The drive from Rohnert Park to the new 101 bypasses in Willits was just over an hour. The warm day seemed to brighten the miles of vineyards as we drove north. Mt. Saint Helena stood out against the deep blue sky, a beacon for local travelers. The highway 20 intersection under the welcome to Willits sign, kind of like the arching sigh in Reno, now rests on legs passed only by local traffic a victim of a modern roadway. Driving west, the highway takes a twisty-turny course through redwood forests, the air is scented with the faint perfume reminiscent of Cedar. It is not too easy to get lost, the highway ends at the ocean, so it is left or right or straight ahead to Japan, turn right on the coast highway. You will travel through much of the old town of Fort Bragg, a bustling, small community, the beautiful older homes and store fronts reflect the glory years of the redwood lumber business. The massive old Georgia Pacific mill site taking up miles of premium coast side property is now a collection of parks one of which is the State park MacKerricher. We checked in at the ranger kiosk next to the giant whale skeleton.
Our campsite is tucked into the trees on one of the loops, a half-mile from the surf. After setting up we took a walk out to seal rock, the walkway is elevated above the turf and is accessible for anyone to get a close up look at the seals and sea lions lazing on a wash rock. What struck me was the lack of kelp, not one raft of kelp was to be had north or south of the park. In years past the kelp forest, like a giant corn field would cover the water’s surface for a quarter mile or more from the beach. Like any wild annual kelp drops its seeds which attach to the underwater rocks and ready themselves for next spring when they sprout a new forest. Although I knew the kelp has taken some significant hits the past eight years, the reality is startling.
As we turned in, my child asked me how close the freeway is. Say what? There is no freeway, that sound is the surf. We slept to the smooth music of the ocean. Dad made coffee in the blue porcelain percolator and we sat and sipped as the rest of the campers began to stir. There was not a drop of dew on the table or chairs, most unusual for coast camping. Instead of the junior ranger talk on the flora and fauna of the coastal forest we chose the movie, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD in town, a five-minute drive from our camp. We had weenies toasted on the campfire with warmed beans and potato chips, superb fare for a cool night under the stars.
We packed up on the last day and checked out at noon, we talked about next year, same place, maybe a different site. She decided to leave her husband and son home again next year. One on one time with your child in the warm embrace of nature is why we are here.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.