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queerbychoice ([personal profile] queerbychoice) wrote2017-06-24 05:15 pm

Howard Creek Ranch Inn and Two State Parks, a State Natural Preserve, and a State Forest

Barry and I spent June 10-13 at Howard Creek Ranch Inn in Westport, California. We also stopped at Jackson Demonstration State Forest on the way there and back, and while there, we made side trips to Jug Handle State Natural Preserve, MacKerricher State Park, Seaside Beach, and Russian Gulch State Park. And now I'm going to show you pictures of all of it!

First, on our drive there on Saturday, we stopped in Jackson Demonstration State Forest. This is the largest of eight demonstration state forests maintained by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which uses them "for experimentation to determine the economic feasibility of artificial reforestation, and to demonstrate the productive and economic possibilities of good forest practices toward maintaining forest crop land in a productive condition." (Source.) We were trying to follow these directions that I had printed out in advance so we could go hiking on the "Chamberlain Creek Trail and Camellia Trail," which turned out when we got there to have yet a third name, the "Waterfall Grove Trail." I'm not sure why one three-mile trail needs three different names. Anyway, I had neglected to alert Barry to put the specific trailhead turnoff into his cellphone to give us directions to the trailhead rather than just to the forest as a whole, so we ended up having to double back for a few miles before we managed to find the turnoff. Then the directions neglected to mention that we needed to drive the last 5.5 miles on poor-quality dirt road, which was not entirely fun in my two-wheel-drive Nissan Sentra. And then when we finally made it, the sign seemed to indicate a different trail than the one we were looking for!

Waterfall Grove trailhead



But it was definitely the correct trail; there was a rustic little sign telling us the names of the two dirt roads that intersected where we were parked, and they were Roads 200 and 1000 just like they were supposed to be, and the trailhead was on the southeast corner of that intersection as it was supposed to be. So we set off down the trail with our hydration packs and a bag of snacks. The directions described the trail as "moderately easy" with "very gradual hills" except for some "rather steep switchbacks" near the waterfall at the end, followed by wooden stairs. The trail did indeed start out "moderately easy," but when it became steep, it became more than just "rather" steep; it was quite intimidatingly close to vertical! And then . . . all of a sudden we emerged onto a new dirt road, but not the correct dirt road, and we had never arrived at any waterfall or wooden stairs!

Somehow we had taken a wrong turn somewhere, and the intimidatingly steep portion of the trail we took was apparently not really the trail at all. Or not, anyway, the trail we intended to be on. We were now on the wrong dirt road, and standing in the middle of a thick cloud of hungry mosquitoes. Barry checked the map on his cellphone and figured out that we could walk back to my car along the dirt road we were on, so as to avoid having to slid downhill on the intimidatingly nearly vertical path we'd climbed up. I stood around waving the mosquitoes off us while he figured out which way we should walk. I was glad to have brought an Eagle Scout with me.

Barry on the Waterfall Grove Trail


As we were driving back to the highway along the dirt road, Barry pointed out the wooden stairs where the trail we had intended to take emerged back onto the main road, half a mile south of where the trail began. If we ever attempt this trail again, maybe we should start at the end of it, where the stairs are, rather than at the head of it, where the sign is. Maybe that way we would at least get to see the waterfall before we accidentally wander off the trail and end up somewhere other than where we were trying to go. As it was, though, we felt like we'd already done our hiking for the day, so we didn't make another attempt at hiking the actual trail.

At least the place we did hike was pretty! Admittedly, though, it doesn't look particularly like a trail. That may be because by the time I took these photographs, we might already have unknowingly wandered off the trail. Perhaps we were paying too much attention to each other to notice where we were walking.

