We cruised into Santa Cruz County just in time to meet a big south swell hitting the coast! The whole community was buzzing with palpable excitement, as ocean lovers from all walks of life emerged to enjoy the waves.
We were jones-ing for a surf, despite the dumping close-out waves, so we paddled out and caught some whitewater. After some much needed time in the proverbial washing machine, and a few nice rides, we were spit out on the sand feeling alive with the beachy buzz.
We made our way into Davenport, aka Whale City, where we grubbed down on some delish fish tacos and brews, while we were serenaded by a groovy band covering some legendary classics. We loved Davenport for its funky fresh feel, tributes to migrating Gray Whales, and artsy townfolk.
In northern Santa Cruz County, we wound our way through Coast Dairies State Park, past bluffs of blooming wildflowers and fields of brussels sprouts, occasionally following the railroad tracks to hop from one gorgeous, secluded pocket beach to the next. This will eventually be part of an awesome segment of the CCT called the Santa Cruz Rail Trail, which follows the old railroad tracks along the coast. When complete, the trail will provide “a car-free, direct, flat and scenic route for biking, walking, and wheelchair use” 32 miles from Davenport to Watsonville, according to the Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail Trail. We were so stoked to see the success of the Rails to Trails movement, repurposing defunct railroads into community paths, a brilliant idea which has already taken hold nationwide!
The Santa Cruz Rail Trail is part of a larger network of trails along the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This network will ultimately connect 50 miles of trails on the Monterey Bay and provide scenic views of the nation’s largest National Marine Sanctuary! Ohhh yeah!!!
As we reached the outer limits of the City of Santa Cruz, we came to Natural Bridges State Beach, which took our breath away. We were once again reminded of the omnipotent energy of the Pacific Ocean, which formed three arches out of a seacliff, eroding away mudstone with pure wave power. Two of the three arches have succumbed to the sea, collapsing during storms, and now only the middle one remains. Nature is the most wonderful architect.
At Natural Bridges we met up with Nick and Riley from the Save the Waves Coalition for a group walk along the Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve! Save the Waves Coalition is a rad non-profit that protects surf spots around the world by showing decision makers the economic value of a wave and surfing to local communities, what they’ve termed “surfonomics,” so that decision makers make choices to protect the value of their coast and waves. Their World Surfing Reserves program includes surf breaks in Australia, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Portugal—plus TWO along the California Coastal Trail— in Santa Cruz and Malibu. The World Surfing Reserve at Santa Cruz includes the 23(!) consistent surf breaks along the Santa Cruz coast. Santa Cruz is a town centered around surfing and ocean culture—that’s our kind of place!
We had a lovely time cruising Cliff Drive, admiring kelp forests and surf spots with all the folks who came out to join our walk with Save the Waves! We also had a special appearance by Linda Locklin, who works for the Coastal Commission managing the statewide Coastal Access Program. It was really cool to talk with her about the California Coastal Trail, coastal access, and about all the awesome Santa Cruz based environmental non-profits. Walking through town was like perusing a rolodex of environmental and ocean focused organizations!
The beach was bumping on this summer Saturday, as we strolled past the Santa Cruz boardwalk. We were stoked to see a large CCT emblem right on the main drag—way to go Santa Cruz!
Folks were out enjoying the sun and swell, and we wanted to hop in the ocean! We met up with our lovely friend Hilary, a kindred ocean spirit who is on our wavelength about marine policy. She is also a Bren School Master’s graduate and California Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellow, just like the three of us. Hilary and her wonderful mama met us for a surf session at Pleasure Point, where we soaked in the good vibes, caught some fun waves, and floated in the clear teal water, mesmerized by the coppery-bronze kelp undulating in the soothing surf. We went googly-eyed when a mother and baby otter pair cruised right by us in the line-up, floating on their backs while eating tasty treats from the sea floor.
Then Christmas came early for these marine policy dweebs when California’s own coastal policy celebrity came to meet MoJo for a 10 mile beach walk! We were very excited to meet Charles Lester, former Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission. He has dedicated his career to coastal policy and his most recent job as ED of the Coastal Commission was defending the Coastal Act of 1976—the same piece of legislation that mandates the California Coastal Trail! We were VERY stoked to chat chat chat about all things coastal policy related and to talk about the CCT!
