California's Lost Coast & Coastal Mountains
August 19-21, 2012

David planned out this ride to explore California's Lost Coast and some of the coastal mountains. Originally, Bill was planning to ride with us, but he injured his shoulder a few days before our departure date and was unable to make it. We missed you, Bill.

This ride really came together and turned out to be one of the most enjoyable rides of my life. Everything was nearly perfect - the weather, the roads, the scenery, the vibe.


Aug 19, 2012
El Dorado Hills to Garberville

Our route for today's ride

David and I met up at Mel's restaurant in Auburn and had a great breakfast while we got caught up on events since we'd last seen each other.

Once we were underway, David led me along a lot of interesting back roads to Oroville. He has lived in the area for a long time and knows these local roads like the back of his hand. He's led Bill and me out of Auburn many times and always seems to be able to find a different, interesting route - today was no exception.

We made our way through Oroville and around the Thermalito Afterbay where we picked up Hwy 162 and headed west. Hwy 162 was very interesting and I couldn't believe that I'd never ridden it or even noticed it on any maps before. From Oroville to Interstate 5 there is a lot of irrigated agriculture and we saw lots of green fields. The farmers north of Sacramento must have access to much more water than the farmers south of Sacramento. On my last ride down Interstate 5 south of Stockton, I saw many dried up fields with signs in them that said "Congress created dust bowl", which seemed to support news stories of severe water cutbacks to farmers due to dry winters and environmental court decisions. Up here, however, there were no signs of drought.

West of Interstate 5, however, it was a different story. I don't think these farmers have ever seen much water and most of the farming activity seem related to critters and hay. Most of the countryside is brown at this time of year. Linda has commented that maybe California has more than one reason to be called the golden state.

Highway 162

Hwy 162 ends just north of Elk Creek, one of the countless little towns in California that nobody ever heard of.

We continued west on Alder Springs Rd (aka Forest Highway 7) which soon turned into a wide, well maintained gravel road. We ran into a few pickups and SUVs coming out of the mountains - it was Sunday and the weekend was over for them. It's good to be retired and not concerned with such things as going to work.

Alder Springs Rd

It was a little dusty and I followed David at a good dust interval - I hate to ride in the dust. It didn't save me this time, however. Several of these folks heading out of the woods didn't seem to be aware of the protocol for passing folks on dusty roads and they really dusted us. Most of the folks, however, were courteous and slowed to minimize the dust - I appreciated it a lot.

I was astounded to see the elevation readout on my GPS climb to over 6700 ft on Alder Springs Rd. I was under the impression that none of these coastal mountains was higher than about 5,000 feet - so much for what I know.

As we neared the summit, it became obvious that there was a fire burning somewhere and soon the smoke was clearly visible. I had a moment or two when I wondered if we might be riding right into it. We made a turn somewhere and I relaxed as the smoke got less intense and it looked like we were out of it.

Smoky haze viewed from Alder Springs Rd

As we dropped down to the confluence of the Black Butte River and the Middle Fork of the Eel River, we could see a large plume of smoke to the northwest - was this the cause of the smoke we had seen? When we were driving through the smoke it seemed thicker south of us. Oh well .......... I didn't worry too much about it.

Forest fire viewed from Mendocino Pass Rd

When we reached Covelo, we were both ready for a break and and stopped at "My Cafe" for a little lunch. It was getting a little warm and the air conditioned environment felt pretty good.

When we rode south out of Covelo, I noticed what we were again on Hwy 162, which surprised me. We rode west out of Oroville on Hwy 162 which apparently ended near Elk Creek. Try as I might, I can't locate any road named Hwy 162 between Elk Creek and Covelo. Am I missing something? Why the gap? Is it even the same route? Maybe Forest Hwy 7, which is also Alder Springs Rd and Mendocino Pass Rd is also Hwy 162. Another mystery.

A few miles out of Covelo, Hwy 162 (aka Covelo Rd) bends west, crosses some mountains then follows the Middle Fork of the Eel River to its confluence with the Eel River, which is appropriately named Dos Rios. This section of road is pretty good asphalt with lots of curves and plenty of good scenery.

