Archive for the ‘California’ Tag

Mountain Monday: Telescope Peak & Death Valley   12 comments

Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range from southern Death Valley's Saratoga Springs.

Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range from southern Death Valley’s Saratoga Springs.

Occasionally I like to highlight a mountain I like for Mountain Monday.  Today it’s Telescope Peak, in Death Valley National Park, California.  This has long been one of my favorite national parks.  I started visiting when it was still a national monument.  My first visit was a college seminar and field trip.  My second time was freelancing with friends, and we climbed Telescope Peak.

The top is just over 11,000 feet high, and since it was early spring, we waded through hip-deep snow drifts to get there.  After the all-day climb, we drove back down into the valley, took our sleeping bags, and tumbled out into the sand dunes to sleep under the stars.  What a contrast!  An icy morning at 8000 feet, a snowy climb, then sleeping out in balmy weather at sea level.

Snow-capped Telescope Peak has been lifted by the range-front fault over 11,000 feet above the floor of Death Valley.

Snowy Telescope Peak has been lifted by faulting along the range-front over 11,000 feet above the hot desert floor of Death Valley.

GEOLOGIC INTERLUDE

Telescope is the highest point in the park and crowns the Panamint Range.  The Panamints are an upraised block of the earth’s crust, lifted along the west side of a fault zone that at the same time dropped Death Valley down.  And down a lot!  The floor of the valley is a few hundred feet below sea level.

But the valley is filled with thousands of feet of sediments that were eroded from the Panamints and other ranges as they rose.  The top of the the bedrock that was dropped down by the fault lies some 11,000 feet beneath the valley floor.  This enormous wedge of valley fill is made of gravels, sands and clays.  But overall it’s quite salty.  There are thick sections of salts of various kinds, including good old NaCl, table salt.

These salt flats at Badwater in Death Valley are just the top of thousands of feet of salt and sediments filling the valley.

Geologists call these types of deposits evaporites because they are formed when large bodies of water evaporate away in a drying climate.  In Death Valley’s case it was a large lake called Lake Manly.  From about 2 million to 10,000 years ago, mega ice sheets lay to the north.  Because of this, the climate was quite wet in the now ultra-dry Death Valley region.  Early hunter-gatherers, recently migrated in from Siberia, were able to spread south because of this climate, which supported a diversity of life much greater than today’s desert does.

But when the ice sheets retreated during inter-glacial periods, the climate grew more arid, and Lake Manly shrank.  Because of how fault-block mountains border almost all sides of Death Valley, often there was little or no chance for the lake to drain in the normal way, via rivers.

The old Death Valley Borax Works, with a heavy-duty wagon.  This wheel is six feet high.

The six-foot high wheel of a heavy duty borax wagon.

Evaporation was (and is) the main way that water left the valley.  Salts that were dissolved in the water grew more concentrated as the lake grew smaller.  A brine was the result, and as the lake grew and shrank many times, often down to nothing, the salts were precipitated out.  They built up layers and layers of evaporite deposits.  The famous 20 mule-team wagon trains transported tons of borax from the borates (a type of salt) mined from the valley (image above).

A close-up of Death Valley’s evaporites (salt deposits).

BADWATER SALT FLATS

The current desert climate of Death Valley is one in which standing water from paltry winter rains evaporates rapidly, leaving behind fresh salt.  The salt can take very interesting forms (image above).  The mix of fine muds and salt, combined with repeated wet/dry cycles, can form fantastic polygonal patterns, as the bottom image shows.  Salt is also eroded away occasionally by the Amargosa River when infrequent storms allow it to flow south out of the valley.

The water in the image at the top of the post is really not part of this equation.  It’s fresh not salty, and comes from the amazingly strong Saratoga Springs in southern Death Valley.  I camped nearby one time and captured this view early the next morning.  Saratoga is well off the beaten track and most visitors to the park miss it.  There’s a very cool dune field nearby.

The salt flats in Death Valley form interesting polygonal patterns.

The salt flats in Death Valley form interesting polygonal patterns.  Telescope Peak is just left off the photo.

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Single-Image Sunday: Storm over the Sierra   19 comments

An April snowstorm knocks on the door of the Sierra Nevada in California.

