Redwoods Roadtrip Part 3 - Mendocino

Sleep Hollow's got nothin' on Mendocino


I have visited Mendocino on many occasions from solo trips, to family vacays, to girls weekends away. On the family roadtrip we descended into Mendocino from the mighty Avenue of the Giants. We stopped in the Children’s Forest for some tree hugging. Compared to the gigantor redwoods us mere mortals do indeed look child size, if not lego size. The trees are astounding, I recommend one and all to come see them.

How many huggers does it take to hug a redwood? 

Rumour has it that bigfoot has been spotted in the woods. I had a mixture of dread and hope that we would come face to face with a yeti, alas not to be. A wood shop along the roadside was selling wooden carvings, one of which came as close to the abominable sasquatch as we’ll get.

They are some really big feet, Dude

The more we drove through the forest stopping at roadside attractions, the more I felt like we were taking a 1950s American family vacation. All we needed was some Buddy Holly blaring and we were set.

One hell of a tree house

One such roadside attraction, that I insisted we pull over for, was One Log House. A 2000 year old redwood hollowed out in the 1940s to create a log house. It took the guy 8 months to do this. He attached it to a trailer and took it on the road (the world's first mobile home??). Entering the log and seeing it kitted out with a kitchen, dining table, etc, felt like being in a submarine. It was a strange experience.

After seeing multiple confusing signs for ‘Confusion Hill’ we decided to check it out on a whim. It has the world's tallest free standing redwood chainsaw carving (as proudly certified by Ripley’s Believe it or Not). It is a totem pole made out of bears, it sounds peculiar, and it is, but it is also quite impressive.

Busted through another tree

The main attraction at Confusion Hill is the open air kiddie train that brings you up into the hillside. At the helm was a wise cracking mountain man, he had us high fiving redwoods as he narrated the history of the trees.

A redwoods root system go a max of only 8 feet deep but they spread very wide and the roots ' hold hands '. As only a touchy feely Californian tree would do. Redwoods don't generally sprout from seeds, if they die they use their root system to up shoot new life. If they are cut down a new tree will grow out of the stump. Wow, what an intense survival instinct. Is there no Tree Heaven for redwoods? ☹

Why is it called Confusion Hill? I cried out at one point. Because nestled in the woods is an ‘anti-gravity house’. It’s a house/shed built on a slope with mirrors and pulleys and all sorts of things inside to play havoc with your balance as you try and walk through the house.

I had recently lost the majority of hearing in my right ear (later diagnosed as Meniere’s disease) so perhaps it was due to my inner ear damage, but from the moment I entered the wonky house I felt very sick and frighteningly dizzy. I couldn’t right myself and thought I’d never get out of the frikkin thing. Dom seemed amused and stayed in there a while. Roisin charged through the place with no bother. When you are pint sized and fearless - gravity schmavity.

Kudos to Shannon who took this pic in Mendocino - dreamy

Finally we got to the gravity abiding Mendocino town, a Victorian coastal village which has been designated a national landmark. When I went to Mendocino on a girls trip with friends Shannon and Julie the first place we came to was Patterson's Irish pub, it’s a good place for carb loading and sitting beneath moose heads mounted to the walls. Some local gents with no preamble conversation ambushed us as we were leaving to ask us if we’d meet them in Dicks Place later. No.
Do you come here often?

Lansing Street has lots of cute shops and a surprising number of cafes. I was immediately drawn like a magnet to a wood shop, Anderson’s Eco Lumber. Ever since I had acquired my reclaimed redwood pieces I knew I needed a proper table slab to fit my ancient tree stump.

Labour of love

Of course I fell in love with about 59 burls as soon as I set foot in this street-front lumber shed. The owner Nate was incredibly nice, however unlike my first redwood acquisition, this dude was not giving the wood away, he was taking arms and legs as payment. After counseling from the girls, and declarations that this was my 40th birthday treat to myself and by God didn’t I deserved it, I bought a slab (that unintentionally looks like a map of England, oh dear).

Bloomin fantastic

The main thing to do in Mendocino is to stroll around and soak it up. The side streets all have dinky little shops and restaurants. The Victorian houses the line the streets and saltbox cottages from the 1850s are all architectural gems.

