California is the third largest state and is the most populous in the United States. The south of California has desert and beautiful beaches, as well as a climate not dissimilar to the Mediterranean. Known for its surf culture and Hollywood’s entertainment industry, south California has predominantly conservative views compared to the north’s more liberal attitude. Perhaps because the north tended to be settled by those from the more progressive northern states and the south by the more conservative southern states. North California is mountainous with forests and a cooler climate that is perfect for the Napa and Sonoma wine-producing regions. The north is known for its wine region, Redwood forests, and expansive areas of untarnished land and coast between San Francisco and the Oregon state line. Think Hitchcock, not Baywatch. In fact the Hichcock film ‘Birds’ was shot at Bodega Bay, just 70 miles north of San Francisco. You don’t go north of San Francisco to get a tan, not even in July. The reason being the thick layer of fog that settles on the land. Once you get over its icy, almost haunting chill, you’ll come to appreciate its brooding beauty and graceful, ghost-like swirls.
North California really begins an hours drive north of San Francisco, once Highway 101 become a quiet, untraveled road. We chose to rejoin the coast hugging California State Route 1, or as the south California locals call it, Pacific Coast Highway. In north California you find this road simply goes by the name Highway One, where the road winds along cliff tops and the Pacific Ocean crashes into the rugged coastline. This stretch of road yields a driving experience comparable to the famous Big Sur, although with a fraction of the vehicles. So sit back, relax, and take it all in. This is what driving is all about.
Our first stop took us to Manchester Beach, a secluded, sandy stretch of coast. Access to this beautiful stretch of protected coastline is via sandy beach undergrowth, thick with natural vegetation and blooming yellow flowers. At the southern tip of the beach, where a shard of land stretches west towards the island of Hawaii is Point Arena Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse (115 feet) on the Pacific Coast and the only you can climb to the top. It’s a beautiful building, standing tall and proud on an otherwise barren section of land.
Continued driving along this stretch of road will take you past a handful of small coastline settlements, most so small they don’t warrant the need for any form of commercial store. Before long we found that the trusty Highway One was moving inland to join Highway 101, and any attempt to stay on a road that hugged the coastline was impossible. The reason being an area simply knows as The Lost Coast. This undeveloped, natural area of California was given this name after experiencing drastic depopulation in the 1930s. In addition, the steepness and related geographical challenges of the coastal mountains make this stretch of coastline too costly for state highway or county road builders to establish routes through the area, leaving it the most undeveloped and remote portion of the California coast. Access to the three settlements along The Lost Coast (Petrolia, Shelter Cove, and Whitethorn) is via tiny, winding roads and dirt paths. 4×4 capability is essential. For this reason The Lost Coast area of California falls within “The Emerald Triangle”, so named because it is the largest cannabis producing region in the United States. Growers have been cultivating cannabis in this region since the 1960s, but the industry exploded in the region with the passage of California Proposition 215 which legalised use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in California. Growing cannabis in The Emerald Triangle is considered a way of life, and the locals believe that everyone living in this region is either directly or indirectly reliant on the marijuana business. My advice, you mind your own business and they’ll mind their own business. You don’t want to be caught short on a growers property, staring down the barrel of a shotgun.
An hours drive into The Lost Coast and we reached Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to the 32 mile stretch of road named the Avenue of the Giants, which winds along the scenic Eel River. This area is known for its coastal Redwood trees that overshadow roads and dwarf vehicles. It’s tempting to stop your vehicle and take pictures around every corner of this beautiful drive, although we found ample reward taking our time, accustoming ourselves with the grandeur of these ancient giants, appreciating their still beauty, and wondering what they have witnessed in their hundreds of years life on this planet. To give you an idea of size, these Redwoods range from 250 to 350 feet tall and the oldest trees are estimated to be over 950 years old.
It was after this fantastic drive that one of the most unfortunate events of the trip bestowed itself upon us. Just as we neared the end of our travels through The Lost Coast and Highway 101 was to be reunited with the coastline, our vessel for the past five months had its first and only major problem. Loss of use to the brakes. Oh Hendrix, why do this to us?? We found ourselves over 400 miles outside of our planned destination of Portland, on the winding coastal Highway 101, with limited dollars in the bank. Things weren’t looking good. An afternoon spent at garages in the tiny town of Fortuna resulted in many a puzzled mechanic, and us still without use of our brakes. Needless to say we made the decision to push on, slow and steady through the twisting Redwoods National Park, over the mountains of Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park and finally to the Interstate 5. The glorious Interstate 5… straight, flat, and quiet. Beautiful.
And what was waiting for us at the end of this road. The weird and wonderful city of Portland.