is last June.

Wildflowers at Salt Point

But last Saturday was a different day. We did have the good fortune to be within 100’ of the car when the rain started.

Entrance: $7

Bathroom: Closed at the beach parking lot. But the one at the campground is open (and there was one tent camper and a few RVs) with flush toilet and cold water.

Restrictions: Dogs are not allowed on trails and beaches. Bikes are not okay on single track trails.

We continued up the coast, stopping in Gualala for shopping instead of walking at the Regional Park south of the river. The park does have nice paved flat trails and leads into coastal access trails to Sea Ranch. But it was raining!

MacKerricker State Park

This park stretches for miles from Glass Beach in Ft. Bragg north to Ten Mile River. On the next day, still windy and blustery we entered where the visitor center is 3 miles north of Ft Bragg. It’s a small cozy place and the volunteer was most helpful. The entrance is free.

We decided to walk around Cleone Lake. A coot greeted us. Well mostly, he was feeding in the reeds at the shore line. The lake is more a large pond and on less windy and rainy days a good birdwatching place. We set off on a lopsided boardwalk that proved slippery in places and was missing a few boards. We felt heroic.

It was jungle-like without the lake in site, walking under willows (most of the types leafless) and Coast Live oaks. The ground was covered with blackberries and ferns. If it wasn’t for the noise from Hwy 1, you could imagine an isolated environment.

Cleone Lake

About half way around we came to a platform, a ramp and a plank crossing a creek. This leads to a muddy trail with some ups. Not too rigorous, though slippery. On higher ground, there are more pines and views of the lake and ocean.

We misjudged the rain and got hit about 2/3 of the way around the lake (too much time with the bird books at the visitor center). The trail is on the road for a short distance near the bathrooms and parking lot.

Laguna Point farther south along the road has a sturdier wider boardwalk that covers a larger area.

Amenities: There’s a parking lot, a picnic table and several separate room toilets with flush toilets and cold water. Wheelchair access is only possible tooling around the parking lot as the boardwalk is narrow and rough. You bring it in, you pack it out. There’s no garbage service.

Glass Beach: Too wild, rainy and windy here. We gave up the exploration, but managed to get wet. Wild radishes are in bloom. We went off to lunch at the North Coast Brewery.

Walk On Beach Access

Walk on Beach: There are several points of beach access in Sea Ranch. Some just head out a short distance  with stairs to the beach. Some allow access to the coastal trail for long flat stretches. We tried the access point at Walk on Beach The closest access to Gualala Regional Park. It’s 3 real steps and one tree root step then sloping down on a tan oak leaf and pine needle covered path, cross the road, then walk under cypress with a view to open meadow and ocean. No beach today with high tide and waves. Access to Walk on Beach is closed this time of year, so I don’t know how ‘walk on’ it is. The north south coast trail is about ¼ mile from parking lot. Bathroom has one flush toilet, no water.

 General Stuff:

Other places to walk: This coast is loaded with places to walk. The flattest being at Gualala Point, Sea Ranch and Laguna Point in MacKerricker. (Laguna Point has better boardwalks and they cover more area than around Cleone Lake. But it’s too exposed on a rainy windy day.) Though the Botanical Garden in Fort Bragg has an entrance fee, the variety of experience from open meadow to gift shop is worth it. Here’s Sea Ranch on a sunny January day last year.

Sea Ranch coast near Gualala

Places to stay: What might be called the Land of Inns starts at Albion and goes north. Oh, there are choices in Elk, too.

Warnings & improvements: A few stops for one lane only on Hwy 1. Gravity and the ocean sometimes win out over the road and land. There are gates at Meyer Grade to the plateau area north to close off the toughest spots of the road. Some of the road has been repaved, there are new guardrails and extended guardrails. Cows and deer: We passed one spot where cows were laying down, as if waiting for the bus. One cow had crossed the road to rub her neck on the rocks, while her tail end was in the road.

Shopping: Placewares in Gualala. Mendocino has a real bookstore, Golden Goose for fine linens, a store with binoculars and science related toys and games, and several galleries still hang on.

Eating: So many places! This trip managed: a yummy lunch at North Coast Brewing Co. in Ft. Bragg, Olallieberry cobbler at Mendocino Hotel, hot takeout dinner from the lovely Harvest Market and supplies and drinks from a delightfully redone Mendosa’s market in Mendocino.

Here’s one more look.

Meanwhile back to walking.

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike MillarMendocino Coast

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