Back to California’s Glass Beach

After our two nights among the faerie trees at Big Lagoon County Park we continued 3 1/2 hours south to Fort Bragg. This is our third visit to the area, having first come in 2015 during our first full time RV year. The experience was so rewarding that we returned in 2017, and it will likely be on our itinerary any time we are RVing California.

The town is home of the famous Glass Beach, an unofficial name for the a series of nearby bays that collect the remnants from an historic oceanside dump with consistent particular tides and currents which return enormous amounts of old glass to shores. Fort Bragg is one of the premier sea glass sites. Despite noticeable declines year over year the glass collecting is still astounding.

The shoreline in the part of the country is just fantastic, and Fort Bragg has miles of walking and biking paths right along it.

We have previously stayed at both Mackerricher State Park and the privately owned Cleone Campground nearly next door. Though a stunning location it has become nearly impossible to secure a reservation at the state park, so we comfortably settled for Cleone, getting power, water, and an onsite convenience store at the same price we would have paid at Mackerricher. It may not have been oceanside, but our spacious site was surrounded by huge blackberry bushes, providing privacy from everyone except the horses in the pasture we backed up against.

Though a bit touristy, we enjoy the town of Fort Bragg. They have several tasty restaurants, a nice farmers market, interesting history, cool shops, a brewery, and a good assortment of quirky street art. “Artisanal” style pizza and local craft beer is always appreciated, but no visit to Fort Bragg is complete without a meal at Jenny’s Giant Burger. Though perhaps a bit gluttonous, we ate there twice in four days.

The local economy, though diversified towards as much seaside tourist activity as possible, is still significantly enhanced by the prevalence of the sea glass. In response to decades of collecting resulting in declining amounts of this tourist magnet, local government has attempted various restrictions, including a brief period where they issued citations with fines for those caught taking the glass. The premise of their legal argument was quickly shot down by the courts since California state law does not recognize old garbage as a protected resource.

The ground squirrels near the cliffs have grown pretty brave, accustomed as they are to us tourists.

In more recent years the restrictions are implied, social, and in some cases, physical. There are lots of thigh high cable runs implying you should not cross, plenty of signs warning of the danger of climging down the low cliffs, and perhaps most effective of all, they have simply not rebuilt the one set of stairs leading from the main parking lot down to a large and formerly popular bay.

The bigger and more colorful varieties may be getting sparce, but there is still a ton of sea glass to be found.

While it may not be as easy or productive as it once was, if you want sea glass in Fort Bragg you need but do a slight bit of research to pick the still excellent locations and be willing to walk down rock and dirt switchbacks to the shore, preferably at low tide. Most adults and children could handle the places we went with no problems.

Rosemarie in front of one of the freshwater rivulets running directly into the ocean. She is part way up the path here, and having no difficulty aside from her the weight of the glass in her pockets.

We also took a day trip south along the coastal highway, partly to look for the hidden beach that Ron took me too for abalone diving in 2017, but also just to explore the area. We didn’t find Ron’s secret beach, but we enjoyed exploring a couple of wonderful oceanside parks along the way. We also found one of America’s most infamous gas stations, regularly misused by media outlets when they want to talk about how high gas prices are, which is a bit like sighting the vig at Vinny’s loan shark business when talking about nationwide bank lending rates. We did not, fortunately, need to buy from there during our exploration.

Us at another beach some miles south of Fort Bragg.

Next up: Concord, Petaluma, and a little-known military campground.

Starting Down the Northern Californian Coast: Big Lagoon County Park in Trinidad

Our early departure and follow-on sprint from Idaho left us a bit ahead of schedule, leaving us a full month to work our way down the length of California before our next significant obligation. Sure, The Golden State is rather large, especially north to south, but we figured on less than 1,000 miles, or four solid legs per our driving preference. This would allow us plenty of time to linger in places that appealed, or shorten driving legs to a modest two or three hours, perhaps both.

We are back to the Pacific!

Thus, despite being well rested from our three lazy riverside days at The Laughing Alpaca we headed southwest into California and to the coastline proper, stopping after a mere two hour run near Trinadad. Sometimes when we have a “non-destination” layover in the works we will research two or three stopping points across a range of travel distances; a short, medium, and long drive campground option. In this case we took the short choice, Big Lagoon County Park.

Just look at that tree! Big Lagoon’s campground was filled with specimens like this, along with the traditional redwoods.

This is one of Humboldt County’s gems. The fairyland campground rests under huge, mist-shrouded, moss-covered trees one mile off of US-101 and directly on the protected lagoon shore. The check in was a bit confusing; like many county campgrounds they do not man an entry gate. Drive deep enough into the park, almost at the end of the paved campground road, and you find a self-pay kiosk with envelopes and a drop slot, and the congenial camp host lives near there as well.

All sites are first come first serve, dry camping, and $25 a night, $22 with a veteran discount. This probably sounds steep for an unserviced site to some of you, but along the California coast this is actually pretty cheap: Mackerricher State Park near Glass Beach is $44 and they are completely full during much of the year. We loved the feel of the place immediately, and secured two nights rather than our planned one.

One of PKM’s favorite parks we think.

Once paid, maneuvering within the campground loop is a bit tight in places; I would not want to attempt it with a rig much larger than ours, and the sites are laid out in a seemingly half hazard manner, as if gaps between major trees and other natural openings among the extensive vegetation appears to have been the primary consideration. We selected a fantastic spot with an extraordinary set of trees branching over our outside living area.

Just a magical campsite.

The bay is ideal for casual beachside strolls or easy boating. Many of the campgrounds have a semi-private path to the beach; ours was not more than 50′ from RV to sand. The Pacific, particularly in Northern California and up, is quite cold, so we limited ourselves to the shore and occasional longing glances at the boats and other watercraft.

Though we would love to get back into the nearby Redwood National and State Park campgrounds, Big Lagoon will be a top choice the next time we are in the area. Next up: Glass Beach!