With predictions for sunny weather on Tuesday, we were happy that we had saved the best day for driving the wild Lost Coast roads. There was only a little bit of fog lingering in the morning at the fairgrounds as we packed up snacks and jackets, water and supplies for our day trip.
By the time we began the long ascent up the grade toward the ridgetops, the fog was moving through the hills, sometimes obscuring the views. At other moments we could see bits of blue sky and ocean in the distance. This was the third time Mo and I have driven this scenic backway, and somehow it wasn’t quite as scary as it has felt in the past.
The steep grades and ocean views provide some thrilling moments. Negotiating oncoming vehicles is sometimes a bit daunting even though the road is technically a two lane road. However, a UPS truck passed us as we were parked taking photos, and barely slowed down.
A bit later, as we were crawling down toward the ocean we suddenly were confronted with a big two trailer gravel hauler coming up the 16 percent grade around a narrow curve. How in the world can they do that?
The steep grade from the crest of the hills south of Ferndale and the Black Sands beach at ocean level are no doubt the most exciting part of the journey. The views open up in all directions, with peeks at the distant ocean framed by beautiful hilly fields of grazing cows. We took our time descending, stopping often for photos.
At the bottom of the grade we stopped near the black sand beaches at a viewpoint for Shiprock. I think this one looks more like a ship than the one in New Mexico.
The sun was gorgeous, but the wind was definitely chilly.
After passing through Petrolia I thought to check the map on Google Maps. Because Mo and I had driven this route in the past, it didn’t occur to us to remember to put the California Gazetteer in the Tracker for the trip. Just south of town we came to an intersection for the road toward Honeydew or another road heading west called Lighthouse Road. With no map, no internet, and no clue where we were heading, we decided to explore. If it was called Lighthouse Road maybe it would lead to a lighthouse or at least to a beach, right?
After seven questionable miles, some through flooded and wet zones, we emerged at a wonderful campground with camp tables for picnicking right on the beach. We were at the outlet of the Mattole River and the Lost Coast Trailhead. It was a delightful spot, with plenty of full color brochures of our location and a wonderful map to use as we continued our explorations of the remote roads leading back to Highway 101.
After lunch we walked over the dunes to the wild empty beach. Mattie could run crazy free in the sand and Deborah was thrilled at the magnificence of the wild storm-induced surf
The roads through this part of California are narrow and winding and nowhere along the route is there a cell phone signal. Even with the printed map, it was hard to gauge just how long it would take us to get from point to point. The scenery along the way was often spectacular as we drove from dark forests to high ridges and back down again.
As we got closer to Highway 101 there were more and more residences and farms tucked into the forest, often surrounded by very long, very tall, very expensive wooden fences. Although Humboldt County prided itself for being the marihuana capital of the world, I would imagine that may have changed some. We did see evidence of many grows, both small and corporate. The climate of this area has always been among the best for growing good weed.
It was late in the afternoon when we arrived back on Highway 101 and continued north toward the southern entrance of the Avenue of the Giants. Being so late in the day, traffic along the byway was light, and we had no competition for parking at the roadside mileage stops. We found a printed map of the Avenue, with mile markers listed for each interpretive stop.
We drove quite a distance to find the Bolling Grove, especially noted for its plethora of beautiful gnarled burls on the grove redwoods. We all remembered milepost 10.5 but not one of us could remember that we were in the Bolling Grove parking area. That became somewhat important a bit later during our visit when Deb needed to make a 911 phone call to let rescue workers know where we were located.
We thought we were the only ones in the grove until Deb saw a man lying in the creek. I was walking toward where I had seen Deborah go into the woods but I couldn’t manage the trail to get down to the water. Deb found a route through the thick undergrowth climbing over the huge downed redwood logs to get down to the water to the couple.
Here is her story in her words.
“When I first saw them, same vantage point Mom took this pic from, the woman was trying to help him crawl out of the creek. The creek was so loud it was hard to hear them. She said he had broken his leg but while on the phone with emergency services he told me he broke his finger. I said you broke your finger, incredulous, he said again and I heard femur. I ran back up and Mom and Mo gave me Mattie's little wool blanket to cover him while we waited. EMT's were there pretty quick and were going to hoist him up with a rope. I showed them the easier way around the trees how I got down there. Then two more times as more EMT's arrived. They were able to get him in the basket and carry him out but it took a bit. They think he fractured his hip. He only had light long sleeved shirt on and was soaked when I found them. Mom said he was pretty gray as they loaded him into the ambulance but his wife said they told her he would be OK. Still don't know if he was trying to cross over on one of the logs or fell in the rushing water. He had on good hiking boots so that was a good thing."
It was just a truly lucky thing that we were at that grove and that Deborah’s phone actually had a signal. My phone and Mo’s phone and the wife’s phone had no signal and there was no one else around. The wife was afraid to leave her husband alone to try to climb out to find a place where her phone would work. I suppose if we hadn’t been there she would have eventually have had to leave him but I am glad she didn’t.
After that bit of excitement that turned out OK, we were all a bit shaken, and Deborah’s adrenaline was running very high. We had planned to have dinner in Fortuna at the Eel River Brewing Company and Pub, and were glad that Fortuna was only about half an hour north from our location in the park. Deb had read the reviews and the online menu and we were all a bit excited to have a real meal in a real restaurant.
The pub was empty except for a few folks waiting for tables in the outside tented dining area and we settled in for a short wait. Once at our table, we noticed that most of the customers were the kinds of people you would expect to find in a popular pub. There were lots of good looking strapping young men drinking beer and eating simple food. We ordered a Philly cheesesteak sandwich that advertised peppers onions and cheese on their own special beef, a mac and cheese that was glowingly described and a simple french dip for Mo. We waited a very long time for our food, happy that we had ordered an appetizer of yummy onion rings.
Sad to say, the food was so bad that we considered it nearly inedible. Such a disappointment! The mac and cheese and the french fries were cold, and there were no peppers or onions to speak of in Deb’s philly cheesesteak. The smoky flavor of the meat in her french dip didn’t appeal to Mo. However, the amber beer was excellent and the red wine that Mo and Deborah had was OK!
At first we weren’t going to take our food home. It was obvious from the fact that we didn’t eat much that we weren’t exactly happy, and Deb indicated to the waitress. The waitress avoided us as best she could and we made no more complaints. In the end, we finished our drinks and asked for boxes. We agreed that thinking we might get good food in a pub that catered to a young working type male might leave something to be desired. Still, I am glad we took the food with us because with a bit of reworking it tasted just fine the next day.
Our day on the lost coast was almost a complete success.