Waterfall Grove


We stopped again in Fort Bragg to pick up a few groceries so we could make dinner at the inn. We weren't sure yet exactly what our cooking options would be, but we knew our room was supposed to have a microwave and a mini-fridge, so we made sure to choose only microwaveable foods or foods to be eaten raw. We ended up with strawberries, bananas, some trail mix-type stuff, and for dinner that night, a big plate of microwaveable chicken nuggets with ranch dressing and barbecue sauce. Then we continued on to the inn, which we also drove past at first (Barry's cellphone had lost service and quietly stopped bothering to give us directions) and then turned back to find. Here is the entrance to the farmhouse at the inn. This is where we went for breakfast every morning. It was always a huge breakfast, with all we could eat of a wide variety of fruits, crunchy edible orange juice with tons of pulp in it, coffee for those who wanted coffee (not me!), quiche or soufflé or other egg-based dishes of various sorts, baked apples, French toast, and so on. It was very good. Over breakfast on the various days, we conversed with fellow guests from as far away as New Mexico and as nearby as Clearlake. We heard about their families and professions (one had a husband whose professional specialty is collecting and selling legal hallucinogens for recreational purposes, and they were planning to go squeeze some hallucinogens out of the glands of some frogs in Arizona) and about their political opinions. One guy, who must have lived in or near San Francisco, asked rhetorically who could possibly not support the plan to build a high-speed rail train between San Francisco and Los Angeles, to which I replied, "Well, obviously all the people who don't live anywhere near it," and I think he probably concluded that I was some sort of Republican from Republicanland. Barry, who lived in San Francisco while working on and after receiving his master's degree from SFSU, and who also lived in Japan for a little while as an exchange student in his undergraduate years, tried to alleviate the tension or moderate the impression that I was some sort of Republican by pointing out that high-speed rail in Japan is a great thing and I would be a fan of it if it were more accessible to me. Sure, and I would also be more a fan of it if California seemed to have an actual realistic plan for building it. When it was on the ballot a few years ago, I considered it, and I voted against it because I felt that the plan was not realistic. It passed anyway, and so little progress seems to have been made on it since that I feel my skepticism has been thoroughly validated. But certainly I can see that if I lived closer to it, I might get sufficiently excited about the possibilities that I wouldn't care so much whether the plan was realistic or not, and I might think it was worth committing to even a wildly unrealistic plan just so as to get the process started, in the hopes that when the original plan didn't work well, the state would already be too deeply committed to want to let its work go to waste, and so eventually it would get around to actually developing a more realistic plan. But as it was, the benefits of the proposed high-speed rail system were unlikely to do much good for me personally, so although I do understand that high-speed rail is a great thing when it works, I was more inclined to hold out for the state to come up with a plan that actually looked like it had a chance in hell of really getting the rail system built within a budget anywhere near what was being allotted for that purpose.

Anyway, I think one guy probably went home from Howard Creek Ranch Inn thinking that I'm some sort of backward-thinking reactionary hick who probably voted for Trump. These things happen, I guess!

farmhouse at Howard Creek Ranch Inn


The room we had reserved was the Blue Balcony Room, located in the Carriage House, which is shown below. It is across the creek from the farmhouse, so each morning we crossed this rickety wooden bridge to go to breakfast. Only one person is allowed on the bridge at a time, because the bridge swings when it's walked on.

east side of the Carriage House


The Blue Balcony room is the upstairs room on the northeast corner of the Carriage House. This was our balcony.

Blue Balcony Room


Let's climb the stairs. Barry is already at the top of the stairs! I will climb up to be with him.

me ascending the stairs to the Blue Balcony Room


We are the best couple.

us on the balcony of the Blue Balcony Room


Here is our room! This is the little table by the door, where they provided us with flashlights and tips about local attractions. That is my pink and purple purse on the little table by the door.

Blue Balcony Room


This is what is up above the little table by the door. There is a high, slanted ceiling and an armoire with artificial flowers on top.

Blue Balcony Room


On the other side of the armoire is a wood stove. That is my laptop on top of the wood stove and my camera case on the end table.

Blue Balcony Room


There is also a desk, with coasters and guest books. And those are my glasses on the desk.

Blue Balcony Room


And then there is the bed (which we had obviously already slept in before I photographed it). There are skylights directly above the bed, so when you lie down in bed at night and look up, you see the stars. Also if you try to take a nap in the daytime you might wake up with a sunburn. And in the morning, the sun might wake you up. The sun usually wakes me up anyway, though, even with no skylights and a lot of effort at blocking it from coming in the windows, so having a skylight directly over my face didn't seem to wake me up any earlier than the sun would have already awakened me in any case.

Blue Balcony Room


There was also a bathroom. Here is the shower.

bathroom of the Blue Balcony Room


This is where I discovered that Barry has the most adorable travel bottles of shampoo and conditioner ever. I told him I strongly approve and also I regard these bottles as proof that he is not straight. He said these were the only colors available but also he liked the colors.

Barry's shampoo and conditioner bottles


Here is the high, slanted ceiling above the shower.

bathroom of the Blue Balcony Room


And here is the sink.

bathroom of the Blue Balcony Room


Inside the bathroom, there was a door we could lock and unlock to access a large common area with many tables, chairs, couches, and bookcases full of books, as well as a couple of hot tubs, and our kitchen area with a microwave and mini-fridge just for us. But I don't seem to have thought to photograph any of that, so let's go back out onto the balcony instead. There is a table and chairs here. And if you look over the railing . . .

balcony of the Blue Balcony Room


. . . There is a barbecue down here, with another table and more chairs. We made a note of the barbecue for future shopping and dinner purposes.

barbecue area below the Blue Balcony Room


After unpacking our stuff, we took a little stroll around the grounds, while I tried to remember where the path was that led up to the redwood forest. I took some wrong turns and led us into some dead ends. Barry took this picture for me because I wanted to make sure this plant wasn't poison hemlock (an invasive and vary hazardous non-native plant in the carrot family). It isn't. It's actually cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum), a harmless native plant in the carrot family.