Hwy 162 aka Covelo Rd

Crossing the Eel River at Dos Rios

At Dos Rios we crossed the Eel River on Dos Rios Rd and continued west. After crossing the Eel River on a wide, modern, expensive, concrete bridge, Dos Rios Rd almost immediately turns to dirt. We followed this fun little dirt road as it climbed out of the Eel River Canyon, over the mountains, to Laytonville which sits on Highway 101.

As we were sitting on this wide, modern, expensive, concrete bridge, David and I talked about all the multi million dollar bridges that seem to exist out in the boondocks that serve so few people they can hardly be cost effective. It sure seems that a little less costly bridge would suffice here. I don't think we saw more than a handful of properties in the entire 12 miles between Dos Rios and Laytonville ........ certainly not more than a dozen.

Dos Rios Rd

We blew right through Laytonville, turned north on Highway 101, and headed towards Garberville, our destination for the day. About 10 miles up Hwy 101 we turned off on Bell Springs Rd which turned out to be the highlight of what had already been a spectacular day of riding. Bell Springs Rd, then Alderpoint Rd into Garberville is about 35 miles of motorcycle riding fun. The first 25 miles or so was delightful dirt - mostly easy, well maintained gravel with enough grade changes to keep things interesting.

Bell Springs Rd

As we rode along Bell Springs Rd. we had some views to the east and got a better look at the fire we'd seen earlier in the day. It looked like it was still burning at a furious rate.

View of forest fire from Bell Springs Rd

The remaining 10 miles or so into Garberville on Alderpoint Rd is some of the most interesting goat trail I've ever ridden on - terrible asphalt with lots of breaks and some of the worst asphalt ruts I've ever seen - and an alignment that must be following a real goat trail. All the curves and grades were totally unpredictable as nothing seems to be engineered - just some crappy pavement laid down on an old trail of some kind. IT WAS GREAT.

Alderpoint Rd

We rolled into Garberville about 6:30 PM and stopped at the first hotel we saw which was a Best Western. Although there was a "Vacancy" sign outside the motel, we waited in line behind three or four other groups of people only to eventually find out there was "No Vacancy". David consulted his trusty Garmin and located a couple of local motels close by. We rode to the nearest one and were able to get a room - not exactly the highest quality room, but acceptable. We checked in, but we didn't unpack since we figured that we'd better get something to eat before the restaurants closed up. When we got back to the motel, it was dark and I had to dig out my flashlight to get unloaded and cover my bike for the night. By the time we had showered up, it was time for bed. It had been another great day of riding.

Miles traveled today:  300
Miles traveled total:    300

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Aug 20, 2012
Garberville to Corning

Our route for today's ride

We wanted to get a fairly early start this morning since today promised to be a long day. We had about 300 miles to ride and most of it was on fairly technical mountain roads. Since our local motel served no breakfast, our plan was to walk to the restaurant where we had dinner. It was only about 1/4 mile away and a little walk in the morning is always a good way to get your systems up and running.

We left our room a about 7:15 AM and arrived at the restaurant about 7:30 AM only to find that it was closed on Mondays. Garberville isn't that big, so we walked the entire length of town and found that none of the restaurants would be open until 8:00 AM. We settled on one that looked most promising and camped outside the door until it opened promptly at 8:00 AM. It turned out to be worth the wait - they served organic food and it was quite good. David was particularly pleased with his glass of orange juice.

By the time we finally hit the road it was coming up on 10:00 AM, certainly not the early start we had planned. Oh well, there was still plenty of daylight left in the day and neither of us was worried about arriving late.

The great riding started almost immediately after leaving Garberville as we headed west on Briceland Thorn Rd towards Shelter Cove. In 1965 I drove this road in a 1964 VW Beetle and it took us most of the day to make the 50 mile round trip. In those days, the road was a primitive dirt road and wasn't in the best of shape. Today, however, the road is paved all the way to Shelter Cove and the riding was peaceful and easy.

When it meets the Matole River, Briceland Thorn Rd turns south and follows the river upstream. Here, we turned onto Shelter Cove Rd, crossed the river and continued heading west. Things then got much more interesting as the road climbs over 1,000 ft then drops over 2,000 ft to sea level in the 9 miles to Shelter Cove - the last couple of miles dropping into Shelter Cove is especially great. Unfortunately, I have no photos of this stretch of road - I was just enjoying myself too much. David had the first thought of a photo as we looked down on Shelter Cover (in the fog) from the top of the mountain.

