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!