Heracleum maximum (cow parsnip)


Finally I found the path, but I was too tired to go any further and actually follow the path, so we went back toward our room. Along the way, a gray cat came running up to us, meowing loudly for us to pet it. We obliged.

cat with Barry


Back at our room, we met additional cats.

black and white cat


This one would become "our" cat for four days. It was a very friendly cat.

me with cat


We also walked down to the beach. Howard Creek flows into the ocean at Westport-Union Landing State Beach (named for two early towns, Westport and Union Landing). The ranch is adjacent to the beach, and the building we were in overlooks the beach, although our particular room faced east, toward a bend in the creek rather than toward the ocean. Here is the north side of the Carriage House, with our balcony on the left. The pale blue under the trees on the other side of the Carriage House building is where the ocean is located, although it doesn't really show up in this photo.


north side of the Carriage House


Here is a panoramic photo I took from the west lawn of the Carriage House. Here you can see Howard Creek flowing under Highway 1, and the blue horizon in the distance is indeed the Pacific Ocean.

Howard Creek panorama


Anyway, Barry and I walked down to the ocean. Along the way. I photographed some plants to identify later. This is yellow sand vervain (Abronia latifolia).

Abronia latifolia (yellow sand vervain)


This is silver beachweed (Ambrosia chamissonis).

Ambrosia chamissonis (silver beachweed)


And this is Barry! This is my gorgeous boyfriend on a cliff overlooking the beach.

Barry at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


The sun was setting as we explored the beach.

sunset at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


The dot on top of the highest rock in the picture above is a gull - probably a California gull (Larus californicus). Barry called it a "regal seagull." I zoomed in on its silhouette.

Larus californicus (California gull)


My camera didn't always handle the light well here; a lot of my pictures were rather blown out due to the angle of the sun. I think this panorama looks okay in monochrome, though.

Westport-Union Landing State Beach monochrome panorama


The next day, Sunday, we set out on what ended up being our longest hike of the trip: the Ecological Staircase at Jug Handle State Natural Preserve. It's supposed to be 2.5 miles uphill from the ocean into the redwood forest and then maybe only 2 miles back down again (because there's an ocean loop at the beginning that doesn't have to be repeated on the way back). But for us I think it was probably 5 miles round-trip, because we ended up retracing our steps several times on one long and steep portion of the trail because we thought we had lost the trail, and we were trying to find the trail. It turned out we were on the trail all along.

This trail had 40 numbered signposts along the way so we could look up each number in a trail guide we picked up at the trailhead and read about the native plants we were looking at (or in some cases, the non-native plants that are theoretically supposed to be removed at some point in the future - though clearly not anytime soon, since they're official stops on the trail). However, a few of the signposts seemed to be missing (a lack of signposts was what made us think we had lost the trail), and one of them was actually doubled (there were two number 20s). So it was not a perfectly maintained trail. But the trail guide did make the trail more interesting, and it also gave me opportunities to explain some of the more obscure parts of my botanical knowledge to Barry.

Here's one of the signs at the trailhead.

Jug Handle State Natural Reserve


This sign explains the concept of the ecological staircase. Here's the wording from the park's website: "The reserve's 2.5-mile Ecological Staircase Trail explores three wave-cut terraces formed by the continental glaciers, rising seas, and tectonic plates that built the Coast Range. Few places on earth display a more complete record of how geology, soils, and plants change over time."

The sign shows the three marine terraces and labels the plants that grow on them. There's a similar graphic here if you're interested in the details. But the most important thing is to note that on the highest terrace shown here, there is an area where there are no tall trees. This is the pygmy forest, where poor-quality soils severely stunt the growth of trees so that they grow no more than a few feet high, even after hundreds of years. This is a very rare phenomenon and was the main thing we were there to see.

Jug Handle Ecological Staircase


This sign tells about how the preserve was nearly developed as real estate:
Here at dawn on September 29, 1972, the sounds of gulls and thundering waves were drowned out by the growl of a bulldozer and the crash of toppling trees. Panicked, naturalist John Olmsted sprang into action to stop development on the coastal terrace.

Pleading for help to stop a proposed 80-unit motel complex, Olmsted awoke Marin attorney Doug Ferguson with his urgent request.

Ferguson demanded, "Find a neighbor who will be affected by this project NOW!" Next-door landowner Elizabeth Burger stepped forward to sign the legal documents and friend Pieter Myers rushed them from San Francisco to the Ukiah courthouse with minutes to spare. Pieter gave his own home as collateral for the required bond.

John and friends were only temporarily successful in halting the bulldozers and developers. A rare snowstorm stopped the dozers for good and a County Board of Supervisors' decision soon followed and permanently put an end to the Jug Handle inn.

