Coast Road Trip: Trinidad

Leaving Open Toe Beach, southbound, we climb again up into the redwoods, and come down near the water again at Orick. We’re on the Avenue of the Giants. That’s not a reference to the travelers or the locals. We slow down and check out Orick, where the highway becomes an alley passing through someone’s backyard. Shacks, old motels, a few cars and a few more pick up trucks parked this way and that, a snack place. A market, a school, an abandoned gas station on the way out of town.

“Uh-oh. Wasn’t there supposed to be some logger’s bar around here someplace? Everybody knew it was high times for the stiffs in the woods – though not for those in the mills, with the Japanese buying up unprocessed logs as fast as the forests could be clear-cut – but even so, the scene in here was peculiar. Dangerous men with coarsened attitudes, especially toward death, were perched around lightly on designer barstools, sipping kiwi mimosas.

from “Vineland,” by Thomas Pynchon, 1990

Highway 101 turns west, continues to follow Redwood Creek out to the ocean, where it turns south and crosses a series of lagoons (Freshwater Lagoon, Stone Lagoon, Big Lagoon). Not quite a bridge, not quite a road, it crosses over or passes near the marshy inlets in the longest series of tsunami inundation zones we’ve yet travelled through. The zones are introduced with new entrance and exit signs: “You are now entering a tsunami inundation zone…You are now leaving….” Basically, if the road is dropping, you’re entering. You know when you’re on the bottom. When climbing, you’re leaving. What you might do if a tsunami should occur while you’re in a zone is left up to your imagination. Turn the car east and try to surf your way back up into the redwoods. We pull off for a rest and to check out Trinidad.

We were not looking for kiwi mimosas, but coffee. The entrance to Trinidad, just west of the 101 entrance and exit, is deceiving. A gas station, a market, a surf and bait shop, and straight ahead, Trinidad Bay Trailer Court. But stay right on Main, passing by the Court, until you come to Stagecoach Road. Left there and on your left, across from the elementary school and next to the volunteer fire station, you’ll find Beachcomber Cafe. We got some coffee from the counter and took it out to the courtyard where we stretched and sat in the warm morning sun. We could hear the kids out playing at recess in the schoolyard across the street. An onshore breeze and a few gulls suggested we were close to a beach, but we’d not seen the water yet.

After coffee we walked down the street to the cliff overlooking Trinidad Harbor, a natural harbor formed by Little Head, which projects a short distance into the bay and is protected by the much larger Trinidad Head. On the cliff, the breeze became a wind, but the water below was still and smooth. A cluster of small boats, mostly fishing, were anchored off shore. There was a pier, but the view was mostly blocked by Little Head, but access to the boats in the harbor appeared limited to small, ship like dinghy crossings. The water down in the cove below the cliffs was translucent turquoise blue-green. The tide was out, and there was no surf, given the position of the beach which faced southeast and was protected from ocean swells by the big head to the west. We watched a fishing boat coming in. We climbed a trail a short way down the cliff to view a small memorial to folks lost at sea over the years. A landmark proclaimed Trinidad to be the oldest town on the Northern California coast.

No idea who might live now in the designer view homes up on the cliff overlooking the harbor or around the hill open to views of the ocean to the west. Not much of a neighborhood vibe apparent, but you can’t tell about a place unless you walk and talk and live and let live in it for a time. Some of the houses looked new, but a few appeared to be hanging on from the days of small beach cottages with yards still filled with wildflowers, seagrasses, surrounded by white picket fences and studded with beachcombing finds. There didn’t appear to be much industry in the small town. A commercial tour fishing boat was unloading at the end of the pier, a worker wearing a slick apron slicing the catch into fillets. Humboldt State University maintains a Marine Laboratory a few blocks up from the old Trinidad Lighthouse. But we didn’t stop in Trinidad to look for a place to live or even stay the night.

On our way out, we stopped at “Salty’s,” the bait and surf shop we’d seen on the way into town. I asked the young man holding a baby behind the counter what life was like in Trinidad, who lived there, and what did they do. He mentioned the changing demographic economic environment of the general area, focussing on the disruption to an established system prior to the legalization of marijuana. A lot of people now have to wear several hats, he said. And of course there’s the college, he said, referring to nearby Humboldt State, about 20 minutes farther south, just off the coast highway, in Arcata.

Back on 101 headed south, I started thinking again of Thomas Pynchon’s “Vineland.”

“The jukebox once famous for hundreds of freeway exits up and down the coast for its gigantic country-and-western collection, including half a dozen covers of “So Lonesome I Could Cry,” was reformatted to light classical and New Age music that gently peeped at the edges of audibility, slowing, lulling this roomful of choppers and choker setters who now all looked like models in Father’s Day ads. One of the larger of these, being among the first to notice Zoyd, had chosen to deal with the situation. He wore sunglasses with stylish frames, a Turnbull & Asser shirt in some pastel plaid, three-figure-price-tag jeans by Mm. Gris, and apres-logging shoes of a subdued, but incontestably blue, suede.”

from “Vineland,” by Thomas Pynchon, 1990

to be continued: this is part four in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

2 thoughts on “Coast Road Trip: Trinidad

  1. Never read Thomas Pynchon’s “Vineland” – an intense world there, at the Pacific.
    Is this your re-visit? It’s certainly a dramatic landscape. The Tsunami signs, so surreal …
    What you might do if a tsunami should occur while you’re in a zone is left up to your imagination … indeed.

  2. Have been up and down to and along the coast many times, but this is the first road trip from Portland down into Sonoma in awhile. Many, if not most, stretches of the trip don’t seem to change. It’s very rural, even remote, not easy to get to. Many backwoods communities digging in over the years. Interesting community contrasts: pot growers and loggers and mill workers and tourist enabled year long residents. The coast weather in winter can be unforgiving. The coast range in Oregon gets snow, hardly ever down to the water though. Earthquake risk modeling is getting better but it’s still reliant on assumptions that can’t be easily tested. Tsunamis are easier to predict once an earthquake occurs, but still, there are many variables that influence results in any given patch of ground.

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