While Dom and Roisin took to the beach I went on a walking tour. It started at the Kelley house. Kelley had been a Canadian self-made man who came to town and bought up chunks of land. Himself and other Canadians and east coasters who settled there built their houses with slanting roofs like they would for snowy climates. The west coast generally doesn’t build for snow that doesn’t fall, so it is more normal to see flat roofs. Some think Mendocino’s slanty roofs are what give it an east coast feel and attracts Hollywood filmmakers to use it as a substitute for Maine and Cape Cod etc (Murder She Wrote’s Cabot Cove, prime example).

In the 1970s the house was bought by the owner of the Jack-in-the-Box fast food chain. Ironic in a way because Mendocino is far from a fast food kind of town. In an act of kindness he gave the house over to be a museum as long as he could keep the water tower. Ah ha, kindness with a bottom line. Mendocino, you see, does not have a municipal water system, all the water for the town is pulled from the ground via water towers (which you see dotted all over town). Jack the lad had the liquid gold.

Watertower whatatower

The water towers look like little houses and some of the ones that fell into disuse have been repurposed as small abodes for skinny hipsters or teeny shops selling jewellery, displaying artwork, etc. They look delightfully unusual.

The Masonic Hall is one of the bigger building in the center of the village. A mysterious Masonic statue of Father Time and the Maiden sits atop it, painted white and made from the same redwood tree. No one knows what it represents and the Masons aren’t divulging.

Whatcha doin up there Mr Mason?

The building is now a bank (a very ye olde wild west looking bank) the bank struck a deal with the Masons, if the bank ever sells the building the Masons have first refusal at the 1975 price. Wow! Who was asleep on the board of the bank when that deal was made (or more likely, how many masons were secretly on the board). Some good wheelin dealing there, the Masons still hold their meetings in the top floor of the old bank building to this day.

Mendocino appears today as a white middle class town with houses selling into the millions. Its original population was heavily Chinese (one in five people were of Chinese extraction), plus lots of timber men (there was 23 bars), prostitutes (there was 23 brothels), and the local Native American tribe called the Pomos. By the 1950s the Chinese population had largely moved away because lack of work, the timbermen married the prostitutes, and the Pomos had been rounded up to live in a nearby fort (aka Fort Bragg - for stories on that read here). The town of Mendocino got a new infusion of immigrants; artists looking for a haven, it became an artists’ colony.

That's all she wrote

I was very excited to find fictional Jessica Fletcher’s house from Murder She Wrote. It is called the Blair House Inn and is a current day B&B. I grew up watching Murder She Wrote, I was highly excited at seeing the house of a legend. Dom doesn’t watch much TV and is only vaguely aware of references I make, he seemed nonplussed by the house of a fictitious sexagenarian amateur sleuth... humpf, your loss dude.

The James Dean movie East of Eden was also filmed in Mendocino (I still think Murder She Wrote is a way cooler namedrop).

Myself, Dom and Roisin stayed the night outside Mendocino in a little town called Westport. It had one store, one pub, and one horse (I’m guessing about the horse). The Inn we stayed in was so perfect and clean, they dropped warm scones and tea outside the door just as we woke, as if they had been waiting outside all night for the right moment. The view of the ocean made my heart swell.

A plaque on the road said Westport was once a bustling town. There was zero evidence of that now. If you could describe it as a picnic spot you’d be doing well, a very picturesque picnic spot at that.

There is more to Mendocino county than Mendocino town. Myself, Shannon and Julie were determined to get a hike in, so we drove to the Russian Gulch National Park. The girls had to explain to me what a gulch is (narrow ravine) it all sounded a bit rude to me.

If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? 

The hike took us into wet woodland, it was all about bonding, and hiking, and chatting, and climbing, and laughing, and scrambling, and cursing the fact we didn’t bring raincoats when it started to downpour. But when we got to the waterfall itself, we all fell silent and naturally moved apart. There is something about taking in the beauty of nature that is best done when all alone (ask any hermit).

To do something a little less strenuous we made our way to Point Cabrillo lighthouse. I don’t think I’d ever been to a functioning lighthouse before. We scaled the ladder with the help of a sturdy middle aged coastguard lady to be met by a local docent in the extremely close quartered space who was full of fun lighthouse facts, none of which I recall. The best part was climbing to the top where we came mano-a-mano with the light itself.

Mucho selfies later, and some brooding time staring out at the ocean we mooched back to the car. We got to pass these gorgeous cute-as-a-button lighthouse keeper houses. When we discovered they were for rent we promised to return to celebrate the various vagaries of our future lives.

One day Mendocino, one day…

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