The Lost Coast — so glad we found it

(Trip to Shelter Cove, CA, May 23–26, 2014)

All afternoon, Jim and I have been lounging in the living room of our Spyglass Inn suite reading books with the sound of the surf as a backdrop. It’s a little too cool to be sitting out on the deck, but we have the sliding glass door open to feel the crisp ocean breeze refresh the warmer indoors. We are about 250 miles north of San Francisco and there is no cell service here in Shelter Cove, but we do have wifi in our room. Still it’s good to be forced into being “off the grid” for a true break and makes for a good time to write about our trip.

This is a beautiful place, the Lost Coast. So glad we found it. This morning we took a short walk to the Black Sands Beaches — amazing views and incredibly powerful surf. Actually it’s not “sand” but small black pebbles polished to smoothness from the rough waters. I guess in another 500 years or so, it will be ground to sand.

We felt a small earthquake yesterday while sitting and enjoying Gruyere cheese and red wine before dinner. It was 30 miles out to sea and around 3-point-something on the Richter Scale. No tsunami. The thought of such unnerves me. We are out of the tsunami danger zone, though, atop 200–300 foot bluffs rising from the rocky coast.

Jim just arrived back from the only restaurant in this small coastal community. He left his credit card there last night, “Why do they call this the Lost Coast?” he asked upon entering the suite.

Good question. I looked it up.

According to Wikipedia, this area experienced de-population in the 1930s, but it didn’t say why. Would it have been the Great Depression? There were originally plans to continue Highway 1 through this area, but the State of California finally admitted it would be too expensive and unrealistic. Now it’s unlikely any major road will pass through the national and state park conservation areas.

We contemplate where we will retire. (It’s something we do wherever we go.) Could it be here? I’d like to stay in California, but of course the cost of living is high. However, if we were to set up something similar to what our Spyglass Inn hosts have done, that could be more plausible to maintain the California cost of living. We think we’d need to be a little closer to civilization though. Maybe Cambria? There you have Hearst Castle, the Central Coast wineries, and the coast, “A trifecta,” Jim said.

Yesterday we drove to the Avenue of the Giants. It’s a humbling experience standing in a grove of coastal redwoods — like being in the land of the dinosaurs. It was Jim’s first visit there. I had been once before on a trip with my parents. I think what struck me about it this time was the vastness of the area. I now completely appreciate how the so-called Sasquatch could hide in these parts.

We stopped and had lunch at the Avenue Cafe. It was surprisingly good. I had a field greens salad and slice of pizza with mushrooms, fresh basil and onions (my favorite). It tasted very fresh. Nicely done and service with a smile.

Days earlier, before we arrived for our stay in Shelter Cove, we stopped to buy groceries in the small town of Redway at the strong and repeated recommendation of our Inn’s host. (It was the only grocery story within 25 miles.) That was an experience — some of the roughest looking people I’ve seen in a long time. It made my 1970s small Ozarkian hometown look hyper-civilized. I mean a couple folks looked like they’d just escaped from years of Sasquatch captivity. On the other hand, marijuana is the predominant farming crop in this area. At any rate, the checker and grocery baggers were quite kind and friendly. I guess they figured we “weren’t from these parts” and started chit-chatting. They told us about a young lady from there — her recent accomplishment was clearly top-of-mind. She got hired as a gymnast for Cirque de Soleil and would soon be traveling all over Europe. “A very sweet, smart, talented girl.” They were so happy and proud for her. “She’s a hugger. She hugs everyone.” Their eyes sparkled as they reminisced about her. She will be the talk of that little town for many years I imagine. We left thinking how wrong we were to be nervous walking in and how friendly and kind the people were. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

About an hour later after a twisting mountainous drive that held our car to 20mph, we arrived in Shelter Cove. We were glad we heeded our Inn host’s advice.

