US road trip day 20.1 – Lost Dreams on the Lost Coast

Follow the road trip from the beginning here.

We woke at the crack of, well, not very early at all, in the middle of the forest in Richardson Grove State Park. Despite all the rustling in the undergrowth the night before, not one single bear had pounced on me during the night, so I actually had a pretty good night’s sleep. I’m sure the wine helped. We were slow to get started, luxuriating in folding camp chairs with steaming mugs of freshly brewed coffee for ages before ambling over to the restrooms armed with our toothbrushes. We had to wait in line for a family with five excited kids zipping around, and a lady who must have been in her eighties armed with a makeup bag the size of a small backpack. She had us in stitches, complaining about the lack of counter space for the dozens of little jars and bottles that kept magically appearing from her bag, and she left the entire wash area coated in a film of translucent power and dabs of blue eye shadow. When the bathroom finally cleared and Jill and I had the place to ourselves, we burst out laughing. We’d been on the road so long any makeup we had brought had long since been relegated to the darkest recesses of our backpacks and at this point, the best we could do was to get a brush through our tousled hair and put on sunscreen.

Jill was beside herself with excitement, because we were headed to the Lost Coast, something she had been talking about since we left. The turnoff for the Lost Coast was only a ten minute drive north of the park, although it took us a little longer because we got waylaid by The Legend of Bigfoot, an odd little roadside store selling wooden knick-knacks to spendthrift tourists, and boasting an array of unusual chainsaw carvings outside, including a rather subdued-looking Bigfoot.

legend of bigfoot garberville california road trip us usa america travel

legend of bigfoot garberville california road trip us usa america travel

legend of bigfoot garberville california road trip us usa america travel

We passed through Garbersville, took the exit for Redway and found the road headed for the Lost Coast. We drove along a winding, leafy lane for over 20 miles, and the further we drove, the more exasperated Jill got. “I don’t understand” she kept saying, “where’s the ocean?”  I looked at the map and told her we wouldn’t reach the ocean until the end of the road. “But where’s the bit where we drive along the coast?” she asked. I didn’t know the answer, stabbing my finger at a faint line on the map that read Kings Peak Road. I hoped that was what she was thinking of, but I couldn’t quite suppress the doubt rising in my mind that maybe, just maybe, she was actually thinking of the coast road along Big Sur which we had bypassed in order to reach the Lost Coast. Just at that moment, a burst of blue appeared through the trees. “Look,” I squeaked, “the ocean!

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach

The road dropped into a steep incline now and Jill stomped on the brakes the whole way down the hill. The smell of burning rubber was a little disconcerting as the truck barrelled down the slope, but thankfully we reached the bottom before anything melted or burst into flames and we pulled in by a cheery little lighthouse at the ocean’s edge.

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach mendocino lighthouse

The sun was blazing down and the sea flashed bright blue sparks as we got out to have a look around. There were flowers of all sorts dancing in the sea breeze and birds flitting merrily by. It was a little slice of heaven.

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach flowers

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip  flowers driving black sand beach

We stopped into the lighthouse to have a look around. Cape Mendocino Lighthouse has a rather unusual history. Originally located about 35 miles further north along the coast, it was moved to Shelter Cove in 1998. The fragile lantern room was unbolted from the base and flown south by an army helicopter. A small exhibit inside the lighthouse showed a dusty old photo of it in transit.

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach mendocino lighthouse airlift

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach mendocino lighthouse

Outside, Jill wandered towards the ocean while I took a few shots of the brightly coloured flowers along the dunes. When I went to catch up with her, she was already on her way back. I climbed down the steps and was greeted by the most amazing views of the coastline. Craggy black rocks jutted out into the vibrant waters, festooned with sea lions, harbor seals, pelicans and cormorants and in the distance the coast disappeared into a delicate rosy haze. It was all kinds of wonderful.