An April snowstorm knocks on the door of the Sierra Nevada in California.

I’ve been covering tripod use on Friday Foto Talk lately.  Since I missed this past Friday, I thought I’d relate something that happened this past spring along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in California.  It’s an example of when using a tripod might cause you to miss a great shot.

A storm was trying to force its way over the mountains from the west.  It was a strong, dramatic front, carrying snow as it turned out.  The snowstorm, once it made its way over, forced me to abandon any hope of making it to Mono Lake, which I had hoped to reach by sunset that evening.

Most of the Sierra were covered in clouds, the sky dominated by grays.  But I could see the potential if I could just catch a break in the clouds, so I kept my head on a swivel as I drove.

Sure enough, I looked back over my shoulder and saw a field with cows grazing, the clouds beyond showing signs of breaking.  After a quick U-turn, I approached the meadow and saw the mountains starting to emerge.  But it looked to be a small & brief window, the kind that closes up as fast as it appears.

Instead of getting the tripod out and taking the extra half-minute to mount my camera and extend the tripod legs, I opted instead to make haste.  As I was whipping off the highway & parking on the shoulder, I decided which lens I would need, mounted it, and beat feet to a viewpoint I spied some 50 yards away.

Just as I got in position the scene came together.  I spun the ISO a bit higher so my shutter speed was fast enough to avoid blurring, held the camera as still as I could, and took the shot.  Seconds later the clouds covered the peaks again and the light dimmed.  I didn’t know if I had gotten anything decent; the mountains never revealed themselves fully.  But I knew I liked the composition.

I was happy when I looked at the picture later on.  I knew I had an image that communicated the drama of the approaching storm, a drama I had been feeling that entire afternoon.  Not really knowing what I want to shoot, but having a feel, in the back of my mind, for what I want to communicate, that’s often my goal.  For me it’s one of the most fun ways to do photography.

It could have worked out so I had plenty of time, and I would’ve felt dumb for not grabbing my tripod and getting a slightly better quality image.  But you never quite know for sure.  You need to make quick decisions while driving or hiking (even running) into position.  One is which lens you’ll use, and the other is whether to risk the extra moment to use your tripod.  The idea behind photography in my opinion is to get the shot.  It’s not to make each of your images technically perfect.

Have a great week!  And to my fellow Americans, happy Independence Day!

The Rugged Sonoma Coast   8 comments

The rugged beauty of Sonoma Coast State Park in northern California.

The rugged beauty of Sonoma Coast State Park in northern California.

On this last trip, returning home to Oregon, I almost missed this place.  Sure I’ve been through there before.  But I never really appreciated it fully.  I even got back on Interstate 5, the main (boring) freeway traveling north-south through California, Oregon and Washington.  Something made me swing back over to the coast north of the Bay Area.  I did it at night, as if it was somehow wrong.

I hit the coast at Bodega Bay.  This is the perfect place to stroll the quintessential California seaside town.  (If you’re heading north of the Sonoma Coast Mendocino is even better!)  Wander the quaint streets, sample salt-water taffy and shop for souvenirs ’till you’re heart’s content.  Then, for more adventurous doings, head north.  But before you do, stock up on things like picnic fixings, drinks, and even gas.  There aren’t any big towns for quite a ways.

Rocks and surf as far as the eye can see.  Cape Mendocino is in the distance.

Rocks and surf as far as the eye can see. Cape Mendocino is in the distance.

The wonderful Sonoma Coast State Park stretches north from Bodega Bay for miles and miles.  It includes marvelous sea-stack-filled vistas that even a veteran of the Oregon Coast will have trouble getting through in a day.  I must have stopped a dozen times, walking out over a headland or stumbling down to a rugged beach.  I had camped at a quiet spot just east of Hwy. 1, where the county is in the process of turning an old dairy ranch into a park.  Very peaceful and quiet, beautiful weather, the perfect setting for a detour!

