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August 13, 2018 / annakpf11

North Coast

“This is the moment that bliss is what you glimpse from the corner of your eye, as you drive past running errands, and the wind comes up, and the surface of the water glitters hard against it.”

Robert Hass (1941— ), excerpted from his poem “September, Inverness”


A winding two-lane road delivers us into the Anderson Valley, a northern California wine-making region best known for cool-climate Pinot Noirs, Alsatian-style whites and champagne-like sparkling wines.


Big-name wineries compete for our attention, but a friend has recommended we sample the terroir at Toulouse, a small, peaceful vineyard heretofore unknown to us.


We like what we taste, and come away with several bottles.


Where the Navarro River meets the sea, we travel north along the coastline to the Mendocino Headlands.


Anna keeps well back from the edge, but Dave strides to the lip of the nearest cliff, enraptured by the view.


We spend the afternoon walking along the bluff and around the picture-book, chocolate-box town. And then it’s time to set up camp in Van Damme State Park.


To reach our campsite we must drive across a creek, but the bridge has collapsed, and so we must navigate a flimsy-looking, temporary span of concrete that looks barely wide enough to accommodate a compact car. A sign declaring “Proceed at Your Own Risk” does not inspire confidence. However, we survive the crossing, and soon Suzy is tucked into trees surrounding a large open meadow.


For dinner, Anna prepares one of our favorite camping meals: chicken molé tacos, carrot and cabbage slaw, sliced avocado and tomato salsa.


In the morning, we head the few miles up the road to Mendocino, where the cell phone signal is strong enough to check email and read the newspaper online.


Fog softens the light and adds layers of interest to the historic town.


On the way to Fort Bragg, we stop at Russian Gulch, a worthwhile side-trip.


“This coastline is unbelievably beautiful,” Dave keeps exclaiming.


Indeed, a new wonder reveals itself every moment.


At lunchtime, “Sea Pal Cove”, a seafood shack in Fort Bragg harbor, proves a perfect spot for a light meal, as well as a ringside seat of fishermen bringing in their catch.


Our next stop, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 47 acres of coastal woodland, prairie and cultivated garden (recommended by the same friend who pointed us to Toulouse winery), turns out to be a highlight of the trip.


While Dave elects to stay behind and scout real estate offerings in the area, Anna sets out to explore the four mile network of pathways leading to the sea.


A rustic gate (meant to keep the deer out) leads to the Dahlia garden, where the flowers are at the peak of their bloom.

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It’s easy to lose track of time, hypnotized by the riot of color and form.

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The afternoon’s visual feast is followed by an edible feast in the evening. A friend (yes, the same twice-afore-mentioned oracle) has recommended that we reserve a table at Wild Fish, an intimate restaurant specializing in locally harvested ingredients.


She has advised us well. We enjoy fresh oysters, sole filet (Dave), seared tuna (Anna), and finish with a lemon posset.


We sleep soundly in our Suzy, and early the next morning, we pack up and depart.


As we turn inland, the river reflects rose-gold light. Smoke from the Mendocino complex fire, 50 miles away, the largest wildfire in California history, has seeped westward. Nature at her most merciless still has a fierce beauty.


By the time we reach the Anderson Valley, an apricot haze envelopes the landscape. We send out prayers for the firefighters, and for all who suffer during this season of fire.



Leave a Comment
  1. Jeff / Aug 13 2018 10:32 pm

    Must have been nice to get out of the smoke for a couple of days and inhale some of that wonderful clean oceanside air. It’s still too Smokey up here for us to go out on our maiden voyage.

  2. Maggie McLaughlin / Sep 13 2018 5:32 pm

    I love love love your photos here.
    Tom and I just returned from 4 weeks in France and I posted many photos on my FB page.
    I hope we can meet up with you two n the near future.

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