Friday, 7 December 2007

Week 35 : Albion To Fort Bragg

Checking the map soon after Amy and I left the town of Albion, and noting that my next destination was likely to be the City of Fort Bragg, I wondered what was awaiting my faithful dog and myself. The name conjured up images of a large military camp, but whether this was fact or something out of an old episode of Sargent Bilko I couldn't decide. As we walked up the rugged and almost deserted North Californian coast I had difficulty envisaging giant runways, endless huts and all the other paraphernalia of a military encampment. As it turned out, I was right - but that discovery was seven days away.

As Amy and I walked through southern Mendocino County our constant companions were the giant redwood trees that give their name to this stretch of the California coast. A mature Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) ranges in height from 30 to 112 m (100 to 367 ft) and the diameter of the trunk measures up to 7.5 m (25 ft). The life span of the coast redwood is believed to be 2,500 years, but, as I explained to Amy, nobody is quite sure as they have managed to outlive anyone attempting to study them. Amy showed all her usual interest in my occasional road-side lectures, clearly illustrating how she often is mistaken for a dumb animal. "Coast Redwoods have the ability to sprout from the root-crown following death of the main stem", I continued. "So have I", her look seemed to say. "It is tolerant of flooding and its bark is resistant to fire", I continued reading from my handout from the Mendocino Redwood Company. "The distribution of the Coast Redwood currently totals approximately 1.74 million acres", I announced as we walked in the shade of these magnificent trees. "Over 350,000 of these acres (550 square miles) are in publicly owned entities such as state and national parks and other public preserves". Amy yawned as stopped to test the trees resistance to dog-pee. "The remaining acres of the redwood forests are owned by a variety of private entities, 1.2 million acres (1,875 square miles) owned by seven industrial timber companies, and the balance of 200,000 acres (310 square miles) owned by private non-industrial landowners". Amy seemed to come out of her lecture-induced stupor and for a moment I thought I had captured her attention with one interesting fact or another. But she has simply seen some critter or another running through the undergrowth.

By mid-week we had reached the small town of Mendocino. Whilst you might be forgiven for thinking this is the County Town it is not - it takes its name from the County rather than the other way around. It is home to just 824 people and was originally a small logging town called Meiggsville. With the decline of the logging industry in the first part of the twentieth century it fell into decline but eventually re-invented itself as an artists' colony and home to both a music and a film festival. As Amy and I walked the little streets that stretch out onto the headland which thrusts out into the Pacific Ocean, I realised that there was something familiar about the place. As I remarked to Amy, you felt as though you had been there before. It was only later, as I was reading a local guidebook whilst enjoying a pint of Newcastle Brown at Patterson's Pub, that I realised that this was where that never-ending TV series "Murder She Wrote" was filmed. I recalled endless days back in England when the TV set was turned on in the background in order to provide a little company when re-runs of the show would appear almost back-to-back. As far as I recall, the stories for all two hundred and odd episodes were the same, but the scenery was nice. And here Amy and I were - looking out at the same scenery. Any minute now, Angela Lansbury would walk around the corner and stop to give Amy a loving pat on the head. Any moment now. an antique Civil Way sword would be thrust into my back and the usual cast of characters would seek out my murderer. Finishing my beer quickly, we left town and headed north.

We headed north to more trees, more rocky coastal points and tree-lined gulches, more sandy bays and isolated lighthouses and we eventually arrived at what, in these parts, is something spectacularly different - another road. It had been getting on for two weeks since we had seen a decent road other than the Shoreline Highway which had been our second home for months. There were little streets here and there darting to the left and right, but none of these were a proper, grown-up road - a road which actually took you somewhere different to the relentless northern quest of the Shoreline Highway. The road in question was the Fort Bragg - Willits Road (California State Route 20). As we walked up the Shoreline Highway we were passing the western end of the road. If we chose to abandon the coast and follow it east we would finish up in Emigrant Gap, Nevada, within spitting distance of Lake Tahoe and Reno. Both Amy and I agreed to resist the temptation to head east. Before taking that momentous change in direction we has another two States to see, not to mention Fort Bragg.

We headed into Fort Bragg the following day, and quickly we discovered that this was not the military base that we expected. There is a massive US Military Base at Fort Bragg, but that is Fort Bragg North Carolina. The one link between the two is that they were both named after Confederate Army General Braxton Bragg. But Fort Bragg in California had closed down by the 1870s leaving only the name and a thriving saw-mill and logging port behind. And now, of course, most of the logging industry is gone as well and Fort Bragg is building a new identity as a tourist town. It had been a long week and Amy and I were looking forward to a few days' rest and relaxation. Fort Bragg seemed like a good spot. Amy was particularly keen as it was one of those wonderful American "dog-friendly" towns. So we booked into a small dog-friendly hotel and settled down to discover what delights were on offer.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Week 34 : Manchester To Albion

Amy and I left the small township of Manchester behind us and set forth in search of Albion". I realise that this sounds like the opening sentence of some early Victorian social reformers' account of his quest for the soul of the nation, but bear with me. The Manchester in question is the small township of Manchester in Mendocino County, California. Albion is a town some 25 miles further north up the coast. And Amy is my six year old soft-coated wheaten terrier. Together we are 34 weeks into a five and a half year virtual walk from Los Angeles to New York. Together we are sampling some of the delights of rural America without leaving the discomfort of our own cold, grey home.

One of the things about walking along this stretch of the Northern California coast is that there aren't many choices to make. There is only one decent road - Highway 1 - which heads north in one direction and south in the other. As long as you keep the sea to your left you can't go far wrong. It can get a bit boring at times but there is always something interesting to distract your attention.

