henever I long for green and for moist, cool air— which is often in the dry interior California valley where I live— I get out my pictures of the Northern California coast and plan my next trip to Trinidad and Patrick’s Point on California’s Redwood Coast. It isn’t green there in the way that Southeastern US states are green, but for California it’s positively verdant, and it is definitely cool and moist.
The little town of Trinidad isn’t far from the California/Oregon border, located in Humboldt County about 25 miles north of Eureka. It’s a charming village that sits on a bluff overlooking Trinidad Harbor, Trinidad Head and a very rugged coast line to the south. Trinidad is one of California’s smallest incorporated cities by population (367 residents in 2010, up from 311 residents in 2000) and aside from its many other assets it’s noted for its spectacular coastline with ten public beaches and offshore rocks.
There isn’t any timeshare close enough for daytrips, so when we go there we stay at the Turtle Rocks Oceanfront Inn, a wonderful bed and breakfast with ocean views from every room. There are only six guestrooms here, and you can’t go wrong reserving any of them. Besides the suite-style rooms, which make me wish I lived there, they serve a breakfast that will knock your socks off. Each cozy room also offers binoculars, and you’ll probably want to use them. It’s so peaceful there, too, with the only sounds you’ll hear likely to be the crashing surf and the muffled voices of sea lions. Although we usually visit in October (not a lot of fog, and not many people either), and the gray whales don’t start their major migration south until November, we are sometimes lucky enough to be able to watch a few through the binoculars they provide.
Just a few miles north of Trinidad is Patrick’s Point State Park. (This is a real popular camping area that provides showers and everything, but we are not now nor have we ever been the camping-out-kind.) This is where I breathe in green fecundity. It’s an amazing area, with boulders the size of mountains, ferns as big as houses and extensive wildflower meadows. Paths meander through a dense forest of coastal redwoods, Sitka spruce, hemlock, pine, fir and red alder. Fantastic panoramas surprise you at every turn. The park offers several miles of hiking trails, tide pools, a recreated Yurok Village, a native plant garden, visitor center, three family campgrounds, 2 group camps, a camp for hikers and bicyclists, and 3 group picnic areas.
A favorite area of mine is the place called “Octopus Trees Grove”. The “Octopus Trees” are Sitka spruce that grew up on fallen logs (Photo by Jim Popenoe). Over time the logs rotted away completely, leaving just the new trees with the roots that grew around the logs forming “arms”. They look for all the world like fairytale trees, and I always half expect to see elves peeking out at me. What does peek out is good enough, though. Ground squirrels, racoons (racoons are very habituated to humans here and will steal whatever isn’t nailed down), and other little critters by the dozens! (A not-so-favorite critter are the humongous slugs that leave slimy silver trails all over everything– but that’s a personal dislike of mine and they are easily enough avoided.) It is almost palpably silent here, with only the sounds of forest birds and your own footsteps to accompany you.
Another old favorite is Agate Beach. Signs within Patrick’s Point will show the way for you. Access from the park is via a staircase, beginning with a lovely lookout point at the top then stairs that go STRAIGHT down. About halfway down is a convenient resting point with a spectacular view, then another set of stairs that go STRAIGHT down until you find yourself on a lovely long stretch of beach that is wonderful for the driftwood lover, the musing stroller, the lonely, the lovers. And as its name suggests, it is also a preeminent spot for finding agates, which you may gather and take home with you.
Agate is a banded, multicolored, variety of Chalcedony (a kind of quartz). It occurs in an infinite amount of colors and patterns, and no two agates are alike. I have this information at the tips of my fingers because my husband is a rock hound, and we always spend considerable time on this beach looking for special agates to take home to his rock shop and tumblers. My favorites are ones with “inclusions”, which means that branched forms that look like little trees or ferns are locked inside a mineral as it is forming. My husband has an agate nodule partly filled with water, which can be seen from the outside of the nodule when it’s held up to the light. This fascinates me: what was alive on the earth when this agate formed? What creatures walked, swam and possibly flew? And here is water, locked forever in its own millennium…
We often stay on this beach almost all day when we go to Trinidad, wandering and picking up agates and driftwood and enjoying a simple picnic lunch we bring along. Part of the reason is that as I get older I don’t look forward to walking STRAIGHT back up those stairs and I keep hoping that if I wait long enough those elves from the Octopus Trees will show up to give me a magic lift. The resting point halfway up is a lot more appreciated on the way up these days than on the way down. I expect that in a few years I’ll just stay up topside and wave at my husband on his way down. Me and the elves will have a teaparty while we wait for his return.
Of course I could access the beach the easy way from the Big Lagoon County Park, which is really a continuation of Agate Beach about two miles north of Patrick’s Point. But that seems like cheating, though perhaps advancing age will give me a good excuse.
For the nature lovers and quiet-loving people of the world, there is plenty to see and do around Trinidad. Some of my other favorites in the area are: the old-growth Pacific Lumber mill in Scotia, the old Victorian village of Ferndale, the redwood parks near Orick (just 25 minutes north of Trinidad), and of course Trinidad Beach itself (photo at top left). This is a State Beach located just north of Trinidad where two small creeks enter the sea. On the high bluffs above the beach there is an open meadow with scattered stands of alders. Visitor facilities include restrooms, parking, and a small picnic area with, tables and stoves, and provided it’s not a rainy foggy day this is one of the best places in the world for a picnic! (NOTE: While hiking ?around anywhere in California, keep your eyes peeled for poison oak: “Leaves of three, let them be…”)
The beach itself is tucked in a secluded cove. It’s a small sandy beach with white sand, tidepools to explore, and a natural arch at one end that makes for great photos. You take a short hike through the woods, across open bluffs, and past seasonal wildflowers (when the golden poppies bloom in the spring it’s dazzling!) down to the beach. Low tide is the best time to visit.
All in all, this nearly-yearly interlude rests my spirit for months to come. It isn’t until the next dry, hot, sepia summer arrives that I begin once again to take out my photographs and plan another cool green sojourn.
So if you’re interested in seeing part of California that isn’t well known outside of the local area, you might want to consider little Trinidad and Patrick’s Point. It’s good for your soul!
IF YOU GO:
In Redwood Country near the Oregon border on Highway 101, 25 miles north of Eureka and 56 miles south of Crescent City. From within California, take HWY 5 north to Redding, then take CA-299 W/Eureka Way; Trinidad is three hours west.
BEST TIME TO GO:
Spring and fall are best for the number of clear days but if you want to escape the inland heat, the summer’s cool, foggy days could be just the ticket.
40 – 65 degrees during summer
35 – 55 degrees during winter
About 60″ of rain a year, mostly between October and April
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