visitors say it is a bit like Ireland, others like a part of
Portugal, others say it is much like Scotland. But
anyone visiting Mendonoma for the first time will find that
it has charms of its own. Mendonoma begins on the
north coast of Sonoma County and includes the south coast of
Mendocino County. Hence the name we have adopted for
the coastal area, "Mendo" for one county and "Noma" for the
other; they meet at the Gualala River in between. Take
time to discover these for yourself, with a little help from
our guided tour.
begins at the tiny village of Jenner, at the mouth of the
Russian River, on Highway 1, where the river meets the sea.
Just north of Jenner is a small beach at Russian Gulch (not
to be confused with another Russian Gulch near
Mendocino), the the base of a climb with some of the famous
switchbacks on Highway 1.
A Vista Trail is at the top of that hill, just south of the
point where Meyers Grade Road joins Highway 1. It was
designed specifically to be accessible to disabled people,
and provides an easy wheelchair accessible one mile loop
trail on the bluff overlooking the ocean. Picnic
tables and restrooms are available, and the view is
spectacular in all directions.
Driving north along the Shoreline Highway, the traveler rounds the
impressive cliffs on a road first built in 1874-75, and,
after a dramatic drive with breathtaking views of the ocean
as seen from stark heights, breaks out of a deep wooded
switchback and comes upon the first sight of Fort Ross,
glimpsed across pasture land and rolling terrain.
State Historic Park is the tourist's next port of call.
Here rising from the ashes of its 1970 fiery destruction is
the reconstructed Russian Chapel, originally built in 1825
as part of the Russian colony during its days of sealing,
fur trading, and shipping.
The history of Fort Ross from before the time of the Russian
occupation, when Indians fished and gathered sea grasses in
the cove, through the Russian colonization and the period
when it was an early American shipping port for produce and
lumber can be learned at the State Historic Park. Plan
to take at least an hour or so to explore the fort and to
walk down to the cove and beach.
The restored fort includes the original stockade and blockhouse
(favorites with kids), and also furnished replicas of
Russian buildings to explore. At the entrance to the
park, the Visitors' Center presents a graphic interpretation
of the history of the area. It is well worth the time
to wander through the display before taking the trail down
to the fort itself.
Continuing restorations of the historic area includes the old Call
Ranch House and gardens. Volunteers of the Fort Ross
Interpretive Association are restoring the gardens as they
were planted by Mercedes Leiva Call, who planted exotic
varieties from her native Chile, to combine with native
North American flowers around her home. The orchard
next to the house is a favorite picnic ground, protected
from the wind, where you can enjoy a pleasant lunch (bring
your own) before continuing your tour.
Fort Ross, Timber Cove, once a busy shipping port for wood
products from the mills thereabouts, is now a second home
and resort community. Be sure to note the Benny Bufano
statue to Peace, a tall, slender monument to an ideal
adjoining the Timber Cove Lodge. The entire coast
community contributed funds and materials for the statue,
which as erected in 1969 and completed shortly before
Leaving Timber Cove, the tourist will pass through Stillwater Cove
County Park, which is the home of the historic little Fort
Ross Schoolhouse, and then Salt Point State Park, with its
miles of shoreline for exploring and fishing. Part of
Salt Point Park is recovering from a major wildfire, and is
an interesting study in how nature heals herself. The
bluff top visitors' center at Salt Point is a sheltered spot
from which to view the dramatic ocean cove.
Rhododendron Reserve just a mile off the highway, a short
loop trail leads the hiker (in April and May) to view the
magnificent blossoms which grow so luxuriantly in our
coastal hills. Additional trails lace the coastal
forest for the more ambitious hiker.
Following the winding shoreline highway, the traveler is
constantly exposed to unexpected vistas of surf and waves,
rugged coastline, and the craggy off-shore rocks called "sea
Stewarts Point at Fisherman's Bay is the site
of a formerly busy shipping port in the day of the "doghole
schooners" (as called because they would anchor in little
bays "only a dog could fit into"). Now the old
Stewarts Point Store, still very much in business, and the
old stage stop hotel (now retired) at the corner of Highway
1 and Skaggs Springs Road, and the little white Stewarts
Point Post Office comprise most of the visible community.
The Sea Ranch
Three miles beyond, the traveler enters The
Sea Ranch, quite a change of pace from the quiet "olden
days" appearance of Stewarts Point. Here is the Sea
Ranch Lodge and contemporary homes, designed to blend into
the environment, with planned open space, a country home
community for folks who choose to move away, for a weekend
or a lifetime, for the city.
The traveler might wish to stop at one of the clearly-marked
coastal access points along the Sea Ranch for a walk to the
As one drives north through the Sea Ranch, one will notice on the
east side of the highway, a tiny jewel of a chapel, built
with private funds, which is open daily to the "weary
traveler" for a few moments of quiet meditation.
