We woke up in our boat-in campsite feeling like we were in the jungle. Hummingbirds zoomed through the clearing above our tent, chirping and buzzing overhead. The morning fog accumulated in dew drops on the leafy walls around us. We packed up and took a last look around the lush little spot we had made our home for the night and hiked out to the coast, skirting around the rocky promontory, Sharp Point, that separates Stone Lagoon from the Pacific.
We walked along a stretch of shoreline until we reached Big Lagoon, where we carefully navigated around the edge of the dune vegetation to avoid crushing precious dune flowers– yellow sand verbena, silky beach peas in deep purple and bright magenta, and delicate pink morning glories. Strewn throughout the low, flat vegetation were huge pieces of gray, rugged driftwood, weathered and seasoned by the forces of the north coast ocean. Occasionally we saw a crow, once a small shore bird, but nothing else moved except busy little ants bustling around in their expansive sand universe.
The four lagoons that make up Humboldt Lagoon State Parks are Stone Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Freshwater Lagoon and Dry Lagoon. We walked miles down the sandy stretch of coastline in front of the lagoons and saw multiple pairs of gray whale moms and babies parading by, puffing their oceany breath out of blow-holes into heart shaped sprays, the signature gray-whale spout. We rounded the beach and came into a sheltered cove before we reached a rocky point called Patrick’s Point, where we savored the sunset views. It was our first time getting into camp early enough to relax, stretch, and write before the sun set and we soaked it all in!
We spent the next morning at Patrick’s Point tidepooling with Michelle, an environmental scientist with California State Parks, who showed us around at low tide. She told us that over 60 species of algae had been identified in the tidepools. She also showed us at least five species of nudibranchs, scandalously colorful “sea slugs” that are our favorite tidepool discoveries! Bubblegum pink Hopkins’ Rose, spotted orange and white Sea Clown, bright yellow Sea Lemon– these little gems are the stars of the tidepools for us. We also saw tidepool sculpins, gumboot chitons, ochre stars, and iridescent seaweed.
Michelle showed us bumpy sea stars and spiny purple urchins, and told us about sea star wasting disease, which causes otherwise healthy sea stars to melt into mushy blobs of disintegrating flesh. Scientists have been studying this plague of sea star deaths, which has resulted in mass die-offs of stars all along the West Coast. The disease is caused by a virus and is exacerbated by warmer water temperatures and the changing ocean climate. That morning, researchers from Humboldt State University were out surveying the Patrick’s Point tidepools to document the disease and contribute to statewide studies.
We wanted to stay in the tidepools forever, exploring each nook and cranny for vibrantly colored creatures, but we had to keep heading south toward Mexico! We began the long walk down Patrick’s Point toward Trinidad, enjoying sweeping views of the bright teal waters and rocky outcroppings along the coast. We dropped down from the bluffs onto Moonstone Beach, a lovely spot where folks were out enjoying the coast with family and friends. We trekked down a long sandy stretch of beach, and camped for the night at Clam Beach County Park, tucked away behind the expansive dunes that make Humboldt County spectacular.
The next day was a crazy one! We had three interviews: a phone call for a print story, a short TV interview, and a live radio show. We did our best to sound interesting and intelligent, while also staying on track with our 13-mile hike planned for the day. Not an easy task! The day ended with us completely lost in a labyrinth of sand dunes, our legs feeling like lead as the sun sank towards the horizon. Eventually we made it out to the road, and met up with Alisan, who brought us to Bertie and Jo’s house for the evening, where we were treated to warm showers and grilled salmon that Jo caught. Thank you Bertie and Jo for taking care of us after such a long day.
Two major obstacles in Humboldt County were Humboldt Bay and the Eel River. Routing inland to the road bridges would have added dozens of miles to our journey, so we were really hoping to find a way to boat across. Through Alisan’s hard work, we found Jens and Tyrone of Mad River Tackle and Fishing My Life Away guide service in Arcata. They offered to help us get across BOTH of these bodies of water–amazing! We kayaked across Humboldt bay with Jens (and Chinook!), and they used a drift boat to ferry us across the Eel River. We are so thankful for these guys, and all of the other trail angels who have been helping us along the way.
While traveling through the area, we got to explore Arcata, a cute college town where Humboldt State University is based. We had two fun experiences in Arcata. One was exploring the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, which includes 307 acres of estuarine habitat. The marsh is also part of the City of Arcata’s unique wastewater treatment facility. Wetlands naturally filter and purify water, and in Arcata, they are used as a final treatment step, to turn wastewater into a resource. We met George Ziminsky, an incredible coastal steward who is constantly volunteering his time to pick up trash, clean graffiti off of signs, and improve trails. George–you are an inspiration!
Our second Arcata experience was attending Ocean Night, a Surfrider event at the Arcata Theater Lounge. Delia Bense-Kang, Humboldt Surfrider chair, invited us to say a few words about our journey and the CCT; it was a great opportunity to spread the word about the trail! Afterwards, we were so happy to relax with a beer and watch some surf films. Delia was kind enough to host us for the night, and we loved learning more about her life up in Humboldt: surfing the cold waves (we are still too wimpy), working at the Northcoast Environmental Center, and volunteering at Surfrider. We have met some incredible ocean women who are doing great work to help the coast and Delia is definitely one of them–go marine ladies! (Check out the article Delia wrote about us, here)
The Humboldt coastline challenged us once again, with rugged terrain along the rocky coast that forced us inland to avoid an impassable section of beach between False Cape and Cape Mendocino. This section of coast is the western-most stretch of land in California, and it can only be walked at extreme low tides, which didn’t align with our time there. We had to pass up and over the Coast Range to continue moving south, so we followed the paved road up, up, and away–over a summit of 1,880ft in less than 1.5 miles, on the steep and winding Wildcat Ridge. The views were unbelievable and definitely worth the crazy strenuous effort required to reach the vantage point where we could see miles of big blue Pacific Ocean to the north, south, and west. The Lost Coast was in sight, stretching along the dramatic coast for the next 80 miles, untouched by highway due to its extremely remote and rugged landscape. We’re wild ladies and we’re ready for the wilderness!
Feeling dead after our steep bike ride up Wildcat!