FURTHER AFIELD: The Lost Coast

1. The Pacific Ocean from the Guthrie Trail, Centerville Road, Ferndale, California.

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Let me try to set the stage. We’re in California, more than 200 miles north of San Francisco and over 400 miles south of Portland, Oregon. “Geotechnical challenges” have made this region even more remote from cities than the miles indicate because it was too difficult to build a highway across the irregular terrain. In this sparsely populated, rugged landscape, peaks rise as high as 4,000 feet and plunge straight down to meet the restless waters of the Pacific Ocean. Behind forbidding cliffs, grassland gives way to acres of Douglas fir forest. A few winding, narrow, pot-holed roads wander the hills above the coast, occasionally dipping down to the shoreline on precariously steep stretches of broken blacktop that make you thankful for daylight. Only a handful of towns dot the region: Petrolia, Honeydew, Shelter Cove. Generous portions of the land are protected as the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and the King Range National Conservation Area, which features a 25-mile-long backpacking trail tracing the jagged, boulder-strewn beach. It is a wild, natural place, this Lost Coast.

In Humboldt County near the north end of the Lost Coast, the Eel River spreads out into sloughs, wetlands, and fertile soil. Here, dairy farms established long ago still produce prodigious quantities of fresh milk. A small town called Ferndale set in the midst of cow-studded fields offers a handful of places to stay and eat. Our plan was to spend the better part of a mid-October week there with frequent forays west to the beach or east to the redwood forests.

After two days of wading through 500 miles of dim, smoke-darkened skies in our rental car we finally turned west in southern Oregon, the promise of fresh air propelling us down the Redwood Highway and into northern California. As soon as we could we set out for Centerville Beach, a wild sliver of shoreline under sheer cliffs of hardened sand. I can’t begin to describe how good it felt to let the deafening fury of crashing waves wash all the tension from tedious days of highway driving out of our muscles and nervous systems.

Though we spent time in the Redwoods, beaches were the leitmotif of our trip. No matter the weather – cold wind, thick fog, or a spot of sunlight – the water’s edge beckoned. We were exhilarated by the barrage of waves thrashing ink-black rocks, delighted to jump across foamy tide lines, and awed by patches of impenetrable fog that periodically materialized over the rolling sea. Here’s a taste of the Lost Coast shoreline.

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2. A hard sand cliff at Centerville Beach.
3. A bleached-out impression of a lonely strip of shoreline.
4. The mesmerizing grace of tide lines.
5. A single strand of kelp punctuates the empty beach as fog settles into the headlands.
6. A singular detail in an indeterminately vast sea of sand grains soaked by countless waves.

7. A black sand beach studded with driftwood and occasional rude shelters slowly settling back into the beach.
8. Rough surf near Devil’s Gate on the road to Petrolia.

9. Brown pelicans soar on updrafts over incoming waves.

*

“We lack trust in the present, this moment, this actual seeing, because our culture tells us to trust only the reported back, the publically framed, the edited, the thing set in the clearly artistic or the clearly scientific angle of perspective. One of the deepest lessons we have to learn is that nature, of its nature, resists this. It waits to be seen otherwise, in its individual presentness from our individual presentness.”

John Fowles; The Tree. Harper Collins, 2010.

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55 comments

  1. I love the stage that you initially set with your words: your language alone conveys to me a quiet expanse, restless flowing and rolling, endless periods of time.
    A good dose of fog is probably part of October in California too (we know that here too, although atypically it hardly ever happened this year).
    Luckily the Lost Coast wasn’t completely lost in fog, so your photos can still show off a lot of this magnificent scenery.Β  The isolated details emphasize the vastness and loneliness of the landscape.Β  That there are still places like this that give a glimpse of what the earth was like before humans set foot on it! And what pure presence might feel like, without any historical category.

    A great opening to the photos to come, dear Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your thoughts are very much appreciated. “What pure presence might feel like without any historical category” – there you go, slicing right to the bone with another incisive observation. This atmosphere, one I equate with wildness, is what makes being in places like this so important. We’re lucky to be able to travel there without having to fly, though two days in a car gets harder on the bodies with each passing year.
      I didn’t know you had a foggy season too. We’ve been getting some up here as well, along with the life-giving rain that we’ve needed. The green machine sighs with relief. πŸ™‚

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  2. You sold me on this stretch of coast with words and photos…. We are going to head down there (from Seattle) first chance we get! –Bob Cummings

    “Geotechnical challenges” have made this region even more remote from cities than the miles indicate because it was too difficult to build a highway across the irregular terrain. In this sparsely populated, rugged landscape, peaks rise as high as 4,000 feet and plunge straight down to meet the restless waters of the Pacific Ocean.