John's dream of an outdoor classroom at Jug Handle was formalized in 1976 when the State of California acquired the park, including the Pygmy Forest. This ecological gem remains today as a reminder that passionate action and a bit of magic can save the day.


Stopped in Its Tracks: Jug Handle Saved!


The trail guide noted here, "Across the cove you can see the soil layers exposed at the cliff's edge. Resting on the bedrock of Graywacke sandstone is a brownish colored layer of old beach material 6 o 20 feet thick, on top of that lies the dark layer of grassland soil. On this youngest terrace, the soil is barely developed into soil layers or horizons, compared to the older terraces farther up the trail. Soil microorganisms and coastal prairie plants form the soil from the bedrock, Graywacke sandstone. Directly below a new terrace is being formed under water. As the coastline continues to rise, it will become a new step in the 'staircase.' The light turquoise colored seawater, contrasting with the deeper dark colored water, shows the area of the new underwater terrace being formed."

underwater stairstep in the ecological staircase


This is what the trail guide referred to as the "North Coast Bluff Scrub" plant community. The plants visible here are sea thrift (Armeria maritima), seaside fleabane (Erigeron glaucus), and California poppies (Eschscholzia californica). The seaside fleabane is a daisy, with yellow centers and pale purplish petals; the sea thrift is a similar color but without any yellow daisy centers.

Armeria maritima (sea thrift), Erigeron glaucus (seaside fleabane), and Eschscholzia californica (California poppy)


As we arrived at the trees located nearest to the ocean, a sign informed us about krummholz vegetation: "Notice that most of the trees before you are sculpted by salt-laden north winds that dry and kill the tips of the branches. The bent and twisted quality of this tiny grove is called krummholz, from the German word meaning "bent wood." These trees, also found along the rest of the Ecological Staircase Trail, usually grow tall and straight. This grove creates a sheltered environment for many local species of birds, mammals, and insects that otherwise could not live on this windswept bluff."

Krummholz Vegetation


The trail passed above Jug Handle Beach.

Jug Handle Beach


There was a beautiful stand of paintbrush above the beach, but I'm not sure which species it was.

paintbrush above Jug Handle Beach


Here's a closeup of the paintbrush.

Castilleja sp. (paintbrush)


The trail then curved around behind the beach. Here is a panoramic view toward the beach from the other side of the bridge.

Jug Handle panorama


We crossed a little wooden pedestrian bridge over Jug Handle Creek.

Jug Handle Creek

Jug Handle Creek


The banks of the creek were covered with buttercups. I think they were Western buttercups (Ranunculus occidentalis).

buttercups along Jug Handle Creek


Here's a closeup of the buttercups.

Ranunculus occidentalis (Western buttercup)


There was a short stretch just after the creek that was alarmingly overrun with poison oak, and I was not happy about this because I was wearing a skirt that didn't provide ideal protection from it. But I got through it okay, and the remainder of the trail seemed to be free of poison oak.

Once we got through the poison oak, other yellow flowers soon started showing up. I think this is woodland tarweed (Anisocarpus madioides).

Anisocarpus madioides (woodland tarweed)


Here is a closeup of the tarweed.

Anisocarpus madioides (woodland tarweed)


This one is redwood violet (Viola sempervirens).

Viola sempervirens (redwood violet)


We were entering redwood forest. A sign informed us about it: "Redwood trees grow the tallest, live the longest, and are among the most fire resistant and flood tolerant of the trees found along coastal California. They grow on slopes, flood plains, and level sea-cut terraces, away from the drying effects of ocean breezes. Redwood trees create their own environment. Their specially formed needles collect moisture from summer fog and drip it to their roots. Tall groves, especially of old-growth trees, create deep shade where few species of plants can survive. Some birds, insects, mammals, and amphibians live high up in the canopy, where they can find the most light and food. In addition, certain lichens found in the canopy fix nitrogen essential for the food web of the redwood forest ecosystem."

Redwood Forest


This is redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregona), along with the smaller, white flowers of Oregon manroot (Marah oregona).

Oxalis oregona (redwood sorrel) and Marah oregona (Oregon manroot)


This is bugle hedgenettle (Stachys ajugoides).

Stachys ajugoides (bugle hedgenettle)


These are Douglas' irises (Iris douglasiana).

Iris douglasiana (Douglas' iris)


This beautiful plant is a red clintonia (Clintonia andrewsiana), otherwise known as a blue bead lily, because the closed buds of its flowers are blue. This one is already beginning to go to seed.

Clintonia andrewsiana (red clintonia/blue bead lily)


The white flowers here are called sugar scoop (Tiarella trifoliata).

Tiarella trifoliata (sugar scoop)


There was a lot of salal (Gaultheria shallon) everywhere. It has pretty flowers.

Gaultheria shallon (salal)


Finally we reached the pygmy forest. The transition from regular forest to pygmy forest was quite abrupt. At the entrance to the pygmy forest, we saw this coast lily (Lilium maritimum).