Looking down on Shelter Cove under the fog

On the ride down to Shelter Cover, the temperature dropped about 30 degrees as we descended into the fog - from the mid 80s to the mid 50s.

We stopped briefly at Mal Coombs Park which sits near the ocean on the south end of Shelter Cove. This park is the current home to the original Cape Mendocino Lighthouse which was built in 1868. Its warning light was produced with a kerosene lamp shining through a first order Fresnel Lense. The lighthouse was eventually abandoned and the Fresnel Lense moved to Ferndale. In 1998, the tower was moved to from Cape Mendocino to Shelter Cove by helicopter, and in May of 2000, it was opened to the public when restoration was complete. If you're interested you can read a little more about it HERE and HERE.

Mendocino Lighthouse - moved to Shelter Cove in 1998

We took a quick tour through Shelter Cover then headed back up the hill to warmer temperatures. We both had the thought of adding some clothing, but decided to tough it out.

We climbed back up to the top of the mountain, then proceeded north on Kings Peak Rd, headed for Honeydew and the Lost Coast. I rode Kings Peak Rd in 2005 on a KLR650 and remembered it being a fairly straight, well maintained, gravel road that traveled along the ridge tops. I was really surprised to find otherwise. The first couple of miles seemed familiar until we passed by a couple of campgrounds - it was fairly wide, straight, smooth gravel and followed a ridge top. Then the road narrowed considerably .... there was more dirt than gravel, and the road descended quite rapidly off the mountain. It then crossed back up over a ridge then repeated the process several times before we hit pavement about 12 miles later. There were 5 or 6 stream crossings, mostly dry this time of year, and plenty of steep, sharp switchbacks to keep one's attention focused. There was nothing particularly difficult, but there were plenty of places an inattentive rider could get in trouble. David and I both enjoyed this stretch of road - A LOT!

Kings Peak Rd

Water Crossing on Kings Peak Rd

When we hit pavement at Wilder Ridge Rd, we figured that was the last dirt and we would be riding pavement for the rest of the day. We were both quite surprised when, without warning, the pavement ended after a few miles and the road plunged off the ridge top - over 500 feet in less than a mile - down a series of very steep, sharp switchbacks to the Matole River. When things leveled off, we found ourselves again riding on pavement. I would think this little stretch of road would be impassable after a storm and would require a lot of maintenance to keep open through the winter. Why didn't they pave this 1/2 mile section while they were at it? Wilder Ridge Rd is 20 miles long and I believe that is is all paved except for this little piece.

When we got to Honeydew, we turned west on Matole Rd and followed the Matole River to Petrolia. We crossed the Matole River several times as we enjoyed the great riding, weather and scenery.

Crossing the Matole River

There's not much in Petrolia, the site of California's first oil well. The first oil was pumped here in 1865. I don't think there was ever much oil production - I read somewhere that the oil quality was low, there wasn't much of it, and it was a problem to transport it out of the area. I didn't see any signs that there had ever been an oil industry as we cruised through.

Metropolitan Petrolia

After leaving Petrolia, Matole Rd stops following the Matole River and bends north. About 5 miles later we saw the ocean and began our ride up the only stretch of road that follows California's Lost Coast. I remember reading somewhere that this road is the furthest west one can drive in the contiguous 48 states, although it looks to me as if a few places in northwestern Washington have it beat.

The Lost Coast is the name given to about 75 miles of coast that begins about 30 miles north of Fort Bragg to just south of Eureka. The terrain is so rough that no highways or railways have ever built near the coast and the entire area remains mostly undeveloped. The only road that passes through the area is Matole Rd which runs from Honeydew to the coast then back inland to Ferndale.

First glimpse of the ocean along California's Lost Coast

California's Lost Coast

California's Lost Coast

The road follows the coastline for only about 6 miles before it begins to climb away and bend to the east, but it is very scenic and seems longer. It is also very isolated and when we stopped, we could hear absolutely nothing except the waves lapping the coast. Which reminds me ......... the surf wasn't very impressive even though the wind was blowing up quite a breeze and there were white caps off shore.

