By Mary Boley
The fog wasn't going to discourage me today. I convinced myself the mist would
intensify the coastal atmosphere at Patrick's Point State Park, where I planned
on spending this April Sunday. But by the time I arrived at the park entrance,
the weather gods had favored me by burning off the fog, leaving a clear sky
and sunshine. Here on the Northern California Redwood Coast, in July or August,
the same gods wouldn't have been so generous with their warm weather.
I paid the ranger the $2 day-use fee, handed over another dollar for a map,
and parked just inside at the Visitor's Center.
Sitting in my car for a few minutes, I anticipated the day ahead like a kid
savoring an unopened, beautifully wrapped gift about to be unwrapped. Exploring
Patrick's Point today was like finally getting to open the present and reveal
the hidden gift.
In a recent Native American Studies class, I learned that Patrick's Point Park
was the site of a Yurok Indian village reconstructed in 1990 by contemporary
Yuroks and park staff. Also, I was curious about a place in the park called
Wedding Rock, where couples could be married. If nothing else, I was determined
to see these two sights, but displays inside the Visitor Center informed me
of Agate Beach and Ceremonial Rock and Palmer's Point and the Rim Trail and
Octopus Trees Trail and the Native Plant Garden and tide pools and campgrounds
and a yurt and a cabin. Could I do it all in one afternoon? I could try.
Martha, the Visitor Center volunteer, sent me down a nearby trail and shortly,
I intruded on Sumeg Village. Intuitively, I felt like I was trespassing even
before I read the sign, "SENSITIVE CULTURAL AREA. Actively used today by
Yurok people and neighboring tribes to preserve and carry on their traditions
and to educate future generations." An addendum read, "No dogs in
the village" and "Stay out of the dance pit."
didn't have a dog and I stayed out of the dance pit but I poked my head inside
the low, circular entrance to the houses and the sweat house. Not liking dark
interiors, I had to coerce myself into crawling inside one of the houses. Once
inside, I didn't dilly-dally long, even though the smoke hole made it less dim
and dismal than I had expected. The interiors were bare, but one of the houses
I peeked into displayed an empty beer bottle lying inside, a sad legacy for
My map had already become invaluable. I consulted it every few minutes, now
following its dotted lines to the yurt and cabin available for nightly rentals.
When I arrived at the yurt, camping gear was lying about the deck and the door
was standing open. A woman came out, anxious to talk about the yurt.
"It's only $20 a night and quite comfortable. The bathroom is just down
that little path (pointing to where I had just emerged from the shrubbery) and
there's a skylight you can open at night for stargazing. The cabin over there
is only $27." I thanked her and went "over there," crossing an
unattractive, asphalt cul-de-sac. The cabin was unoccupied, so I put my nose
to a window and saw that a bathroom with a toilet, no shower, an old iron bed,
a bare basics kitchen and a thermostat on the wall summed up the amenities.
Given a choice, I'd take the yurt, even though my mother would have characterized
it as "One step up from camping."
Turning back to the trail, the trees reminded me that even though Patrick's Point lies in the heart of redwood country, I had learned at the Visitor Center that its forest is mostly Sitka spruce, red alder, Douglas fir, hemlock and pine.
Strolling through Agate Campground, I witnessed the results of the park's annual
60 inches of rainfall. In some areas, walls of vegetation looked like a botanist
had gone mad with sports. Numerous varieties of plant life competed for space
with every cubic inch accounted for. The tall, dense foliage surrounds and maintains
spacious, private campsites even though today, as I walked through, the non-dulcet
chords of heavy metal pounded everyone within blaring distance. Visual privacy
does not equate to audio privacy, but at least it was midday, not midnight.
every intention of walking the beach and searching for agates, I found the Agate
Beach Trailhead and its striking view of Agate Beach and Humboldt Lagoons State
Park far below. The thrill of possibly finding an agate enticed me, but I was
on a mission to see it all and the long, perpendicular return hike didn't fit
into today's goal.
So, I turned my back on the Agate Beach trail and a short hike took me to where
Ceremonial Rock bulges from the land. Cloaked in the trees, moss clinging to
its granite walls, Ceremonial Rock would have made a perfect backdrop for Audrey
Hepburn and Tony Perkins to play out the angst of Green Mansions. A remarkable
stone stairway winds visitors up and around to the 107-foot summit, where the
westernly view overlooks meadow and ocean.