Lilium maritimum (coast lily)


The trail into the pygmy forest began as a gravel path. Signs warned us not to step off the gravel, because the poor-quality soils in the pygmy forest are fragile, and the already stunted plants here could be killed if people walk on these soils too much and destroy the thin crust of lichens on top that helps keep the trees alive.

pygmy forest


Some of the trees near the gravel path already were dead.

pygmy forest


A little farther along, there was a boardwalk to keep people from walking on the fragile soil and killing the lichens.

pygmy forest

pygmy forest


Along with stunted trees, there were many healthy-looking Rhododendrons here, because Rhododendrons like acidic soil, and the soil here is very acidic. This species is called Western Labrador tea (Rhododendron columbianum).

Rhododendron columbianum (Western labrador tea)


Here is a closeup of Western Labrador tea.

Rhododendron columbianum (Western labrador tea)


Here's a different Rhododendron species that also seemed quite happy in the pygmy forest. This is Western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale).

Rhododendron occidentale (Western azalia)


Here are two views from the pygmy forest toward a more normal forest in the distance.

pygmy forest

pygmy forest


And here I am at the end of the boardwalk.

me in the pygmy forest


By the end of that hike, I had blistered toes on both feet. I had brought blister bandages with me, and I stopped in the middle of the hike to take off my hiking boots and socks and bandage my blistered toes before I continued. But the blisters were going to continue to bother me for the remainder of the trip.

After our hike, we returned to the grocery store in Fort Bragg and picked up hamburgers to barbecue. Then we made another short stop before we returned to the inn. We stopped at Seaside Beach, where Seaside Creek flows into the ocean. Here is a panoramic view of it.

Seaside Beach panorama


According to information I found online, if you go here at low tide you can access a whole additional beach area beyond the north end of this beach. (The camera is facing north here.) We looked for it, but we did not seem to be there at low enough tide.

Seaside Beach


Toward the south end of the beach, we posed for photographs with a rock arch.

Barry at Seaside Beach


I suggested that the rock arch might be a portal to an alternate universe. The immediately obvious appeal of an alternate universe was that Trump might not be president in it. Barry checked his cellphone after passing through the portal though, and Trump was still president. Oh well, it was worth a try, right?

me at Seaside Beach


Back at the inn that night, Barry barbecued the hamburgers for us, while I sat and watched and read a book and petted "our" cat.

me with cat and barbecue


The book I was reading was The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. It'sba classic lesbian novel from 1952. I was telling Barry about it over dinner that night. It's a very strange novel, because the whole premise of the book is that the nineteen-year-old protagonist is working at a department store when a woman customer in her thirties comes in and buys a doll, and nothing unusual is said, and the whole purchase of the doll only takes about two minutes, yet somehow this two-minute-long, totally un-noteworthy business transaction makes enough of an impression on the protagonist that she sends a personal Christmas card to the customer, and somehow the customer responds to the Christmas card by calling the store and asking to speak to the employee who sent the card, and somehow this leads (because supposedly real people would ever do this???) to the customer and the department-store clerk arranging to meet for coffee. And then falling in love.

If you can accept the wildly unrealistic premise, the details of what follows are fairly well told. But the wildly unrealistic premise is a tough thing to get past. I kept wondering why the author didn't bother to try to make the premise at least a little more realistic. Then, when I reached the end of the book, an afterword by the author explained that the premise was based on an experience she had when she was working in a department store, and after helping a customer who was buying a doll, she started to feel woozy, and that night she continued to feel woozy, and the wooziness gave her this idea for a novel . . . and then she realized that the reason she was feeling woozy was that she was coming down with chicken pox.

Needless to say, coming down with chicken pox is a somewhat different experience than falling in love. The author was not in love with the customer, and the two of them never had any follow-up communication, and certainly did not go on to live happily ever after together. It's all very well to write whatever novel you're inspired to write, but I still feel that somewhere in the final editing process, before the book was actually published, it would have been preferable to go back to that initial, chicken-pox-inspired meet-cute and rewrite it to try to make it at least slightly more plausible.

But apparently that's just me.

Anyway, here's another picture of me. I think it's kind of funny how dressed up I look here. It sort of looks as if I'm wearing dress shoes and maybe white tights, but actually that's just my own pale skin, and the shoes are my water shoes, which I was wearing to walk down to the beach at the inn and wade in the creek and the ocean.

me with cat


Barry and I were both big fans of this cat. Here is a selfie of Barry with the cat.