Charles gave us the scoop about the pre-Coastal Act housing developments we passed as we walked from New Brighton State Beach to Sunset State Beach. He showed us stretches of beach where developments had been proposed, but coastal conservation prevailed. We were reminded of a classic lesson in coastal conservation, that successes are represented by all the things you don’t see along the coast—long stretches of coastline without houses lining the sand, wetlands that haven’t been filled in and built up, scenic views that are void of buildings and lights.
At Sunset State Beach we met Portia, an Environmental Scientist with State Parks, who showed us the Sunset Beach Dune Restoration Success! European dune grass and ice plant, both invasive species, had invaded the dune ecosystem at Sunset Beach, which totally changed the structure and function of the dunes. Thanks to an intensive eradication program and ongoing maintenance, native plants have returned to the dunes, and now flourish there! Once the dedicated folks at Sunset State Beach removed all of the invasive grass and ice plant, the native seeds that had been buried in the dunes long ago were able to spring to life and repopulate the dunes. Portia gave us a great dune plant species tour and we loved learning all about this fragile and dynamic dune ecosystem.
Back at the Sunset Beach Campground, we set up camp, ate dinner, and were just laying out our s’mores ingredients and getting ready to roast our shmallows. We heard a rustling in the bushes and saw Alisan’s dog Noah run behind the tent to check out the action. We heard a scuffle from behind the tent and saw a black and white striped tail shoot up into the air. Someone screamed, “Skunk!”
Then it descended upon us. Our nostrils filled with the scent of one thousand cloves of rotting garlic mixed with paint thinner and burning rubber in the most pungent and overwhelming stench. We dispersed. Fast. The lantern was knocked over in the commotion and switched into flashing mode, a silent yet blaring alarm into the dark night—the stench is coming!
We were dry heaving. We surrounded the perimeter of the scene, unable to approach. The skunk had sprayed Noah directly in the face, so Alisan went into emergency dog cleaning mode. Holding our breath, we worked up the courage to quickly move our possessions away from the campsite and out of the cloud of skunk spray. Eventually, the only thing remaining was our tent. Warily, we took a closer look—a thick, oily, neon green and yellow skunk splatter covered our only home. Another direct hit. It was getting late, and we wearily succumbed to sleeping outside. We laid our bags out under the solstice full moon, an aura of stench lingering on our bodies and belongings.
The next morning, we awoke soggy and stinky under a thick layer of dew. Spirits were low as we gathered up the pieces of the previous night’s fiasco. Eventually we had to just get walking again—accepting that life on the CCT is always a crazy adventure!
We zoomed through San Francisco in a whirlwind of family, friends, fantastic trails, and fabulous fun. The City and County of SF share the same geographical boundaries, so in the blink of an eye, all 11 miles of SF County’s coastline had flown by, and we were entering our 6th county—San Mateo!
One of the first sections of CCT in San Mateo is the new Devil’s Slide Trail. For decades, Devil’s Slide was a treacherous section of Highway 1 plagued by landslides and closures. This area’s instability and propensity for landslides comes from its unique geology. Here, the granitic rock of the Montara mountain meets sedimentary rock of the ancient ocean floor. Landslides occur where the sedimentary layers were thrust over the granitic rock, causing wrinkles and unstable formations that are prone to slides.
Today, highway traffic has been routed inland through a tunnel, and Devil’s Slide is a new public multi-use section of the California Coastal Trail open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Devil’s Slide Trail provides spectacular views of the rocky coastline, seabirds, and marine mammals. Now people can slow down and appreciate the views rather than having a white-knuckle drive!
We love that this section of highway is now a trail! Especially after a scary experience just south of Pacifica where we had a very sketchy highway biking section. After Pacifica State Beach, we took our bikes along Highway 1 as far as we could before the shoulder disappeared. Cars were zooming by at lightspeed in the spirit of the busy city rush, screaming past us on our bikes. There were many more cars here than we had experienced on any highway section before. We looked nervously at each other and debated if we should continue this way. The blind curve ahead looked scary and we made our decision to get in the car for the first time and drive a segment due to safety concerns. We picked up the phone to call for a ride, and just then SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!!! SLAM! CRUNCH! A car had been rear-ended just meters away from where we were standing, probably about where we would have been if we hadn’t stopped.