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    • Still, words and images just don’t begin to equal the experience of being there with the crashing surf, the ions swirling all around, the fresh air…what a tonic! There was no time to stop for coffee on this trip but we thought of you! Thanks!

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  3. These words conjure pictures as vivid as your photographs: β€œrestless waters of the Pacific Ocean,” β€œstretches of broken blacktop that make you thankful for daylight,” and β€œcow-studded fields.” But I’m glad you accompanied them with images. I’d never even heard of a hard sand cliff, let alone seen a picture of one. Number 4 is a lovely abstraction. I love the fog in #5. I’m glad you included the kelp. It has a curve similar to the curved lines that the retreating waves have left on the sand. The narrative beneath #9 adds meaning to an already interesting photograph. Your Fowles quotation sent me in search of more information about the book, which I found here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/jan/10/john-fowless-the-tree-is-a-humble-revolt-against-usefulness. Think I’ll check out the book. Thanks for another poetic journey, Lynn.

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    • So the editor approves of the prose? πŸ˜‰ I didn’t do my research on the cliffs but assumed they’re “hardened sand” because they appear to be sedimentary and they’re surprisingly hard to the touch – but people have carved graffiti into them, too. The abstraction of the wave was such a delight to watch. My iPhone videos didn’t turn out well, too bad. And regarding the book, I didn’t read this comment until after I’d emailed you another link. Great minds… Thanks Linda!

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  4. literal littoral loveliness

    β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺβ–«β—½β—»β—½β–«β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺβ–«β—½β—»β—½β–«β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺ
    β–«β—½β—»β—½β–«β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺβ–«β—½β—»β—½β–«β–ͺβ—Ύβ—Όβ—Ύβ–ͺβ–«β—½β—»β—½β–«

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    • I love that sound. The roar of the beaches in the Lost Coast area is extraordinary – the bass has a kind of insistence that really gets under your skin, then the higher notes, like what you’re describing, play on top of it. The visuals and the audios of these beaches are wonderful. (But my iPhone videos weren’t focused well so they’re not very good). I thought, “How can anyone who lives around here ever be tense? Just go down to the beach for a few minutes and it all washes away.”
      I’m glad you appreciate that rather abstract image. πŸ™‚ And thank you very much for the good wishes! The twins are doing well as far as I know. I want to see them again but it’s a long drive. Soon I hope! And I hope all’s well with you and your family.

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      • Your words are underlining my thoughts I had about the shore, the waves, the beach and the atmosphere around them (not to forget the horizon). As I met some surfers occasionally, I know they tend to be extremely relaxed because of the shore-symphony. It’s not my lifestyle, but I can perfectly understand, what is so fascinating about it. – I’m well. My family too. Everyone over here is waiting for the next big thing to come. Right now it’s the winter with possible energy-shortage and thoughts about the right actions to take. Regards – Karl

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  5. Once again, google maps took me on a walk along with the text through these unknown places, so far away from this European corner of mine.
    And I saw the vast spaces… I imagined the isolated rock on the sand… the fogs… the waves… and even Lynn jumping over the foam lines on the sand!
    But I didn’t see the pelicans…they had already flown!
    Beautiful photos, especially 4, 6 and 9.
    Good continuation of journey!

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    • I enjoy your comments so much, Dulce. I’m flattered to read that you followed along on google maps – we are both map lovers! I’ve done the same thing many times. Too bad google earth doesn’t show the pelicans, too. πŸ™‚ You’ll have to visit. Wouldn’t that be great? Thanks so much.

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  6. Lost coast, a suitable name as it seems. A special and interesting coast. Where does the black sand come from? Is it something vulcanic? Probably not, but it looks like it. Somehow this looks hostile, but again you show the beauty here in every detail. I love the rocks that stand alone in the sea. I think one can wander around for hours and detect a lot. Maybe it is a bit like in the desert. There is beauty, but you have to look closer. #4 and 6 are fantastic. 6 looks “like a meditation” or better one can sink in meditation while looking at this stone πŸ˜‰ and 4 is such a wonderful moment you captured. It reminds me of a tablecloth with lace πŸ˜‰

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    • You’re right, the black sand is from volcanic rock – in fact, this area is a volatile one and is very prone to earthquakes, landslides, etc. Three different plates meet just offshore and they’re slowly moving against one another. Every time we go we think, let’s not have a big earthquake now! There is a kind of hostility there but it’s an attractive quality – to me anyway. Yes, a bit like the desert – vast space, not too many things crammed together. Being there is like a very noisy meditation – the sound is overwhelming. As I said to Karl above, the sights and sounds are both extraordinary. A tablecloth with lace, perfect! πŸ™‚ I just wish we had planned the trip better so the proportion of driving to not driving was easier on us!