Barry with cat


After dinner, we walked back down to the beach again.

ocean view


We looked for tidepools at sunset on the beach again, because I remembered there being really good tidepools here when I stayed here in 2009. We weren't able to find good tidepool creatures that night, though. It seems that you have to go at the absolute lowest tide.

sunset at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


There was a lot of seafoam on the beach that night.

seafoam at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


The seafoam looks all right in photographs, but in person it had a weird greenish tinge to it that made it look possibly hazardous. I found it a little creepy-looking.

seafoam at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


So that was Sunday. I had planned another substantial hike we could have taken on Monday, the Fern Canyon trail at Russian Gulch State Park. But with pretty badly blistered feet and mildly sore muscles, I didn't feel up to doing it. We decided to start our Monday morning by climbing the trail to the redwoods on the 60-acre property of Howard Creek Ranch Inn itself.

When I stayed at Howard Creek Ranch Inn in 2009, I did the redwood hike by myself while Susan napped. As I explained to Barry, that was because she was a woman in her early forties who couldn't handle as much exercise as I could, when I was in my early thirties. Now I'm the woman in my early forties (well, an even forty, anyway), and I was struggling a bit to keep up with my mid-thirties boyfriend. But I was really the one who was more determined to keep going on hikes; it seemed that Barry would have been equally happy just to sit around in our room. He also had some sore muscles, but not blisters, and I was generally having a harder time than he was with moving around and making it to the end of the various trails I kept wanting to go on.

This trail at the inn was not well-maintained. It wasn't well-maintained in 2009 either, but I think it managed to be even more overgrown this time around. Sometimes you could barely see it.

Enchanted Forest trail


And sometimes you couldn't really see it at all. Actually, I didn't take any pictures of the most overgrown parts, because I was busy hacking my way through the plants. Also, some of the plants were stinging nettles, and I was wearing a skirt, so I was focusing all my concentration on keeping the stinging nettles away from my bare legs.

Enchanted Forest trail


It always amazes me to see how dramatically the plant communities change near the ocean. Walking from the beach to the redwood forest and back is remarkable.

Enchanted Forest trail


At the end of the trail this time, there was a guestbook. We sat in these chairs and ate lunch with a great view out through the forest, and then we wrote a few paragraphs in the guestbook to commemorate our adventure. I wrote first, and then Barry added a bit of his own.

Barry at the end of the Enchanted Forest trail


On our way back from the redwoods, we stopped to pet the pony that belongs to the ranch owners.

me with pony


We also saw the ranch owners' sheep gathered under the shade of the trees.

sheep under trees


Our next outing on Monday was to MacKerricher State Park, directly adjacent to Seaside Beach, to the south of it. There is a Glass Beach at this state park - a beach full of sea glass from ancient litter and an explosion at a glass factory nearby. It's one of three Glass Beaches in the Fort Bragg area. Some of the other Glass Beaches don't require as much of a walk, but I decided we would go look for this one.

Like most state parks, MacKerricher had a bunch of informative signs. This one says, "Notice the plant life as you stroll along this trail. After construction of the Ten Mile River Bridge, the area was restored with native plants. Through time, these plants have evolved and adapted to the coastal environment. They thrive in the cool, foggy summers, and tolerate harsh, salty winds. Native plants are crucial for wildlife habitat, soil conservation, water quality, biodiversity, and limiting the spread of non-native plant species. Along the path you will see shore pine, coast silk-tassel, oso berry, pink-flowering currant, California coffeeberry, coastal buckwheat, and many other native plants. Continue your walk to the north end of the bridge to an excellent lookout for viewing birds in the estuary and the dunes beyond."

Strolling Among Native Plants


Here's another one. The main section of this one says, "A statewide network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) safeguards California's rich coastal resources. The Ten Mile MPAs are within the territory of Coast Yuki people known as the Metkuyak Ontiłka. Their word for the north side of Ten Mile River mouth is "Achiskihosbintem" and for the south side "Hebichwakem." The Mendocino Indian Reservation once included Ten Mile Beach and the lower reaches of Ten Mile River. Today, the Ten Mile Estuary SMCA is one of the least developed estuaries on the northern California coast. Here you will find intact, extensive, and functioning estuarine, wetland, and riparian habitats. Protection of cultural and natural values at this location is an important goal of the local tribes and communities."

Conserving California's Coastal Treasures


This one says, "Before you lies the Ten Mile River Estuary. Here, river water mixes with seawater, forming a calm, shallow habitat. This sheltered haven attracts a rich diversity of birds, fish, and plants. The creatures you may see here include ducks, ospreys, cormorants, herons, harbor seals, river otters, and bobcats. Among the nearly 30 species of fish in this river, tidewater goby, Chinook and Coho salmon, and steelhead trout hide in the eelgrass beds. Eelgrass provides food and protection for fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. In turn, these animals become food for larger fish, birds, and mammals. Unlike most waterways in California, Ten Mile River is free of upstream dams, and there is no harbor development at its mouth. As a result, this estuary has remained a relatively untouched environment. A healthy estuary not only supports the life within it, but also contributes to the health of the planet's wildlife by supplying a feeding a resting place for migrating species."

