As overnight guests of Scott and Tree, we have all the comforts of home – a home that looks over the Pacific Ocean with friends looking out for our meals, catching the latest VCU basketball game together, and soaking in the hot tub for these, our last two days in California.
Scott and I go way back. We taught together at Frisbee Middle School in Kittery, Maine in the early 1990s. He science and I language arts. We each married New York girls who were teachers: Tree a science teacher; Hannah a one-and-done physical education teacher. Though Tree and Scott are not wine drinkers, they buy us some fine vino for our nights together.
In 2013 Scott founded Mendonoma Whale and Seal Study (Mendonoma is a combination of the two local counties – Mendocino and Sonoma) to conduct seasonal observations of the gray whales’ behavior as they migrate along the coast of northern California.
Before hitting the trail, Hannah and I take a pre-breakfast walk along the Pacific Coast Highway. Having the two-lane, rural highway to ourselves this early Saturday morning in late January, we soon have some bovine visitors. Approaching a roadside pasture, we notice the cows from the foothills one hundred yards away are lumbering toward us. As we continue north on the road, we all travel in unison. We stop. They stop. We turn for home. They follow. It’s the damnedst thing. Watch below.
Though we usually hike alone, today we have the good fortune to take to a bluff trail that Tree and Scott have personally selected for us. Traveling south on the Pacific Coast Highway, we turn off at the Rollerville Cafe on the Point Arena Lighthouse Road. Parking on the dirt shoulder of this rural road a little after 11A, we learn that locals think of this as the best bluff hike in the area.
With their faithful Irish Setter Bob, Tree and Scott take us along the trail that was once the Stornetta Fields. The Stornetta Public Lands National Monument was just created in March of 2014. Less than a year ago, President Barack Obama designated these 1400 acres as part of the California Coastal National Monument. Vision.
This one time cattle farm quickly reveals that the locals were not just blowing smoke about its beauty. With its many rock formations close to shore that produce rocking waves, we see why the trail is numero uno. The trail is not worn but easy to follow. Now part of public lands, the trail, a local hiker tells us, now sanctions bluff hiking when before locals and knowledgeable others just hiked it anyway.
Since there is no wind, I’m surprised by the high seas and crashing waves. My meteorological training has a few holes. Come on Weather Channel, step up my game. For two years running, California for the Rothermels in January has been sunshine and blue skies.
Taking a break above the cliffs, we lunch on Tree’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; simpatico with Tree and Scott in many ways, having simple meals on the trail is just another one.
A mile into our hike we run across a fenced-in, cliffside, abandoned field station once used by Mendocino College. Here we have a little problem. Starting down a faux path that runs near the property line, we find just brambles and tick-living brush. This is not good for Bob or for the four bipeds. Backtracking, we hail fellow bluff hikers who direct us to a more inland trail.
After navigating the road from the school through a coastal pine forest, we are back on the bluff trail again. As we hike, we chat up a woman who used to waitress in Ogunquit, Maine, which is literally the next town north of our home in York. Another hiker clues us into an excellent Mendocino Headlands bluff trail 25 miles to the north and another hike in the nearby Russian Gulch State Park.
This is just a leisurely mellow hike with leisurely mellow Tree and Scott. Near 60F, we pull on our sweatshirts when the clouds roll in. If you are not into the snow machine of the Northeast, the Mendocino coast may be just the place for you. Winter or summer, the temperature is often in the 50s and 60s. It’s Camelot with not a lick of snow.
Once back at the trailhead, Scott and Tree head out to their perch by the lighthouse to count whales while we return to their place and have a cool Dos Equis on their sun-filled deck. It’s January! California has a lot to offer our mellow side.
That evening we get a text from our sister-in-law Becky wondering if we have heard about the upcoming major snow storm in New England for Tuesday. That would be a no! Scheduled to fly in to Boston on a Tuesday morning after taking a red eye from San Francisco, we have The Weather Channel confirm something big is acoming to the Northeast.
I call Virgin America Airlines and ask if we can move our flight one day later to the Tuesday night red-eye. For no charge, the agent quickly agrees and we have bought ourselves another day in paradise. The snow gods lay a gift at our feet.