Fort Bragg, CA to Mendocino, CA

Hiking: 5.3 mi / 407 ft. climbing
Biking: 18.5 mi / 10.5 mph / 665 ft. climbing
Home: Van Damme State Park hiker/biker campsite

Fort Bragg (pop. ~7000) is the biggest town we’ll see until San Francisco, so it was good for AAAA batteries (for my PC’s pen), sewing supplies (to patch holes in my Pendleton shirt’s elbows), and the North Coast brewpub (for our first restaurant lunch in a long time). And a toothbrush. I’ve never bought a toothbrush on a bike tour, so that’s one of those “this is your life, not a vacation” moments that help sink it in.

Between those things, we rode the Noyo Headlands Trail, from south to north, on a paved path that winds through former lumber mill land that had until recently kept almost all the oceanfront of Fort Bragg from public (or even private!) access. The cliffs and coves and grasslands (and clear blue day!) made it some of the most spectacular coast we’ve seen, maybe somehow amplified by its unexpected existence in the middle of a city.

Noyo Headlands.
Noyo Headlands.
Bikes at Fort Bragg.
A charging army of waves.

At the north end, we visited Glass Beach, a section where historical dumping of garbage in the ocean has created a beach filled with wave-rounded bits of sea-glass. There is beauty in the decay, but then we were also dismayed to see people illegally collecting glass, decaying the beauty. Again, a bit of a conundrum about preserving a very specific level of decay, or just letting (human) nature take its course and taking the beauty from where and whenever we happen upon it?

Glass Beach
#FindRett on the former railroad trestle at the north end of Fort Bragg.

After lunch we finally started heading south again, and made it…5 miles. At which point we switched to hiking mode and did a 5 mile hike up and down the Ecological Staircase at Jughandle State Reserve that Rett was interested to learn about. Ocean/riparian, redwood forest, and at the top, the most unique and interesting: the pygmy forest. Stunted versions of many of the same species we had seen lower, growing in “soil” that the topography had drained almost completely of nutrients, so they were curled, twisted, and, much smaller. Their low heights let the sun warm us, adding to the unusual feeling. There was a guy at the top who seemed to be meditating, which felt like the right thing to do up there.

#FindRett in the pygmy forest

As it was getting late, we then busted through the supposedly-cute town of Mendocino without stopping, were annoyed by the appearance of actual traffic on sometimes-shoulderless Highway 1, and arrived at wet, oddly-quiet Van Damme State Park for our first night in our normal “home” (our tent) in ten days!

The wet (from fog/dew, not rain) made everything annoying and difficult, so it was a simple Indian dinner, and then into the tent for Rett by 7:30pm. I walked back to the entrance to pay ($10/person here for hiker/biker, twice what we’d been used to in California), walked across Highway 1, and was overwhelmed by the sight of the Milky Way erupting straight out of the ocean. It’s the first time I can remember seeing the Milky Way without trees or mountains obstructing the horizon, and it was magical to see it painted across the entire 180-degrees of the bowl of the heavens.

The Milky Way, with Mars(?) as big and bright as the house lights.

I ran back up to the tent and told Rett we did have some evening entertainment. She interrupted her stretching routine to come out and join me and see the show, and talked about memories of the nights as a teenager that she and her mom would walk near Skaneateles Lake in upstate New York and see the night sky burning even brighter than this.

Driving Highway 1 into the stars.



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2 responses to “Fort Bragg, CA to Mendocino, CA”

  1. Kenneth Gregie Avatar
    Kenneth Gregie

    In the beautiful photo of the Milky Way, is that the upside-down Big Dipper in the upper right quadrant?
    Loved that view of “Driving Highway 1 into the stars”!
    I sure hope you bought some floss along with that toothbrush– Uncle Dr. Ken

    1. neil Avatar

      I feel like I remember the (upside-down) Big Dipper being more towards the north and out of the range of that photo. And also feel like the Big Dipper’s stars would be shining super-bright in a photo like that where you can see so many other stars.
      Coincidentally just last night I had to re-thread my floss back into its cutter, and it looked like I still had 50 yards left of the 100 yarder (luckily floss is nearly weightless!), so I’ll be good there for a while! 🙂

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