MISTY MEMORIES OF THE CALIFORNIA COAST

I hiked some short trails in the redwoods and walked the Pacific Ocean beach to explore Fern Canyon in the fog. It was magical. Too soon, I had to hightail my way back to my job, but at least I had experienced a bit of the storied California Coast.

Couple on Laguna Point Boardwalk in Fog in MacKerricher State PaBoardwalk along the headlands above the Pacific Ocean in MacKerricher State Park

When I was just 19 years old, I drove to the California coast for the first time. I had two days off from my job as a U.S. Forest Service firefighter in the Cascade Range of northern California, and I decided to drive to the coast for the first time. I left the ranger station and drove west, through Lassen National Park, then down into the scorching Central Valley, which was about 100°F in the shade, of which there was very little.

I got out of the valley as quickly as possible in my little fire engine-red Buick Opel, then drove past golden hills covered with grasses and scattered oaks, up into the Coast Range, which was covered with soothing green Douglas Firs. This was California State Highway 36, which turned out to be the slowest road I’ve ever been on. It snaked its way up into the mountains, following closely the contours of the deep ravines and steep mountainsides, with one hairpin curve leading immediately into another. Imagine a really long strand of spaghetti noodling around the mountains, and you get an idea of the playful road. It took most of a day to drive.

California's SR 1 Winding through Redwood Fores

California's SR 1 Winding through Redwood ForesIn the Coast Range, the roads twist and turn incessantly; making these roads faster to travel would mean moving mountains

When I reached the hamlet of Mad River, there had been an accident in which a man had been thrown out of the back of a pickup. I stopped to help his family lift him back into the pickup, supporting his head rigidly as we lifted. It was going to be a long three-hour trip for him to the nearest hospital while laying with his neck and back badly injured in the back of the pickup. Life was more primitive then; today a helicopter or plane would be dispatched.

I drove on from Mad River through two more hours of twisting roads until I descended from the sunny mountains into the cool and foggy California Coast. It was soothing and new. I saw my first Coast Redwood trees as I approached Highway 101. I learned about ocean fog. I drove north to Redwood National Park on my whirlwind tour, stopping at a roadside cafe in redwood country where burly guys were talking about the huge size of a redwood they had just cut–one of those trees that took up an entire logging truck all by itself.

I hiked some short trails in the redwoods and walked the Pacific Ocean beach to explore Fern Canyon in the fog. It was magical. Too soon, I had to hightail my way back to my job, but at least I had experienced a bit of the storied California Coast.

Coast Redwood Forest along Trail in Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Coast Redwood Forest along Trail in Humboldt Redwoods State ParkImmense Coast Redwoods form magnificent groves along the northern California Coast

Since that early summer, I’ve returned many times. One summer, my wife and I explored the Menocino Coast while I was stationed in Mad River, where I had helped administer first aid several years before. We saw our first sea stars: this is embarrassing, but we were very young and from the midwest and were so excited to sea starfish that we attempted to take several home with us. Of course, they died and we were left with a stinking mess and a guilty conscience. Live and learn.

Many years later, in 2013, I drove up Route 1 and 101 from San Francisco, after participating in an art show in a redwood grove in Marin County. The road was as twisty and slow as I remembered it, and there didn’t seem to be many more people living out there along the lonely coast than there were before. It is a hard place to make a living, with much of the logging industry diminished.

Coffee Shop Closed and Overgrown along US 101 in northern CalifoThe old-fashioned tourist industry struggles along this coast; I suspect that Californians spend far more of their money fashionably sipping wine in Napa Valley than in walking among ancient redwoods. But there is still a drive-through tree for travelers who want to show their kids what the tourism experience used to be like.

But there were reminders on the radio that there are alternative ways to earn cash. There was a report of several black SUVs heading north on a back road near Mendocino, with a wood chipper being hauled behind one of them. It seems that the government uses its black SUVs to search-and-destroy marijuana crops, which are then fed through the chipper (maybe the mulch is then fed to pigs; and perhaps it gives the pigs the munchies which helps fatten them up). There is apparently a whole network of people who call in reports of the government agents and where they’re headed. This seems to be a contemporary twist on the moonshiners and revenue agents that made up so much of the popular view of Appalachia.

I camped overnight at MacKerricher State Park north of Fort Bragg. I’ve heard that this park is where the movie set for the house in the great movie Summer of ’42 was built. That film, which came out in 1971, starred Jennifer O’Neill as “Dorothy,” a woman living on Nantucket while her husband was away and fighting during World War II. It was an enchanting story, and based upon a real experience in the screenwriter’s life. See it if you haven’t.

MacKerricher was filled with ocean fog during my visit, so it was wonderful for photography. The roar of heavy surf hitting the rocky shore lulled me to sleep.

