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Weekend Escape

On a Limb in Humboldt

Forgoing a free stay in Maui in favor of the redwood coast, with no regrets

March 11, 2001|ELI ELLISON | Eli Ellison is a freelance writer based in Seal Beach

TRINIDAD, Calif. — The invitation from my girlfriend's parents was tempting: Stay with them in a Maui time-share for a week, at no cost to Joni and me. But then the date of the trip came to light-the peak of spring break-and I envisioned crowded flights, long waits for dinner tables in Lahaina and roads as congested as, well, pick your favorite L.A. freeway.

Joni and I still wanted a getaway of our own, though, so I tried to think of the last beach on Earth where cooped-up coeds would flock for drinking and debauchery. Then it came to me-eureka! The redwood coast of Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Here we could enjoy a spectacular coastline and hike in a fern-covered canyon I had read about. So one weekend last spring, we set out for a three-day trip to Redwood National Park and the nearby seaside town of Trinidad.

Joni was less than thrilled, but my promise of abundant seal sightings eventually swayed her. The Weather Channel taunted me in the weeks before our departure. Storms pounded the Northern California coast with regularity, while Maui's forecast held steady at 82 degrees and sunny.

With trepidation and a suitcase of sweaters, we caught connecting flights from Burbank into the Arcata-Eureka airport, about 270 miles north of San Francisco, on a Friday afternoon. As we drove the rental car north on U.S. 101, the sun's unexpected warmth melted my paranoia and lifted my spirits on the 15-minute ride to Trinidad.

The town is picturesque, situated atop coastal bluffs and surrounded by redwood forest. A state beach, a lighthouse, modest restaurants and lodging options are nearby, at the southern end of Redwood National Park. Budget motels, woodsy cabins and pricey B&Bs dot the eight miles of Patricks Point Drive that parallel U.S. 101 north of Trinidad. Because Joni was counting on an ocean view and seals, I had made reservations at the Turtle Rocks Oceanfront Inn.

Turtle Rocks is a gabled, six-room charmer perched on a steep bluff 220 feet above Turtle Rocks Cove. Innkeepers Roger and Francine Glidden have garnered quite a following since they opened the inn in 1995, and I quickly understood why. From our large, airy room, we had a gorgeous, unimpeded view of the ocean pounding the rugged offshore rocks below. The waves seemed to whisper in my ear, "You are off the hook."

Francine invited Joni to peek through the house binoculars at a stray harbor seal basking in the late afternoon sun. The resident colony of sea lions-more than 100-had mysteriously disappeared in the past week, she said. Off the hook? Maybe not.

All six units have ocean vistas and private decks. Our second-story room had vaulted ceilings, an oversized bathtub and a cozy love seat in front of a picture window.

We settled in, opened a bottle of Cabernet and watched sea gulls dance in the pink sunset. That night we stumbled upon nearby Murphy's Market, where hungry loggers and tree huggers jockey for position at a tiny deli counter. I ordered a Black Forest ham-and-cheese sandwich ($4.95), and Joni opted for the turkey pesto ($5.50); both were good.

We returned to our inn's kitchen counter for dessert, included in the nightly rate. Francine's fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, moist rum fudge cake and lemon meringue pie were heavenly.

The north coast's infamous fog was absent Saturday as we crawled out of bed and cursed the barking seals that had awakened us entirely too early. At 9 a.m. we joined the other guests in the dining room for breakfast: fluffy chicken-sausage-egg strata, scalloped potatoes and yeast rolls.

Then we set off for Fern Canyon, driving 25 miles north on U.S. 101. Davison Road deposited us in a meadow where Roosevelt elk stopped grazing and unwittingly posed for pictures. Joni wanted shots of their faces, and she insisted I repeatedly open and close our car door to get their attention. ("Elk Are Dangerous" signs were a bit worrisome.)

We left without incident, continuing on the dirt road as it snaked through redwoods and spruce for eight miles to the Gold Bluffs Beach entrance to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (one of three state parks in the region besides the national park). A handwritten sign informed us that the road to Fern Canyon had been the victim of a nasty tree-and-rock slide. The closure meant an extra mile to walk to the trail head.

At the foot of rocky, redwood-topped bluffs, Davison Road skirts four miles of meadows, shallow lagoons and Gold Bluffs Beach. To our left lay shimmering gold sand littered with driftwood logs.

Veering up and away from the beach, we hopped back and forth across a shallow creek and into a lush, narrow gorge. On either side of us, 50-foot-high canyon walls were covered with mosses and giant ferns-five-finger, maidenhair, deer, lady and sword. Maple grew in company with Douglas fir and oak. We saw every shade of green imaginable. It was all here, bathed in tree-filtered light. This was Maui, for all we cared.

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