I did a longer hike near Goat Rock, just south of the Russian River mouth.  What a spectacular place for a walk!  The trail, which parallels the coastline not far from the road, is easy and flat.  It’s accessible at several points, allowing a shuttle if you want to do the whole stretch (about 5 miles).  I did an out and back hike.  An aside:  since I became a more serious photographer, I have forgotten my former insistence on doing loop hikes.  Now I don’t mind out and backs so much.  I think it’s because you get a completely different view going the opposite direction.  It’s something I knew before, of course; yet didn’t appreciate as much before now.

Highway 1 in northern California passes through eucalyptus groves.

Highway 1 in northern California passes through eucalyptus groves.

For the Russian River mouth, you can simply view it from pull-outs to the north along Hwy. 1, where surfers park to go try the rough surf created by the sea-dominated delta.  Or you can, a mile or so south of the bridge over the Russian, take Goat Rock road down to the spit of flat land that projects north between river and sea.  This is a nice place for a beach walk.

North of the river, the highway climbs up and over a spectacular series of headlands.  You can easily park at one of several small pull-outs and walk the short distance out to the edge.  The views are stunning.  There are also steep trails leading down to pocket beaches which you’ll likely have to yourself.  Highway 1 climbs steeply over the main headland, where you have an incredible, eagle’s eye view down to the rugged coastline.

Traveling north, you would be wise to make time for Fort Ross.  I already posted on this beautifully-situated place last year, so I’ll just say that it’s a fascinating piece of American (and Russian) history.  Check out that post for photos and more info.  For photographers, a huge eucalyptus grows there that Ansel Adams famously photographed.  North of Fort Ross, Stillwater Cove is a lovely place to hunt abalone shells and take pictures.  You’ll need a permit to collect the shells.

Practicalities

You can certainly visit this coast for the day while staying at one of the inland towns (Healdsburg is a great choice).  If you are doing the Sonoma wine-tour thing, this could be the best way to get a first-pass overview of the Sonoma Coast.  But plan to get started early and spend all day; otherwise it will feel like you just drove all day.

Better is to stay the night, in one of the lodges in Bodega Bay or Mendocino, or at one of the many campgrounds.  There are campgrounds in the state park just inland as well as along the coast.  Anchor Bay is a tiny town positioned more centrally on the coast.  It has both lodging and camping options.  And there are a number of B&Bs and other lodging options dotted along the coast, that is if you don’t need town amenities.

If you’re coming down from the north, Fort Bragg is the last big town for groceries, gas and the like, whereas if you’re coming from the south, Bodega Bay is your best option for stocking up.

There are more wonders to the north, in Mendocino County.  And the wonderful Point Reyes is a short jaunt to the south.  The really nice thing about this stretch of coast is that you often find nice weather even in winter.  It can get wild in stormy weather, but when placid it’s downright mild!  Thanks for reading.

The light at dusk is subdued by fog and spray from the Pacific in this view south along the Sonoma Coast, California.

The light at dusk is subdued by fog and spray from the Pacific in this view south along the Sonoma Coast, California.

The sun sinks into the Pacific.

The sun sinks into the Pacific.

 

Wordless Wednesday: Morning Drive   Leave a comment

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Single-image Sunday: Tidepooling on the Lost Coast   3 comments

A crab inhabits the shallows along California's Lost Coast.

A crab inhabits the shallows along California’s Lost Coast.

Although I can’t claim this as one of my best images, it’s a memory I want to hold onto for as long as possible in this rainy mess back home in Oregon.  It seems like two months ago I was on a sunny, warm California Coast, focused on one of my favorite activities (it was last week).  Tidepooling at low tide anywhere on the Pacific is just plain fun.  It is rugged on the Lost Coast, a stretch between the towns of Fort Bragg and Eureka in northern California.  But there are plenty of rocky sections accessible at low tide.

I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve been under the mistaken impression I could keep my feet dry.  This was yet another one of those times.  I was rewarded when I came upon an area where crabs seemed to be congregating.  I’ve never seen this crab before.  It was one of two types I saw with unusual projections on the carapace.  I googled but the closest thing I found was the sharp-nosed crab.  And that wasn’t really a great match.  So if you know please tell me!

He was hiding in a mass of kelp that I stepped on.  I was walking carefully and didn’t put my full weight on it right away.  I felt the kelp moving under my foot and pulled back in surprise.  When I peeled the kelp away I almost got a rude surprise.  He was a feisty fella!  Who could blame him, being stepped on.  Pulled my fingers away just in time.