Laguna Point Boardwalk in Fog in MacKerricher State Park

Boardwalk through Forest on Laguna Point  of MacKerricher State

Night Glow from Restroom building MacKerricher State Park

Couple in Fog along Trail in MacKerricher State Park

Laguna Point Boardwalk in Fog in MacKerricher State Park

Conifers in Fog in Mackerricher State Park in California

Godbeams from Pacific Ocean Fog in MacKerricher State Park

Misty Morning on Lake Cleone in MacKerricher State Park

Pudding Creek Trestle in MacKerricher State Park Near Fort Bragg

Bull Kelp Washed up on Beach of MacKerricher State Park in Calif

Bull Kelp Washed up on Beach of MacKerricher State Park in CalifGlimpses of my misty afternoon and morning in MacKerricher State Park

The next day, I drove north through the redwoods, eventually reaching Oregon, the words to a Jimmy Webb song so memorably sung by Linda Ronstadt making for an unusually pleasant earworm in my brain:

“Going up north where the hills are winter green

I got to leave you on the California coast …”

And, so, that’s where I’ll leave my memories until my next visit.

Sea Stacks of Cuffey's Cove along Mendocino CoastThe sea stacks of Cuffy’s Cove

Surprise Lilies Blooming in Cuffey's Cove Catholic CemeteryCemetery at Cuffy’s Cove, with Surprise Lilies in bloom in autumn

Line of Monterey Cypress Trees along Cuffey's Cove CemeteryMonterey Cypress trees have been planted along many stretches of Highway 1

Arch and Pacific Ocean at Mendocino Headlands State ParkA daring hiker crossing a sea arch in Mendocino Headlands State Park

Ice Plant at Duncan's Landing at the Sonoma Coast State BeachIce Plant, an invasive succulent originally introduced to stabilize slopes, has really taken over the headlands along parts of the California Coast

Bridge over South Fork Eel River in California's Redwood ForestHighway 1 leads over a classic steel bridge spanning the Eel River in redwood country

Coast Redwood Forest along Trail in Humboldt Redwoods State ParkRedwood grove along Avenue of the Ancients viewed from a fish’s eye

Coast Redwood Forest along Trail in Humboldt Redwoods State ParkConvergence

Scotia Museum Built in the Greek Revival Style Using Redwood

Winema Theatre in the Town of Scotia in Northern CaliforniaRedwoods were used to create these classic old theater and bank buildings in Scotia, a company town located south of Eureka in the heart of redwood country

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date). 

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December 27, 2008 Into the Mystic Midwest

Advection fog adds mystery to the wintery Midwestern landscape.

 

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Today I was in the middle of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula visiting family during a Christmas trip. This year the traditional white Christmas visited with a vengeance: it has been a snowy December in this part of Michigan, with nearly 40″ of snow falling during2008_mi_6648wp the cold and icy month. But weathermen were predicting a letup from the cold–a front of unseasonably warm air was blowing in, creating a certainty of fog. I love photographing foggy landscapes, so the change of weather was just perfect. Less so the roads.

With my wife and mother nervously accompanying me as I drove our rental car on back roads glazed with ice, I set out to capture the essence of fog blanketing the wintry farm fields and maple forests of central Michigan.  We did a loop from Stanwood to Big Rapids to Mount Pleasant and back to Stanwood, passing through Amish country and the kinds of Midwestern small towns that politicians love to extol as being the heart of America. Though the temperature reached 54°F as we travelled, the sun was never able to burn through the fog. Just for fun, we decided to follow the GPS unit’s voiced guidance in our rental car. In soothing tones, the female voice told us where to turn. But computer woman had never been on snowy Michigan back roads in the middle of winter, and she led us over hilly roads completely covered with ice that had yet to see a salt or sand truck. 2008_mi_6616wpWhen she tried to lead us down a road that was, in reality, an unplowed trail, we drew the line. Fortunately, she didn’t get upset at us and simply recalculated our route. Nice lady computer.

The fog was thick in the open hardwood forests, lending an atmosphere of mystery to a day in which tree trunks marched in ever-lightening shades of gray into the distance. Fog shrouds the landscape with quiet, and I think that feeling comes through in my photographs. This type of fog is known as advection fog, and it forms when warm, moist air flows over a snow-covered landscape. As this warm, saturated air chills near the cold ground, fog forms. My mind has a hard time comprehending the scientific explanation of this phenomenon which involves dewpoints at the interface of cold and warm air, but for those who need to know, there is a good website with a succinct explanation: www.theweatherprediction.com

I stopped the car repeatedly to get out and photograph, finding that the road was a sheet of  ice that threatened me with a hard fall.  But I remained upright and took numerous pictures all morning, until my wife and mother in unison shouted “No!” when I tried to park the car on an icy hill and get out one last time to take a picture. I relented under the pressure of their good sense and got back in the car. Good boy!

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The fog lasted all day, as did we on our adventure. When we drove home through the dark in early evening, a wind had come up and was blowing the fog sideways across the road at a high velocity. I’m used to driving in blowing snow, with the headlights piercing the mesmerizing and dazzling matrix of billions of big flakes. But I had never before driven through dense and blowing fog, in which the fog line kept disappearing and the headlights penetrated the mist barely a car length ahead. We never had to stop entirely, which was good because the snow was hard and crusted high on the road shoulder. We made it home, exhausted after the drive, but I was happy with my mystic Midwestern pictures of the day. 

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When I got home and looked at the photographs, I enlarged several to a high degree.  Only then did I see two White-tailed Deer bedding down in the mist, partially obscured by the trees. When I took the picture I must have been only 40-50′ away from the deer, yet they remained quietly hidden in the forest. It was a day of that kind of magic.

 

To see a variety of my photographic work, including photos for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

Click on the photographs below for versions with captions.