Destination Crescent City


The lure of the redwoods may bring you to this
far northern corner of California, but there’s enough here
to keep you busy for your entire vacation.

Story by Judy Fleagle

I found myself looking across almost 200 feet of water to Battery Point Lighthouse, sitting atop Lighthouse Island. The oft-photographed building, made from 22-inch thick slabs of granite, might as well have been miles across, for at high tide it's closed to the public. On a second try, the causeway was dry and I headed across.

My tour guides were the current caretakers, Randy and Sally Ansley. Both the first and second floors have many original furnishings, and I learned some of the lighthouse's fascinating history. To reach the lamp room, I climbed a narrow, spiral staircase and then a ladder before squeezing through a trap door. There, a tiny, 1000-watt, 3-inch bulb shines through a lens, visible 14 miles out to sea.

The Ansleys have been at the 151-year-old lighthouse since October 2006, and Sally says, "I can't think of any other place I'd rather be."

That's exactly how I felt during a recent four-day visit to Crescent City and the surrounding area. My first stop was the Crescent City–Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce for information and brochures. I also stopped at the headquarters of the Redwood National and State Parks and picked up a map. Now I was ready.

Major Attractions

At Ocean World, I browsed the huge gift shop before taking in the 45-minute tour and sea lion show. Dan Richardson, our young guide, was also the mammal handler. He introduced Marina, the harbor seal, and Red and Erin, the sea lions, seasoned pros at 22 and 25 years old. The sea lions balanced balls, played catch, and caught rings around their necks both in and out of the water while Marina swam around.

Then we went below to the aquarium, housed in a converted barge that was brought to land in 1983. It now displays three environments: rocky bottom with its 20 or so species of rockfish and a couple of wolf eels, the sandy bottom with its sharks and surf perch, and the open ocean with bat rays, large striped bass, and other fish. Interestingly, the surf perch were brought in as live food for the sharks, but the sharks seem to prefer being fed by humans and don't eat them. I learned that rockfish can live to be 100 years old and that shark skin feels like sandpaper if you rub it the wrong way. We had a chance to find that out in the shark gallery, where we learned how to carefully pet a 4-foot leopard shark.

Then I hotfooted it to the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in time for the 4 p.m. feeding. One of only two marine mammal "hospitals" in California, this is where seals, sea lions, elephant seals, and occasionally fur seals come when stranded due to illness or injury. Here they are rehabilitated and then released. During feeding time, visitors may watch through the fence.

Battery Point Lighthouse

Battery Point Lighthouse (above) and rhodedendrons and redwoods at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park (below).

Rhododendrons and redwoods,  Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

I saw a young sea lion that had just arrived with oily patches on her fur, two young elephant seals almost ready to be released, and eight harbor seals that were now several weeks old. For the first three weeks, each of them had been formula fed through a tube because they arrived when they were only two to three days old.

baby harbor sealsThe next day I stopped by the Del Norte County Main Museum. Director Brian O'Callaghan guided me through numerous displays where I learned a condensed history of Del Norte County. The Tolowa and Yurok artifacts are extensive and beautifully displayed, especially the baskets and regalia. The Bolen Annex was added to house the first order Fresnel lens from the St. George Reef Lighthouse. Amazingly, with the push of a button the huge lens revolves and the light flashes. I asked about the burn spots on the wall. "The sun burned them as it shone through the lens," says O'Callaghan. "Since we didn’t want to burn down the museum, we put protective shades on the window."

The museum participated in the research on the shipwrecked Brother Jonathan and now has artifacts from the shipwreck on display. (This shipwreck provided the impetus to build the St. George Reef Lighthouse.)

At the museum, I learned that Tillamook isn't the only long-time cheese factory on the coast. The Rumiano Cheese Company has been in business since 1921 and is still owned and operated by the Rumiano family. I stopped by the tasting room and gift shop, in temporary quarters on Hwy 101 by the fairgrounds, and sampled everything. I couldn't resist the cheese they are best known for—Dry Monterey Jack—and their popular Mediterranean Jack and Extra Sharp Cheddar. The tasting room will move back to the factory location on 9th Street when the latest renovations there are completed.

