Molcajete at La Hacienda (Orick, CA) – CLOSED

Two different Hispanic locals gave us the same recommendation: a shop keeper in Arcata and an employee at a gas station in McKinleyville. The tip was that La Hacienda in Orick was the best place in the area to have Mexican food. As we drove through Orick, situated within the Redwood National Park boundary, at first we passed the restaurant, it not being particularly noticeable, but we found it when we turned back. What a revelation this place is because Orick is such a small town just south of Redwoods National Park, one that you might usually ignore and the last place you’d expect to find terrific Mexican food.

We started off with a nice basket of tortilla chips. Several kinds of salsa were available at the salsa bar, which I always appreciate for giving the diner choices.

Chips and salsa from the salsa bar

Chips and salsa from the salsa bar

And how could we turn down a margarita? And served in a classic margarita glass!



The entrée that appealed to me on the menu was one called Molcajete (pictured at the top), named after the stone mortar in which it’s served. This version was a stew of carne asada, bacon and shrimp in a salsa-based broth with sliced avocado and roasted chiles. I’d never had anything like it. The broth was complex, savory from the meats and seafood, piquant with divine roasted chile flavor and tart from limes. The molcajete vessel was large, so I was doubtful that I could finish it all. Not to worry. Suffice it to say that I long to have it again.

Update: The poor economy in Orick, which was affected by the closure of six sawmills, has forced the closure of La Hacienda. If any reader knows if and where the chef, who I believe is Erick Torres Montes, has opened another restaurant, please let me know. It’s a shame to lose a chef this talented to bad fortune.

La Hacienda (**CLOSED**)
121137 U.S. Highway 101
Orick, CA 95555

Trinidad Head Memorial (Trinidad, CA)

Trinidad Head Memorial

A replica of the Trinidad Head lighthouse sits on a bluff overlooking the sea. It is really a memorial to those lost at sea, whose names are on plaques along a concrete wall nearby. The lighthouse itself still is perched on the headland, not accessible to the general public. The fog bell that was originally used with the lighthouse now sits next to the memorial and the original Fresnel lens is housed inside. A trail leads down to the beach where you can wander around and get a closer look at the basalt outcroppings out at sea.

Beach below Trinidad Head

Patrick’s Point State Park

Miles off the coast, the Farallon Plate is subducting under the North American Plate

There is no better evidence of the powerful forces of plate subduction than the shoreline of Patrick’s Point State Park. The Farallon Plate is diving under the North American plate slowly, leaving behind good examples of broken and folded coastline, including some impressive examples of basalt outcroppings out at sea. There is a fault that runs through the center of the park.

Studded with forests of evergreen and alders, carpeted with many wildflowers, the area belies the natural forces at work. On the trails we took, lupines and irises were in bloom. At the edge of the forest are sheer cliffs that overlook the beaches and ocean. At one overlook, we could see puffins and auks, nesting along the cliff sides and diving into the sea. One trail led to a dramatic vista of the ocean.

Lupines along the trail

Douglas iris

The Redwoods (CA)

It’s impossible to miss the magnificent stands of redwoods in northern California. Along Highway 101, there are several outstanding preserves, which include a national park and a good number of state parks. At one time, they were much more abundant.

Redwood trees appeared all over the world 20 million years ago when climates were warmer and more humid than today. Changing climate caused their disappearance to the point that they now only exist naturally along a coastal stretch between Monterey and just past the California-Oregon state line. To subsist, they require a tremendous amount of moisture in the form of rain or fog.

With their understory of azaleas, rhododendrons, huckleberries and ferns, stands of giant redwood look like an ancient virgin forest. There is an unmistakeable sound when you are in the middle of an old growth forest, a combination of the quiet caused by the thick ground cover, punctuated by birdsong overhead echoing between the trees.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove gave us an opportunity to experience the redwoods up close, purportedly the most popular trail in Redwood National Park. There are specimens of Douglas Fir trees that are the equal in size to the redwoods.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park

Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park

The grove was dedicated to Lady Bird Johnson by President Nixon as a result of her well-known support of environmental causes. Rhododendrons were in bloom in the understory, which added nice color against the canvas of green everywhere, but they were much more abundant as we drove through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park further north.

Rhododendrons in the understory

Rhododendrons in the understory

We didn’t see the famed Western azaleas until we stopped at Prairie Creek State Park. Ferns, so abundant in the understory all through redwood country, make a spectacular display in Fern Canyon.

Having seen stands of these magnificent trees will stay in my memory for a long time.