We were very thankful that we didn’t risk our safety, but very bummed to have to resort to a ride for the only time along our CCT hike so far.
After Devil’s Slide we entered Pillar Point and Half Moon Bay, where there was some lovely coastal trail and excellent CCT signage.
This was in contrast to this confusing combination of signs that we encountered near Pacifica:
“Multi Purpose Trail” and a CCT emblem right next to a No Trespassing sign? Hmmm…
We expected navigational challenges when we decided to thru-hike an incomplete trail, but these were some serious mixed messages!
We also encountered some interesting signage while walking through the Ritz Carlton resort and golf course. When the Ritz was approved for construction by the city in 1991, one of the conditions attached to that approval required the resort to develop a segment of the California Coastal Trail and allow public beach access. The Ritz made it very clear where we could and could not go, which was fine with us, as long as we were allowed to walk through their coastal property, rather than retreating inland to Highway 1.
South of the Ritz, we got to experience one of our favorite San Mateo CCT segments when we arrived at the Cowell-Purisima Trail and met with lovely folks from the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST). POST is a land trust organization that has been working with public and private partner organizations to preserve open space, farms and parkland along the Peninsula since 1977.
The Cowell-Purisima Trail is a delightful section of CCT that ambles through working farmland with stunning Pacific Vistas. The trail led us through fields of fava beans, brussels sprouts, and artichokes and gave us a wonderful peek into responsible coastal agriculture.
This area is one of the most important sites on the San Mateo coast for wintering raptors, and we had a special encounter with a red-tailed hawk as we walked through. As the The Mercury News put it, “On the day they reached the 500-mile mark of their 1,200-mile trek down the California coast, Morgan Visalli and Jocelyn Enevoldsen received a silent benediction from a hawk that allowed them to pass within 10 feet as the women ambled south on the Cowell-Purisima Trail.”
The next treasure we encountered on the California Coastal Trail was Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, which is perched on a gorgeous stretch of coastline 50 miles south of San Francisco. Julie Barrow, State Parks Docent Coordinator and maritime heritage expert extraordinaire, gave us an exceptional tour. She took us back in time to the 1800s, when the Pigeon Point lightkeeper would climb the tower each evening to light a lard oil lamp placed in the center of a first-order Fresnel lens comprised of 1,008 prisms. The lens stands 16 feet tall, 6 feet in diameter, and weighs 2,000 pounds! Pigeon Point also boasts a top-notch hostel, and we thoroughly enjoyed spending a night there and soaking in the cliff-side hot tub under the starry night sky.
A few miles south of Pigeon Point, we entered Año Nuevo Coast Natural Preserve and fell in love. The sight of dune flowers in full bloom against the teal sea soothed our souls. The Atkinson Bluff trail wound past magical coves where clear turquoise waves lapped at white sand beaches. We took a moment to soak up the serenity, tucking it away for our future selves.
We’ve made it into our fifth county along the California Coastal Trail! Marin County encompasses the spectacular Tomales Bay, famous for its oysters and gorgeous panoramas. We canoed across Tomales Bay over the San Andreas Fault to our boat-in campsite at Marshall Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. The canoe ride was a windy journey paddling up the bay, and we saw seals floating lazily together in the shallows. Pure white egrets stalked their mudflat prey on tall, stilt-like legs. After standing so still, one would dart its beak into the water and pull out a shiny, flashing fish treat.
From the south side of Tomales Bay, we looked up the coast from where we had come. Now on the Point Reyes Peninsula, we were standing on “an island in time.” This peninsula is geologically separate from the mainland. Its granite core was once part of the Tehachapi Mountain Range 350 miles to the south, and the peninsula has been moving northward along the San Andreas fault over many millennia! In 1906, a massive earthquake moved Point Reyes 21 feet north—wowzers!
Thank goodness this coastal gem was protected from development in 1962, when Congress authorized the Point Reyes National Seashore. The peninsula is part wilderness, part classic California ranch and pastoral land. We met with John Dell’Oso from National Parks who shared some stats about Point Reyes with us: 80 species of mammals, 490 species of birds, 900 flowering plants, and 28 endangered plants and animals are found here! Whewww, this is a hotspot for nature and nature lovers!