Take, for example, the proceedings of the Irish Beach Architectural Design Committee. Irish Beach is a "second home and rental development" located about four miles north of Manchester (remember, this is Manchester California, we're not talking about Salford here). Such developments are springing up all over coastal California as city-dwellers go in search of idyllic country retreats. Government planning laws in the States are nothing like as strict as they are in the UK, but this does not mean that you can build what you want. In place of the Local Planning Department sits the Architectural Design Committees - collections of local citizens who decide what you can build, where you can build it, and - in some cases - what colour you can paint your front door. So the next time you get fed up with your local bureaucracy, have a read of the Committee Minutes and the extended discussions about the design, size and location of the sign outside the office of William Moore and be thankful that you are not a resident of this particular piece of the Land Of The Free.

A few miles further north is the Inn At Victorian Gardens, a very select little establishment which caters for the type of guest who likes good food, fine wines, tasteful furniture, spectacular coastal views and a generous dollop of American eccentricity. If you have a few minutes to spare, take a look at their website and, in particular, the Flash Presentation. It's a mixture of soft-focus, grainy art-photos and verse. For example, describing the overall ethos of the Inn, the poem states : "Time is taken / from the hands of an antique clock / and shaken out like fine linen / to remove its kinks". By the time you have read it all you are not sure whether it is rather good or just plain tacky. Fearing that she may have been "shaken out like fine linen", Amy was not keen to stay, she we kept on walking.

The next little town we came to was a small town of some 200 inhabitants and the wonderful name of Elk. Originally it had been called Greenwood, but then someone discovered another place with the same name somewhere else in the State, so they changed the name to Elk. Elk was a lumber town, its fortunes were built on the destruction of the great Redwood forests to the east of the coastal strip. The timber was cut at the steam-driven sawmill in Elk and then shipped out from the wharf. When the redwood ran out, Elk went into decline and by the 1930s had become a ghost town. It only began to slowly come back to life in the 1960s and 70s when this part of the coast was beginning to open itself up to recreational use. Now it has a generous collection of small hotels, inns and - for some unknown reason - massage parlours.

Our final destination for the week - the small town of Albion - was also a lumber town. The town was founded in 1853 when a retired English sea captain, William Richardson, built a saw mill there, the first saw mill on the Redwood Coast. Like most of its neighbours, the town has now lost its timber trade, but a lasting reminder to the power of wood in this part of California can be found in the wonderful wooden bridge that carries the coast highway over the Albion River. The bridge was built in 1944 when steel and concrete were in short supply. It is the last remaining wooden bridge on the coastal highway and has now become a tourist destination in its own right.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Week 33 : Iversen Point To Manchester

"It's a big place, America", I said to Amy as we walked up Highway 1 just north of Iversen Point. She ignored me. You will have probably gathered by now that Amy ignores me a lot of the time. You probably are wondering why I keep trying to engage her in conversation. Well let me tell you, when you are nine months into a five and a half year walk across the American continent with only a soft-coated wheaten terrier for company, you would try and make conversation with her.

Returning to the point I was trying to make, I mused - somewhat rhetorically I must admit - "how do they come up with names for all the places?" I said this as we walked passed Schooner Gulch. There is a
State Beach here and Amy soon drew my attention to a notice which provided an answer to my question. It is said that Schooner Gulch got its name from a story in which a schooner was sited, one evening, stranded on the beach in the mouth of the gulch, yet in the morning showed no evidence of being there. "Spooky", I said to Amy. She continued to play dumb.

"OK, clever-clogs", I said as we passed Galloway Creek, "what about this place?" She found another notice which proclaimed that one John Galloway was the first recorded occupant of the area. John was born in Scotland and occupied an area of Schooner Gulch between 1866 and 1868, which was largely used as a milling operation for timber.

A little further up the road we came across a signpost pointing to Bowling Ball Beach. There were no handy noticeboards here, so I challenged her yet again. This time she pulled me down to the beach. When I saw the large round boulders lined up along the line of breaking surf I knew that she had won yet again.

As we continued to walk north I reflected on the power of information. How could Amy know the answer to all these questions. We reached the Rollerville Cafe just south of the "city" of Point Arena. Hungry and thirsty, I tried to enter. Amy drew me away (she can have a powerful pull on a leash). Later I tried Googling the Rollerville Cafe but the only hit I got was for an Environmental Health Report which listed a number of critical food and hygiene citations. "Proper methods to sanitize utensils, equipment, or work surfaces are not being followed", I read. And Amy somehow know about this. Spooky.

It was an odd day. It felt as if there was something in the air. I was relieved to get to Point Arena for a rest. The trouble was, armed with our access to the Environmental Health website, it was difficult to find any place to eat, drink and sleep which was free from criticism. "Too much information", I said to Amy, "can be a dangerous thing"

Point Arena is a strange little place. With a population of under 500 it is one of the smallest incorporated cities in the State of California. Small it may be, but it has a certain style about it. For example, the city has a Poet Laureate, one Fionna Perkins. She writes poems to mark important local occasions. Her are a couple of verses from her latest offering:


What if global warming
brings our Pacific Ocean
washing new shores halfway
up Main Street hill, no
longer where it is now out
at the Cove? People with
good credentials are making
such predictions.

Point Arena's response: Tut!
Tut! Henny Penny, the sky’s
not falling; it just has a
hole in it, and what can we
do to help with the patching?