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach mendocino lighthouse

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach mendocino lighthouse wildlife birds

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach mendocino lighthouse

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach mendocino lighthouse wildlife seals travel

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach wildlife birds travel

Tide pools glowed like sapphires in the crevices of the dark rocks and with the sun warming my face and the salty air filling my lungs, I wanted nothing more than to go exploring, but Jill’s absence was weighing on my mind. A couple of surfers passed by and when I shared my wonder at the beauty of this place, they told me to check out nearby Black Sand Beach before I left. I wandered back to the truck and found Jill sitting in the cab.

This isn’t what I expected,” she said when I climbed in. “I was thinking we’d be driving along miles of winding coastal roads.” “You mean like Big Sur?” I asked quietly. She looked puzzled. “I thought Big Sur was an island.” I went through a mental checklist of islands that might match up, but couldn’t come up with any. “Alcatraz?” I suggested. “Maybe” she replied dolefully. I wanted to giggle but it didn’t seem appropriate. We sat there in silence for a while and then I mentioned Black Sands Beach, so we drove over to have a peek. Driving north from Shelter Cove, we spotted the most beautiful deer grazing by the side of the road and slowed down to watch for a few moments before continuing. This place is a haven for wildlife; I resolved to revisit the Lost Coast and explore it at leisure the next time I am in California.

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach wildlife travel deer

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach wildlife travel deer

Black Sand Beach was one of the most striking beaches I have seen. Unlike many other black sand beaches around the world, the colour is not the result of volcanic activity. The dark sands are a combination of compressed shale and the predominant stone in the area; a crumbly dark grey sandstone with the delightful name greywacke. We watched from an overlook as rolling waves the colour of jade crashed into the sparkling ebony sands; the foam creating a white frill that stretched along the shoreline like a strip of lace.

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach travel

lost coast shelter cove california us usa america road trip driving black sand beach travel

We didn’t go down to the beach; I was glad I had a pretty powerful zoom on my camera to get some close up shots of that dramatic shoreline. Jill was struggling with her disappointment and it only got worse when we stopped to talk to a woman delivering mail, who told us she doubted our truck could handle driving along Kings Peak Road, an unpaved track more suited to off-road vehicles. There is a reason why this is called the Lost Coast. It is remote, undeveloped and inaccessible to mainstream traffic; which adds to the beauty of this wilderness area. She went on to explain Kings Peak Road coursed its way through miles of forest, which wouldn’t have given Jill the coastal drive she was longing for. Jill was inconsolable now, and worried that she had burned out the brakes on the truck, so we left the Lost Coast after little more than an hour and took the long road back to Highway 101. As our little truck groaned up the impossibly steep incline, I hoped the rest of the day would help Jill forget her disappointment, for now we were heading into Redwood country.

(Continued here.)

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About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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53 Responses to US road trip day 20.1 – Lost Dreams on the Lost Coast

  1. s1ngal says:

    are Gnomes supposed to be that BIG??? beautiful post, thanks for sharing!!

  2. Hollycool beach! Im gonna swimmmm after this:d

  3. johncoyote says:

    Thank you for the wonderful photos. They all were amazing. I like the artwork a lot.

  4. vastlycurious.com says:

    Beautiful pictorial!

  5. mvschulze says:

    This more moving than I could explain. Your wonderfully descriptive text and excellent photos took me back to my first encounter with the California coast many years ago, enthralled by it’s natural treasure. My images were poor, my notes a little sparse; but your post has rekindled a feeling never lost. Thanks.

  6. tieshka says:

    Hi, I’m glad that you posted on the Lost Coast. Beautiful pictures, takes me back to some wonderful memories. So many Californians, especially Southern Californians, never make it past San Francisco. That place is so incredible; hoping to bring the family that way next time!

  7. Pamela says:

    Beautiful coastline…wonder how it came about its name…and isn’t that deer just too adorable for words?

    • ailsapm says:

      Yes, that deer was such a cutie. Oh, you know, there’s a reason why it’s called the Lost Coast and you just reminded me why – it’s remote and inaccessible to most vehicles – I’ll update the post to explain it! 🙂

  8. Wonderful pictures – love the colours in that ocean and that black sand beach is gorgeous. I would have been in heaven with all those flowers and that backdrop! – Suzan –

  9. charming lighthouse and beautiful pics…it looks like you were near Ghost Point 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      We were really close, c&c, Ghost Point aka Big Flat is just a little north of where we were, but it’s a hike to get there.

