Dan and Hannah Hike in Van Damme State Park on the Mendocino coast, California


We wake to our first cloudy day of fifteen that we’ve been here in sunny California. Our neighbors on Chases Pond Road are waking to a storm that began overnight and will ravage New England for the next 24 hours. Parts of Seacoast Maine are under siege with blizzard snows of 30 inches. For us, twelve inches of snow is a big storm. In the 33 years that we’ve lived on the coast of southern Maine, we’ve never had such snow.

Nolan, Will’s best man, will plow our driveway, twice.   Our neighbors, Marco and Jane, have cleared the path to our propane exhaust and cared for our cat Sadie during the snowy onslaught.

VD map of snowstormThe snow is predicted to end sometime Wednesday; our twice cancelled red-eye to Boston has us now flying out of San Francisco International Airport Wednesday night to arrive Thursday morning.   We are feeling pretty good about finally getting back to New England, but we have no way of knowing how iffy things will really be.  Thursday morning there will be only one runway open at Logan Airport.

VD1B  D at Fern Canyon signNourished by oatmeal with Scott and Tree before they head for whale counting, we have another bonus day in Mendocino County. Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway 25 miles to the north, we set our sights on Van Damme State Park. Feeling like locals after days driving the PCH, we turn into the parking lot at Van Damme Beach.  The son of Belgian settlers, Charles Van Damme made his money as a businessman in San Francisco. Having bought 40 acres of redwood forest in the Mendocino area, upon his death in the 1930s, he left it to the State of California.

Little River along the Fern Canyon Trail

Little River along the Fern Canyon Trail

We love us some redwoods, but we are intrigued that the Fern Canyon Trail leads to a pygmy forest.  Since we are before camping season on the northern California coast, there is no one about as we take to a paved road with campsites on either side. As it was yesterday in Russian Gulch State Park, the campsites, the road, the trails are sopping wet from recent storms and the moist coastal climate here 150 miles north of San Francisco.

Blowdown across the trail

Blowdown across the trail

A month ago, blowdowns crossed this trail from a fierce December storm. But state crews have cleared the trail for us today. Our trail is amiably paved with deteriorating asphalt and covered with wet leaves as we step around large puddles and sogginess everywhere. Following the Little River into the mountains, we pass under a forest of redwoods and pines. Artfully constructed redwood bridges have replaced the onetime stone bridges built with care, I gather, by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. This was a time when the federal government put men and women to work when the world-wide Depression was at its worst.

Redwoods at Van Damme

Redwoods at Van Damme

Wrapping our sweatshirts around our waists, we gently climb along the river bed. Veering right we climb and leave our beloved redwoods behind. Once at the Old Logging Fire Road after 2.5 miles of hiking, we take a spur to the aforementioned pygmy forest.

Even a VCU Ram is not impressed

Even a VCU Ram is not impressed

We couldn’t be more disappointed. I am not sure what we expected. Walking on a carefully constructed boardwalk nature trail among dwarf trees in a swampy bog, we feel nothing.  The cypress, rhododendrons, and pine trees stand six inches to eight feet tall;  big whup!  Due to poor soil, the marshy ecosystem has stunted trees everywhere we look. Once under the Pacific Ocean, this area never reached the majesty of the soaring redwoods of coastal northern California by a long shot.

Heading back to trailhead under redwood canopy

Heading back to trailhead under redwood canopy

Most appreciative of this bonus day among the redwoods though, we return by way of the Old Logging Fire Road and eventually climb back down into the Little River valley.  Our day of hiking takes nearly three hours over nine miles.

One of many bridges across the Little River

One of many redwood bridges across the Little River

Driving the two miles north to the city of Mendocino for one last chance at relaxing among the funkiness and sun, we are met by afternoon Pacific sea breezes that have a different plan for us. The fog rolls in; the temperature drops to 50 degrees, and we close up shop and head for home to Scott and Tree.

Today we have the rainforest; New England has its blizzard. Glued to the Weather Channel once more, we see Jim Cantore and Mike Seidel report from the worst of the storm. It’s going to be a doozy, but that’s manana. Today we’ll lay back in the hot tub and think of how sweet it has been for us to take a two week bite out of winter.


2 thoughts on “Dan and Hannah Hike in Van Damme State Park on the Mendocino coast, California

  1. As a native Californian, I thank you for this blog. I have recently become far more interested in hiking, and this one seems doable to me- if a little far from home (I’m in Monterey). I appreciate you writing about this- right outside my area, and I have never even heard of it. 🙂 Hope you make it home safe and sound.

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