"You see what I mean about something in the air or perhaps in the water" I say to Amy. Later I discovered what that something might be. The Wikipedia article on Point Arena states "Point Arena is associated with the hippy and subsequent counterculture groups. Its reported economy is largely geared toward servicing the summertime tourist industry, while a large part of Point Arena's non-tax-paying economy is based on the cultivation and exportation of marijuana.[citation needed]". Always willing to help a friend in need I went in search of a citation. The best I could find was an extract from the City Council minutes which report on how one city employee had found a fully functioning marijuana plot on the city council parking lot. Crazy place, crazy people.

Perhaps there was something in the air because I was suddenly gripped by the desire to wander. For weeks now Amy and I had been heading north in a straight line, sticking to the main highway, oblivious of all tempting side roads and paths. "Let's go to Arena Cove and then to the Lighthouse", I said a little too loudly. Amy didn't seem to object and therefore we struck out for the coast.

Arena Cove is a pretty little place with a wooden pier and some fishing boats. According to the Muncipal Pier website, you can fish off the pier, launch a boat off the pier, sunbathe on the pier, go to the loo on the pier, park your car on the pier, watch birds from the pier ..... but under no circumstances can you walk a dog on the pier. Amy and I struck a defiant blow for personal freedom by walking along the pier. And then we run away quickly before anyone spotted us. A few hundred yards north of the cove we sat on the beach and looked out to sea. "Did you know", I said to Amy, "that this is the closest point on mainland America to the islands of Hawaii?" She was unimpressed. In fact she was asleep.
I decided that we should continue our wanderings by cutting across the sand dunes and scrub land in the direction of the lighthouse which stands on the coast a mile or so north of Arena Cove. The first Point Arena Lighthouse was constructed in 1870, but came to a sad end in 1906 when it was badly damaged by the great earthquake. The United States Lighthouse Service contracted with a San Francisco based company to build a new lighthouse which would withstand any future earthquakes and this began operation in 1908, nearly 18 months after the quake. It stands 115 feet tall, and features a 1st Order Fresnel Lens, over six feet in diameter and weighing more than six tons. The lighthouse continued in service until the 1970s when it was replaced by an automated aircraft-type beacon which had been installed on the balcony tower. The lighthouse building and the keepers' cottages were taken over by a non-profit making organisation - the Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers - which was dedicated to preserving the site and making it open to visitors. Today you can stay there, eat there, get married there and probably get buried there. It is a spectacular setting and well worth a detour from the main highway.

On leaving the lighthouse we cut east across the sands looking for a shortcut back to the main highway. We had to wade through water and hike through surprisingly tall sand dunes but eventually we made it back to Highway 1 - which for some reason here in the north is called South Highway 1 - on the outskirts of Manchester. Not the home of King Cotton, not the mighty city of Manchester in the UK. No, this is the town of Manchester in California. It's an incorporated town which means it has about four buildings. There is no night life and precious little day life. The fame of the town is down to one, single topiary shrub, which is a landmark and a major tourist attraction. People driving up and down the Highway stop their cars and take endless photographs of the bush. Amy decided to pay her own homage to it : following which we quickly headed out of town to find a place to hide.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Week 32 : Sea Ranch To Iversen Point

As Amy and I walked north from our unofficial overnight camping spot on Pebble Beach, we began to recognise the sheer scale of the Sea Ranch project. This massive private development extends for more than 10 miles along the North California coastline taking in some 3.500 acres of prime land. What was once rugged coastland has been tamed and tarmac’d. What was once wild is now Galleon’s Reach, Mariners Drive and Albatross Close. It was quite sad and we stepped out with renewed energy, anxious to rid ourselves of the fakery. But the advertising boards proclaimed “The Sea Ranch …. As Far As The Eye Can See” and they were not wrong. For mile after mile the carefully planned rises, closes, reaches and drives split off from Highway 1 like slightly malevolent tendrils. We weren’t rid of it until we crossed the Gualala River leaving Sonoma behind and entering Mendocino County.

Mendocino County is big : weighing in at some 3,510 square miles. The Guide Book says that it takes more than 3.5 hours to drive from one corner of the county to the other : it will take Amy and I a lot longer than that to walk up the picturesque Mendocino coast. More than half the of the county is owned by either national and multi-national timber companies or are State or Federally controlled forests which are also logged by the large timber companies. Over recent years Mendocino County has seen increasing battles between the natural resource extractors, developers and people who have come to the county to escape urban blight, density, crime and lack of natural open space.

Our introduction to this new County came as we crossed the Gualala River and entered the small town of the same name. According to the town website, some people call it gwa-LA-la, but the natives call it wa-LA-la. This comes from the Kashaya Pomo Indian phrase, "ah kha wa la lee" which means, "Where the water flows down". The town slogan is “Gualala … where you can fall asleep to the sound of the sea”. The promise seems to have struck a chord with migrating whales who often bask on the sand bluffs near the mouth of the Gualala River. Whales are bif business around here, there is a Whale Watch Inn and an annual Whale and Jazz Festival. Amy suggested it would make a suitable location for her to extend her dietary experiences but I persuaded her that eating whale steaks might get her run out of town.

Looking for a suitable alternative for dinner I checked out the listing of places to eat on the town website only to discover that all the restaurants and hotels seemed to only serve breakfast. Whether this is due to some ancient Pomo custom or to the fact that the website is incomplete we never discovered. We did discover however, just north of the town, the Bones Roadhouse. Amy said this sounded a very superior kind of place and she settled down to Kielbasa sausage, BBQ chicken, marinated turkey breast, not forgetting their “lip-smackin’ sides”.

