The Kiwis have some great slang…almost as good as the Aussies. When I was doing field work there for my Masters, after a hard day in the field where it was raining all day long, I would often head in to town and go the pub for dinner and a pint. When describing my day to the bar tender, he commented. “Well then mate, you were soaked to a squishy weren’t you?” I always liked that and use it to describe when you get drenched in a rain storm.
After deciding to evacuate from Coos Bay due to the oncoming rain, we got up in the morning, packed up, and headed out. I was hoping to get past most of the narrow windy road before the heavens decided to open up and douse us with “Milford Sound Sheets of Rain.”
We made it all the way to Smith River before it really started coming down. Driving the trailer on a narrow windy road in a downpour is always loads of fun. We stopped in Arcata for some gas and to say hi to my old home town and it was really pissing. There was a time when I was a kid that we had 52 days of rain in a row. You don’t tan in the Pacific Northwest, you rust.
We stopped in Fortuna at the Safeway and headed out Highway 36 to the Van Duzen campground. It’s a gorgeous area with some really cool groves of redwoods. It’s quite narrow in places and required great caution in the pouring rain. We pulled into the campground and tried to find a spot. There was one other RV there and a few other campers. It was a confusing pull-in and spaces were super narrow. We tried one, but it was just too small to get the trailer in. I circled around and we were able to back it into another one.
It was really raining hard and we were both a bit tired. In the mayhem of looking for a spot and spotting me with the trailer, Susanne lost her phone. Ugh. Then, I was blocking the road as we were unhitching and I rushed things a bit, forgot to put the blocks on the wheels and then forgot to unhook the emergency electric brake on the trailer. Doh!
That said, it was a lovely little campground that was quite private and surrounded by gigantic redwood trees. It is very popular in the summer as there is great swimming and a nice beach on the Van Duzen river.
Susanne found her phone in the car under the seat, thankfully, but had to walk all the way out to the kiosk to pay for the site. By the time she got back she had gone from moderately wet to completely soaked to a squishy, even with a good raincoat on. Sadie was not overly thrilled by all the rain and we all were quite happy to get into the trailer, put some dry clothes on and get the heater cranking. Although it was a bit of a crazy day to travel, we both decided we had made a good call to use this as the transit day to Shelter Cove.
We ended up sleeping in late. Like 8 am. Which for us is REALLY late. There was water still pounding on the roof of the trailer and I think both of us were happy to just lie there in our cozy surroundings. I started to realize that it wasn’t rain, but just water dripping off the trees. Yeah! I took Sadie out for a short walk and the skies were definitely clearing. It was looking like our plan was a success. I chatted with the park ranger, who was very pleasant and told me all about the hikes I could do. There weren’t too many as the state park up the road was closed and the famous Cheatham grove with it. Plus, it’s California — they don’t allow dogs in the state parks.
Evidently, part of the “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” was filmed there. Besides the “no dogs” downer, it was really wet and soggy and neither Susanne or I felt like being sawed in half by a E-11 Blaster Rifle which is the weapon of choice for the Storm troopers of the Galactic Empire
We strolled around the campground and enjoyed the redwoods. It is definitely an off-the-beaten-path campground that is worth a visit. We had our coffee and packed up; I managed to fix the emergency break on the trailer which is good because it would have been a big bummer otherwise. Doh. Always go through the checklist when unhitching.
It was only 1.5 hours to get to Shelter Cove. We stopped at a gas station in Fortuna, which had a free RV dump (THANK YOU!!!) and headed south on 101. At Redway you get on the road to Shelter Cove. Several developers really tried to get Shelter Cove to become a destination, but the access is, to say the least, difficult. It has a small airport that is rarely accessible due to the crappy weather and the road is something to behold. I knew it was rough, but had downplayed it a bit to Susanne.
It is very narrow….very, very narrow. And steep. Wenatchee would be proud of just how steep it is. Many of the hills are 20% to 25% grades. It would be a challenge in a passenger car, but it required full attention while hauling a trailer with a big RAM 1500. And there was a surprising amount of traffic which added an even bigger level of difficulty.
The drop down into Shelter Cove was intimidating. Very narrow and steep. I had Lewis in first gear and that wasn’t enough to hold back the power of gravity. Even with the engine breaking like crazy, you could still smell the brakes burning a bit. We were both glad to get down the thing. Of all the roads I have taken the trailer on, this one and Highway 66 dropping into Ashland, Oregon have been the most challenging. That is ignoring the 4×4 road in which I sheared off the steps on the trailer. So, let’s say in the “paved roads” category, I give the win to Shelter Cove.
We got to the Airbnb and met Jody our host there. The space to put the trailer in was tight, but we managed to get it safely in there and headed down to the famous black sand beach. Sadie was super happy to be out of the car and running around on the beach.
It is a staggeringly beautiful place. It reminds me a lot of the coastline on the western side of Kauai. Huge mountains just plummeting down into the sea. The Lost Coast Trail is a famous hike along the coast here, but it’s quite hard to get a permit. The sand on the beach is very black and well sorted — the grains are all very uniform in nature. For those that are interested, the sand comes from the erosion of a piece of ocean bottom floor that got caught up in the Mendocino triple junction, the place where three plates come together just north of Shelter Cove. It marks the transition from the strike-slip regime of the San Andreas fault to the subduction zone that makes up the Cascades.
As you walk around on the outcrops there, you can see big pillows of basalt that were formed on a mid-ocean ridge. This then got caught up into a subduction zone, scraped off, and brought to surface now in Shelter Cove. It is way more complex than that, but you get the idea. Crazy unique place in the world in terms of plate tectonics and geology.
We went back to the place to move our stuff in. It was pretty basic but fine. No real view as it was tucked back in the trees in a gully. That said, when you only spend $120/night, beggars can’t be choosers.
We drove back down to cruise around Shelter Cove. There isn’t much there. An RV park, which is BTW, for sale. If you are interested in living a quiet life in a beach town with terrified people showing up in their RVs exclaiming just how gnarly the road is, then maybe this is your opportunity.
There were some nice little parks right on the ocean front that we stopped at to check out. One in particular, Abalone Point was gorgeous and had some nice picnic tables to just sit and watch the ocean. So we did.
It was early (3 pm), but undeterred by that and the desire to make our friends Jason and Cynthia proud, we vowed to uphold the time-honored motto of “drink through it” so we opened up some wine and just watched the world go by. It was really nice.
The waves were pretty violent, so it was fun to watch them smashing into the shore. I would walk down to the edge and try and get some good photos. This made Susanne nervous. Sadie also kept her distance. But all was good, I kept a close eye on the waves and got some cool shots.
We hung out for a couple hours and enjoyed the nice weather. The clouds would come and go, but it was so nice to just sit there and relax and marvel at the beauty of the place.
We were glad to have such good weather as the forecast was looking pretty grim for the future. We thought we might get one more walk on the beach in before it all went into Milford Sound Sheets of Rain, but for now, it was great to just sit there and enjoy.