Fog and Sea Stacks: the Sonoma and Mendocino Coast

The coast from Sonoma County to Mendocino is ruggedly spectacular, a series of cliffs and beaches, crashing waves and sea stacks. Cypress trees and pines gather in groups among the rare open field in a valley. Small towns pop up from time to time like the coastal hamlet of Bodega Bay or Jenner, population 170.

Much of the drive up the coast of Sonoma and Mendocino counties was desolate and the unyielding fog made it even more so. It blanketed everything, turning the ocean into a gray sideshow with only the sound of crashing waves. The landscape was a heavy green with pockets of fog creeping into the valleys, here and there a forlorn house, used to week after week of this. There were a few lighthouses too, but none were well-marked and I wasn’t able to figure out exactly how to get to them (cell reception for my Google Maps was almost entirely hopeless). They were invented for days and places like these.

The coastline here was more gentle than Big Sur, without the sheer drops down to the water, but the dramatic rocks offshore (known as sea stacks) and driftwood scattered in piles on the beaches made for a wholly different experience. Here, in many stretches, beaches are accessible and the ocean is only a few feet away, making the scale that much more impressive. And there might well be no one within miles in some places.

I spent the night in Mendocino, a small town on a peninsula with the ocean crashing on three sides. An old logging town, it had by now shifted its focus towards the tourist with a few well-preserved hotels and charming cafes.

I fell asleep in my room in the Mendocino Hotel, my room overlooking the Pacific, not that I could tell. The heavy fog stayed in place overnight, only the sound of the crashing waves providing any evidence of the ocean across the street.

The fog lifted somewhat by that afternoon, opening up a little more of the ocean, broader vistas of coastline. There were a number of places where some stream or creek or river flowed right onto a beach and toward the surf. An exceptionally wet spring had left the area lush. Creeks mixed with tide pools in the dark, soggy sand. California condors, a rare sight in much of the state, swooped over my head, their massive wings at full spread. I saw four of them at a single small estuary.

In many ways, an ideal return to the road this had become, a clean break from stolen bikes and locked keys and difficult parking and familiarity. I was back on the road, every mile a new one once again.

View pictures from the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts.

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