John gave us THE coolest temporary tattoos, which celebrate the National Parks Service’s centennial anniversary this year! 100 years of preserving America’s precious wilderness and making natural places open to all of us–THANK YOU NATIONAL PARKS!! Point Reyes National Seashore is an especially amazing place because it includes over 75,000 acres of open space and is just a short way from 8.6 million people in the Bay Area. Wilderness is important for our health, and connecting with nature is a critical part of the human experience—and trails connect people to nature! We are so thankful for the 150 miles of trails in Point Reyes.
We spent a couple lovely days backpacking in Point Reyes, and brought a crew out to enjoy it with us. We had a first time backpacker, Mo’s little sis Sarah, and our friend Igor from Moldova, who had never seen the Pacific Ocean before! Together, we soaked in the scenery—expansive Pacific Ocean vistas, bright wildflower meadows, and rolling coastal fog collecting on trees and dropping to the forest floor. We even saw a humpback whale tail from the bluffs at Alamere Falls; it was the quintessential California Coastal Trail sighting!
By World’s Ocean Day on June 8th, we had made it to Stinson Beach, and decided we needed to brave the cold north coast waters to celebrate and honor our Ocean. Brrrrrr!!!! It was chilly but so refreshing, a great way to begin our morning on the CCT—ocean dunk at 8am on June 8, oh yeah!
We continued down the California Coastal Trail into the Marin Headlands—2,100 windswept acres of rocky headlands, rolling hills, coves and beaches that are protected as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. When perched in the majestic Marin Headlands, overlooking the San Francisco metropolis and the Golden Gate Bridge, it is surprising that such a vast wilderness exists adjacent to a major city. As early as 1890, the Marin Headlands were primarily used by the U.S. military as a key location to protect San Francisco bay from hostile ships and surprise attacks. When the military moved out, cities inevitably tried to move in, with many development proposals for the Marin Headlands coming about in the 1950s-60s. Local movements to stop development prevailed, and today, more than 80 percent of Marin County’s 300,000 acres are preserved as permanent open space!
Hiking through the headlands, eventually we rounded a turn where we caught our first glimpse of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. With our eyes on the red towers, it really started to sink in that we had human-powered ourselves all the way to the San Francisco Bay from the California-Oregon border. We joined the throng of tourists taking photos in front of the Golden Gate and celebrated our MoJo milestone with a little victory dance.
The next morning, we met a crew of CCT fans at the north side of the Golden Gate and got revved up for the big crossing. The Golden Gate Bridge is 4,200 feet long, and was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1964. People from around the world recognize the Golden Gate as a symbol of California and San Francisco—so cool that it is part of the CCT!
We had some seriously special guests join our walk-along across the Golden Gate Bridge. Mo’s family and friends were reppin’ MoJo Coastwalk big time and wrapped us up in so much love! Jo’s Granddad and Susana were there waiting with hugs and kisses for the sweet reunion! Some wonderful ladies from the Coastal Commission joined us and we got grooving with our marine lady vibes. Bob Siegel from the Bay Area Ridge Trail brought his pup and we got to pick his brain about all things trails!
When we made it across the bridge, we were greeted by a celebration with folks from the National Parks Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, the Coastal Conservancy, and the California Coastal Trail Association. We listened to some very kind and touching words from Kate Bickert of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and we were so excited to take place in the celebration of five major trails that all converge at the Golden Gate Bridge: California Coastal Trail, Bay Area Ridge Trail, San Francisco Bay Trail, American Discovery Trail, and the De Anza Trail all meet here! Hooray for this Trail Mix!
The trails headed south toward Land’s End, where we found the Hidden Labyrinth. The Labyrinth at Land’s End is a meditative monument for peace and serenity. Rocks carefully arranged into 11 concentric circles sit on a windswept bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean to the West, the Marin Headlands to the North, and the Golden Gate Bridge to the East. The Labyrinth was first created as a stealth public art project, and was carefully arranged at twilight or dawn so the anonymous artist could avoid detection by National Parks Service Rangers. Thanks to volunteers and local caretakers, the Labyrinth lives on. We walked through the meditative maze and sent Peace into the world from the Labyrinth, willing it to wormhole its way into this world out of whack.