We were treated to some spectacular views of the coast and surrounding countryside as the road climbed steeply over the first range of mountains. The road almost immediately descended the other side of the mountain, crossed the Bear River and again began climbing the next range of mountains. Within 19 miles we climbed 800 feet away from the beach, plunged 800 feet back down to the Bear River, climbed 1800 feet to the top of the next mountains, then descended 1600 feet on the way into Ferndale.

Throughout this part of the ride we were in and out of the fog making for a very interesting ride. The varying quality of the pavement introduced a few challenges as it went from pure goat trail to new pavement and everything in between.

Climbing away from the coastline

View from the top, north of the Bear River

We slowly cruised through Ferndale and enjoyed its famous Victorian architecture. We didn't stop, however, until we reached Fortuna, our planned fuel stop. At Fortuna, we took a short break, enjoyed a cold drink, ate a couple of food bars and talked about how much we had enjoyed the day so far. We both agreed that this was one of the most enjoyable rides we'd ever experienced.

Victorian Inn - Ferndale

The Gazebo - Ferndale

The ride had already been great and the remainder of the day would be spent riding Hwy 36 from Fortuna to Red Bluff. This road is one of the premiere motorcycle rides in the entire country and is famous for a sign on the east end that warned of 140 miles of curvy roads. Unfortunately some nervous bureaucrat decided to remove this sign a while back because too many people were stopping for photos. I took this shot in 2005.

As we were getting ready to depart from the gas station, a gal that worked there overheard us saying that we were headed for Hwy 36 and suggested a shortcut. The GPS wanted us to get back on Hwy 101 and ride about 4 miles south down the freeway to the Hwy 36 exit. She suggested instead, that we proceed south along the street we were on, then bear left on Rohnerville Rd and cut across to Hydesville. We took her suggestion and were treated to a nice little ride in the country instead of bombing down some freeway - it's good to listen to the locals.

Hwy 36 has a little for everyone. On the west end, as it follows the Van Duzen river upstream, it passes through the Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park and passes right through the middle of some redwood groves on a very narrow, twisty road that sometimes clears the huge trees only by inches. I'm always stricken with kind of a primal feeling when I'm in the redwoods probably because of the strange lighting when the trees almost completely block the the sunlight - even on the brightest days.

Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park

Not too far past the redwoods, Hwy 36 climbs up out of the Van Duzen river valley and passes over several ranges of coastal mountains that generally run north and south. At least two of the summits are over 4,000 feet in elevation and the highway makes many climbs and descents as it passes across the smaller valleys and up and down the hills.

All of these mountain crossings make for some very interesting riding. Again, I was having so much fun, that I completely forgot about taking any photos until near Mad River when we made a slight detour to the south to check out Ruth Lake.

Van Duzen Rd follows along the side of the canyon/valley made by the Van Duzen River for about 15 or 20 miles. We couldn't see Ruth Lake because it was on the other side of the mountains that formed the Van Duzen canyon/valley. We eventually turned east on Ruth-Zena Rd and soon found ourselves on the south end of Ruth Lake. Ruth Lake is a long, narrow body of water that lies in the bottom of a narrow canyon. The road follows along the side of the canyon and there really aren't that many good opportunities for photos because of all the trees and curves. My eyes, however, had no trouble getting many good looks at the lake between the obstructions. The entire ride down to Ruth Lake was a very leisurely affair and we took our time, making sure to take in all the sights. It seemed to be very isolated and we didn't see many people once we got a few miles south of Hwy 36.

First views of Ruth Lake

Ruth Lake

The detour to Ruth Lake was about a 45 mile loop and we rejoined Hwy 36 about 3 miles east of where we left it - time well spent. Our ride was far from over .... we still had more than 100 miles of Hwy 36 to enjoy and we still hadn't passed over its major summits.

David said that his bike just didn't want to go slow anymore and was begging to be turned loose. The remainder of our ride was done at a very brisk pace and I had trouble keeping David in sight. David is a very quick rider - if he wanted to, he could have left me in the dust. To keep me in sight, he smokes along for a while, then waits for me to catch up. Because I was keeping plenty busy riding, I didn't have time for any photos until the pace slowed a little as we approached Red Bluff.