I discovered Elk Valley Casino while heading out Howland Hill Road on the south end of town. This popular casino offers slots, bingo, poker, and blackjack along with a restaurant, gift shop, and video arcade. And the casino is also in for some major renovations: The gaming area where smoking is allowed is being expanded, most of the slot machines are being updated, and a Poker Room is being added. Plus, the restaurant is also being expanded and a new bar added. Expect these changes soon.

After checking out the casino, I continued on to Stout Grove on Howland Hill Road. After a few miles, this old stagecoach road narrowed and turned to gravel (not suitable for RVs). The awesome redwood giants in the 4-mile section before the grove are definitely worth the rough ride. After arriving at the grove, I walked the trail and stopped every few minutes to marvel. Even though my neck grew weary from looking up, my time in the redwoods left me magically refreshed. Upon leaving, I headed north to Highway 199, a faster route back to town.

Outdoor activities

I went mural-hopping and saw two community-made murals. South of town, where Hwy 101 separates, is a 1750-square-foot, brightly colored mural showing Crescent City's two lighthouses, and on Washington Boulevard on the Ace Hardware building is the 3000-square-foot Jedediah Smith mural, completed in time for this year's July 4th celebration. Shirley Cook, president of the Redwoods Mural Society, says, "We had 100 community members working on the first one and 81 on the second one." Another must-see is the mural at 3rd and H on the wall of The Daily Triplicate, which portrays author Jack London visiting his friend Xerxes Alexander Phillips, a dry-goods merchant in town.

Then I did some sightseeing on Pebble Beach Drive, Crescent City's most scenic street. It borders the ocean, with numerous viewpoints and beach accesses, and ends at Point St. George. On a clear day you might see St. George Reef Lighthouse, located 6 miles offshore. Helicopter rides to the lighthouse with hour-long tours are available, depending on the weather. It has been recently renovated with a newly built lantern room.

If you're into surfing or skateboarding, stop by Noll Surf and Skate. Rhyn Noll has gained a worldwide reputation for handcrafted board shapes and designs. And his streetsurfers, custom long skateboards, have garnered a great deal of attention too. His mom, Bev, told him 17 years ago she would take a year and help him get his shop started, and she's still there.

Two of the most popular beaches are south of town. South Beach is where surfers congregate and the rest of us soak up sun or build sandcastles. A little farther is the turnoff for Enderts Beach. The road ends at a great viewpoint with a trail down to the beach, where I checked out tide pools at low tide.

I simply couldn't come to Crescent City without seeing more of the redwoods, the area's premier attraction. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park to the northeast has 20 miles of hiking and nature trails (including Stout Grove), as well as numerous places to access the Smith River for kayaking, swimming, or fishing. I always come into Crescent City via Hwy 197 so I can drive through the park. Then, after turning west on Hwy 199, I stop and walk the trail at the magnificent Simpson–Reed Grove. Southeast of town is Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, noted for its rugged coastal beaches as well as hiking and horse trails. I hiked the Damnation Trail on my last trip, and with all its ups and downs, I figured out how it got its name.

Mouth of the Klamath River

Klamath Area

I headed south to explore the southern end of Del Norte County. I stopped first at Trees of Mystery, the major attraction in the area, with its unique trails through the redwoods, attractive gift shop, and the Sky Trail through the redwood forest canopy. This is also the site of the End of the Trail Museum, which houses one of the finest private collections of Native American artifacts. My first trip here was when I was six, and with each visit, I'm impressed all over again.

I continued on to the Tour Thru Tree just past the township of Klamath at the Hwy 169 junction. Years ago my old car fit, but I didn't even try taking this one through because of its rigid rearview mirrors. I didn't have any trouble walking through, though.

While in the area, I took a couple of my favorite drives. I turned at Requa Road to the Klamath Overlook on the north side of the Klamath River to see the mouth of the river and then took the Coastal Drive on the south side to High Bluff. This latter is not for RVs because of its narrow and partially unpaved road. But it does have spectacular ocean views.

