Here in the flats, along the ocean’s edge and far from the redwoods, there is only sand. And sea. And grass. And dune. A pleasant change from the endless trees and poison oak of the forest and National Park. Sometimes a little change is all you want.
So instead of redwoods and the Smith, we’d aimed the car for the end of the road, past the dairy farms, beaten up trailers, cow patches and chicken coops of the seldom visited area west of the 101. The upper stretch of Lower Lake Drive, Kellogg Road, and Pala Road is enough information to get good and lost if you don’t have a map or proper sense of direction. We had neither.
As usual, we were unprepared for what nature had in store. Walking on a just a feint hint of a trail, we could feel the tips of sea grass and rush jabbing at our thighs and calves, easily piercing the thin material of our hiking pants. But we walked on. We’d already turned back 100 feet into the Yontocket Cemetery trail not 20 minutes earlier — mosquitoes there were thick and swarming, on the lookout for unprotected skin and blood. No way we said in unison and turned back. We headed further west to the ocean where the breeze, we figured, would beat back any mosquitoes. We parked and walked away from the road, north again, through the tall grass, dagger tips and all.
Net net: If you have a third or fourth day to spend in the area and want more than trees to ponder, it’s worth the small detour to visit the dunes. Like the National Park and the Smith, this is desolate turf. Not a lot of people. Cattle and cows enough to remind you of Wisconsin or Iowa. It sure doesn’t look like Northern California.
The finer points:
The Tolowa Coast is 11,000 acres of public land — the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, Tolowa Dunes State Park and the Point St. George Heritage Area. This is the heart of what remains ancestral home of the Tolowa Indians. Lake Earl is the largest coastal lagoon on the West Coast with an edge perimeter of 60 miles. Kayaking, canoeing, and fishing are all possible on the lake. Over 30 miles of trails are set in open and stabilized dunes, meadows, among ponds, beach pine and sitka forests, salt and freshwater marshes, creeks, and estuaries. Some trails allow horseback riding and biking. Eleven miles of beaches are part of the protected coastal area, good for bird watching, beach combing, fishing, and picnicking. Elevation changes in the dunes areas are under a 100 feet.
The combined public and private land makes for an excellent afternoon of trail hiking, dune scampering and beach combing. The best trail and road map is online here and is also available as a free giveaway at any of the area visitor centers.