Be­hind the “red­wood cur­tain” lies a land of Vic­to­rian vil­lages, pic­ture-per­fect fish­ing har­bors and in­spired lu­nacy

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY JOHN FLINN

146 Del Norte County 148 Hum­boldt County

Un­til you’ve seen one up close, it’s hard to grasp just how neck-cran­ingly tall a coastal red­wood tree is. Re­mem­ber the gar­gan­tuan Saturn V, the 35-story-high rocket that sent astro­nauts to the moon? The largest Se­quoia sem­per­virens grow even taller, top­ping out at 379 feet. These 3,000-year-old ar­bo­real ti­tans—na­ture’s lofti­est sky­scrapers—grow in only one place in the world: a nar­row strip of fog-shrouded moun­tains along Cal­i­for­nia’s wild and rel­a­tively un­vis­ited North Coast.

The Red­wood High­way

Old-growth red­woods are pre­served in a chain of parks strung along High­way 101, known in these parts as the Red­wood High­way. In south­ern Hum­boldt County, Hum­boldt Red­woods State Park strad­dles the scenic drive known as the Av­enue of the Gi­ants. In north­ern Hum­boldt and Del Norte coun­ties, a clus­ter of parks— Red­wood Na­tional Park and Prairie Creek Red­woods, Del Norte Coast Red­woods and Jede­diah Smith Red­woods state parks—form one con­tigu­ous red­wood re­serve.

The sounds of chain­saws and buzzing sawmills that once dom­i­nated the North Coast are rapidly fad­ing as the lum­ber in­dus­try winds down. In for­mer mill towns such as Fort Bragg, tourism is re­plac­ing tim­ber as in­no­va­tive gal­leries, restau­rants and brew-pubs spring to life.

Al­though it’s some­times called the Red­wood Em­pire, the North Coast is more than just tall trees: It’s also salmonfish­ing boats bob­bing in tiny har­bors; Roo­sevelt elk bugling across misty mead­ows; steam trains chuff­ing through a damp and drip­ping for­est; hole-in-the­wall restau­rants serv­ing fish smoked ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tional Na­tive Amer­i­can

recipes; vine­yards close enough to the coast to catch the salt spray; an old Rus­sian trad­ing fort; hand­some Vic­to­rian vil­lages; pos­si­ble glimpses of the elu­sive crea­ture known as Big­foot; wealthy, tie-dyed grow­ers of the re­gion’s largest cash crop, which Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers re­cently le­gal­ized; and bouts of cre­ative mad­ness such as elab­o­rate sculp­tures rac­ing across the land­scape.

For gen­er­a­tions, the North Coast was said to be on the far side of the “red­wood cur­tain,” the psy­cho­log­i­cal bar­rier formed by nar­row, tor­tu­ous High­way 101, which was lit­tle more than a two-lane con­duit for heav­ily-laden log­ging trucks. But Cal­i­for­nia has spent the last two decades im­prov­ing the road—straight­en­ing curves, widen­ing it in many places to four lanes— and now the road is an easy drive.

City & Town

Trans­planted New Eng­lan­ders founded the town of Men­do­cino on a rocky bluff above the crash­ing Pa­cific Ocean, and it still sports a white­washed Cape Cod look. Once a mill town, it went into de­cay in the 1930s as the lo­cal tim­ber trade waned but was re­dis­cov­ered in the 1960s by bo­hemi­ans and artists. On the shore of Hum­boldt Bay, Eureka, the largest town on the North Coast, has also re­versed decades of de­cline and turned its wa­ter­front Old Town into an invit­ing Vic­to­rian district of gal­leries, bou­tiques and cafés. Cres­cent City was vir­tu­ally wiped off the map by a tsunami in 1964. Re­built now, it sports a smat­ter­ing of ho­tels and mo­tels that make it a good base for ex­plor­ing nearby Jede­diah Smith Red­woods State Park.

Her­itage & Cul­ture

Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes such as the Yurok and Hoopa lived along the North Coast for cen­turies be­fore the ar­rival of fur trap­pers—both Rus­sians work­ing their way down from Alaska and Amer­i­can moun­tain men such as Jede­diah Smith com­ing over­land. For more than two cen­turies, re­source ex­trac­tion—pri­mar­ily log­ging— was the re­gion’s eco­nomic en­gine. As dwin­dling forests and stricter en­vi­ron­men­tal laws took their tolls start­ing in the 1970s, the North Coast has tran­si­tioned to tourism as its main­stay.

Fam­ily Fun

Young chil­dren might have trou­ble fully ap­pre­ci­at­ing the time­less­ness of an an­cient red­wood tree, but they’ll en­joy a gon­dola ride through the silent for­est canopy and a chance to have their pic­ture taken with four-story-high stat­ues of Paul Bun­yan and Babe the Blue Ox. Look for it at Trees of Mys­tery, near the town of Kla­math.

SUN­SHINE, FOG, SEA and for­est grace the coast be­tween Cres­cent City and Eureka, above; Roo­sevelt elk bulls joust dur­ing Septem­ber breed­ing sea­son in Red­wood Na­tional and State Parks, right.

WOODLEY IS­LAND MARINA, Hum­boldt Bay, top; mar­veling at the tall trees in Hum­boldt Red­woods State Park, left; scop­ing out the surf at Point Arena wharf, Men­do­cino County, bot­tom; Car­son Man­sion in his­toric Old Town Eureka, op­po­site.

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