We were now in Redwood country, indeed, this bit of the coast is often known as the Redwood Coast. Confusingly the particular species of redwood (or sequoia sempervirens) found on the Redwood Coast is the Coast Redwood! The trees are famed for their mighty size and great beauty. They also have the very useful capacity of being resistant to decay and fairly resistant to fire as well. This natural resistance came in very useful during the fire that followed the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. P. H. Shaughnessy, Chief Engineer of the San Francisco Fire Department wrote:

"In the recent great fire of San Francisco, that began April 18th, 1906, we succeeded in finally stopping it in nearly all directions where the unburned buildings were almost entirely of frame construction and if the exterior finish of these buildings had not been of redwood lumber, I am satisfied that the area of the burned district would have been greatly extended”.

North of Gualala we entered a land of secluded bays, rocky headlands and small isolated communities. One such was Anchor Bay which is about midway between Gualala and Iversen Point. Like many small rural communities in America the history of the town is the history of one or two families. The history of such communities is also remarkably short and can be retold in the reminiscences of just a few generations. The Anchor Bay website explains about the history of the settlement in the following terms:

"Anchor Bay, as a name, was not used until about 1915", recalls Jim McNamee. "Young Dave Berry, Dave Berry's son, was fixing up the place. His father was getting old. He called it Anchor Bay. He put up the sign and the anchor which he hand carved. Berry bought the place from a man named Meagher. Berry came to Gualala from Fort Ross. He had a blacksmith shop in Gualala for quite a few years. Originally he came from Switzerland. Berry also had a blacksmith shop in the building which was the pottery in Anchor Bay. They had pottery, bricks, alot of things made out of clay, but it wasn't very good clay. It came from where the bulk of the Mar Vista buildings are now."

As we have discovered so many times so far on this brief trip of ours, one of the great strengths of the internet is to collect and preserve such memories. The virtual traveller who uses the web as his or her vehicle of discovery becomes a multi-dimensional traveller : travelling in both time and space. As I explained to Amy, as we wondered along the uncrowded highway, we had almost achieved the ancient dream of time-travel. She was not really interested. She was barking at a basking seal. She got quite a shock when the seal barked back.

We ended the week at Iversen Point. If that sounds like a big important place it is not. It’s a name on a map and little else other than some rocks, some surf and some redwood trees. “Get used to it”, I said to Amy, “we’ve a lot more of this to come before we see the city lights again”.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Week 31 : Fort Ross To The Sea Ranch

In the back of my mind I know that once I get to Seattle I will have about four years - at my current rate of progress - without site of the sea as I head across this vast country. Thus, for the time being, I like to keep the Pacific Ocean in view as I travel north. The sea acts as my guide. I can almost smell my way north - although this might be Amy's somewhat cavalier approach to personal cleanliness rather than the tangy taste of salt 'n sea. This bit of Northern California is cove-land. During the space of just one week we were to pass through Timber Cove, Stillwater Cove, Ocean Cove, Gerstle Cove, Stump Beach Cove, Fisk Mill Cove and Horseshoe Cove. Add to this a fair sprinkling of gulches and a pinch of points and you have our itinerary for the week.

At the first of our Coves we found the magnificent Timber Cove Inn with its dramatic location and slightly quirky design. You can take a virtual tour around the Inn on their website. You can also catch a glimpse of the local landmark which is a large carved totem pole which dominates the headland. If you read the reviews of the hotel it is clear it is a "love it or hate it" kind of place. Sadly, Amy and I didn't get the chance to tip the balance one way or another because it was too expensive for our resources and anyway they would not accept pets.

We had no better luck at the next Cove north. Stillwater Cove Regional Park looked suitably rustic. You can pitch your tent for nothing and pets are welcome. We could easily get around the rule that dogs had to be on leads less than six foot in length. The sticking point, however, was that dogs had to present rabies certificates. Amy flatly refused, pointing out that if she didn't demand a certificate off the park warden stating he didn't have AIDS, therefore why should he demand a rabies certificate off her. The result of all this was that once again we had to pitch our tent next to a bluff cove and hope that the wind didn't blow us into the sea.

The next day we entered Salt Point State Park and came face-to-face with the mighty trees which would become very much part of our journey through northern California over the coming months. As the terrain rises northeast of Highway One, coastal brush and grasslands blend into lush growths of bishop pine, Douglas, fir, madrone, tan oak, groves of second growth redwood. Amy - who likes trees - was in her seventh heaven. I simply stood back and reflected whether I would ever see a tree as lovely as a poem.

For the rest of the week, the road meandered north with the sea to the left and the forest to the right. You got the feeling that you were leaving civilisation behind, that you were heading into the wilderness. And then, at the end of the week, we came to The Sea Ranch. The Sea Ranch is "the ultimate in Northern California Coastal Living". It is a massive "second-home" community serving the people of San Francisco and other major urban centres. It has its own airport, championship golf course and award-winning architecture.