Prior to grocery shopping, we had stopped at another “interesting” place: Confusion Hill. That was a good name for it; we were confused as to why we stopped. It was your average tourist trap, but I recall the food was decent. Jim ordered a chili dog, and I had a veggie burger. (Yes, even in the middle of nowhere, you can still get a veggie burger in California!) It looked a lot like something you would see in The Ozarks — Branson, Arkansas, etc. There were rustic wooden signs with jokey sayings or instructions making a play of reverse psychology. In other words, you can’t resist doing what it says not to do, like, “Whatever you do, don’t look in this hole!” And of course, you have to look in the hole. There was stuff like that all over Confusion Hill. It reminded me of a micro Silver Dollar City sans the rides.

Now we are enjoying a glass of wine, the last of our Gruyere cheese, and getting ready to make dinner tonight: Mahi mahi, couscous, and salad. For the last two nights, we ate at the only restaurant called, “The Cove.” It’s quite good — at least the seafood is fantastic. They keep it simple as one should. Fresh herbs, butter, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. That’s all you need for fish. I ordered grilled scallops the first night. Jim had the seafood platter, which came with fresh red snapper, scallops, shrimp. For the appetizer, we had steamers, which were phenomenal. Definitely the highlight. They were in a broth of clam juice, onion, chives, red pepper, garlic. Soooo tasty. I wasn’t sure how I would fare with clams after the food poisoning incident in Block Island. It was more than 20 years ago, and it still haunts me to this day, but those were fried, whole clams—conversely these were steamed and small. Quite tasty. Then last night, we split a red snapper dish. Again, very good, though the sides were nothing to write home about — a salad with store-bought dressing and choice of rice pilaf, red potatoes, or mashed potatoes. The potatoes were disappointing; however, the clam chowder was good — better the second night than the first. I think they used the leftover broth from the steamers the second night. Also — we learned from fellow diners that we had just missed a whale sighting. Curses! The one thing I wanted to see while I was there. Earlier today we saw sea lions swimming near the black sands area, but no whales.

Jim and I are also working on our drawing assignments from last week’s Art Center 360 class. One down. Four to go. For the first assignment, we drew a scene of the redwoods while in the Avenue of the Giants park. But today we procrastinated in lieu of reading. Jim just got out his sketchpad, but I’m getting hungry. I may have to put the kibosh on this exercise for now.

We made a tasty dinner. Grilled mahi mahi, salad with lemon juice vinaigrette, baby carrots sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and scallions, and Mediterranean curry couscous. It’s amazing what you can create with just a few ingredients. Why can’t I pull that off on weeknights? Oh and we had a Pepperidge Farms chocolate cake for dessert. It was quite good and made me wish we had cooked earlier during our stay, so we could eat the leftovers. After dinner, we went for a short walk around the neighborhood. I wore the poncho that my friend, Pamela, gave to me as a gift years ago. I always knew I would wear it again someday. Turns out it’s perfect for the Northern California chill. Soft and cozy as can be. Glad I packed it.

During our walk, we saw deer quietly grazing. We saw them along every walk. Such beautiful, peaceful creatures.

Monday, May 26, 2014:

It’s now time to leave. I happened to wake up shortly after midnight last night. I was hot, so I opened the window more and cracked open the mini blinds when I noticed many lights in the sky. At first I was puzzled and somewhat half asleep when I realized…they were stars! I got up and put on my contact lenses to see better. It was absolutely amazing. Why didn’t I even think of that before? Of course, the night sky is clearer way up in Northern California. There is nothing around. No cities. No lights. I hoped Jim would awake and at one point he rolled over. I nudged him and said, “You gotta see this. Stars!” He laughed and rolled over and went back to sleep. He was out cold. Now I wish I would have awakened him because it was truly spectacular. I haven’t seen stars like that since I was in New Zealand. I mean, you could see the Milky Way.

Then my trip was made even more complete around 8am. Two whales passed right by the cove nearest our Inn. We watched them for about 15 minutes or so. There were two of them. They would come to the surface and spout water. They did that several times, but we never saw their tails or a jump. They slowly swam north along the coast and eventually out of our sight.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and we without a doubt, stayed at the best place in Shelter Cove — the Spyglass Inn. (Highly recommend it — it was as spotless as my Grandma used to keep her house, and as we used to say, you could eat on her floor.) I wish we would have had one more day to relax, read, and draw, but perhaps we’ll return one day. Although, there are a lot more sites to see.

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