I found myself wondering what he tasted like.  That’s my childhood talking.  In summer we would go down to the nearby Chesapeake Bay, bare feet in the cool mud, and catch blue crabs.  I let him be.

Wordless Wednesday: Eel River Redwoods   5 comments

Click image for more info.

Click image for more info.

Single-image Sunday: Surfing in Winter   4 comments

The great thing about surfing in winter is you have some elbow room.  Or so it seems to me.  I’m not a surfer.  I’ve tried, believe me.  I even took a couple classes in El Salvador.  I found it to be a great way to drink seawater…most of it through my nose!  There were other problems, but for me that was the major one.  I can see the attraction however.

This is a beach near San Diego at the foot of some nice bluffs turned golden by the setting sun.  There were certainly other surfers around.  But when I saw this guy walking down the beach alone, I could see (even at this distance) that he was having a great time.  It was the way he was walking, barefoot and alone in the late-afternoon sun down a beautiful stretch of coast.  He had apparently finished for the day, enjoying the post-surfing glow after some good rides.

I had to use my 200 mm. lens to capture him from atop the bluff where I was walking.  I just hand-held the shot even though I had my tripod.  For one thing, I had to be quick about it.  Also, since he was moving along at a good pace, I needed a faster shutter speed anyway to keep him sharp.

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A lone surfer on the California Coast.

Posted December 29, 2013 by MJF Images in People, Photography, Travel photography

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Wordless Wednesday: Panamint Dunes   4 comments

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Russia in America   2 comments

Fort Ross, the only evidence of Russian occupation of North America in the early 1800s, is located on the northern California Coast.

Fort Ross, the only evidence of Russian occupation in North America south of their territory in Alaska, is located on the northern California Coast.

An often-forgotten chapter of the American West’s history concerns the “Russian occupation”.  In the early 1800s, not long after Lewis and Clark completed their journey to the Pacific Coast (thus cementing America’s claim to western North America), the Russians made their way down the coast from Alaska.  At the time it was mostly about support for their Alaska territory, but it’s believed that the Tsar probably had ideas of imperial expansion.

They set up shop on the northern California coast.  On a broad terrace sitting well above the Pacific they built a very fine fort.  They established two villages, one for Russians, the other for Native Americans.  Native groups living and working there were Californians and Creoles (mixed Russian-Native).  Aleuts from Alaska were brought to help hunt sea mammals, among other chores.

This wooden chapel at Fort Ross State Historic Park in California is a rebuilt version of the original.

This wooden chapel at Fort Ross State Historic Park in California is a rebuilt version of the original.

The fort and settlement were constructed not by the Russian government but by a private fur-trading company, the Russian American Co.  The site is now protected within the Fort Ross State Historic Park.  The park is located along the Pacific Coastal Highway (Hwy. 1) a bit more than two hour’s drive north of San Francisco.

The roof of Fort Ross's chapel does not exactly soar like the onion domes back home, but the Russians who occupied the site took some care in construction of their place of worship.

The roof of Fort Ross’s chapel does not exactly soar like the onion domes back home, but the Russians who occupied the site took some care in construction of their place of worship.

The reason the Russians came here from Alaska?  Food.  Their settlements in Alaska were consistently running short of food, and the Spanish missions in California grew an overabundance.  They needed a market.  It was a win-win for everyone involved, and this explains more than anything else the good relations between the Russians and Californians (native and colonial alike).

This is actually a large park (3400 acres), and the coastline north of the Fort is worth exploring as well.  But the fort is the star of the show, and I recommend taking your time walking around.  Rangers there give informative talks regularly; these happen in the open grassy area inside.

One of the many cannon that were actually never fired in anger at Fort Ross, the old Russian settlement on the northern California Coast.

One of the many cannons that were actually never fired in anger at Fort Ross, the old Russian settlement on the northern California Coast.

Make sure to check out the blockhouse on the NE corner of the fort.  The above photo is from there, and the view of the fort from the cannon ports is fantastic.  The photo below is of the Rotchev House.  This is the only 100% original structure leftover from the Russian occupation, and the slice of life it offers makes a little walk around its interior a must-do here.  The Rotchev’s were apparently a very fine family.

