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.
The first signs of spring are here. The daffodils and bulbs planted last year are starting to sprout by the hundreds. Driving into town, you can see lilys
poking their heads up through the tall grasses and trees beginning to flower. The days are crisp and clear with a stiff breeze raising
white caps out in the cove. And during the last few moonless nights, the stars have been spectacular. Last Friday, the northern lights made a rare appearance and were visible from the north coast all the way down to the Bay area.
2008 has been wet and windy so far. The year kicked off with a major storm on January 4th that saw winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour and 25-30′ waves exploding in Smuggler’s Cove like a series of cannons going off. For a southern Californian, the 8″ of rain we received during the two day storm was the equivalent of about 4 years worth of rain in San Diego. Along with our guests, I stared out the windows of the great room transfixed by the maelstrom taking place outside. For two days, Mendocino was an island: Highway 1 was closed at Westport to the north and to the south just past the Glendeven Inn; Highway 20 was closed between Fort Bragg and Ukiah; and Highway 128 (the route through the redwoods and the Anderson Valley) was closed 2 miles in from the coast. Power to residences and businesses in the area was lost. For some, service took more than 2 weeks to restore. Since I have never lived in an area where water comes from wells and not from the Department of Water and Power, I didn’t realize that a loss of power in Mendocino also means a loss of water! Apparently, you need electricity to pump that water up from the well. Fortunately, our inn has a backup generator tied into our propane tank. This provides us with more than a week of emergency power before needing a refill, so our guests had both power and water. Unfortunately, most of our staff was not so lucky. It’s good to be living in the inn!
One of the best abalone diving areas in California is Smuggler’s Cove, located just across the street from the inn. Strictly regulated by the state, abalone divers can’t use any scuba equipment and the maximum limit is 3 per day. Last fall, my daughter, Taylor, came up to visit. One of our guests went out diving and brought back his limit. He was kind enough to give one of them to us and our chef prepared it. It was the first seafood Taylor had ever eaten and she liked it. I hated to be the one to tell her that abalone was a rare treat and quite expensive in restaurants.