Exploring the Eel River Valley

The Wildcat Ride

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Cape Mendocin, Northern California.

Cape Mendocino.

Crossing a small creek, you pass Ocean House, the only residence you will see along this 10-mile stretch of coast. Offshore, on a bright day, chances are you'll spot several windsurfers maneuvering their boards not far from a large rock that, in silhouette, looks as if it must be the ghost of Admiral Dewey's flagship.

A few miles farther south, the road winds up McNutt Gulch to gentle farmland, ending at Petrolia, near the site of California's first drilled oil wells (1864). Just beyond the village is the wild, un-dammed Mattole River, now undergoing watershed restoration to rebuild stocks of trout, steelhead and salmon. Just across the river, turn right on Lighthouse Road and follow it five miles to its terminus behind the dunes of Mattole Beach. The Bureau of Land Management maintains the beach and the vast Kings Range Conservation Area, that covers 66,000 acres of the Coast range from this point south for thirty miles. (See "Why the Lost Coast is Lost.")

Stop for lunch in Petrolia or buy supplies for a picnic at the beach. If you stay overnight, consider a hike the next day to the decommissioned lighthouse at Punta Gorda, three miles down the beach from the Mattole Beach parking lot.

Caution: Even on warm days, the wind blows briskly, so dress accordingly. And, the ocean, while beautiful to see, is too cold and the riptides too strong for bathing. Beach strolling is another matter. The mouth of the Mattole --- a trickle over the sand dunes in summer --- is about a half-mile north of the parking lot. The summer dunes hold a large lagoon with many shore birds.

Or, if tea beckons back in Ferndale, you can let the Wildcat take your breath away twice in one day by returning after your sojourn in Petrolia and the Mattole Valley.


The Eel River Valley


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