Weekend Trip to the Mendocino Coast

(November 11, 2007)

Fall and winter is usually when I stay home and catch up on processing the panos taken earlier in the year and work on my site and other projects. My travel urge is satisfied by the field trip class (see the Blog for October 24, 2007), and the weather gets progressively less inviting. But sometimes my wife Nora and I just need to get away. So last weekend we cleared four days on our calendars and headed for Fort Bragg on the Mendocino Coast.

We left the Bay Area on Saturday afternoon (November 10) and had an elegant dinner in Healdsburg in the Sonoma wine country. I remember when it was just a small farm town, but now it is full of wine tasting rooms, antique shops, restaurants and art galleries. After dinner I spotted some superb wide format landscapes in the Capture Gallery and we went in. The photographer, Christopher Foster, was there and we had a chance to chat. He is doing landscape work in large format (4x5 view camera), then scanning and stitching in PTGui. I was very impressed with the quality of his work - see christopherfoster.com. The gallery was also showing work by Joseph Holmes, who I have known since college days. Joe does natural landscapes of ultimate quality: josephholmes.com. Seeing their work inspired me to pay more attention to the possibility of printing my own panoramas.

The next day we crossed the north coast ranges through Boonville in the Anderson Valley, enjoying fall colors at the Navarro Vineyards tasting room, then up the coast to the charming New England-style town of Mendocino. The surf was high, the sun was bright, but the wind was biting. We took a brisk walk around the Mendocino Headlands then browsed in the Gallery Bookshop on Main Street. I bought an interesting looking book entitled Boonville: A Novel, by local author Robert Mailer Anderson, set in the town we had just passed through.

Mendocino may be familiar to many as the stand-in for fictional Crab Cove, Maine, where the Murder She Wrote television series takes place. There is a series of books that follows the series, such as: Murder, She Wrote: Coffee, Tea, or Murder? The authors are listed as Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain. Jessica Fletcher is the fictional detective in the series, Donald Bain is a prolific ghost writer (no relation).

That night we had an excellent meal in the unpretentious Captain Flint seafood restaurant in the fishing boat harbor of Noyo, down under the Highway One bridge. The menu was chips with everything (fish and chips, squid and chips, clams and chips, my wife had beef and chips) and a great local beer, Scrimshaw Pilsner from North Coast Brewing Company. Recommended.

Overnight a storm blew in and by morning everything was wet and blue-gray. I went back to Noyo and shot a few atmospheric panos in Noyo. There were lots of crab pots piled neatly on the docks, waiting for the opening of crabbing season a few days later. In the afternoon we went back to Mendocino where I shot again on the headlands near the nouth of the Big River, the lighting radically different than just 24 hours before, and a series down Main Street. We had a late lunch at Pattersons Pub, very cozy, then walked through wind and light rain out to the restored lighthouse at Point Cabrillo as the light rapidly faded.

For dinner we returned to Noyo and tried the upscale Silvers at the Wharf, next door to Captain Flints. White tablecloths and elaborate dishes, very good but overpriced, I actually preferred Flints. Then we went back to the motel, ate angel food cake with our fingers and drank champagne from plastic cups, while watching a movie on television in bed. Monday night in Fort Bragg!

Tuesday morning was misty but at least no longer raining. I walked around the historic downtown area of Fort Bragg then we started home, this time crossing the mountains on the less-traveled Comptche-Ukiah Road. Yellow leaves on the hazelnut trees livened up the dark evergreen forests, about as much fall color as we get in most parts of California.

We stopped at Montgomery Woods State Reserve for a short hike. This small remote grove of old growth redwoods includes some of the world's tallest trees (365 feet) and a unique swampy forest floor with head-high giant chain ferns. One of the hidden gems of Mendocino county, it is worth many miles of windy roads to see. I think the very last panorama of the trip was the best, and I ended up using it as my Best of 2007 entry for the World Wide Panorama.

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