The houses are supposed to blend in with the landscape so that the development will "live lightly on the land". The overall plan incorporates a set of building guidelines that require homes to be designed and sited to blend all structures onto the natural setting and minimize the visual as well as physical impact upon the landscape. The result, I must say, reminded me of those concrete bunkers which were thrown up on the south coast of England during the second world war. They blended in with the natural environment - they had to do or get blown up. It's odd thinking of such things here on the isolated California coast where Film Directors, dot-com millionaires and investment bankers come to find escape. It was posh and in places it was pretty. But it wasn't real and neither Amy nor I felt any desire to sink roots and live lightly on the land here.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Week 30 : Bodega Bay to Fort Ross

Amy and I continue up the west coast, flirting with Californian wine country to our right and the the ever-cooling waters of the Pacific to our left. Just north of Bodega Bay is Salmon Beach where the waters of the Salmon Creek meets the Pacific. This spot is noted for its good surf. According to the Wannasurf website, the wave quality is good and the wave type is "beach-break" (whatever that means). I tell Amy but she is not impressed. "The swell starts working at three foot and can hold up to ten foot" I say. She is still not impressed. "And it is very sharky, with several attacks here in the last ten years". I have her full attention at last, but whether she views the promised sharks with fear and trepidation or as a potential source of protein I am not sure. We watch the surfers for a little while but nothing very exciting happens and nobody is eaten by a shark so we move on.

We are travelling along the wonderfully scenic Sonoma Coast State Beach : 16 miles of rugged headlands and craggy coastline which, according to the State Park website, "offers a wealth of opportunities for wholesome fun". I suggested to Amy that the concept of "wholesome fun" was possibly a contradiction in terms, but she was unmoved by such displays of clever wordplay. She has seen a sign listing some of the wildlife native to this coastal area and it included squirrels, rabbits, foxes and skunks. The first three are old friends of hers and amongst her favourite things to chase. She had never come across skunks but is confident that they will be equally fun to terrorise. I don't enlighten her : it will serve her right for ignoring my witty repartee.

The northern edge of the State Beach is where the Russian River flows down to the sea. Near the mouth of the river is the tiny town of Jenner and just outside the town is the River's End Inn and Restaurant. Amy and I stopped for lunch. She settled down to the Duck Confit Sandwich (slow roasted duck served with a cranberry-cherry chutney and set on a toasted on ciabatta roll served with fries) whilst I had the Fish and Chips in Ale Batter. The brochure states that the restaurant caters particularly for people who are "searching for renewal", which, I assume, is some kind of California-speak for "people who are hungry". There are only a hundred or so citizens of Jenner but it has a community website which many a big city would be proud of. I was able to get up-to-date on local news (so sad to hear about the bridge to the Community Centre), access the database of local recipes and even sign an on-line petition to the Attorney-General of California over something or other.

What with the Russian River and, a little further north, the Russian Gulch, you get an idea about one important influence on this part of the Californian coast. However, it was not until Amy and I reached the end of our week's walk, at Fort Ross, did we discover the full extent of the Russian influence on this bit of California.

The settlement of Ross, the name derived from the word for Russia (Rossiia) was established by the Russian - American Company, a commercial hunting and trading company chartered by the Tsarist government, with shares held by the members of the Tsar’s family, court nobility and high officials. Trade was vital to Russian outposts in Alaska, where long winters exhausted supplies and the settlements could not grow enough food to support themselves. Alexander Baranov, the manager of the Russian-American Company, directed his chief deputy, Ivan Alexandrovich Kuskov, to establish a colony in California as a food source for Alaska and to hunt profitable sea otters. After several reconnaissance missions, Kuskov arrived at Ross in March of 1812 with a party of 25 Russians, many of them craftsmen, and 80 native Alaskans from Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands. After negotiating with the Kashaya Pomo people who inhabited the area, Kuskov began construction of the fort.

Records show that after 1812 there were from twenty-five to one hundred Russians and from fifty to one hundred twenty-five Native Alaskans at the settlement at any given time. The number of the Kashaya, who came to work as day laborers, varied with the seasons. Records indicate the presence of only a few Russian women in the colony (the most prominent of whom was the wife of the last manager); "creole" and Alaskan women were somewhat more numerous. However, during the life of the colony, a number of Russians and Alaskan natives married California Indian women—Kashaya, Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo—with the consent of tribal and Company authorities. The children at the settlement, who made up about a third of the residents by the mid-1830s, were almost all considered as "Creoles," born of these ethnically mixed unions.

By 1841 the settlement's agricultural importance had decreased considerably, and the local population of fur-bearing marine mammals had been depleted, so the fur trade was no longer lucrative. Following the formal trade agreement between the Russian-American Company in Sitka and Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver, the settlement at Fort Ross was not needed to supply the Alaskan colonies with food. The Russian-American Company consequently abandoned the settlement, and it was sold to John Sutter, a Californian entrepreneur of German-Swiss-French origin.

Little now remains of this little bit of Russia in deepest America other than the old fort which has been well preserved. Amy and I had now been on the road for 30 weeks. We had seen Southern California and part of Northern California - just as we had expected. But we have now also seen a little bit of Russia, a welcome if unexpected treat.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Week 29 : Tomales Bay To Bodega Bay

Amy and I started our week by continuing our walk up the east side of Tomales Bay. "Bay" is a misleading description as it is a long flooded valley rather than a traditional seaside bay. But it is beautiful, and when the sun is setting there are some delicious views across the strip of calm water towards the low hills of the peninsular. You can get a good impression of the calm and tranquility of this wonderful little spot by looking at the video clip of the Tule Elk Preserve which is part of the "Sunrise Earth" on-line project. But as you listen to the birds singing and watch the elk peacefully grazing along the banks of Tomales Bay, just remember that the mighty San Andreas Fault line dissects the bay. Calm and tranquil it may be, but it has a greater capacity for destruction than anything so far cooked-up by mankind.