  10. John says:

    Beautiful work!

  11. Meg says:

    That coastline and beach are so beautiful!

  12. Thank you for sharing your fascinating adventure! great photos….love the sweet lighthouse.

  13. Amy says:

    Great travel story, Ailsa! Gorgeous beach and coastline, especially love the deer.

  14. ledrakenoir says:

    Oversized gnomes..? ‘hahaha’

    Great and interesting story and some wonderful photos… 🙂

  15. Gunta says:

    Sounds like your trip to the Lost Coast was a bit better than mine. I took the Mattole Rd straight off the Avenue of the Giants. The road was hairy, not much scenery to be had and the beach was extremely disappointing and it was only a tiny little stretch before another even more hairy road back out to Ferndale. At least you had a lighthouse! But the Victorian homes were lovely in Ferndale.

    • ailsapm says:

      There’s no way our truck could have handled that, Gunta, thank goodness we didn’t try it! Yes, the part we went to was lovely, but unfortunately I didn’t get to stay very long at all. Jill was so disappointed she just wanted to get out of there pronto.

    • EhkStream says:

      Gunta you’ve described exactly the route to Mattole I took, only in reverse. I went in from the north in fog so thick I could only see about 10 feet ahead.
      Ferndale is so sweet…

  16. Poor Jill! But your pictures of Black Sand Beach are some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Those bands of pure color and the amazing gradations in the water from blue through turquoise to green with the lacy white border – wonderful.

    • ailsapm says:

      I know, she was so disappointed. The part of the Lost Coast that we did see was really amazing, though, I have to go back at some point and see more of it.

  17. Pit says:

    Stunning photos and a highly interesting article: thanks for sharing!

  18. Kevin Daniel says:

    Awesome post. Looks like I know where my next road trip is.

  19. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Ahh I hope the next bit is positive at the moment I feel really sorry for Jill.

  20. pommepal says:

    Thank goodness for digital cameras, your photos are superb I love the magical colours of Black Sand Beach. What an amazing road trip you are having, so well described I am right there with you. You have got my gypsy blood up to boiling for the open road Ailsa

  21. EhkStream says:

    How fortunate you had a bright day there! I made two separate day trips to the Lost Coast this past summer, one to Shelter Cove and another to Mattole, each little town the only access to the otherwise wild coast. The sun finally came out on the day at Mattole, but the cold winds sent me back to the truck after only a couple hours on the beach.

  22. klrs09 says:

    Gorgeous photos!

  23. fgassette says:

    Great story, beautiful photos. I love the lighthouse.How are your breaks?

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

  24. Jeff Sinon says:

    Ailsa, every time I read about your travels and see your photos I become green with envy. I so wish I lead a more adventurous life when I was younger, and single.

  25. Awesome. Just great!

  26. As always, gorgeous photos!

  27. Gorgeous photos!! I used to live about 25 miles inland from the Mendocino coast, and i LOOOVED it. Love your shots of the cormorants, those are some of my favorite birds =)

    –Love and Liberation–

    Jan @ TheRewildWest

  28. Great post, love your photo of the flower and the black (greywacke) sand beach. And so honest with the (somewhat lame, let’s be honest) disappointment over the place being itself, the rugged, tourist-unfriendly, largely roadless, LOST Coast. It’s not a quick-hit destination for sure. I found that out just this past December when I came through. I want to go back with my 4×4 and some time to explore. Maybe even a backpack and tide tables for a couple nights exploring along the roadless coast. That is the type of visit this place is really made for. That lighthouse has a fascinating history it’s true. The first attempt to install it (by ship) failed when the ship wrecked on the rocks. It originally stood atop a 400 foot cliff (that’s why it’s squat). Anyway, good stuff. May I recommend my Oregon coast if you would like (I know Jill does) a good long drive right along the ocean.

  29. Pingback: US road trip day 20.1 – Lost Dreams on the Lost Coast | travelogue | Scoop.it

  30. pointssouth says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog Alisa – look forward to keeping up with your travels! Your photos are beautiful.

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