Nonetheless, the easterly view caught my eye even more. Turning my back to
the ocean, I looked into the crowns of the nearby Sitka spruce; frilly greenery
draped from their limbs, graceful as black lace swaying in the breeze, hypnotic
as a hula dancer's hips in slow motion.
I didn't linger in this granite tree house today because I had a goal to accomplish. However, later at the Visitor's Center, I saw an 1895 photograph showing Ceremonial Rock sitting in a barren landscape, not a spruce in sight. Martha explained that, starting in 1875, settlers cleared the virgin forest and attempted to make a living from sheep, cattle, hay and potatoes. By 1929, when Patrick's Point was acquired by the Sate of California, the land was a treeless meadow.
Most of the park's 640 acres were allowed to regenerate to their natural state;
today's forest is only 70 years old. The meadows are the exception; they're
mowed, and sprouting trees are removed by hand. The contrast between meadow
and tangled wilderness can be appreciated on the park's six miles of trails
that wind in and out of both landscapes.
Wedding Rock is a sea stack in progress still accessible from land by a gully
between the headlands and the rock. Viggo Anderson, the park's first caretaker,
and his wife were married here in 1931. Unknowingly, they established a tradition
that continues today with as many as 60 couples getting married on Wedding Rock
every year. This afternoon a young couple sat on the protective ledge with their
legs dangling over the outside, huddled together, their backs to other visitors.
Maybe they were planning their wedding.
Two teenage Latino boys who had passed me on the trail with a smile and a hello
were also taking in the panorama of coast and horizon. One appeared to be playing
tour guide to the other in Spanish. A sharp whistle made us all turn to see
two figures standing on the Patrick's Point overlook just south of our rock,
waving their arms as though signaling. The young boys on my rock waved back
and I realized they were all together, taking in different views at the same
I left the ocean panorama but was stopped in the gully by the sight of a man
who was standing on the edge of a precipice, wearing a climbing harness and
holding a safety rope. Another man at the bottom of the cliff was preparing
to follow his companion into the thin air of Wedding Rock. Safety rigging was
checked, then the man below put on what looked like moccasins, sans socks. I
checked the top man's footgear; he appeared to be wearing men's ballet slippers,
also without stockings.
When the climber began his ascent, his fingers and practically bare toes found
tiny crevices where he was able to muscle his body weight up the mountain face.
The danger was minimal since he was attached via his harness and safety rope
to rigging above, and his partner was maintaining the rope's tension. Nonetheless,
my palms broke out in a sweat for the climber whenever he would reach into the
chalk bag hanging from his waist. In short time, he pulled himself onto the
mini-ledge, which wasn't big enough for one man, but was now shared by two.
The heroic duo stood there calmly with their backs to the brink of death, chatting.
I had just watched a drama unfold. For them, it was a Sunday in the park.
my way down from Wedding Rock before being sidetracked by the climbers, I had
seen the signalers from Patrick's Point Lookout going up the trail to join their
family. Now, when I turned back for one last look, the whole boisterous group
had climbed above the viewing platform and was standing at the peak of Wedding
Rock. Silhouetted against the sky, they were frolicking, laughing, and waving
to the world. I waved goodbye to them and Patrick's Point State Park.
My mission was impossible. Patrick's Point can't be entirely explored in one afternoon. I didn't even come close and I gave myself no time to dawdle. But the box was opened and I'll enjoy the gift inside again and again. Next time, I plan on a full day or two or three to linger on the overlooks, hike the trails, take a nap in a wildflower meadow and mine the beach for a precious agate.
IF YOU GO...
In Redwood Country on Highway 101, 25 miles north of
Eureka and 56 miles south
of Crescent City. Three hours east of Redding on
BEST TIME TO GO:
Spring and fall are best for the number of crystal
clear days but if you want
to escape the inland heat, the summer's cool, foggy
days could be just what
40 - 65 degrees during summer
35 - 55 degrees during winter
About 60" of rain a year mostly between October and
Trinidad, California, a great place to visit or stay, just 5 miles south of the park on 101. Between Trinidad and Patrick's Point
State Park, there are a number of lodges, bed and breakfast inns, RV and camping parks, cottages and cabins.
3 campgrounds including 3 handicap accessible sites
Restrooms have flush toilets and pay-to-use showers
2 group picnic areas and 1 group camp
Hike and Bike camping
Wedding Rock for weddings
$2 per day for day use
$12 per day camping
$1 for the Hike & Bike camp (Beware, you get what you pay for)
There is no fee for Wedding Rock, but reservations are required
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
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