A Haven for Life


And here's yet another sign! This is the last one I photographed. It says, "Standing on the bank of this river, the first settlers searched for a safe place to cross. From a shallow spot for horse and buggy to the bridge you see before you, getting people and vehicles across the Ten Mile River has required great effort. Earthquakes are a real threat in this area. The current bridge was built firmly into bedrock, ensuring a strong footing during a quake. In contrast, the previous bridge was supported by redwood piles set into the muddy river bottom. The Ten Mile Bridge now provides a safe, reliable river crossing for vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. In addition, this bridge was designed and built with careful consideration for local residents and surrounding ecosystems. For example, ledges and cavities were planned to provide places for birds and bats to roost and nest. Construction work was carefully times to minimize impacts to bird, fish, and plant species, and special railings enhance the bridge's charm."

A Challenging Place to Cross


The trail forked in various places, and we weren't sure where to go. There was a road of sorts, and we decided to walk along it for a bit since that was easier than walking on sand. We left the road here and ventured out toward the ocean. The water in the right half of the picture is an inlet or estuary; the ocean is farther off toward the left.

MacKerricher


Near the road, the sand was covered with beach morning-glory (Calystegia soldanella).

Calystegia soldanella (beach morning-glory)


A family of Canadian geese (Branta canadensis) had gathered at the edge of the inlet.

Branta canadensis (Canadian geese)

Branta canadensis (Canadian geese)


We also saw a group of sea lions (Zalophus californianus) sunning themselves at the edge of the inlet.

Zalophus californianus (California sea lions)


I was wearing my water shoes and carrying my hiking boots, which Barry had tied to my backpack for me. Unfortunately, my water shoes started rubbing sharp sand into the back of my heel and making it bleed, and since I had run out of proper blister-bandages and attempted to bandage my blistered toes with ordinary Band-Aids, those Band-Aids also started falling off.

me at MacKerricher


I was determined to walk out all the way to the ocean. For my trouble, I got this picture of a California gull (Larus californicus) wading in the waves. After that, though, I ended up taking my shoes off and whining about foot pain all the way back to the road barefoot. Once we got back to the road, Barry very patiently sat down on the road with me and carefully wiped all the sand off my bare feet for me while I put new Band-Aids on them and then put on my hiking boots again. We decided we had both had quite enough of sand for this trip and did not feel any need to see any more of the ocean.

Larus californicus (California gull)


Once I was freshly bandaged and had my hiking boots on again, my feet felt significantly better. Next we stopped in Fort Bragg, where I bought new blister bandages, and then we went to a game store in Fort Bragg that was called the Blaqk Door (yes, with a q!), where Barry bought the game Once Upon a Time because I had asked him to find me a game that involved making up stories, and after looking at that one, I agreed that it was what I wanted. (Later, after we got home, we played our first game of it, which Barry won. We told a collaborative story, started and ended by Barry, about his oldest cat, Jazz. The story was about how Princess Jazz fell in love with a tomcat she had been chatting with online, but her father the king disapproved of her relationship. So Princess Jazz ran away from the castle to be with the tomcat, and they went on a date to a cybercafé, where they placed an order for wedding clothes. During the ordering process, the two cats discovered that they could talk, and then they were kicked out of the cybercafé because it didn't allow talking cats, only ordinary meowing ones. They tried to go back to the cybercafé later to pick up their order of wedding clothes, but the clothes had been stolen. Then they went back to Princess Jazz's castle, where the king, who was human, told Princess Jazz that she had originally been his human daughter but she had been cursed and transformed into a cat, and he had disapproved of her relationship with the tomcat because he had thought it would make her permanently into a cat, but now he had reconsidered because both she and the tomcat were both able to talk. So the king relented, and they got married . . . but they never did find out what happened to their stolen wedding clothes.)

Next we went to Russian Gulch State Park. No one seems quite sure what Russian Gulch's connection with Russians is supposed to be . . . there are various conflicting stories. We figured that Russian Gulch State Park was probably not involved in hacking the presidential election, so I felt free to fork over $7 for their day use fees. The guy collecting the fees asked whether we'd been there before. I said I had, but it was a very long time ago. (I went camping there with my family when I was seven years old.) He laughed and gave me a map so we could find our way around.

We had lunch at this picnic table here, from Bento boxes we'd packed with sandwiches, strawberries, and crackers. It was good.

where we ate lunch


Here is the view from where we ate lunch.

view from picnic table


Then we walked on the headlands trail to see the Devil's Punchbowl. First we passed Panhorst Bridge, and I took this picture of it.

my bridge photo


Barry took this picture of it.

Barry's bridge photo


We saw some more seaside fleabane (Erigeron glaucus).

Erigeron glaucus (seaside fleabane)


And some pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula).

