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”.

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