This shaped-log house was built for the last manager of Fort Ross on the northern California Coast, Alexander Rotchev.  It is the only original structure remaining at the mostly restored Russian fort.  It is also the only surviving structure built by the Russians in North America south of Alaska.

This shaped-log house was built for the last manager of Fort Ross on the northern California Coast, Alexander Rotchev. It is the only original structure remaining at the mostly restored Russian fort. It is also the only surviving structure built by the Russians in North America south of Alaska.

The fort was never really used in the way it was intended.  It was never attacked, but perhaps this was the point.  It was built to repel all but a sustained heavy naval bombardment.  Nearly all the residents lived outside its walls, because the danger from attack was so low.  The local natives saw it (correctly) as a way to gain wealth.  It offered a place to trade and work, so the Russians were largely a welcome presence.

It was a busy place for the 30 years they were here, but they eventually retreated back to the north.  Why?  The marine life near shore, including sea otters and fur seals, had been hunted out.  The enterprise was in the red, so there was not much money to purchase the extra food they needed to send to Alaska.  They could only grow enough at the site to feed themselves.

One of the corner blockhouses at Fort Ross State Historic Park, California.  These were built as a position from which to make a last defense in the event that the attackers got in through the gates.

One of the corner blockhouses at Fort Ross State Historic Park, California. These were built as a place from which to make a last defense in the event that attackers got in through the gates.

John Sutter (of California goldfield fame) bought the remaining buildings and materials.  The Mexican government claimed the land, and what remained fell into disrepair.  The great earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco inflicted damage as well.

We should thank the many Californians (too many to list) for this slice of history; it’s been a park for over 100 years!  The settlement’s restoration and preservation, an ongoing process that aims to restore the atmosphere present during Russian occupation, including the villages outside the fort.  It’s definitely worth a visit anytime.

Lost Coast, California   5 comments

Eel River Sunrise

Northern California’s Lost Coast is located in northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt counties, north of San Francisco.  Steep mountains plunge down to a rocky shore.  Lonely beaches with waterfalls and good abalone hunting face out on great surfing breaks.  Just inland, wildlife abounds in the forest and small communities are separated by majestic redwood groves.

The rising sun sets the sky afire in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

The rising sun sets the sky afire in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

The Lost Coast includes the King Range, a rugged, steeply uplifted piece of geology with many valleys oriented parallel to the coast – a very unique situation.  California’s  western-most headland, Cape Mendocino, occupies much of the Lost Coast.  These two geographic facts give the place its isolated character.  And as usual, the geology of the region is the underlying factor driving everything.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter's sunset.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter’s sunset.

Geology

The famous San Andreas Fault, which parallels the coastline all the way north from San Francisco, leaves the coast here and merges with the offshore Cape Mendocino Fault (which runs perpendicular to the coast and out to sea).  This is where three of the Earth’s tectonic plates come together.  The North American Plate, the Pacific Plate, and the small Gorda Plate join in what geologists call a triple junction.

The plate tectonic setting for the Lost Coast of California is dominated by the triple junction just offshore from Cape Mendocino.

The plate tectonic setting for the Lost Coast of California is dominated by the triple junction just offshore from Cape Mendocino.

The slip-sliding characterized by the San Andreas to the south gives way to a subduction zone to the north.  The Gorda Plate is slipping beneath the North American Plate.  This means that a line of volcanoes lies inland.  The Cascades begin at Mount Lassen and extend north past the Canadian border.  But much closer to the coast, an enormous torquing action occurs, which is why the uplift is extreme here.  The rocks are heavily buckled and folded, forming the rugged King Range.

The part of the northern California Coast between Fort Bragg and Eureka is called the Lost Coast.

The part of the northern California Coast between Fort Bragg and Eureka is called the Lost Coast.

The coast’s spectacular scenery owes its existence to this triple junction.  Rapid uplift of a coastline is marked by frequent earthquakes and landslides, and this area is no exception.  Offshore sea stacks, for e.g., are often the result of enormous landslides in the past.  And of course landslides are often precipitated by earthquakes.  All the while erosion is taking place,  from constant wave action.  And the uplift of the coastal margin gives the waves a constant source of new rocks to erode all the time.

