One long block west of the intersection of Ferndale's Main Street and Ocean Avenue is an old iron sign on two tall wooden posts, proclaiming CAPETOWN + PETROLIA. The sign stands next to what looks like a country lane meandering in from the left. But this no country lane; it's the beginning of "The Wildcat," 30 miles of twists, turns, dips and rises and some of the most spectacular ocean scenery in America. How spectacular? You've seen it on television, car commercials are filmed there.
The Wildcat had its beginning well over a century ago as a trail across the big cattle and sheep ranches that cover the coastal hills, peaks and valleys between Ferndale and the Bear and Mattole Valleys. Then, in the 1880's, Chinese workers - originally brought to this country to build railroads throughout the West - carved a narrow track out of the sand hills above Ferndale to make a road for stagecoaches and wagons.
The country lane aspect of The Wildcat evaporates soon after you have turned onto it. You climb quickly around numerous curves under the sandstone cliffs that were once the bed of the Pacific Ocean. From there you continue to climb for five miles through dense Douglas Fir forests (but with occasional views of the highest Coast Range peaks some 50 miles to the east). You reach a crest of sorts where Bunker Hill Road comes in from the left, then you wind your way downward toward the Bear River and Capetown. If you've been in the fog coming up, you'll be looking down on white billows of clouds at this point. Or, if it's a clear day, you'll see the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
You pass ranch after ranch on windswept ridge tops and moors; they have such names as Spicy Breezes, Mazeppa, Cape Ranch, Dublin Heights and Ocean House. At Capetown, whose one-room school house (now in disrepair) was the last one to close in Humboldt County (about 40 years ago), you cross the Bear River and begin climbing again. On top of the next cluster of mountain tops you suddenly look out - and down - at the vastness of the Pacific, its rows of breakers methodically rolling in toward shore as far south as you can see. As you descend toward sea level, off to the right is a Gibraltar-size rock just offshore from Cape Mendocino --- the farthest western point in the contiguous 48 states. It looks just as it must have when the Spanish explorer Vizcaino and his crew spotted it nearly 400 years ago.
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