The rest of San Francisco zoomed by in a 2 mph blur of sandy beaches, crazy characters, and perfect California weather. We walked along Ocean Beach, and by a wonderful coincidence, we were there for Sunday Streets, a party where city streets are closed to automobile traffic and open to people to “walk, run, bike, dance, explore!” Sunday Streets is a concept that originated in Bogota, Colombia over thirty years ago as a day of free healthy activities to promote community in public streets. We cruised down the “Great Highway” and saw many smiling pedestrians, bikers, musicians, kids in wagons, rollerskaters, and dogs out enjoying the car-free pathway.
We want to give a big shout out to the Visallis for spoiling us fantastically during their stay in the Bay. Thank you so much! And another shout out to our friends at Birdbath for hosting Team MoJo in San Francisco! Kacawwww kacawww! Bay Area Brennies also seriously showed up to energize us! The generous spirits who have helped us along the way have made our journey so special. Sending out so much love to all the Trail Angels who have supported us! THANK YOU!
As we crossed over the Gualala River, beautiful Sonoma County greeted us with breathtaking views, best described by our favorite coast adventurer, J Smeaton Chase in 1911.
The view was almost impossibly perfect…To the west I caught glimpses of dazzling sea; and southward I looked down upon the coast I had travelled during that and the previous day, brilliant with blue of deep and green of shoal water, or flashing to sudden blaze of surf on headland, cape, and bay. Before I was ready to move on, the sun had set in an effulgence of noble color, rosying the golden hills, reddening the great shafts of the trees, and for a few wonderful moments deepening the plain of the sea to an imperial splendor of purple. High over all, masses of flaming crimson, like banners of archangels, floated across the western sky.
Hiking into the northern part of Sonoma, we quickly came upon Sea Ranch. The Sea Ranch development is a classic case of the coastal access battle between environmentalists and developers.This is where coastal activists took on the developers of a planned housing tract in the 1960s, who wanted to build an exclusive community with private beaches open only to homeowners for 10 miles of the Sonoma County coastline (the Sonoma County coastline is around 60 miles long in total). The development was still built, but after a hard-fought battle and years of toil, sweat, and tears, a negotiation was reached that allows public access in short pathways darting from the highway to the coast through Sea Ranch.
Today, you can walk through the full length of Sea Ranch if you are staying in the community, and we were lucky enough to have an amazing couple host us, Sophia and Bob. Bob is a long distance thru-hiker and we had so much fun getting to know these two Trail Angels and their wonderful rescued greyhound Gracie, queen of all the land.
The views along Sea Ranch are incredible. We walked through big blufftop patches of yellow lupine and inhaled their sweet, intoxicating scent. The bright blooms looked so cheerful against the teal Pacific. As we were filming some of the seals of Sea Ranch, a mother and pup started canoodling on the sandy shore below us. We sat on the bluff and gave thanks to the unwavering dedication of coastal access rights advocates, who fought so hard to ensure that these views were not just reserved for the wealthy few.
Down the coast a few miles, we picked up the CCT at the northern boundary of Salt Point State Park. As soon as we started walking through the park, we were in love. We actually exclaimed, “This landscape is so diverse!” fully recognizing how nerdy we sounded, but it was true! In this amazing California State Park, so many species are all found in the same place. As we gazed across the coastal prairie, we saw clusters of sturdy gray boulders separated by fields of wildflowers in every color of the rainbow- purples, magentas, pinks, yellows, reds, whites, lavenders. There were mini habitats of windswept trees in dark forest green hues, and shrubs of dusty gray greens. The blues and teals and seafoam greens of the ocean popped against the bright little whitecaps being stirred up by the offshore breeze. Upon closer examination of the boulders patches, we saw plants from so many different communities all together—succulents right alongside ferns, sprouting up from the rocky soil with lichens, moss, and wildflowers all in one place!
Salt Point State Park is known for the crazy geologic formations found here. Sandstone has been worn and weathered by the elements into honeycomb caverns which give them their name, tafoni (“cavern” in Italian). The tiny caves are patched together in a complicated network of ridges and valleys, creating lacelike patterns where water and wind have carved away the sandstone over time.
