Saturday, June 16

Filling in the gaps

A weekend in Benbow gave Garry and I an opportunity to drive a section of California’s Route 1 coastal highway we missed during our West Coast Road Trip in 2012. At the time our itinerary had taken us inland to see Yosemite National Park.  We’ve now filled in the missing gap by driving from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, then turning north through the idyllic town of Port Reyes Station and onwards to Bodega Bay.

We stopped overnight in Gualala before heading north through Port Arena, Mendocino, Fort Bragg and the rugged, isolated coastal town of Westport. Along the way we several stops to soak in the scenery and uncover some fascinating local history.  Highlights included watching sea lions frolicking in the surf at Goat Rock State Beach on the mouth of the Russian River, a whirlwind tour of a restored Russian Fort and climbing the historic lighthouse at Port Arena.

Fort Ross was a fascinating stop.  The State Park here preserves North America’s southernmost Russian settlement.  The Fort Ross Colony was founded in 1812 by members of the Russian-American Company.  Much of its initial infrastructure was built with the help of Alaskan Alutiiq natives.  The Russians eventually gave up on their colonial dreams and sold the settlement to an American, John Sutter in December 1841.

The Russians built numerous Redwood structures including a wooden stockade containing two cannon-fortified blockhouses, workshops and barracks.  A well in the centre of the fort provided water.  Today only one of the original structures remains.  However, the State Park has meticulously rebuilt replica structures that faithfully recreate the fort for modern visitors.   Garry and I arrived 20 minutes before the complex closed.  However friendly park staff allowed us to spend an additional 15 minutes inside the stockade before it was finally locked for the night.

The Port Arena Lighthouse was equally enjoyable.  We spent more than an hour soaking in dramatic coastal views and climbing the lighthouse itself.  Today’s 100-foot concrete tower is not the original lighthouse. The site’s first brick and mortar structure was damaged beyond repair in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.  However, the original spiral cast-iron staircase was preserved and still provides access to the lighthouse’s lantern room.

We also enjoyed a leisurely hour wandering the streets of picturesque Mendocino.  Its iconic village streetscape is popular with Hollywood producers; and was the location for television’s popular “Murder She Wrote” detective series.  Garry and I couldn’t resist selecting a gift box of handmade chocolates from a local artisan store.

However, nothing can beat a classic country breakfast in Queenie's Roadhouse Cafe in Elk.  This tiny hole in the wall in the middle of nowhere certainly lives up to its impressive TripAdvisor ranking. The menu was a roadhouse classic and the staff were as friendly and hospitable as those in any Hollywood blockbuster.

Perhaps the most unexpected highlight was the remote and desolate coast north of Rockport.  It’s here that the road turns inland to avoid steep cliffs formed by the western slopes of California's King Range. We briefly stopped to enjoy the view and were delighted to discover the area’s wildflowers in full bloom. It's no surprise to learn that this desolate stretch marks the start of an undeveloped coastline known simply as the Lost Coast.

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