Lonicera hispidula (pink honeysuckle)


Soon we arrived at the Devil's Punch Bowl. This was a short hike, less than a mile. The Devil's Punch Bowl is a place where the ocean has tunneled under the land and carved out a hole for itself slightly inland, where it swirls around like punch in a bowl.

Devil's Punch Bowl


The plants growing on the sides of it are a great example of a naturally occurring version of the kind of vertical garden that people sometimes plant on the sides of buildings.

Devil's Punch Bowl


These plant species would probably do well on the sides of buildings.

Devil's Punch Bowl


After that little walk, we went back to Fort Bragg. We had been talking about the possibility of going out to dinner one of these nights, and this was the last night we would be there. But neither of us really felt like going out for a proper dinner that night, and anyway, we'd just eaten a big lunch not long before. So instead, we went back to the grocery store and picked up some more hamburgers for barbecuing. And then, for our one restaurant experience, Barry took me to a place called Cowlick's Hand Made Ice Cream and bought us a banana split to eat together. It was delicious.

For our final night at the inn, even though we had pretty much sworn off beaches after the MacKerricher trip earlier in the day, I was determined to find some tidepool creatures to show to Barry. Barry did not quite understand what the fuss was about. He grew up in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, where schools did not take field trips to the ocean to see tidepools. I grew up in the suburbs of Sacramento, California, where our sixth-grade class did a month-long unit about tidepool creatures and then went on a field trip to see the tidepool creatures for themselves and then put together a little book of stories by everyone in the class about the tidepool creatures. (The stories were allowed to be fictional, so a lot of them involved talking tidepool creatures from outer space and such.) To me, tidepool creatures are exciting. Barry didn't know much about them, so I wanted to introduce him to them. On this final night, I finally had some degree of success. It still wasn't an ideal tidepool exploration trip, but it wasn't nothing. I found us some gooseneck barnacles . . .

gooseneck barnacles at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


Some mussels and more gooseneck barnacles . . .

mussels and gooseneck barnacles at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


And a couple of very small sea anenome. The larger of the two (but still fairly small) is visible underwater here, just below the line of foam.

sea anenome at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


I tried to photograph it myself, but I kept just getting photos of the sunlight glaring off the surface of the water. Barry was wearing hiking boots, whereas I was wearing water shoes, so I just stood in the water next to it and let the ocean swirl around my legs, but Barry waited for the waves to recede and then quickly climbed on top of the rock to be above the waves when they came back in. From there, he photographed down toward the sea anenome with his cellphone. And also down toward me! The sea anenome is somewhat visible in this picture too, near the foamy spot in the puddle of water on the rock.

me at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


Also the sun was setting again, and the waters of Howard Creek where it cut through the beach to the ocean caught my eye.

Howard Creek at Westport-Union Landing State Beach


Back at the Blue Balcony room, I finished reading through all the previous entries in the guestbooks from guests who had previously stayed in that room. I photographed the one I liked best, from two space aliens who visited from the planet Orlak in Universe 8 back in 1999.

visitors from Orlak


The next morning, Tuesday morning, we ate our last breakfast here and added our own entries to the guestbook. Then we took our leave of the Blue Balcony Room and of Howard Creek Ranch Inn. It had been good to us.

flower pot at the foot of the stairs to the Blue Balcony Room


We stopped at the Mendocino Chocolate Company in Fort Bragg, where Barry bought us both some chocolate, and then he also bought me some gasoline before we headed out of town. We stopped again in Jackson Demonstration State Forest on the way back. We were looking for the Forest History Trail, but we had trouble finding the trailhead, and also we realized a bit late that we should probably have picked up the trail guide back in Fort Bragg. So we decided to dispense with hiking and just eat some lunch at the picnic area there. Mostly I was the one who ate lunch there; Barry ate most of his lunch in the car later while I drove. While I ate, I also took pictures of a Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) that was hopping around atop an adjacent picnic table.

Cyanocitta stelleri (Steller's jay)

Cyanocitta stelleri (Steller's jay)


The place we ate lunch was the same place where this photograph of me was taken in 2009.

me with dogs in the field of lupine


This time I photographed Barry in the same field of lupine, and from pretty much the same angle. The lupine wasn't blooming quite as much this time, but that may just be because we were there a few weeks earlier in the year this time.

Barry in the lupine meadow


It is a good field of lupine. Worth coming back to again and again. Much like Howard Creek Ranch Inn. It was a good trip.

Lupinus polyphyllus (meadow lupine)


And then we got home and a bunch of other stuff happened, and there were foster kittens and then there weren't foster kittens anymore, and I got told I'm about to be laid off but hopefully soon I won't be laid off anymore, and it's all just been rather a lot to deal with. But this trip was before all of that. During this trip, there was nothing other than this trip, and it was a beautiful trip, with the best boyfriend in the world, and it was just like this picture that I already showed you but I'm going to show it to you again now because it is the best and it is us so we are the best.

us on the balcony of the Blue Balcony Room

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