Hwy 36 west of Red Bluff

We could see a smoke plume off to the south as we were riding to Ruth Lake and I wondered if it was the same fire we'd seen yesterday. As we descended the last 50 or 60 miles into Red Bluff we started to see lots of smoke to the east and south which was obviously from a much closer fire. It kept getting worse as we descended, but there didn't seem to be a single source that we could see. Finally, as we approached Red Bluff, the air seemed a little better so I'm guessing the fires were in the mountains south of Hwy 36.

When we pulled into Red Bluff, there were fire trucks and fire fighters everywhere. We pulled into the Best Western and were told by the desk clerk that they were booked up for rest of the week - firefighters have to stay somewhere. Not only that, but there wasn't a room in all of Red Bluff. In fact, the desk clerk said, there were no rooms in Redding either, and if we were headed north, Yreka, over 100 miles away, was the nearest place with a room. To the south, he said, there were a couple of rooms available in Corning at the Casino motel, about 20 miles away. David got on the phone and got one of the few available rooms - a smoking room with 2 queens beds. We hustled down there and arrived just as it was getting dark.

Actually, the room was pretty nice. I couldn't smell the cigarette smoke and the room was large, modern and comfortable. The price was right, too, and included a full breakfast buffet in the morning.

About the only negative aspect was one which seems to be getting more and more common. The original motel concept was a room with a door to the outside - you parked your car in front of the door and unloaded your stuff directly into the room. These are the kinds of motels we like - it's very easy to unload your motorcycle and it's sitting right by your door so you can keep your eye on it and retrieve things you may have missed the first time.

Nowadays, motels are more like hotels. The only access to the rooms is through an interior door which is usually a long way from the parking area. Very inconvenient for unloading and loading gear and worrisome because your valuable motorcycle is now parked out of sight and vulnerable in some dimly lit parking lot. Our motorcycles looked a little forlorn as we entered the building after our second trip of hauling gear.

Miles traveled today:   307
Miles traveled total:     607

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Aug 21, 2012
Corning to El Dorado Hills

Our route for today's ride

We didn't worry about getting up too early today since we were so close to home and the riding would be easy. We wandered down to the breakfast buffet and ate way too much food, I did at least. If I had to eat every meal at a buffet, I would soon weigh 300 pounds and have to give up motorcycle riding ....... once in awhile, though, only adds a few pounds that come off with a little effort between rides.

After breakfast we checked on our motorcycles and found them to still be there and in good shape. We made the several trips to load our gear back on our bikes and were soon underway.

David's route home took us down Hwy 45 which follows the Sacramento River for about 125 miles down to Knights Landing. As you might expect, there is a lot of irrigated agriculture going on and we were treated to seeing how much our food is grown. There was a lot of activity - people working the fields and many tractors and other farm equipment traveling the roads. We even got a close up view of a crop duster plying his dangerous trade - David saw him passing under power lines on his approach to a field.

There was quite a familiar, distinctive smell as we rode along, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was. I didn't recognize it until David remarked, at one of our stops, that he thought the rice fields smelled pretty good - he knew it was rice because he'd had rice for dinner the night before.

Orchards on both sides of the road

I saw a lot of these in Nebraska
In this part of the world, I'm guessing this is for rice

Workin' the fields

On to the next field

One of the most interesting things I saw was a small shrine on the side of the highway. In Mexico they are fairly common, but this is the first one I've ever seen in this country. It is called "Little Shrine" and is located about 8 miles south of Colusa just west of Hwy 45. The plaque says that the first Catholic Mass was held here in 1856.

Little Shrine

At Knights Landing we crossed the Sacramento River and headed east across the rice fields towards home. We even rode a few more miles of dirt road to top off the day.

Riding across the rice fields on Kirkville Rd

We stopped in Loomis for fuel, something cold to drink, and a little conversation to wind up our ride before splitting up and heading our separate ways home. We both agreed that this had been a most excellent ride.

Miles traveled today:   158
Miles traveled total:     765

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