Thursday, July 14, 2016


Interesting stuff – natural and human –
too easily passed by…

With the marriage of motorcycle and really good pavement, I commonly am lulled into a rhythmic pattern of enjoying the ride while, at the same time, missing the journey.  Falling into this trap is easy on California’s Route 1 in Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.  Sure, there are turnouts, wide spots and vista points where millions have taken the same snapshot I’m about to take, but pausing for a more in depth experience – even for only an hour or two – is something for which I do not budget enough time.  Recently I planned a trip where I decided not to let that happen.

Here are some highlights I’m glad I didn’t miss on that recent coastal tour.

Point Arena Lighthouse:  I used to be an elementary school principal.  On those few bad days working, I’d go home thinking how nice it would be to be anything other than a school guy: ditch tender for some mountain water district; fire lookout on some remote peak; or light house keeper on the rugged Pacific shore.  This foggy, windswept morning, I stopped I at Point Arena to check out one of those theories. 

The Point Arena Lighthouse is an historic facility, once run by the Coast Guard. Now it is maintained by a foundation dedicated to preserving the light facility and its storied history. 

A fine little museum rests in the old light keeper’s residence where the history of the lighthouse is chronicled and the Fresnel lens in preserved.  Five dollars gets you in.  

For additional two-and-a-half bucks, you can climb the nearly 150 steps to the tower’s top where the lens refracted light to be seen for twenty or more miles from the point’s rocky shoals. 

Stepping out onto the tower’s circular balcony, an icy, seemingly unrelenting on-shore breeze took my brimmed hat away.  I watched it whip and sail and finally land several hundred yards east of the tower’s base.  It rolled to a stop in some ice plant.  I drew a mental line through one of my better job options leaving ditch tender and fire lookout to be further explored.

Seriously: Great views from the top and well worth both the fare and the time out of the saddle.

The Hot Spot: Located on the eastern edge of the Sea Ranch development, the Hot Spot’s enchantment is not a factor of roiling seas and crashing waves.  Rather it is a stroll through sublime redwoods tucked into a canyon carved by a little creek accessed on an old paved road that, at one time, lead to somewhere.

The woods are cool, dark and deep. Flora, not adapted to the rugged coastal environs, take root and stay for an extended spring.

The road in is private (as are all roads in the Sea Ranch development) but relatively unused.  It is accessed off the public Annapolis Road, which winds inward from the coast.  Turn north about a half-mile in at about the fire station.  Note that in the immediate area of the CalFire station is a small shopping area with a bang-up bakery offering great breads cooked daily and sandwiches well placed there-upon.  And since you’ve stopped at that bakery, splurge!  Try the chocolate-dipped macaroons.  They do not disappoint.

Down at the Hot Spot – not sure why this place is so named – there are a few picnic tables set along the banks of a creek near parking where one may enjoy that sandwich purchased just up the hill.

Annapolis Winery:  Our reason for heading out to Annapolis was to check out the winery that’s been established there since the late 70s.

Operated by a second generation, a visit feels much like a step back to the time when winemaking (and everything else) was simpler and more straightforward. 

The fruit is local, hand picked and pesticide free.  The Zin is particularly big.  A bottle waits in my rack for the next rack of lamb I’m going to roast; the Barbera I’d been meaning to save didn’t make it past the chicken we grilled the evening of its purchase.  Quite nice!

A visit with the proprietress opens one up to the varied and diverse dynamics of the area populace and that conversation, alone, is well worth the twenty-minute sojourn from the coast.  Nice picnic area next to the enchanting, rustic facility.

Fort Ross:  Little known to many is that the Russians maintained a foothold in California long before western Europeans claimed the territory.  The Spaniards were happy to let trappers from Mother Russia hold a presence if it would deter the Hudson’s Bay Company from becoming too familiar.  The Californios knew well the consequences of that. 

Fort Ross was the eastern most and southern most outpost in Russia’s eastward expansion across the Pacific. 

While their main economic interest involved fur trapping further north, the climate and soils of the Sonoma Coast provided a market basket for their efforts.

Alas, the outpost was a bridge or more too far and after only a few decades, the Russians abandoned it to John Sutter who salvaged the milled lumber from its stockade, transporting to Coloma to build part of his sawmill there.  My old buddy John Bidwell (I grew up in Chico, the town he later founded) was placed in charge of the deconstruction. 

The State of California has seen that this unique historic feature will not be lost to history.  The walls have been rebuilt and many of the buildings replaced.  Only one of the originals still stands.  

A wonderful interpretive center has been established and the day-use fee is a bargain.  Camping is available.  More info?  and ,

One could easily spend two or three days exploring a very few miles of the Sonoma Mendocino Coast and not feel as if not a minute went to waste.  The challenge is to not be lulled by the marriage of motorcycle and Highway 1’s glorious pavement.


Accessing the area:  Located on California’s legendary State Route 1 about midway between Tamalpais Valley where it leaves US 101 in Marin County and Leggett, north in Mendocino County, where it rejoins it, there are several engaging routes linking the coastal highway with 101.  Get a good map or atlas and explore.

© 2106
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Fun!! I love climbing to the top of the lighthouses, there is such a unique view from up there and the patterns of the lenses and stairs are usually so interesting.

    Do you get to rent out the fire lookouts in CA like you do in Oregon? They are camping hot spots here.

    1. I love lookouts. One of my favorites will always be Mt Harkness in Lassen Volcanic National Park where, when I was a twelve-year-old camping down the hill at Juniper Lake and taking a day hike to the summit, the man on duty gave me hard candy and told of many things, including of the deer licking the salt from the rocks out from the towers base where he urinated in order to save capacity in the adjacent outhouse. Later, in reading Edward Abbey's memoir "Confessions of a Barbarian," I realized the man who'd visited with me decades before, was to become the preeminent environmental author of his day, and one of my favorite go-tos when looking for a book to read. His story to me had been recounted in his memoir. So, yeah: I kinda like fire lookouts. Always a good view. Always wanted to rent one for a night or two as we can do in Northern California, but as yet haven't done so.

  2. Thanks for sharing these excellent photos with us from your adventure. I love seeing the wonderful lighthouse you were able to visit. Have a great rest of your day.
    Greg Prosmushkin

    1. California's State Route One (The Pacific Coast Highway) is one of the most incredible scenic roads know to humankind. I hope, if you are ever out this way, you will take a few days and enjoy it...