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

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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.

Mendocino (CA)


Mendocino exudes a charm hard to resist

Mendocino exudes a charm hard to resist

It isn’t hard to understand why Mendocino is such a tourist attraction and a residential community for many artists. The town of less than 1,000 residents sits on a headland. There are many restaurants and galleries as well as a large number of bed-and-breakfast accommodations. For all its idyllic charm, with quaint homes, many behind picket fences, it is an expensive place to live. Many of the people who work here live in nearby, less expensive Fort Bragg to the north.

We spent one night here at Abigail’s B&B and had a fine dinner at the MacCallum House.

Dinner salad at MacCallum House

Dinner salad at MacCallum House

Bodega Head (Bodega Bay, CA)


Were it not for a B&W movie about avian pests, Bodega Bay might otherwise not be as well-known. Tourism is still the town’s primary economy with many roadside stores selling kites and salt-water taffy, but there is an added attraction right outside of town. It would be a mistake to bypass Bodega Head where the churning surf crashes against the granite headlands, with a peerless view of the Pacific Ocean and migrating whales from the end of the short trail that leads to a magnificent overlook. In fact, the peninsula, about 4 miles long, juts to the south from the mainland and creates Bodega Harbor, which shelters the town of Bodega Bay. Along the way, there are many wildflowers, none more spectacular (as well as non-native and invasive) than the sea figs that bloom in early spring. As you would imagine, it’s quite blustery along the hiking trail, but on a fine sunny day like the one we enjoyed, it’s well worth the extra time to stop here.

Ice plants adorn the trails along Bodega Head

Point Arena Lighthouse (Point Arena, CA)


Point Arena Lighthouse

The San Andreas Fault that runs through much of California runs out to sea at Point Arena. We wondered if we could “see” the fault from the top of the lighthouse that lies north of the town. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. It turns out that the fault meets the sea at a point further north in Manchester State Beach. Nevertheless, from the top, there was a splendid view of the ocean and the shoreline which still shows evidence of geological forces at work. Evidence of subduction is clear when you look at the rocks below whose layers are tilted at extreme angles.

Extreme tilt of these rock layers shows evidence of subduction

Extreme tilt of these rock layers shows evidence of subduction


The lighthouse was damaged by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. A new one was erected with steel reinforcement rods encased in concrete to withstand future quakes. At the time of its installation, the Fresnel lens in the lighthouse was a technological marvel from France, consisting of 666 hand-ground glass prisms and weighing more than six tons at a diameter of six feet. The lens, no longer operational after having been replaced by modern automated rotating-light beacons, is now on display inside the lighthouse.

The original Fresnel lens is displayed in the lighthouse

Petaluma (CA)


Petaluma has restored its Victorian homes

Petaluma has restored its Victorian homes


Some very beautiful Victorian homes line the streets of Petaluma, west of the river. These homes, which survived the 1906 earthquake relatively intact, have been wonderfully restored to their former glory after years of neglect. As a result, many motion pictures have been filmed here.

We walked through the historic district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and to the Petaluma River, which used to host steamers that sent agricultural products and raw materials to San Francisco in the mid-nineteenth century.

Petaluma River

Petaluma River


If you’re a Peanuts fan, you’ll also know that Petaluma used to host the world arm-wrestling championships.