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For an exciting ride try “The Wildcat”
Thirty miles of twists, turns and dips
One long block west of the intersection of Main Street and Ocean Avenue stands an iron sign on two tall wooden posts, proclaiming "Cape Town — Petrolia." The sign stands next to what looks like a country lane meandering in from the left. But this is no country lane; it's the beginning of "The Wildcat" — 30 miles of twists, turns, dips and rises and some of the most spectacular ocean scenery in America. The Wildcat had its beginning well over a century ago as a trail across the big cattle and sheep ranches that cover the coastal hills, peaks and valleys between Ferndale and the Bear and Mattole Valleys. Then, in the 1880s, Chinese workers — originally brought to this country to build railroads throughout the West — carved a narrow track out of the sand hills above Ferndale to make a road for stagecoaches and wagons. The country lane aspect of The Wildcat evaporates soon after you have turned onto it. You climb quickly around numerous curves under the sandstone cliffs that were once the bed of the ocean. From there you continue to climb for five miles through dense Douglas fir forests (but with occasional views of the highest Coast Range peaks some 50 miles to the east). You reach a crest of sorts where Bunker Hill Road comes in from the left, then you wind your way downward toward Bear River and Capetown. If you've been in the fog coming up, you'll be looking down on white billows of clouds at this point. Or, if it's a clear day, you'll see the Pacific Ocean in the distance. You pass ranch after ranch on windswept ridge tops and moors; they have such names as Spicy Breezes, Mazeppa, Cape Ranch, Dublin Heights and Ocean House. At Capetown, whose oneroom school house (now in disrepair) was the last one to close in Humboldt County (about 60 years ago), you cross the Bear River and begin climbing again. On top of the next cluster of mountain tops you suddenly look out — and down — at the vastness of the Pacific, its rows of breakers methodically rolling in toward shore as far south as you can see. As you descend toward sea level, off to the right is a Gibraltar-size rock just offshore from Cape Mendocino — the farthest western point in the contiguous 48 states. It looks just as it must have when the Spanish explorer Vizcaino and his crew spotted it nearly 400 years ago. Crossing a small creek, you pass Ocean House, the only residence you will see along this 10-mile stretch of coast. Offshore, on a bright day, chances are you'll spot several windsurfers maneuvering their boards not far from a large rock that, in silhouette, looks as if it must be the ghost of Admiral Dewey's flagship. A few miles farther south, the road winds up McNutt Gulch to gentle farmland, ending at Petrolia, near the site of California's first drilled oil wells (1864). Just beyond the village is the wild, undammed Mattole River, now undergoing watershed restoration to rebuild stocks of trout, steelhead and salmon. Just across the river, turn right on Lighthouse Road and follow it five miles to its terminus behind the dunes of Mattole Beach. The Bureau of Land Management maintains the beach and the vast King Range Conservation Area that covers 66,000 acres of the Coast Range from this point south for 30 miles. Stop for lunch in Petrolia or buy supplies for a picnic at the beach. If you stay overnight, consider a hike the next day to the decommissioned lighthouse at Punta Gorda, three miles down the beach from the Mattole Beach parking lot. Caution: even on warm days, the wind blows briskly, so dress accordingly. And, the ocean, while beautiful to see, is too cold and the riptides too strong for bathing. Beach strolling is another matter. The mouth of the Mattole — a trickle over the sand dunes in summer — is about halfa-mile north of the parking lot. The summer dunes hold a large lagoon with many shore birds. Or, if tea beckons back in Ferndale, you can let The Wildcat take your breath away twice in one day by returning after your sojourn in Petrolia and the Mattole Valley.
Photo courtesy of the Hannafords
Fern Cottage is located just outside of Ferndale, toward the beach on Centerville Road.
