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.