My friends Brad and Cheryl came to visit this week. It was the first time they had spent any time in Mendocino, so I wanted to make sure to take them to my favorite places. At the top of that list has to be the falls at Russian Gulch.
The falls are located just a couple of miles north of town. An incredibly cool arched bridge carries Highway 1 over the river as it spills out onto the beach at Russian Gulch. Just east of the bridge, a trail begins. For the first mile or so, it is a wide path that follows the meandering river upstream. Then the path narrows and heads up into the forest for another 7/10 of a mile. All along the way, wildflowers and ferns crowd the path, while birds and butterflies compete for your attention.
Pretty soon you can hear the sound of the rushing stream grow louder and around the next bend, you see the falls spilling 35 feet over rocks, ferns and logs into a small pool below. The picture I’ve posted here doesn’t even begin to do this place justice.
Today was an incredibly nice day. The temperature was in the mid-70s, there was a nice breeze blowing off the ocean and the sky was crystal clear. It was a great day for kayaking.
Just south of Mendocino lies the Big River. It was down this river, in the mid-1800s, that the timber used to build the Brewery Gulch Inn was floated. Today, thanks to an unprecedented community effort in 2002 that generated over $ 25 million in private and public funds, 7,334 acres of the Big River estuary and surrounding forestland have been purchased and are now permanently protected. Over 22 species of fish and 131 species of birds can be found here.
Catch-A-Canoe and Kayak Too is a great place to gear up for exploring the Big River. Here, it is possible to rent single person kayaks, tandem kayaks, as well as outrigger canoes built from local redwood. A Class 1 river, Big River is well-suited for novice paddlers and provides a great way to interact with nature on the most elemental level.
I took a friend’s son, Patrick, with me on this adventure. We had a great time paddling about 3 miles up river. Along the way, we found a harbor seal sunning on a sand spit and a family of three otters that were as curious about us as we were about them. Hawks soared overhead, ducks took off and landed along the way, and fish occasionally broke the surface.
The Mendocino coast is blessed with an abundance of spectacular scenery and natural beauty. Nowhere is this more evident than in Van Damme State Park located just south of Mendocino in the town of Little River. The history of this area is intimately tied to the rise and fall of the redwood lumbering industry in northern California.
From its early beginnings in the mid-1800s, Little River grew from a small milltown to a thriving community boasting a shipyard, a wharf, a lumber mill and several chutes for loading lumber into ships anchored off the coast. But a stand of timber, logged, does not last forever. Eventually, activity in the port disappeared; the school, which at one time had over 100 pupils, closed; and the weekly steamship service to the Bay area ended. Little River eventually reverted to its natural state and upon the demise of Charles Van Damme, the property now known as Van Damme State Park was acquired by the state park system in 1934. How lucky for visitors to Mendocino!
I had the chance to explore Van Damme with my daughter, Taylor, earlier this week. In addition to 70 campsites, the park features a lush trail system that meanders for 10 miles along the fern-carpeted banks of the Little River; and a pygmy forest of mature cypress and pine trees standing only 6 inches to 8 feet tall! Adventure-seekers can get a unique perspective of the coastline along Van Damme by joining a sea kayaking tour from a concession stand located in the parking lot on the west side of Highway 1.