Big Dog and Bailey pick me up in Berkeley in the late morning and we begin the long haul north. Big Dog is already in a foul mood from getting badly lost on his way to my friend’s house in Berkeley – he’s gotten too used to having his own personal navigator (me) – and the traffic towards the Richmond Bridge is absolutely horrific.
We don’t like this stretch between SF and just beyond Santa Rosa. It’s mostly a blur of fast driving, agitated drivers, agile maneuvering. Every time we make this trip, I am astounded and a bit heartbroken at the development between Salinas and Santa Rosa. New lanes keep appearing on the highway, towns are getting bypassed.
But then, the last strip mall falls behind you and you are back in Rural California. Shopping centers are replaced by rolling hills covered in grapes; pretty little farmhouses take the place of ugly McMansions.
For me, Northern California begins with the first tie-dye village of Hopland, home of Real Goods, the solar people.
Willits is “Gateway to the Redwoods” according to the big sign that greets visitors traveling north, or “Heart of Mendocino County” if you are traveling south. They are 2 sides of the same sign that spans Route 101 now. But not for long. A bypass has been under construction and soon, you will have to get off 101 to drive through the town.
From here north is my favorite part of 101. There’s Richardson’s Grove and the Standish-Hickey State Park with its giant redwoods. And you can’t forget the roadside attractions, either. Confusion Hill (Is Seeing Believing?), the One Tree House, carved inside a real tree (Believe it or not!), the One Log House, the Drive Thru Tree, the Bigfoot souvenir shop.
Route 101 goes through, or by, other tie-dye towns as it snakes along with the Eel River. Garberville, Redway… then the Pacific Lumber Company town of Scotia. Everyone who lives there works for The Company, or services those who do.
As the redwoods open up, there are fields and wetlands and green, green pastures where mom and kid cows munch, lounge and frolic. Then, finally the Eureka/Arcata area, circled by the tallest redwoods, teensy slivers of sandbars and breathtaking wetlands.
The Redwood Curtain used to be much thicker and Arcata, a pretty little town of fanciful Victorian architecture, colorful denizens and majestic redwoods, was much more hidden. Today, it seems to be on everyone’s map and the town is filled with out-of-towners.
But some things remain the same.
A few years ago, as we arrived and were driving through downtown Arcata, an old hippie stood in front of our truck at a stop sign and “flew” his glass pipe over the hood of our vehicle like a benediction. Nice to be back!