We cruised down the coastline of Sonoma to a section of coast that some locals call Sonoma’s Lost Coast. This is a stretch of CCT that is functionally inaccessible from the highway winding along a thousand feet above, so the only way to access these beaches is by thru-hiking the segment. We carefully planned our hike for the day to coincide with the low tide, since we knew there were several pinch points that we had to pass before the water levels rose to block our forward progress.
Sonoma’s Lost Coast is gorgeous. Seemingly endless rocky headlands and crashing waves constantly reminded us of the remoteness and ruggedness of this wilderness. We walked over cobble and scrambled over boulders and rocky points, and the hiking was slow going. Before we knew it, low tide had passed and the tide was coming in. We were trying to follow the directions in our CCT guidebook, but the directions kept describing rocky point after rocky point! We didn’t know exactly where we were until we reached the 75 foot chute we had to scramble up and over. We crawled up on our hands and knees, bracing ourselves against the narrow boulder passage, and grasping at the rocky scree which crumbled and spilled down nearly seven stories below us. The guidebook warned us that this part is scary if you’re afraid of heights. After a tense time, we safely reached the bottom of the chute, and Mo said “Hmmm, I think I might be afraid of heights!”
We had come several miles, but still had more to go, and it was late afternoon. The sun was starting to cast a golden glow on the mountainsides to the east. The next rocky point before us had waves crashing up on it, and we nervously asked each other if the point looked passable. We decided to continue down the cove to get a better look at the rock. We walked as quickly as we could over the cobble, skirting in and away from the rising tide and foamy waves where we could. We sprinted around a point, just before the waves came crashing up to trap us. Getting wet was guaranteed and the tide was still rising, so we had to turn back and bushwhack our way up the steep cliffs through poison oak thicket and thistle patches before reaching Highway 1. It was a rough ending to the gorgeous day.
We continued down the coast to Bodega Head on the headlands of Bodega Bay. We were very excited to hike with Richard Nichols, former Executive Director of Coastwalk California and one of the 1996 CCT thru-hikers! Richard and his wife Brenda shared their favorite memories of Coastwalk in its heyday and told us about the founder of Coastwalk, Bill Kortum, who was a coastal access activist and environmentalist. Before reaching Bodega Bay we had walked the breathtaking blufftop Kortum Trail, named in his honor, just south of the Russian River.
Bill Kortum was a key mover and shaker in the coastal protection movement, who chaired a coalition of 100+ organizations that fought to get Proposition 20 on the 1972 ballot. Proposition 20, the Coastal Protection Initiative, affirmed the public’s right to coastal access and established the California Coastal Commission, a state agency with the mission of “protecting and enhancing the coast for present and future generations.” Proposition 20 also included language establishing the California Coastal Trail!!!
Kortum and his brother were also instrumental in stopping a nuclear power plant from being built at Bodega Head, where an active fault sits along the coast. Thank goodness for this heroic effort—nuclear power and earthquakes don’t jive! After learning about the area’s tectonic activity and its importance as a battleground for coastal activism in Sonoma County, we joked with Richard that Bodega Head’s new tagline should be, “Bodega Head–the epicenter of the coastal movement.” Get it? Heehee!
We loved Bodega Head and savored our time walking with the Old Guard Coastwalkers, soaking up as much history and soul from the OGs as we could. We will be carrying these good vibes down the coast and spreading the word about Coastwalking as we continue south along this beautiful coastline we call home.
We crossed from Humboldt in to Mendocino County while hiking the Lost Coast in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. Emerging from the backcountry at Usal Beach on the 21st day of our expedition, we were greeted by large male Roosevelt Elk grazing at the Usal Beach campground.
Heading south from Usal, we were excited to hike a particularly special section of the CCT: the newly opened Peter Douglas Trail, named in honor of one of the greatest coastal defenders. Peter Douglas was the longest serving Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission (26 years!), and was instrumental in getting the Coastal Act into law. He was an extremely passionate and fierce protector of this state’s majestic coastline, working tirelessly to ensure that we all could access the beach. We hike in gratitude and memory of you, Mr. Douglas! The Peter Douglas Trail exists today because of the incredible dedication and effective collaboration by a large number of admirable organizations, including the California State Coastal Conservancy, Save the Redwoods League, Mendocino Land Trust, California Conservation Corps, AmeriCorps NCCC, Coastwalk California, & Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc.
