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Highway 1 in Northern California: Beautiful. . .but challenging!

San Rafael, CA

I Need a Tee-Shirt: “Survivor—Highway One!”

Sep 23, 2013 by Bonnie

The ranger at one of the lighthouses we visited in California said “Everyone should drive Highway One at least once in their lives, and that’s enough.” We had already experienced enough of that challenging road to understand what he meant!

We had decided to enter the highway at Leggett, California, where (as far as I can tell) it begins, after we had driven through both large sections of the redwoods. Heading west in the early afternoon, we knew it would be curvy, crossing the mountains. We had no idea HOW curvy! We had thought we’d just drive until we were tired, then stop for the night in an inconspicuous spot. That turned out to be impossible.

Hwy One2
Elevation changes provide magnificient views.
Hwy One GPS
A typical GPS view.

After 15 or so miles going through the mountains, with no towns, gas, or even pullovers more than a small space beside the road, we finally came out near the shore. Imagine our surprise in seeing “more of the same!” We had traveled US-101 in Oregon and expected something similar. But it was not to be. Another 15 miles along the coast (on and off), and we were beginning to see resort facilities, but still the same curvy, twisty road. We were averaging 10-20 miles an hour, and there was no way back to US-101. Also, we were running low on gas (There was no gas in Westport). So we headed on toward the next town, Fort Bragg, which was another 15 miles away. More amazing ocean views, a sinking sun, and a sinking fuel gauge, and we were wondering if we would make it. Just before Fort Bragg, we saw a gas station and, not thinking about comparison shopping for once, gratefully filled the tank. It took 29.5 gallons. Our tank holds 31. We were VERY grateful to have made it that far. Fort Bragg was a “real city” and we thanked God as we sank gratefully into our nice warm bed in the back of the van, along the street next to a church.

Hwy One3
Even lower elevations provide great views. Every area of the coast is different

The next morning it was cold and rainy, so after spending some time looking for a city park with no success, we decided to drive on. We had a choice; we could either go on along the coast, or go 35 miles back across the mountains to get back on Hwy 101. Having by now a full tank of gas, rested bodies, and clearing weather, we decided to persevere. The road was a little better, and we could average 25-30 MPH now. It was still very rural, but about ten miles past Fort Bragg we happened upon a nice little park with visitor center for Point Cabrillo Light Station. It was a good time to relax, make our brunch, and walk the half mile out to the lighthouse, which was on a really beautiful point. We got amazing photos and videos of crashing waves, and of course, of the lighthouse and three light keepers’ homes along the path out to the light. One was open for self-guided tours and furnished in period. Deciding against another tour, we just peeked into the gift shop and noticed a poster for the movie “The Majestic” on the wall. It was then we realized that the lighthouse and surroundings had been used in one of our favorite films, which was a nice serendipity.

Heading on down the coast, we briefly drove through the picturesque town of Mendocio, which, the tour book told us, was the setting for the TV show “Murder She Wrote.” We wondered how they could shoot a TV show so far out in the “boonies!” It really was a beautiful little town, and owing to the New England architecture of the homes and shops, really could be passed off as the eastern town of “Cabot Cove.”

Point Cabrillo
Point Cabrillo lighthouse - one of our favorites!
Point Arena
Point Arena lighthouse. Awesome coastline
Resurrection Lily1
Cemetery with Resurrection Lilies all around. A reminder that death will be conquered.

More very curvy miles awaited us, but Art was pretty good at driving them now, so we decided to stay the course. Usually, when we came to river mouths, instead of crossing bridges on the coast, we had to follow the river back to where there was a small bridge, then turn back out to the coast. This happened several times. Another lighthouse at Point Arena, then we happened upon an old cemetery literally covered with resurrection lilies. Art wrote about it in another blog. We spent a delightful half hour looking around and taking photos before heading on.

The road curved inland at Bodega Bay, then back out to Tomales Bay. After a day’s drive of 139 miles, we found a place to park on the street (near a senior living place), and again enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

Point Reyes Steps
It was a long way down… but worth it… at Point Reyes lighthouse!
Point Reyes Light
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes Works
Clockworks for Point Reyes lighthouse, to keep the light rotating

The next day, after breakfast at a local playground, we decided that we would drive out to Point Reyes Light Station, again not knowing that it was a day’s outing. Even though it was an area of rolling hills, leading out to the end of the point, the 20 mile trip easily took an hour or more. We were curious because even after we got to the parking lot (after passing through many cattle ranches named for letters of the alphabet) we still hadn’t seen the lighthouse. We walked .4 miles to the visitor center and still hadn’t seen it. The ranger told us that it was “just around the bend.” Well, it was, and it was also 30 stories DOWN! Even so, it was a very pleasant experience, and we got to see the most amazing clockwork we had ever seen in a lighthouse. Afterward, as we drove back, we stopped at one of the beaches and again, just gazed in wonder at the power of God’s creation.

On the advice of the ranger, we decided not to continue down Highway One, but went back to US-101, and were able to get to San Francisco the same day. We had the privilege of working in the library at the Marin County Civic Center (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright!) in San Rafael, eating supper at a park there, and crossing the Golden Gate at dusk. Truly it had been an unusual experience.

Having a map and a GPS, we still were not prepared for what was ahead. What a blessing to know that Our Father knew every step of the way, and was able to bring us along safely and surely to our destination.