Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Ferndale, Northern California June 2004

If you travel to Ferndale, on the northern California coast, bring warm clothes, walking shoes, cameras, and lots to read. Leave your cell phones at home (they only work intermittently), and by all means, leave your calendars behind.

If you drive from San Francisco you will begin your journey by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, traveling north on US101 through the oak dotted hills of Marin County, the vineyards of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, and the giant redwood groves of Humboldt County. As you drive north the road narrows and traffic slacks off (though the week-end of our trip was the annual Harley Davidson Redwood Run,, which added to the local color.) Allow about six hours for a comfortable trip.

In my thirty years in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had considered Mendocino my northern California destination of choice. Little did I know that Mendocino is just the gateway to much wilder and more remote northern California. North of Mendocino is the rugged Lost Coast, a knob of California that juts west of the Coast Highway and hits the westernmost tip of the continental US at Cape Mendocino. Inland, Humboldt County is home to giant redwoods, extending mountain after mountain, valley after valley, for as far as you can see.

But Ferndale is neither. Ferndale a restored Victorian village situated on the Eel River Delta, about five miles inland from the coast. It was settled in the mid 19th century as a dairy community hub, and continues so to this day. The number of grand Victorian homes built in the late 19th century (and tastefully restored) are testimony to its prosperity, then and now. In fact, the whole village is a designated historical landmark.

What I like about Ferndale is that, as charming as it is, it would be a likely tourist destination, but it isn’t. There is one historic hotel, one motel and scattered B&Bs; two restaurants (only!) and a few cafes to serve daytime traffic. The whole town closes down at the end of the day and Sundays– that includes food and gas stations.

We stayed at the Victorian Inn, The proprietors, Lowell Daniels and Jenny Oaks are gemologists, recent arrivals to Ferndale from the California Gold Country. Their fine jewelry and gem showroom operates from the hotel lobby. Next door and also within the Victorian Inn is Curley’s Grill,, one of the two fine restaurants. Proprietor Curley Tait is a colorful fellow in his 70s, with a background in the music business and the restaurant business.

Strolling through town, I got a chance to chat with some of the local residents. For example when I walked into The Weavers’ Shop, I was offered a cup of coffee and a seat in the rocking chair for conversation. The proprietress, a lifetime weaver and a transplant from Southern California, runs a sheep ranch in Bridgeville where she raises sheep, shears, cards, spins and weaves the wool. She told me, without a flicker of an eyelash, that if the wool of any particular lamb is inferior, that lamb will become lambchops. She also specializes in weaving Scottish tartans, a very exacting task, since the Scots register tartans, thread by thread, (, and the weavers must follow the patterns perfectly.

If you are in a walking mood, check out Russ Park, 110 acres of woods within the city limits. It’s hard to find – but walk east on Ocean Ave. and look for the signs on your right. The trail head is poorly marked, but after I discovered it I took a pleasant two mile hike through the woods and ferns. I was the only person on the trail on a summer week-end afternoon. It is equally pleasant and easier to walk in the other direction along Centerville Road toward the ocean. You will be walking along the road, but don’t worry too much about traffic, there just isn’t that much.

I got a glimpse of the village community spirit on a Sunday morning walk. It was early, and I had the village to myself -- not a person or an animal or a moving vehicle on the streets. Suddenly out of nowhere the fire siren went off (coincidentally I was walking near the Volunteer Fire Department). Within the three minutes the siren sounded, that part of the town sprung alive! Pickups tore around the corner, four of them within the three minute siren call. Young and not so young men leapt from their own trucks into the fire truck, buttoning clothes as they moved. No sooner had the first fire truck left the building, than another round of volunteer firefighters arrived, and followed in another fire truck to some unknown emergency. The entire event took no more than seven minutes, and the town was quiet again. I never found out what the emergency was, but I know that if I had experienced an emergency in Ferndale, that I would be in good hands.

Bottom line: Our trip was a four day getaway, at a time I needed to get a way but had neither the time nor the means to go further. It was a lot of driving, especially since neither Jon nor I can resist the backroads (which doubled our enjoyment as well as our driving hours). The country is wild and diverse and beautiful – we relaxed, we read, we ate and drank, we chatted with the locals, we left cares behind. A great trip!


Saturday, June 19, 2004

Relaxing in Mendocino Posted by Hello