Next trip, I'll take the Klamath River Jet Boat Tour, which takes passengers 50 miles upriver while pilots provide tales of the river's history, wildlife, and geology. And I also want to do the FunBus Fern Canyon Tour. Since I was last there, Fern Canyon has gained fame as the setting for the movie Jurassic Park. The FunBus Tours, based in Klamath, offer several scheduled tours, including whale-watching, cranberry tours as far north as Bandon, and the Christmas Lights Festival in Ferndale.

This year I hiked into a remote area of Del Norte with Chris Howard, biologist with Green Diamond Resource Company, where he got me up close and personal with a spotted owl. By hooting like the owl, he called one in. He then tempted it with a live mouse on a stick that I Ferns at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. was holding. It swooped in, got the mouse, and I got to see the owl within a couple of feet. Wow! What a thrill. This experience is part of one of the 80 field trips/workshops available at the Aleutian Goose Festival held each spring in and around Crescent City. Nearly the entire population of Aleutian Geese overwinters in the farmers' fields in the area. This subspecies of Canada Goose has an amazing comeback story. After being down to 500 in the early 1970s, they now number more than 60,000.

I also asked Joe Gartland, of Canoe & Wing tours, if he would take me out on Lake Earl. We were the only ones weaving in and out of the early morning fog in a canoe on this coastal lagoon, which at its fullest has a 60-mile perimeter. It was so still and quiet, the only sounds were the birds. Lake Earl is a part of Lake Earl State Wildlife Area and one of the prime birding locales in an area known for its birding. A bird guide to 43 hotspots along the California Redwoods Birding Trail is now available at the Chamber office.

During a visit to the Alexandre Family Eco-Dairy Farms, Stephanie and Blake Alexandre and their 8-year old daughter, Savanna, showed me around their organic farm where they have 2800 grass-fed cows in three locations. "The wire fencing in the fields is moved every 12 hours so the cows have new grass twice a day. It's very management-intensive," says Blake.

Savanna showed me the innovative, portable coop that houses 360 chickens, guarded by Charlois, a lovable Great Pyrenees. Savanna and her brothers and sister, ages 8 to 16, take care of the chickens with older brother Christian in charge. They move the coop and wire fencing to new grass every few days, collect eggs, and do everything except the marketing. The eggs are sold in several locations in the area.

The Alexandre's grass-fed chickens and cows produce nutrient-rich eggs, milk, and beef that are available in the local

community. And the family allows birding and self-guided eco-tours on their land, where visitors will see waterfowl on

the pond, a bald eagle nest, and bison and long-horn cattle in adjacent fields. This eco-farm is the first of its kind in the area, a look into farming of the future.

Smith River

Heading back home, I stopped in Smith River, Easter Lily Capital of the World. It's true! The area from Brookings to south of Smith River grows about 90 percent of the Easter lilies bought in the United States.

While in the area, I also stopped at the Ship Ashore Resort. I went into the landmark ship gift shop and museum and was amazed at all the rooms in the lower-level. The ship was moved overland to this location in 1965 with the aid of 12 large tractors tugging for 10 hours. It's starting to show its age, but is still worth a stop because it's such a novelty. Then I drove through the RV park to the restaurant for lunch with a view of the Smith River estuary.

My last stop was a tour of the Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery, right in town behind the post office at the juncture of Dominie and Rowdy creeks. Fish are taken from both creeks to enhance the chinook salmon and steelhead populations.

CITY’S FUTURE PLANS

Major changes are in store for the harbor area. "The master plan calls for a new hotel, a new inn, more restaurants, and a promenade that will tie into the Coastal Trail, which is being extended from the National and State Parks," says Harbormaster Rich Young. "And we have plans for a new Lighthouse Museum to commemorate the St. George Reef Lighthouse."

Several years ago, both the Inner and Outer harbors were full of boats; now it's mainly just the Inner Harbor. That's because the rockfish and salmon fisheries have suffered greatly in the past few years. That's not true, however, for the Dungeness crab fishery. The past couple years have been outstanding, the best since 1915. And for visitors who want to go ocean fishing, there's the charter boats Tally Ho II and Golden Bear.