In Fort Bragg, we were joined by City of Fort Bragg California Mayor Dave Turner, Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Gjerde, Mendocino Land Trust Executive Director Ann Cole, and a group of locals for a walk on the Noyo Headlands Fort Bragg Coastal Trail. The Noyo Headlands trail is a very special new segment of CCT! This land hasn’t been open to public access for over a century because it was the site of a former sawmill. The trail is brand new and features special benches handmade by local woodworkers at wonderful scenic lookout points. We were very pleased to see a bunch of CCT signs and tons of people out enjoying the trail—great work Fort Bragg! We are so excited for Fort Bragg and their wonderful new blufftop CCT segment!
We visited Glass Beach, and crawled around to examine the millions of tiny seaglass fragments that make up the shoreline, smoothed and polished by the crashing waves and rocky shores. Bright greens, light blues, opaque whites, and beer bottle browns glistened in the light. Trash has transformed into treasure at Glass Beach, which used to be the site of the old town dump. We can’t understand how the first person decided that this was a good place to leave their trash, especially when we look out to sea and take in the beauty around us. We are thankful that this beach is now carefully stewarded and appreciated.
We biked south to Point Arena lighthouse, where the wind was pushing us back sooo hard as we were pedaling forward with all our might–it was howling! We took a tour of the lighthouse, and climbed 145 steps up a spiraling staircase to the lighthouse tower. We saw the 10 foot tall fresnel lens that was able to transmit a light signal 20 miles out to sea to guide ship captains along the treacherous north coast. The lens channeled the light of a burning whale oil lamp using 666 pieces of cut glass to intensify the light. The light was carefully tended by dedicated lighthouse keepers who were constantly occupied maintaining this lifesaving machine of physics genius.
From the lighthouse tower, we looked across the rugged Mendocino coast to the San Andreas fault, just one ridge away. The Pacific Plate and the North American Plate meet at this massive fault line that runs along the California coast, where plate tectonics have created crazy craggy geology. The Mendo coast boasts a huge percentage of the California Coastal National Monument (CCNM), which is a designation that protects the 20,000 offshore rocks, islands, exposed reefs, and pinnacles in the ocean along the California coastline. In Mendocino County, the California Coastal Trail took us through the very first on-land section of the CCNM at the stunning Point Arena-Stornetta Unit. The Stornetta Unit was epic! We saw offshore arches, towers, and mesas that the tide washed over and a blowhole that jetted gusts of salty sea breeze out every time a wave came. The teal water was frothy as it hit the dark jagged rocks and made lacey white patterns as it washed back out to sea.
The rest of the Mendocino CCT was a torturous and scary highway route, where we hopped on our bikes to minimize our time on the dangerous road. This is a serious problem area for the CCT and one we will definitely highlight in our final report about the status of the CCT. The winding roads and massively steep hills have narrow or non-existent shoulders and we cannot recommend that others follow this route. Rented RVs barreled down the highway, moving vans crowded the lanes, and a grumpy driver laid on the horn while zooming past us around a blind curve. It was very unpleasant. The views were lovely, but the atmosphere on the road was a buzzkill. We put our heads down and pushed our noble steeds as fast as we could charge, crushing miles of Mendo highway.
For a thru-hiker/biker in Mendocino, Highway 1 is often the only way to move north-south along the coast. The rugged geology means there are no long stretches of beach with public sand to walk on, and the blufftops are privately owned. However, for a dayhiker, there are many lovely (although disconnected) trails along the coast that lead to pocket beaches. To help people find these trails, the Mendocino Land Trust has developed an online coastal trail guide that we used during our journey!
The Lost Coast—6 days to walk 64 miles of the wildest and most dramatic coastline in California, traversing black sand beaches, blooming wildflower flats, dense temperate rainforests, and steep mountain ridges that drop into the crashing sea below. The trail fords over two dozen year-round streams that cascade down steep-walled canyons, meeting the ocean at cobble and driftwood beaches. As we hiked the Lost Coast, we were surrounded by fantastic colors as it exploded in full spring—electric green ferns, pink rhododendrons, red shaggy tree bark; yellow poppies and purple lupine against black sand and teal sea.