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      • Next time you know how to do it πŸ™‚ Really, it is that loud? Like a waterfall? I wouldn’t have thought so! Seeing your pictures I understand your fascination. It must be fantastic (with something over your ears πŸ˜‰

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  7. Wonderful photos, and thank you for the discovery that John Fowles wrote a book called “The Tree.” I’ll now hunt it down. Have you read his “The Aristos”? Like “The Tree,” not well-known and a collection of his thoughts about life and life philosophy…

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    • Hi Penny, no, I haven’t read any of his books. I noticed that one at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park gift shop and decided to buy it. It seemed that Fowles’ ideas jived with a youtube interview I’d been listening to with Iain McGilchrist (someone I should have known about but didn’t until another blogger mentioned him). It’s nice when synchronicity happens. πŸ™‚

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  8. It’s hard for me to keep up but reading and looking here is always a pleasure. It has been more than 7 years since I’ve seen the ocean and I really enjoyed these. I love the delicate design of the surf in #4 and the lonely, smooth stone in #6. Wonderful work!

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    • I know, it’s hard for me, too. No worries! It’s good to hear that it’s worth taking a look here, whenever you stop by. I can’t believe it’s been that long since you’ve seen the ocean! I guess I’m an ocean-lover, though it wasn’t until my high school years that I lived within striking distance of one. The Lost Coast shoreline is a powerful place, very, very loud, and wonderful. It’s good to see you enjoyed the more abstract, simple images. Thanks!

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    • Wild and rugged for sure. It’s gratifying to hear that at least a little of that feeling comes through in the images. It always seems like a still photo can’t possibly come near the experience of standing on the beach, especially on one like the Lost Coast. I like the idea of beauty and desolation together, thank you!

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  9. Sounds like you have a serious case of “need to be near the ocean-itus.” Did you suffer from this in your east coast days too?

    Interesting, the variation on the beach color. It seems like a sandstone cliff for starters, but later we’re seeing a black sand beach. Basalt cliffs there, maybe? How big is this lost coast?

    I think I like #7 best. Moody.

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    • I do like being near water…long stretches of time can go by where I don’t see the ocean but I do see “other water” like NY Harbor in NYC, etc. I could never feature living hundreds of miles from a coastline (I lived in western NC for a few years and didn’t like it). It seems to me, and this is very subjective, that coastlines are places where people come and go and things happen. I like that.
      Yes, I think it’s basalt – lots of volcanic activity around there. The best way to get a sense of the size is to look on a google map. Wiki says about 25 mi long.
      Thanks, I like moody, too. πŸ™‚

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    • Hey Julie, yes, another adventure, though our planning wasn’t quite right – too many driving days in proportion to not-driving days. 50 – 50 isn’t good, next time we need to fix that! I’m glad you told me about Muriwai – I looked it up and it looks so beautiful. The map says there’s a Gannet colony there – I’d love to see them, I’ve always liked the look of Gannets (in pictures, haven’t seen them in person).

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    • Yes, Far from the Madding Crowd. πŸ™‚ I’m glad the photos convey some of the wild nature of this beautiful place. I agree, we need to experience that feeling. It’s healthy. Thanks for commenting, Robert.

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  10. I really like #2! there’s a bluff in Seattle that I’ve always loved that’s one of the area’s pre eminent geological capsules, a splendid place to study cross sections and layers. it sticks out into the water at high tide but one can explore the base of it at low tides. But the last few years, people have carved unartful, inane graffiti into it, using sharp objects; it’s a mixture of clay and sandstone so it stays there for a long time, even though it’s essentially very temporary. But if only it were the Lost Coast and not in the middle of Seattle!

    On a more positive note, wonderful images all, here. What a great trip. It seems like one of the best times to be going down the coast of California.

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    • Ah, it’s so disappointing to see graffiti carved into places like that. there was some near Centerville Beach, too. Sounds like the same sort of thing. It’s closer to a few towns than most of the Lost Coast is. Fall and spring are both good times to visit that area but we spent too much time driving in proportion to staying. Next time we need to plan better. I recommend going down there – it would be a great place to be with the kids. Thanks for commenting!

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  11. ‘The mesmerizing grace’ Fine set! I love nr4; but Nr7 is the one that needs some time. It has a weird, misty horizon that feels so close that this could be ‘the end of the world’… Sell it to Conspiracy theorists that like to say that the Earth is flat; for an awful lot of money… πŸ™‚

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