"Life would be worsity if we don't respect the ocean's diversity." Sign at the campground at the mouth of the Mattole.
At a low enough tide to expose the sea palms on the rocks flanking the beach, we began the backpack portion of the Expedition. The walk on hard sand the first mile or so was devoted to adjusting packs, trying to make our increased loads more comfortable. Just before Punta Gorda, the trail leaves the sand and continues along a little terrace perhaps 20 feet above the water. This continues on to Punta Gorda itself, where up until 1951 a small community existed to maintain the Punta Gorda lighthouse. Now only the lighthouse and an oil storage building are all that is left. When in operation this was a lonely outpost: the nearest settlement was Petrolia, 11 miles away. Now a plastic bottle on the concrete floor circles endlessly in the wind coming through the window and door openings; crushed cans drift in the corners. Its enough to make a lighthouse keeper weep.
t is sprinkling lightly now, and we come upon our first poison oak growing on the beach itself. The trail continues on the raised terrace and now begins to rise and soon follows along at the edge of a vertical cliff. Just as Ginny had expressed her fears as we rounded False Cape on the slippery wave washed rocks, I felt at the limits of my own acrophobic comfort.
We regain the beach and, looking ahead, see extremely steep grass covered slopes coming down to the beach. The ground seems so steep and unstable that you would think that only annuals had a good probablility of completing their life cycle, but every so often evergreens are seen tucked away in a ravine.
Lunch is at Cooskie Creek; we walk on and make it past a rocky point at Randall Creek just as the incoming tide closes off that route. We cross Spanish Flat, again up above the beach. The land here shows the effects of overgrazing: multiple trails on the hillsides, weeds: thistles, burr, rattlesnake grass underfoot. We arrive at our destination at Spanish Creek. The wind has been strong all day, but we find a relatively calm spot on the northerly bank at the foot of the hills under some Alder trees. (Jon Breyfogle; photos, Don Nierlich)