Del Norte County
Primeval forests that are out of this world
STAR WARS CREATOR George Lucas wanted “a jungly kind of place, the color of life, a cradle-of-life environment” to represent the forest moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi.
He found his home for the Ewoks in Del Norte County, in the far upper left-hand corner of California, not far from the Oregon border.
Some of the state’s most gorgeously primeval redwood forests abound here, along with 37 miles of rugged, wave-battered coastline and great fishing.
The county boasts only one incorporated city—crescent City, pop. 7,600—and even that has tenuous footing in this wild land. Much of the city was destroyed by a tsunami in 1964, and today one of its most popular attractions is the Tsunami Historical Walk, with eight sites within easy walking distance of downtown.
Del Norte’s crown jewel is Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, just a few miles inland from Crescent City. There you’ll find more old-growth redwoods per acre than anywhere else in California. Densely packed with impossibly tall, impossibly ancient trees, its 10,000 acres contain 7 percent of all old-growth redwoods in the world.
Howland Hill Road, an old stagecoach trail that cuts through the park, has been described as “hiking in a car” and “one of the best redwood drives anywhere.” Be prepared for anything from a smooth ride to a juddery succession of potholes, depending on how recently it’s been resurfaced.
Lighthouse buffs make a beeline for the Battery Point Lighthouse, which has been in operation since before the Civil War. You can only get there at low tide, so be sure to check the timetables to make sure you have enough time to get back.
Be aware that the county name is not pronounced as you would expect. It’s “Del Nort,” not the normal Spanish pronunciation of “Del Nor-tay.” That’s because the area was originally settled by dairy farmers from the Azore Islands, who used the Portuguese pronunciation.