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.

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