On Labor Day weekend this past September I went car camping with my wife, some co-workers and their significant others. For those not familiar with the term car camping, it’s a camp ground where there’s a parking space at your camp site hence the term car camping. It makes camping much more civilized in that you have everything and possibly the kitchen sink at your finger tips as opposed to backpacking which you have to carry everything on your back. Both has it’s positives and negatives. I used to do both types quite regularly but these days because of a busy schedule….or just laziness I only camp once or twice a year.
On this particular trip we camped at a campground located on the Northern California coast in Mendocino county. It was chosen mainly because we wanted to get away from the bay area. The other big plus is that this campground is also highly rated in camping guidebooks. For some the mention of Mendocino area conjures the quaint seaside artist colony and it’s beautiful coastal scenery. For others the area conjures blue collar former lumber towns and for others still: illegal marijuana cultivation. Fortunately or unfortunately I got a taste of all three. More on these in a moment.
First I have to say the drive up to the campsite was quite long at about 4 hours (from S.F. area) with the occasional heavy traffic. After stopping for lunch at a wonderful Puerto Rican restaurant El Coqui in Santa Rosa we continued north and came upon the Alexander Valley wine region. I didn’t have time to explore the wineries but did stop and checked out another wine region near the town of Ft. Bragg. Unfortunately the wines were a bit underwhelming. Ft. Bragg greeted us with a grey layer of low clouds which made the town look a bit depressing. In it’s heyday this was a major logging town. These days it’s over shadowed by it’s southern neighbor Mendocino with it’s artist colonies, bed and breakfast, and scenery. The campground is located just a mile or two north of Ft. Bragg and is quite nice with well spaced sites and clean bathroom facilities. But I couldn’t help but think how grey or “blah” it felt at this desolate location. The strange thing about this camping trip was that I was the only one to use a tent. The others in the group slept in their vans which were converted to be like mini campers. The first evening we decided to find dinner in town rather than cook at the campsite. Finding dinner was a bit more challenging than I thought. I suppose we’re a bit spoiled living in the SF area with it’s numerous dining options. Eventually we settled on a surprisingly good but tiny pizza restaurant called Piaci. Afterwards we finished off the meal at a local ice cream parlor Cowlick’s. As we explored the town I noticed that there were numerous “wanted” signs on many of the storefronts. I was thinking how many of the locals looked like the guy in the wanted photo. Apparently this stemmed from several recent killings in the area by a local. People tend to get a bit possessive when cultivating marijuana and you don’t want to stumble onto someone’s plot. On a side note this wanted man was killed by authorities a week or two after this camping trip.
One thing I looked forward to was exploring the beach and its tide pools because the camp site was along the coast. And of course camping food always taste so good. I also did some civilized activities and explored the town of Mendocino. We took a different route on the drive back which turned out to be quite scenic. Along the way we had time to visit a few wineries including Coppola Winery. Yes as in Francis Ford Coppola the director of Godfather, Dracula, Apocalypse Now, etc movies. Although I’m not crazy about his wine, his winery is quite awesome. It’s really made for visitors with the large swimming pool, cabanas, and movie prop displays.