Harbormaster Young knows fishing firsthand. He grew up here the son of a commercial fisherman and later took over his father's boat and fished commercially for 20 years. In between he went off to college, obtained a PhD in economics, and taught for several years before returning. So he might just be the right person to take Crescent City's harbor into the future.

* * *

It was a busy four days, and I still haven't kayaked the Smith River, hiked many of the redwood trails, or seen for myself Crescent City's fabulous 4th of July celebration. I’ll be back!

  

When You Go

Map Crescent City

Dining

Ambrosia Grill - Upscale, gourmet. (707-464-2400)

Bistro Gardens - Ocean view at the harbor. (707-464-5627)

Chart Room Marina & Restaurant - Seafood at the harbor. (707-464-5993)

Beachcomber Restaurant - Seafood
at the beach. (707-464-2205)

Forest Cafe - Trees of Mystery, family cafe, Klamath. (800-638-3389)

Good Harvest Cafe - Fresh food, plus vegetarian; handmade alder chairs. (707-465-6028)

Harbor View Grotto - Seafood at the harbor. (707-464-3815)

Surfside Grill - Casual, local microbrews. (707-464-7962)

GETTING STARTED

Crescent City–Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce
(707-464-3174; www.exploredelnorte.com)

Redwood National and State Parks - Pick up brochures and maps. (707-464-6101; www.nps.gov/redw)

Crescent City Harbor District - Fishing and charter boat information.
(707-464-6174; www.ccharbor.com)

Fishing charters

Tally Ho II (707-464-1236 www.exploredelnorte.com)

Golden Bear (707-487-0595; www.goldenbearfishingcharters.com)

Attractions/Tours

Crescent City:

Alexandre Family Eco-Dairy Farms - Self-guided eco-tours. (707-487-1000)

Battery Point Lighthouse - Interpretive, guided tours through island lighthouse. (707-464-3089; www.delnortehistory.org)

Canoe & Wing, Joe Gartland, tour Lake Earl by canoe or kayak (707-465-6921)

Ocean World - Aquarium, sea lion
performances, gift shop. (707-464-4900; www.oceanworldonline.com)

Del Norte County Historical Society Main Museum - Exhibits from Tolowa and Yurok Indians to 1964 Tsunami. (707-464-3922; www.delnortehistory.org)

Del Norte Golf Club - 9 holes, par 72. (707-458-3214)

Elk Valley Casino - Gaming experience with restaurant and bar. (888-574-2744; www.elkvalleycasino.com)

Kings Valley Golf Course - 9 holes, par 56. (707-464-2886)

Noll Surf & Skate - Learn about surfing and skateboarding, rent or buy boards. (707-465-4400; www.noll.net)

St. George Reef Lighthouse - Helicopter tours. (707-464-8299; www.stgeorgereeflighthouse.us

Klamath Area:

Trees of Mystery - Redwood trails, gondola ride, museum. (800-638-3389; www.treesofmystery.net)

Klamath River Jet Boat Tours -
(800-877-5387; www.jetboattours.com)

FunBus Tours - Bus tours from Bandon to Ferndale, CA. (888-FunBus2; www.funbustours.com)

Smith River:

Lucky 7 Casino - Gaming and restaurant. (866-777-7170; www.lucky7casino.com)

Ship Ashore Resort - Landmark ship gift shop, museum, and restaurant. (707-487-3141; www.ship-ashore.com)

Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery - Free tours Monday–Friday. (707-487-3443; www.rowdycreek.com)

Shopping

Rumiano Cheese Company - Tasting room and gift shop. (866-eat-cheese; www.rumianocheese.com)

Antiques

Sylvia’s Attic, Collectibles galore. (707-464-9466)

Seaport Village Antique and Collectible Mall, 35 vendors. (707-465-4134l; www.seaportvillage.org)

Robin’s Nest Antique & Collectibles, vintage clothing, jewelry, and more.
(707-464-6073)

Crescent Harbor Gallery - Regional and local artists’ work. (707-464-9133)

Del Norte Office Supplies - Extensive selection of gifts and cards. (707-464-5680)

 

 
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Oregon Coast September/October 2007 
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