The beautiful Scottish style Sea Ranch Golf Links, and 18-hole
course which has become famous as a challenge comparable to
those on the Monterey Peninsula, is open to the public.
At the north end of the Sea Ranch is Sonoma County's Gualala Point
Regional Park, which borders on the ocean and the Gualala
River. The long beach at the river's mouth is a good
spot to find driftwood, or to watch the crash of waves on
Gualala Point. The Gualala River is a favorite among
steelhead fisher folk.
Crossing the river, the traveler leaves the North Sonoma County
Coast to enter the South Coast of Mendocino County.
The next stop is Gualala, which by now will
look like a big town to the traveler after driving miles of
comparatively lonely coast. Once a thriving milltown,
Gualala is now a major business and commercial center for
Mendonoma. It has a famous turn-of-the-century hotel,
modern inns, camping, two supermarkets, a medical clinic,
chiropractor, dentist office and pharmacy, shops and
restaurants, the weekly newspaper, a bank, automotive and
other necessary services.
A few miles north of Gualala, the tourist passes a striking
landmark along the coast highway: a restaurant and hotel
with two Russian-inspired towers topped with onion-shaped
Around the bend is Anchor Bay, with village
shops, a small anchorage for yachts and fishing boats, and
one of the coast's most sheltered sandy beaches. Also
in Anchor Bay are vacation cottages and a luxurious bluff
Anchor Bay Beach is the site of the annual Gualala Lions Club
Sandcastle Contest, this year set for July 21, 2002.
On the road to Point Arena the tourist passes Saunders Reef with
its light buoy, and a vista point well worth the stop.
Just beyond is Schooner Gulch State Beach, and adjoining
Bowling Ball Beach. North of Schooner Gulch is Mote
Creek ocean access, a popular surfing spot.
In a few miles the road dips down into Point
Arena, the only official city in Mendonoma, incorporated in
1908. After its years of activity as a busy shipping
port, Point Arena subsided into a sleepy little town, but is
now experiencing a revival. Victorian homes have been
restored, and the Point Arena Pier and boat launching
facility serves Arena Cove, a popular spot for fishermen.
The historic Arena Theatre was beautifully restored by a non-profit
volunteer organization, and shows two films each night, plus
occasional live presentations.
Point Arena, with its population a modest 526, provides
restaurants, motels, a bank, a doctor, groceries, shops and
other services. The town also hosts a great
Independence Day parade down Main Street, and a spectacular
fireworks display at the Cove. This year the parade is
Saturday, July 6, 2002, and the fireworks will be launched
Point Arena Lighthouse
North of the city is the historic Point Arena
Lighthouse, out on Lighthouse Road, now owned and operated
by a local nonprofit community organization. The
facility is open to the public daily with a museum and
marine aquarium in the Fog Signal Building, a dramatic view
from the top of the lighthouse, and a few vacation homes on
the site available for rent to visitors.
Passing the Lighthouse Road, the highway dips
into the wide Garcia River plains, where the tundra swans
winter every year, and the hamlet of Manchester and nearby
Manchester State Park. Manchester Beach is a driftwood
hunter's paradise, and well known for its fishing in the
surf and in the two streams which cross it. The mouth
of Alder Creek, at the north end of Manchester Beach, is the
point where the San Andreas Fault leaves the land to go out
to sea. (The fault comes ashore on the coast just
south of Fort Ross).
Also at Manchester is the eastern link for undersea telephone
service to Hawaii and the Far East. This is the west
coast's closest point to Hawaii, linked by cable in the
1950's, with a high capacity fiber-optic cable installed in
1989 to add data, voice and video links. In the last
few years, more fiber-optic connections have made Manchester
a crossroads of our digital world.
Three miles north of Manchester is Irish Beach, a community of
private homes, and another spectacular vista point is just
up the road.
Past ranchland and across small streams, the
road winds its way to Elk (formerly Greenwood), another tiny
hamlet which used to be a roaring milltown, now home to
several bed and breakfast lodges. The visitor might
wish to view the local history exhibits at the visitors'
center before walking down to sheltered Greenwood Creek
State Beach for a picnic.
After a few more scenic miles the highway sweeps down to the
Navarro River, where State Route 1, the Shoreline Highway,
connects with State Route 128 and leaves Mendonoma.
Here the traveler can take the easy drive along the Navarro
River southeast to Highway 101, or continue north on Highway
1 to Mendocino and Fort Bragg.
*Independent Coast Observer
(ICO)* 2002 Summer Edition, Destination Mendonoma,
Compliments of the Independent Coast Observer, Gualala,