The trail along the Lost Coast has two very different parts. The northern half of the trail follows long stretches of wilderness beach or headlands, where one can stay near the shore. For the southern half, the Lost Coast Trail takes to the high country, because the coast is more precipitous, with occasional pocket beaches separated by steep cliffs that rise as high as 1000 ft. Smack dab in the middle of these two halves is Shelter Cove, an outpost town where we delighted in pizza midway through our trek.
The first few days were warm and sunny, and we enjoyed divine dips in idyllic streams, where the water was clear and cold as it flowed out of the green mountains to the beach. These soaks kept us happy and refreshed as we walked over sand and cobble with our heavy packs. We thoroughly enjoyed the epic geology—the cliff sides of the King Rage fall off or crumble into the Pacific, and the fierce north coast waves pull the crumbling earth into the ocean.
One morning, as we rounded a rocky point, we came across an otter in the tidepools dragging a lingcod in its mouth! The waves came up and the ling slipped from its mouth, but the otter easily snatched it back up again. So cool! The next day, we found a snake swimming in a creek with a large fish in its mouth, one that was at least three times the size of its head. We watched the snake try to wrestle the fish down its throat.
We walked across several wide-open flat meadows, which were blooming with wildflowers—poppies, lupin, dandelions, indian paintbrush, wild radish, and more.
The best campsites are found, not made, and we found some lovely ones—including a rad driftwood log shelter, complete with a fire ring, benches, a hearth, and stunning views. That evening, the sky was salmon pink to the north and periwinkle lilac moonlight to the south over pine-covered hills, as the sun dipped into the big blue Pacific.
One morning, we emerged from our tent in a misty morning fog and looked across the grassy coastal prairie where we spotted a herd of Roosevelt Elk munching contentedly against a backdrop of rolling ocean waves and forested mountainsides. At least twenty-five strong, the herd of females and juveniles grazed their turf, with buns covered in white tufted fur and necks of dark chocolate brown. The males cruise their mountainous territory separately from the herd, then join up in autumn for The Rut, where the dudes compete in epic showdowns for special time with lovely lady elk.
We quietly left our elk friends and continued on, climbing and descending the ridges and gulches of the Sinkyone Wilderness, a perpetual knitting–then unravelling–of the elevation gains we made. We climbed through fir forests, which had been clear cut of their virgin redwood groves by European settlers of the 1800s, and imagined how beautiful the forested hillsides must have been before they were logged.
We came upon a small stand of old growth redwoods along a babbling waterfall stream with ferns waving in the breeze. The forest canopy towered above us, with redwoods standing strong and tall, and patches of bright green maple leaves tessellating in lacey patterns against the blue sky. Our map showed that this was J Smeaton Chase Grove, named after the author/adventurer J Smeaton Chase who travelled on horseback along the coast in 1911 and recorded his journey in poetic prose in California Coast Trails: A Horseback Ride from Mexico to Oregon. We love Chase’s description of the forest:
“On every stump and fallen log, and on every fork and bulge of living tree, little elves’ gardens of small plants and fungi were growing, — dainty sprays of vaccinium, red and orange toadstools, barberry, gaultheria: and the roadside banks were set with myriads of ferns, while mosses grew to such size that I sometimes mistook them for a young growth of some stiff, heathery plant.”
The Lost Coast rewards hikers who commit to the rugged and remote setting with exquisite scenery and unforgettable experiences. But this is not a hike for the faint of heart–the hike is strenuous and conditions can be unforgiving. Power Nature commands respect, and even California’s early, ambitious highway engineers conceded to Her force. In his book, A Walk Along Land’s End, John McKinney explains, “The Lost Coast is so rough—rougher than Big Sur’s coast—that it even thwarted California’s highway engineers; much to their frustration, they were compelled by geography to route Coast Highway inland more than twenty miles.”
Thank goodness for this separation from vehicles and roads! The Lost Coast, in its rugged and wild beauty, is truly a treasure. We are so thankful to have experienced this amazing stretch of coastal wilderness.