Leaving the coast behind we follow the old route of the North Pacific Coast Railroad inland, heading for the small town of Tomales (population 210). This place has been known as "the beautiful little town of Tomales" for over 100 years. Little seems to have changed and the locals seem proud of the fact. If you visit you learn that the local population is made up of "a mix of third generation ranching families of Irish, Swiss and Italian descent, and a diverse group of new families attracted to the quieter pace, family-oriented values that Tomales offers". Tomales boasts that it is the only community in Marin County that has retained its turn of the century rural community integrity. "Our community pride is contagious", declares the website and I told Amy about the claim. She doesn't always hear very well (it's all that fur in her ears) but she obviously picked up the word "contagious" because she stepped very carefully until we hit the far side of town.

Just north of Tomales you come to The William Tell House which claims to be Marin County's Oldest Saloon. It's an odd little place which seems to stick out from the background scenery like a sore thumb (or given the legend behind the name, like a sore head). The website has a section headed "history" so I turned to that to find out about the history of the saloon. Unfortunately it just gives you the history of William Tell rather than the story behind the saloon which, I a sure, would have been much more interesting. Equally, the website has a section entitled "Beer" which simply has a list 22 different wines which are available. Sounds like an odd kind of saloon to me - no idea what William Tell would have made of it.

A few miles further north and you cross the County Line, leaving Marin County behind and entering Sonoma County. Sonoma is the southwestern county of California's Wine Country region with over 250 wineries. Agriculture of all kinds is the main business of the county : in 2002 Sonoma County ranked as the thirty-second county in the United States in agricultural production. Amy and I were looking forward to walking its length : for Amy agricultural land means wildlife to chase after, for me wineries mean happiness.

After crossing the County Line, Highway 1 turns westwards and in a couple of miles passes through the small township of Valley Ford. In the nineteenth century the future of Valley Ford looked bright. It was an important railroad stop and it was beginning to gain a reputation as a commercial and industrial centre. There is a small website dedicated to the history of Valley Ford which contains an extract from the 1877 book "Historical and Descriptive Sketch of Sonoma County, California" by Robert A. Thompson.

"In 1876 P. E. Merritt opened a new grocery store in the place. J. Parry opened a tin shop, and John Hunter opened a meat market. With her railroad facilities, fine climate, and rich and productive surrounding country, why should not Valley Ford continue to grow and prosper?"

But it didn't. In 2007, with a population of just 60, it is smaller than it was 130 years earlier. The railroad is long gone and the main street is given over to a few craft shops and galleries. You pass through it without a second glance. Somehow, Valley Ford missed the bus to the twenty first century.

We continue along the main road towards the coast and by the end
of the week reach Bodega Bay. There is a neat link between Bodega Bay and Capitola through which Amy and I passed some twelve weeks ago. If you have been following our adventures carefully you will remember that an invasion of birds at Capitola gave AlfredHitchcock the idea for the film "The Birds". Wanting a remote but beautiful coastal location to film the story he came north to Bodega Bay. It's a beautiful spot, with its fishing boats and rocky coastline. It made a suitable spot to celebrate the end of our week's walking. So, one sunny afternoon, Amy and I sat on a wooden jetty and watched the birds circle overhead. I turned to Amy and said : "I wonder what would happen if ....", but that's another story.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Week 28 : Olema To Tomales Bay

Heading north from Olema, Amy and I stride out in the direction of Point Reyes Station. I am driven by the prospect of discovering more about this delightful corner of California, Amy is driven by the hope that where there is a Station a train cannot be far behind. If you look at a map of California, Point Reyes Peninsular looks like one of those annoying cuts you get on your finger, where the skin is partly lifted off leaving a painful gash deep into the flesh. Point Reyes Station sits at the very end of the gash. Thus when you get to the town you have a decision to make : you can head up the west side of Tomales Bay and thrill to the scenic splendour of Point Reyes National Seashore or keep to the east and the familiar security of Route 1. I wanted to go west (it was supposed to be more beautiful), Amy wanted go east (it was shorter and didn't necessitate swimming across the Bay at the northern end of the peninsular). We couldn't agree so we spent some time investigating the town of Point Reyes Station.

It gets its name from the narrow gauge North Pacific Coast Railroad which was built in the 1870s to carry redwood lumber, local dairy and agricultural products, and passengers from the north of Marin County to a pier at Sausalito (which connected the line via ferry to San Francisco). The line was eventually closed down in the 1930s and now lives on in the name of Point Reyes Station and in the predominant architectural style of main street. The trains may be long gone but if you close your eyes and breath in heavily through your nose you can occasionally catch the unmistakable whiff of steam and engine grease.

This part of California has constant reminders of that infamous day in April 1906 when the earth began to move leaving behind death, devastation and the the legend of the great San Francisco Earthquake. The epicentre of the quake was in the Point Reyes peninsular but most of the devastation was further south. But the quake did have a dramatic impact on the railroad. A contemporary account takes up the story. "At Point Reyes Station at the head of Tomales Bay the 5:15 train for San Francisco was just ready. The conductor had just swung himself on when the train gave a great lurch to the east, followed by another to the west, which threw the whole train on its side. The astonished conductor dropped off as it went over, and at sight of the falling chimneys and breaking windows of the station, he understood that it was the Temblor. The fireman turned to jump from the engine to the west when the return shock came. He then leaped to the east and borrowing a Kodak he took the picture of the train here presented.' (From 'The 1906 California Earthquake', David Starr Jordan, Editor, 1907, A.M. Robertson, San Francisco

The fear and destruction of 1906 put our argument into perspective, so Amy and I decided to settle our differences. We would take the road up the east side of Tomales Bay. In return, Amy agreed that we could spend the night at the Point Reyes Station Inn which advertises itself as a "newly built Inn with an old world character". She pointed out that the website said "well behaved pets welcome". A asked what significance that had for her. And so we fell out again.

