Fern Canyon and a night on a Ranch

During my research and planning this trip, I stumbled across another blog by someone who had done a similar road trip. He described a visit to a place called Fern Canyon, and said it was the best place in California that he had ever been. Intrigued, I did a little more research. It did not appear in any of the guidebooks, but it did appear on good old Google maps, and was not too long a detour from our route.

I mentioned to Paul that we planned to visit Fern Canyon on our way from Ferndale to Oregon. I deliberately failed to mention that to get there involved an 8 mile drive down an unpaved dirt road, which included multiple stream crossings. In a rental car. Plus a return journey on the same route.

We got to the junction off Highway 101. All ok for the first mile. Then we reached the crossroads where the option was signposted on said dirt track to Fern Canyon. Paul was driving. He braked. It looked like the kind of road no one has driven on for a long time, and the kind of road a sat-nav accidentally directs you, never to be seen again…. Are you sure its up here, he asked? Yes, keep going, it will be worth it, – I nervously replied. To be fair, Paul did a great job in driving us down the most crazy road I have ever been down. We couldn’t see that much through the clouds of dust. The pot holes were meters wide. The streams were deep. The edges of the road were precarious. We made it to the bottom, relieved, more than slightly sweating. There were plenty of other cars already parked up from similarly intrepid drivers (mainly 4x4s!).

But it was worth it. Our reward was a walk in a Canyon, formed 320 million years ago. The sides of the Canyon are covered in rare ferns, as not much else can grow on the 50ft shaded vertical slopes. It was used as a location for filming Jurassic Park – The Lost World, and BBC Walking with Dinosaurs. It was easy to see why. Wearing sandals, we followed the refreshingly cold river up the canyon, climbing over and under fallen trees, with water trickling down the sides of the Canyon and through the ferns and moss. It really was like another world. We returned the same way, and then walked down to the beach, where the Californian surf was lashing so hard against the shore it wasn’t safe to do anything other than paddle.

We continued our drive north on Hwy 101, crossing the state line in to Oregon at about 5pm. We soon arrived at our B&B tonight – a cattle ranch up on the mountainside east of Brookings. We got out of the car and were shocked to discover that it was 94 degrees and very smoky from the forest fires over the nearby mountain range. The ranch was located on 134 acres, and after the most delicious homemade meal of Elk Stew and apple pie, we wandered around with the owner, rounding up the hens and collecting the eggs. It was an idyllic place to spend the evening and a shame we only had one night here.

The Avenue of the Giants

Today is all about the trees. Big ones. Giant Redwoods. The oldest and tallest trees on earth.

But first, an opportunity to visit an old landfill…. how could I resist? A more accurate term might be a ‘sea-fill’. A little further up the California coast from Mendocino is a small town called Fort Bragg. From 1906 to 1967, the official waste disposal area for the residents of Fort Bragg was a series of three beaches. When one filled, they moved on the the next one, dumping everything at these ‘water dump’ sites from household rubbish, glass, appliances and even vehicles. The sites were closed in 1967, and efforts made to clean up and remediate the beaches. Organic waste was simply left to biodegrade, the metal and other large items were removed. Over the years, the sea worked to smooth the sharp edges of the glass and ceramics that remained, resulting in a beach made of small, smooth, colourful pieces. Ironically, the thousands of visitors who visit the glass beaches each year are being discouraged from taking any glass away, in order to preserve this unique feature of the landscape. However, between the beachcombers and the further weathering by the pounding waves, it is likely that in decades to come the beach will be fully restored to sand and pebbles.

From here, we continued north on US 101, until we reached the detour option of the Avenue of the Giants. The Avenue of the Giants follows what was the original North-South California highway. The 31 mile long road runs through the Humboldt Redwood State Park, and is named in honour of the giant redwoods which surround it. 51,222 acres of redwood groves. From the avenue, there are various places to stop and explore further in to the forest. The first place we stopped was one of several drive-through trees in the region. As a way of making money towards conservation and awareness raising in the 1950’s, it became popular to carve out a channel through a redwood and charging people money for the dubious pleasure of driving through it. I decided to give Paul this pleasure and walked ahead to take photos. I watched with amusement as a car in front of Paul’s barely squeezed through. Paul did need a bit of encouragement to give it a go, and was on the verge of reversing and aborting his attempt, but I called him through and he had more room than it seemed from the drivers perspective.

The highlight of the day was a walk through the forest to Founders Grove. This was a grove of redwoods dedicated to those who led the campaigns to save the redwoods. The grove is particularly poignant, as it includes several ‘fallen Giants’. Only when the giants have fallen, can you truly appreciate their size and scale, as can be seen in the photographs below. Some of the giants fell over 30 years ago, but it will be many, many more years before they eventually disappear in to the ground from which they grew.

Some of the Redwoods are over 950 years old. It is the sort of place where photographs will never do justice to how it feels to walk amongst them. It is such a privilege to walk amongst these trees.

We ended the day in Ferndale. Nope, not that Ferndale – Ferndale California, an immaculately preserved Victorian town. Our home for the night was the Victorian Inn. Other than the cars, the Main Street appears little changed since the 1890’s.

Road trip – San Francisco to Mendocino.

Today, we began our journey north, driving once again over the Golden Gate Bridge and in to Northern California. First stop was the tiny town of Bodega. A small, quaint town, it was made famous when used as a film location in Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds'. From here, we continued on US1, otherwise know as the Pacific Coast Highway. The first couple of hours were on very winding roads, lots of hairpin bends and precipitous drops….. the views were simply amazing- empty beaches, haystack rocks, and windswept cliffs. The roads improved the closer we got to Mendocino, and we could enjoy the views a bit more as the driving became easier.

After miles of rugged coastline, Mendocino was a welcome picturesque town to spend the night. It was once a logging village, then a haven for artists in the 1950's and its restoration was so well done it has been declared a historic monument. It sits alone on a remote headland, with ocean views in most directions. Hoping to explore more in the morning.


A much needed day of relaxation in the beautiful Napa valley.

The day began with our guide (a South African called Jenson) demonstrating the art of Sabrage – opening a bottle of champagne with a sword. He did this in a busy car park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, which I thought was pretty brave – I don't think there are many places where you get away with brandishing a sabre sword at 9.30am. We got back on the bus and drank the champagne on the way to Napa.

The rest of the day passed by in a pleasant, sunny, wine-soaked blur. We visited three vineyards altogether. The first was a big posh one owned by Tattinger. Not surprisingly, they specialise in sparkling wines. Next was Materra, a medium-sized vineyard where we got a full tour of the wine-making process. The third one was Peju, where the chap giving us the tasting session took a liking to our group, and gave us samples of some of the reserve wines, (e.g. the $100 plus wines) for free…. and very good they were too. We bought a bottle in each vineyard to enjoy later on our trip.

The fog descended again as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge back in to the city, made all the more atmospheric with Tony Bennett crooning 'I left my heart in San Francisco' and Otis Redding 'Sitting on the dock of the bay' as we snoozed our way home.