Days 61-63 (September 29-October 1)
Pacific Coast Highway and Hendy Woods State Park
Highway 101 to Pacific Coast Highway 1
I awake feeling much better (good enough to do today’s driving), so we leave lovely Humboldt Redwoods State Park and wind our way down Hwy 101 to Hwy 1. This route includes 17 miles of the craziest, curviest forested mountain driving I’ve ever done. The twists and turns continue once we reach the coast, traveling the narrow cliffside highway through light but steady rain, mist, and fog.
Unfortunately it rains and rains, so beyond here we make only a couple of stops and take few pictures en route. Sad face.
We contemplate getting a hotel room in Ft. Bragg, however I’d like to get farther down the road. We drive through tree tunnels and by pretty little towns that dot the coastline, yet the weather has us feeling uninspired to stop, even for a cup of coffee.
I have been looking forward to seeing Mendocino for over a decade – since I first saw pictures of it in Coastal Living magazine. North and south of Mendocino there are half a dozen state parks, all of which look nice for camping, but we do not wish to pay $45 a night for a primitive campsite, just to sit in the tent and hide out in the rain. (That said, the state parks here are among the most beautiful in the country and were the weather better are undoubtedly worth the high price).
The only park that we drive through is MacKerricher State Park, where I snap this rainy photo of the beach.
Although I am enjoying the drive and brief stops along the way, the day is feeling a bit off, like we can’t get on track. In the fog and mist, I completely miss the turnoff to Mendocino, and so we find ourselves pushing further down the road and come to the Hwy 128 junction, where we turn toward Anderson Valley, still not knowing where we will rest our heads for the night.
Hwy 128 is a dream drive (on another windy road). It parallels the river for a while and takes one through Navarro Redwoods State Park – an 11 mile stretch of magnificent second growth redwood forest. Having passed the Mendocino coast parks, we hope to camp there for a night, but find one campground closed and the beach camping looks like a homeless camp. My spirits are slipping because I was so amped to spend a few days on the Mendocino coast, but now a day trip will have to suffice.
Continuing on Hwy 128, the deep forest ends and the valley opens up to present dozens of vineyards in amber rolling hills and a pallete of early fall colors. Wow. Just wow. Pictures to come in my Anderson Valley post.
Hendy Woods State Park
In one last ditch effort at finding a campground today, we drive a couple of miles off Hwy 128 to Hendy Woods State Park. This is a small but popular camping park, and in spite of their website having shown no sites available (when I checked it last week) and a “no availability” sign posted at the gate, we ask anyway and are quite surprised to find out there are a few first-come-first-serve campsites and rustic cabins available. How strange they should prefer to turn people away when the park isn’t really full, but we do not voice that opinion and make the obvious choice to pay $70 a night for a primitive cabin instead of $45 a night to tent camp in the rain.
So how cute is our wee cabin?
The rain is still falling intermittently, so instead of taking a gloomy hike we heed our call to Mecca and drive east through Anderson Valley to Boonville, where we sample our favorite sour beers fresh from the source. Boonville is a wonderfully different kind of place with a quirky history, and I shall tell you more about it in my Anderson Valley post.
At Hendy Woods we enjoy visiting with our cabin neighbors, a delightful family from Berkeley. I string battery-powered lights in the cozy cabin, and at night Robert builds a fire in the tiny wood stove – more to dry the air and for ambiance than for warmth, as the weather is quite pleasant and mild. We fill our evenings in the cabin with games of Skip-Bo and good conversation. I do so love a cabin!
The Prettiest Redwood Forest: Big Hendy Grove
Why visit six different redwoods parks? Each Redwood forest we have visited on this trip is different from the next. Some parks protect dense, dark forests, some are scattered with elk-filled meadows, some provide direct access to the coast, some are pretty much all-redwood forest while others have more tree and plant diversity. But within this small state park tucked away in Anderson Valley we find the most magnificent trees of them all.
We start day two here by hiking the three connecting loops of Big Hendy Grove. Here are the tallest redwoods we have seen yet, along with the most beautiful understory forest and many fallen giants. I walk off 300 feet on one fallen redwood before the trunk’s top – which looks to be another 50 feet – becomes too moss-slick and broken to walk on. I wasn’t aware that redwoods could even grow that tall! What’s interesting about this park is that they do not boast about their groves, it’s like a wonderful little secret for those in the know, which probably do not number many outside of the state of California.
We accidentally take a side trail to the parking lot for the picnic area, not a wasted walk as the trees are beginning their turn to gold, a preview of the wonderful fall color our eyes will behold in Anderson Valley.
We intentionally take a side trail to the Navarro River. Here the trail opens up to the valley and we enjoy the lovely walk through riverside meadow. The wildflowers and trees growing along the riverbed are new to us. A rainbow of fern fronds lines the path.
Before returning to our cabin, we hike the Hermit Hut Trail to see the two residences of the Hendy Hermit, a Russian immigrant who lived near the park for 18 years during the 60’s and 70’s (this land has since been acquired by the state park).
Although we did not really plan for Hendy Redwoods State Park to be our home base, it proves to be a great choice, as it is centrally located for day trips Mendocino and Anderson Valley – two areas that were key points in my route-planning since I first got the wild idea two years ago to make this big trip. We only hike in the park, however other activities include canoeing (late winter/spring) and swimming in the river (summer).
I fall deeply, madly in love with Mendocino County in our two days here, and am excited to share more with you in my upcoming Anderson Valley and Mendocino posts.
Click on a park name below to read about our wanderings through more Redwoods parks: