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.

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