Ice Plant, a non-native, blooms in winter-time on the Lost Coast of California.

Ice Plant, a non-native, blooms in winter-time on the Lost Coast of California.

I stopped in the little town of Garberville, just off Hwy. 101.  It is a typical northern California town, filled with real characters.  Not all of these people, believe it or not, are old burnt-out hippies.  For the first time during this trip, I didn’t feel out of place in my VW camper.  Now if I only had a dreadlocks wig as big as one of those giant octopuses that live in the nearby ocean, I would have fit in perfectly.  Actually the town is peaceful, with a magnificent stand of redwoods nearby in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

Then I headed over the extremely curvy and hilly two-lane that leads from Garberville out to the coast at Shelter Cove.  What a road!  The last hill descending off the King Range to the coast is extremely steep, granny gear both ways.  The little settlement of Shelter Cove is spread out, and seems to be populated by people who enjoy their isolation.  I wouldn’t necessarily call them anti-social loners, but there is a reason why they live  here.  Almost 1000 people live here, but I am sure many of the spectacularly-located houses are 2nd homes.

A beach house on the coast of California.

A beach house on the coast of California.

I experienced a nice sunset, getting there early enough to explore the rocky shore below the little park.  This park is easy to find if you turn left at the first T-junction after the big downhill.  The grassy park, set up on a terrace above the sea, is centered around the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse (see below).  It’s a simple walk down to the rocky shore from this park, and you can continue south past the boat ramp around Shelter Cove itself.  The rock is black, and forms dramatic silhouettes with the numerous tide pools.  Be careful though, and consider rubber boots if you’re planning on exploring and/or photographing.  It’s slippery and there are sneaker waves.  It’s wise to remember the venerable warning to never turn your back on the ocean.

The rocky coastline at Shelter Cove on California's Pacific Coast is a tide-poolers heaven.

The rocky coastline at Shelter Cove on California’s Pacific Coast is a tide-poolers heaven.

Cape Mendocino Lighthouse

This stubby structure, which dates from 1868, did not need to be tall since it was originally placed atop a 422-foot (129 meters) cliff on Cape Mendocino.  It was shipped to the site and hauled up the steep mountainside.  The first ship sent to start construction at the site ran aground, and all supplies were lost (everyone survived though).  Over the years, the light saved many lives, and in more ways than the obvious.  For one thing it was a great lookout.  On one occasion a keeper spotted a ship that was on fire.  He brought help just in time to save all aboard.

The Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, now restored and located in nearby Shelter Cove, glows just after sunset.

The Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, now restored and located in nearby Shelter Cove, glows just after sunset.

But the frequent earthquakes and landslides were a constant hazard, and the lighthouse was eventually abandoned in the early 1960s.  The lighthouse was later saved when a local group had it moved and restored.  For the last 12 years it has shone at Shelter Cove not far south of the Cape.  But its business end seems a bit empty without its original Fresnel lens (which was replaced years ago while it was in service).

Coiled and mounded kelp is a common sight along northern California beaches

Coiled and mounded kelp is a common sight along northern California beaches

I also enjoyed some time in the redwoods at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  There is a 2-lane road (appropriately called “Avenue of the Giants”) that parallels Hwy. 101, allowing you to stop and walk through the big trees, or enjoy the beautiful Eel River (which winds its way through here on its way to the sea).

An amazing variety of stones are present on this northern California beach.

An amazing variety of stones are present on this northern California beach.

It’s a beautiful and remote stretch of coast, one I can highly recommend visiting.  The coast both to the south (as far as Point Reyes) and to the north (the Oregon border and beyond) is also beautiful.  I didn’t get the opportunity this time to explore the Lost Coast fully.  There are hiking and mountain biking options, plus several fire roads that take off from the Shelter Cove Road.  I encourage you to go further than I did in exploring this rugged part of the California Coast.  I know I’ll do so when I return.

The Pacific Ocean and the day's last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

The Pacific Ocean and the day’s last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

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