Fern Cottage showcases early Victorian life; historic home just a few minutes from town
From its facade, Fern Cottage looks like a cozy Victorian English house. Walk around it, however, and you will see a rambling 31-room home built in three phases by Humboldt County pioneers Joseph and Zipporah Russ for their large family. One of the few homes in California owned and occupied by the same family for over a century, Fern Cottage is on the National Register of Historic Places. Please call 707/786-4835 for tour and event information. Inside, Fern Cottage today looks much as it did after the original section was built in 1866. The second section was added in 1878; the third in 1897. Originally, Fern Cottage had eight rooms, but as the family grew, more and more were needed (the Russes had 13 children in all). Though well appointed, Fern Cottage was not a mansion but a working farmhouse for this large family, and it was the nerve center of the extensive Russ enterprises: 50,000 acres of ranches (26 in all) for dairy and beef cattle and sheep; timber, a sawmill, a slaughterhouse, a chain of meat markets, a general store in Ferndale, and a bank. Located on green dairy pastures that line the banks of the Eel River, Fern Cottage sits on a site selected by Zipporah Russ. One day, riding across this rise, she said to her husband, "This is where I would like to have our house." Joseph Russ had sailed around the Horn from Maine, arriving in San Francisco in March 1850. Zipporah Patrick, at age 14, accompanied her family from Pennsylvania in a covered wagon in 1852. They were married in December 1854. For years Fern Cottage resounded with the laughter of children. The youngest to live to adulthood, Bertha Russ Lytel, was born in the house and was the last to live there. She died in 1972 at age 98. Fern Cottage today is owned and operated by the not-for-profit Fern Cottage Foundation. Joseph Russ became active in public affairs and was elected to the California State Assembly three times. He was in the midst of his third term in 1886 when he died. At that time he was under consideration to become the Republican Party’s nominee for governor. A visit to Fern Cottage and its two-and-a-half acres of gardens will give you a taste of life in the latter half of the 19th century. The furniture and furnishings include those that Zipporah and Joseph Russ themselves chose for their home. Others were added over time, including some choice “Craftsman” pieces from the workshops of Gustav Stickley. Beautifully-preserved period gowns of Mrs. Russ and her daughters are displayed in several rooms of the house. There are two newlyrestored rooms this year. The Toy Room, with an array of toys from the 1870s through the 1940s is now on display on the second floor. Farther along on that floor is Mrs. Russ’s Companion’s Room. During her final years, in the 1920s, Mrs. Russ had a livein companion. That lady's room was just off Mrs. Russ’s dressing room and has now been fully restored. Fern Cottage has many surprises for the modern visitor and tells a vivid story of American enterprise and the building of the young state of California.
FERN COTTAGE 21 21 C e nt e r v i l le R o a d , three miles west of Ferndale. 707/786-4835 www.ferncottage.org
Planning a picnic? Stop by the Loleta Cheese Factory for all the fixin’s!
It’s the cheese that counts at Loleta Cheese Factory in Loleta, just across the Eel River from Ferndale. Bob and Carol Laffranchi founded Loleta Cheese Factory in 1982 in the small town of Loleta. The idea started with Bob when he was teaching agriculture education at Eureka High School. He began to lead his dairy class students through the maze of cheesemaking, and the rest, as they say, is history. Bob and Carol decided cheesemaking was what they wanted to do with their lives, that is, manufacturing superior quality cheese, and in the process, contribute to the economy of Humboldt County. They are located in the 1919 Bertsch building, which they bought and remodeled as a factory. As a family-run business, Loleta Cheese is dedicated to the production of great-tasting cheese. Loleta Cheese is made in small batches using traditional recipes to ensure old-fashioned flavor, making over 2.6 million pounds of cheese a year. Their medal-winning cheeses, 38 varieties, are noted for having a rich creamy taste and a smooth natural texture. In 1995, Loleta Cheese became the first cheese factory in California to make organic cheese. Today they produce a variety of four different organic cheeses. The cheese factory has developed a following for its varieties of flavored cheddar and jack cheeses. A few favorites include smoked salmon cheddar, jalapeno cheddar, garlic jalapeno jack, havarti with herbs and spice, garden jack, and hickory-smoked jack. A fun part of a visit to Loleta Cheese Factory is the treat of watching cheese being made and tasting all the varieties. As an additional attraction, Loleta Cheese has created a beautiful garden for visitors to enjoy all year round. To get to the Loleta Cheese Factory, take the Loleta Drive off-ramp from 101 and follow the curves. The factory is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Visit us online for more information.
THE LOLETA CHEESE FACTORY 252 Loleta Drive, Loleta (Head back out of Ferndale, left over the bridge, left on Eel River Drive, right on Loleta Drive.) Tel. 707/733-5470 To l l - f r e e : 1 - 8 0 0 - 9 9 5 0453 Fax: 707/733-1872 firstname.lastname@example.org www.loletacheese.com
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