"How far are you from the coast? " is a question visitors to Garberville and Redway frequently ask.
And the answer is "About 22 miles as the crow flies. "
And folks who don ‘t know better sometimes will calculate mentally, "Hmm ... twenty-two miles at 65 miles an hour - let ‘s see, I should be able to get there in about 20 minutes.
" Don ‘t count on it. Notice that the answer to "how far " was qualified by "as the crow flies. " Unless you ‘re traveling by private airplane or sailing in a boat, the only direct way into Shelter Cove from Garberville is a two-lane road that is not posted for 65-mph travel.
Some folks call the road between Redway and Shelter Cove "Dramamine Highway. " It has lots of twists and turns, several of them of the hairpin variety. And if time is a factor, count on it taking about threequarters of an hour. But make no mistake. The slower trip to transport you from towering redwood groves to the majestic scenery on the Lost Coast is well worth the time and, if you need it, a motion sickness pill to get you past the curves.
Shelter Cove is the gateway to beachcombing, tidepool exploration, swimming and surfing, boating, fishing, hiking, wilderness camping, whale watching in season, and dozens of other exciting and/or relaxing things to enjoy.
To reach Shelter Cove from Garberville, take Redwood Drive two miles to Redway and then turn west on Briceland Road, which quickly turns into Briceland-Thorne Road, and bear right, crossing the Eel River. As you pass through Briceland, keep to the right and follow the signs to Shelter Cove/King Range. Be sure to keep right at Thorne Junction in order to remain on Shelter Cove Road. In Shelter Cove, turn left onto Upper Pacific Drive at the stop sign and follow Upper Pacific to Machi Road. Turn right until you see the Bureau of Land Management sign welcoming you to Mal Coombs Park and the lighthouse in the background.
A good place to start at the park is a tour of the historic Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, which was relocated to Shelter Cove in 1999 after 130 years of sitting precariously on the westernmost point in California at Cape Mendocino, a few miles north.
The lighthouse, first lighted in 1868, was automated in 1951, continuing to illuminate the shore until the 1970s when it was abandoned completely when a new light was placed in a tower above and behind it. The Coast Guard declared the old lighthouse surplus.
Late in 1998, volunteers in Shelter Cove interested in keeping formed the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse Preservation Society and started procedures to bring it to Point Delgada, where Mal Coombs Park is situated.
The metal walls of the lighthouse were disassembled and trucked to the new site, while the dome and lantern room were brought in one piece by an Army National Guard helicopter. Society members completed the refurbishing efforts and dedicated the restored structure in September 1999. It is now operated by the Society as a historic monument "to those hardy and longsuffering keepers of the light and to the United States Coast Guard, who served to keep people and ships safe. " Tours of the lighthouse can be arranged at the site.
Mal Coombs Park also is home to a number of other special monuments and memorials, including one erected by the Coast Guard in memory of a helicopter crew that died in a 1994 sea rescue effort.
Shelter Cove Pioneers raised a monument "With gratitude to all United States Veterans " and bearing the emblems of all the nation ‘s military branches.
At the entrance to the park, a bronze statue of Mario Machi stands poised on a foundation facing the ocean. An adjacent marker reads, "Mario Machi - 1914-1998. Founder of Shelter Cove ... A ready smile, a friendly wave, a faraway look, waiting for his fishermen to return."
Point Delgada protrudes into the ocean, making it possible to watch from almost every angle what is going on in the water - from crashing waves on the shore to playful whales migrating north in the spring from April to June and south in the fall during September and October.
An abundance of food in the local waters appears to bring the whales closer to the shore as they make the trek to warmer climes in the winter and to the more frigid waters of Alaska during the summer. The most likely sightings are the California Gray Whale. More rarely, the blue whale and the baleen whale have been seen off the coast.
There are no organized services at the Cove for watching the migrating whales, but in season, the creatures are readily visible from bluffs, beach, and headlands.
From the bluff overlooking the shoreline, there are information stations providing a brief explanation of tidepools along the shore below and describing some of the creatures and plants that can be found at low tide in the harsh, wave-battered environment.
More adventurous individuals may want to visit the tidepools up close, and for these there is some precautionary advice: Wear long pants and old tennis shoes that have good treads and cover the entire foot to avoid cuts from spiny sea urchins, barnacles, and sharp rocks; walk carefully (don ‘t hop) on rocks, which can be slippery, and avoid stepping on seaweed; to avoid being swept into the water by an unexpected wave, don ‘t turn your back on the ocean; and don ‘t become so engrossed in exploring the tidepools that you let the incoming tide cut off your route back to the shore.
Important advice is to look but don ‘t touch anything or take anything from the tidepool except pictures. Stay out of the pools themselves to avoid stepping on sea life. Most tidepool creatures are protected by strictly enforced laws to preserve this unique natural resource.