While Amy sulked I read the local weekly newspaper. The Point Reyes Light is justifiably proud of its history. It is one of the few weekly newspapers to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. In 1979, when the paper's circulation was only 2,750, it received the Pulitzer Gold Medal for Meritorious Public Service as a result of a series of exposès and editorials about the Synanon cult. The cult was not only abusing its tax-exempt status, it had also turned to violence in an attempt to silence critics. The violence culminated in October 1978 when Synanon members tried to murder a lawyer by planting a 4.5-foot rattlesnake in his mailbox. The lawyer was bitten but survived, and The Light was the first to reveal that cult leaders had orchestrated the attack. I found no reference to what had happened to the snake so I quickly went and found Amy who was sniffing around in the hotel garden.

The following day we continued our journey north. The southern end of Tomales Bay is a marshland but as you head north the bay widens and becomes more attractive. With its calm blue waters and gentle hills, this is a popular weekend escape for the city-dwellers from the south. The walk up Highway 1 was a pleasant one I had to admit and this left Amy with a smug self-satisfied smile on her canine face.

Nevertheless, the grass is always greener on the other side of the Bay, so I gave Amy a running commentary of the places we were passing (or we would have been doing if we had been walking up the west side) : shell beach, pebble beach, shallow Beach, and even the delightfully named Hearts Desire. None of these seemed to bother Amy at all, but later I hit the jackpot when I pointed out Duck Beach - only a quarter of a mile swim away.

Half-way up the bay is the small community of Marshall which is a centre for the oyster and clam fishing industry. If you want to sample the local produce call in at the Marshall Store which claims to have "the best oysters on the planet". If you check out the conflicting claims for this title on the web you see it is a dead heat between Marshall and Wellfleet in Massachusetts.

Close by Marshall is the Marconi Conference Center which includes a 28 room hotel. Guglielmo Marconi, the father of wireless radio, built the first trans-Pacific receiving station here in 1913; the 28-room hotel was meant to house workers. RCA took over the site in 1920, followed decades later by the cultish drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation group Synanon (the subject of the Point Reyes Light expose which won it the Pulitzer Prize).

Amy and I ended the week camped on the shore of Tomales Bay. In the next field there were some highland cattle. Just beyond them the lush green hills swept up to meet the sky. We could have been back home in Yorkshire. We felt homesick.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Week 27 Rocky Point To Olema

We started our week at Rocky Point (as it turns out a very descriptive name) and we made our way via Steep Ravine Canyon (as it turns out an even more descriptive name) to join the Shoreline Highway. The Shoreline Highway is an old friend of ours and has been with us - in one persona or another - since the start of our journey. Sometimes it is State Route 1, sometimes Highway 101. Sometimes it is Pacific Coast Highway, sometimes it is Cabrillo Highway. It changes its name with the frequency of a petty fraudster, but today it is the Shoreline Highway and it is taking us north. One of the first places we came upon was Red Rock Beach which turns out to be the most popular nudest beach north of San Francisco. I tried to hurry Amy on and exchanged witty repartee with her in order to try and avert her attention from the lobster-pink bodies in the near distance. We stopped to read a copy of the Nudist Beach Etiquette Rules and I pointed out to Amy Rule 3 which states "If you're sunbathing nude in a secluded area, leave a bathing suit on a rock to let others know they are approaching an unclothed person. If you're uncomfortable having your suit out of reach, bring a spare". Amy found all this quite bizarre and wanted to know whether she should leave the Bow and Fur Leather Coat she bought at Diggidy Dog in Carmel lying around just in case. I told her not to be so silly and we hurried on.

Very soon we came to Stinson Beach. Here we found over three miles of sandy beach, a 51 acre park, 100s of picnic tables and a snack bar. To our surprise, we also found William Shakespeare. Each year, Stinson Beach gives itself over to the Shakespeare at Stinson Festival and our journey up the beach coincided with a production of the Taming of the Shrew. Amy - who considers herself to be a logical dog - could not understand why, earlier in the day, I had found the sight of a few naked sunbathers uncomfortable whilst, a few miles further north, I could walk passed a group of eccentrics dressed in 16th century costumes and shouting strange insults at one another without batting an eyelid. What she didn't realise was that I was rushing her onwards for, as far as I can remember, there wasn't a part for a dog in the play. One might be tempted to ask why Shakespeare at Stinson Beach? "Why not" those Bard-loving citizens of Northern California would reply.

Towards its norther extremity, Stinson Beach provides a natural bar which stretches out across Bolinas Lagoon. However, it is impossible to walk all the way to the small town of Bolinas without getting your feet very wet. Amy pointed out that in her case it would be her feet, her legs, her tummy and her head, so we turned back and followed the road which runs up the east side of the lagoon. There is some nice little beach houses here and for a few moments Amy and I dreamed. Despite our best efforts we couldn't dream up a way of affording the $4,000 a week rental and therefore we walked on.

Bolinas Lagoon is almost the last point at which you can see the distant towers of San Francisco. We were about to say goodbye to big-city life for the best part of a year. We turned our respective backs on city-scapes and bade a hearty welcome to gulch-country. As you follow Balinas Lagoon to the north there are an awful lot of gulches. Within just a few miles there's Wilkins Gulch, Pike County Gulch, Morses Gulch, McKinnan Gulch, Cronin Gulch, and Copper Mine Gulch to name just a few. Amy asked me what a gulch was, which under the circumstances was quite a reasonable question. I quoted her the standard dictionary definition - "A narrow rocky ravine with a fast-flowing stream running through it" - and she pointed out that none of the so-called gulches had any streams in them. At that very moment we were passing a sign pointing towards "Flying Pig Ranch". Not everything is what it says it is, I replied. She didn't reply. She was too busy looking up into the sky for a passing bacon sandwich.

Leaving Bolinas Lagoon behind, the Shoreline Highway, Amy and I cut up through the hills until we eventually reached the town of Olema. With a population of 55, Olema is now a sizeable town on our route and therefore worthy of full investigation.

The town takes its name from the Miwok Indian word for coyote. The town reached the zenith of its fame and fortune in the mid nineteenth century when it became a popular place for workers in the booming logging industry to relax. There were numerous saloons and establishments of even lesser repute. It would never grow bigger. As the logging industry faded so did the fortunes and notoriety of Olema. Today it is a sleepy little place with a handful of shops and houses. It is also the place where the Shoreline Highway meets up with Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. If Amy was surprised to see this archetypal English name out here in the hills of California she did not give it away. By contrast I was intrigued until I discovered that Drake is supposed to have landed on the beach just down the road with the crew of the Golden Hind during his voyage around the world. "It's a small world", I said to Amy. "Wuff", she replied.

We ended the week at the Olema Inn. Whilst genuinely old, the Inn has none of the dubious attributes of those earlier Olema saloons. In fact it is quite a refined place : "a gateway for simple indulgences and small luxuries where you can dream away your cares and escape your troubles". For her simple indulgence, Amy had a plate of chicken. For my small luxury I had a bottle of the 2002 Beckmen Vinyards Marsanne Santa Ynez Valley : a snip at just $31. Ah the simple pleasures of life.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Week 26 : San Francisco To Rocky Point

Returning from real travel to virtual travel is a bit of a culture shock. Your frame of reference is different and you move from a passive perspective (experiencing the real sights and sounds that surround you) to an active one (within certain constraints, determining what those sights and sounds will be). I explained all this to Amy, my Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, as we made our way across Golden Gate Bridge. She dismissed my philosophical musings, pointing out that whilst I might have been cruising up the Atlantic Coast of Europe for the last few weeks, she had been stuck in a kennel. For her, virtual travel meant that she could ride on trains, eat in the best restaurants, sip beer in seaside bars and chase walruses. Compared to a concrete floor and barking neighbours, virtual travel won hands down any day.

And so we entered Marin County ("our mission is excellent service") I reflected that we were now leaving the urban sprawl of Southern California behind and heading towards the near wilderness that is the northern part of the state. California is certainly a state of contrasts but this is not really surprising if one remembers the very scale of the place. As I was walking Amy the other day someone called out "where are you now". When I explained that I had just crossed the Golden Gate Bridge they replied with a note of surprise "still in California?". People shouldn't forget, I mumbled to Amy, that walking the Californian coast is equivalent to walking from London to Barcelona. She ignored me. She usually does.

Once we had left the famous bridge behind we entered the Marin Headlands which forms part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Amy and I soon found ourselves hiking up and down steep hills and finding deserted rocky bays, all within just a few miles of downtown San Francisco. Like the San Francisco Bay itself, the Marin Headlands are noted for their frequent fogs which roll in from the Pacific. But on the days we virtually walked the hills, the fogs stayed away (according to the Fog Forecast carried by the SFGate website) which meant we got a good view of Rodeo Lagoon as we approached from the east. On Google Earth the lagoon looks a poisonous green colour and this has prompted someone to ask whether it is a toxic lake. The answer appears to be, "it depends when you go". The lagoon is separated from the sea by a sand spit which is normally breached by high winter tides. Such breaches refresh the lagoon with fresh, blue, seawater. Between breaches it tends to get brackish and very salty. Amy had a quick taste and then demanded a beer to quench her thirst. Sad to say, we couldn't find a bar.

We were now back on the Pacific coast and we going to follow the coast north for the rest of the week. What roads there are tend to have an off-on affair with the coast, sometimes they will come close, sometimes they shun the sea as and hide in the twisting valleys. We followed paths across the bare hills, keeping close to the coast and knowing that would eventually take us to Muir Beach. Muir Beach is not a big place. With about 150 houses it is tiny compared to the great metropolis's we were passing through as we approached San Francisco. But this was the scale we would now need to get used to, and both Amy and I found the comparative loneliness of these hills and small towns quite refreshing.

And talking of refreshing, the reason we were so keen not to miss Muir Beach was the wonderful Pelican Inn. Our tongues had been hanging out ever since we had sampled the waters of Rodeo Lagoon (OK, since Amy had sampled them and told me about them). And here, in a remote spot in Marin County was an authentic English Inn. They served Yorkshire pudding and had Fuller’s London Pride Ale on draught. At $250 dollars per room per night it might be on the pricey side, but what the hell, this is the virtual world with, I assume, virtual money. The taste of that beer was anything but virtual.

The next day we were due to continue along the coast. Both of us had slept well and were convinced that this place was pretty close to paradise. We realised that we could abandon the great project and spend the rest of our virtual lives as house-guests at the Pelican Inn. There were all sorts of wild critters for Amy to chase and all sorts of beers and whiskeys for me to sample. We thought about it long and hard. While thinking about it Amy polished off a plate of bangers and mash and I flirted with a bottle of Theakston "Old Peculier". It was Amy who eventually got up and pulled me away. If she noticed the tear in my eye as we left the Inn behind us and headed towards Rocky Point, she was kind enough not to mention it.