Home » 2013 Cross Country Road Trip

Mendocino, CA

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 3:30pm by Lolo
221 miles and 6 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


Herb at Caspar BeachHerb at Caspar BeachOn our first trip to Northern California in 2012, we had visited and fallen in love with Mendocino. We just felt so at home there. Normally we spend two weeks every summer on the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, but because of the boys’ move west this summer, this would be the first time in 30 years that we wouldn’t be able to get there. Mendocino would have to give us our New England “fix,” with its saltbox houses, gingerbread mansions, white-picket fences, rose gardens, and water towers.

Although we had been to Mendocino before, this would be the first time with the motorhome, and after our harrowing drive down Route 1 from 101, I feared it might be our last. The steep switchbacks leading down to the coast were unbelievable, and there was no place to pull over. Herb could feel the brakes pressing a bit too far down to the floor, the same thing that had happened to us when our brakes failed coming out of Death Valley. Despite the lack of a spot to pullover, we just stopped as far right as we could on the road, took a deep breath, and waited for the brakes to cool off. We now knew that whenever there is a road sign warning “No King Pins,” we don’t want to be on that road. However, I don’t know if there is a better alternative. You have to get down to the coast somehow.

Caspar Beach SunsetCaspar Beach SunsetHerb was toast by the time we reached Caspar Beach RV Park, where we would be spending the next two nights. Fortunately, I had made a reservation in advance, because it was the weekend, and the campground was absolutely packed. As far as RV parks go, this one was pretty bad. They packed you in so close to your neighbor that you could barely open the door. What it did have, however, is location location location. The campground is right across the street from beautiful Caspar Beach. For that, we were willing to put up with the close quarters. We could watch the sunset from the beach, and then just go inside and pull down the shades. And that is exactly what we did that first night.

The next morning we decided to get some exercise mountain biking the trail that runs along the Big River. The trail begins at the end of a dirt road just north of the Big River Bridge, and a short distance south of the village of Mendocino. Adjacent to the parking lot, there is a nice sandy beach that is a good place to swim or launch a kayak.

Lolo relaxing on the Big RiverLolo relaxing on the Big RiverA gate at the end of the parking lot marks the beginning of the Big River Trail, an old railroad right-of-way that now serves as a recreational trail for hikers, bikers, and joggers. Although the trail actually extends for over ten miles into the Mendocino Woodlands, most cyclists turn around at the fork at mile 6.5, making it a nice 13 mile ride.

The first 4 miles of so of the ride were quite level and scenic, with frequent views of the river. Since the river is tidal, this section is also great for kayaking, and if timed right, you can go up river on the rising tide and return on the ebb.

After about mile 4, the estuary ends at Dry Dock Gulch and the ride became a little hillier and the foliage along the river a bit thicker, obstructing the view of the river.

Around mile 5, we started looking for a way to get down to the river to have lunch and maybe even swim, hopefully on a sandy beach. It was a bit of a challenge, but we eventually found a nice spot to do just that, except the water was a bit too shallow at this point upstream to do much more than wet our ankles. Still, it was nice and peaceful.

Lolo at the Headlands sans Red CupLolo at the Headlands sans Red CupAfter our break, we continued riding another mile and a half or so before the trail came to a fork, and like most other riders, we turned around and headed back out to the mouth of the river.

While the river ride was nice, the real draw of Mendocino is its beautiful coastline, so once again, as in our last visit, we picked up a bottle of wine and some delicious sandwiches at the Mendocino Market Deli and headed out to our favorite bench on the Mendocino Headlands for a picnic. It’s nice to feel so familiar with a place that you actually have a favorite bench.

The evening was perfect, or at least it would have been if I had remembered to pack the red cups, and we didn’t have to swig surreptitiously out of our wine bottle. Hopefully, no one saw.

Actually there was one thing that Herb felt was a little less than perfect – the temperature. Last year, we were here in late May and it was warm. Tonight, however, it was quite chilly, and we had to be pretty well bundled up to stay warm.

Hiking towards the Headlands SunsetHiking towards the Headlands SunsetWhile we sat on a bench enjoying the scenery, we noticed a young couple with a small child and a dog, romping playfully on the beach at the base of the bluff. It’s funny how two people (that have been married as long as Herb and I) can have such different perceptions of the same scene. While I thought the scene was idyllic – a happy, loving family enjoying each other’s company on a beautiful evening in a spectacular setting, Herb mumbled something about it being so sad. “What could you possibly mean?” I asked in surprise. My husband, who has learned to hate the cold and craves warmth and sunlight, responded, “That poor child is going to grow up thinking that it’s perfectly fine to be wearing a parka on the beach in mid-July.” I chose to ignore him and swig from my bottle of wine.

As if the scenery wasn’t beautiful enough, just after the sun set, we began to hear music off in the distance. This place was so magical. Last time we sat on this bench watching the sunset, we were serenaded by young woman who sat nearby playing a dulcimer. Now we were being treated to some lovely classical music.

Like moths drawn to a flame, we followed the sweet strains of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony #2 to its source: a large white tent a bit further in on the headlands. Unbeknownst us, we had fortuitously stumbled upon opening night of the annual Mendocino Classical Music Festival. Never ones to pass up a free entertainment opportunity, we set up our Crazy Creek chairs on the edge of the bluff, right behind the tent, and spent the next hour happily gazing out over the water and listening to the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

It just doesn’t get much better than this.


View from the Headlands BenchView from the Headlands BenchMendocino is a charming and picturesque hamlet of 1,100 residents along the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1), about 170 miles north of San Francisco. Built by homesick New Englanders during the logging boom of the 1850s, the town resembles a New England village with Victorian gingerbread mansions, white picket fences, and rose gardens. The logging days are long gone, and today the town if full of upscale Bed and Breakfasts, shops, and restaurants.

The spectacular Mendocino Headlands State Park surrounds the village, with trails crisscrossing the bluffs and rocky coves.

Denise on February 27, 2014

Herb & Lolo,

I am literally shaking writing this email as I can't believe I am communicating with the couple I have idolized since 2011 when we planned our first National Park Vacation. So I sit hear late this evening as my husband and three sons are in bed (ages 15-11-8) getting ready to dream up our 2014 vacation - tentatively planned as a fly to Seattle and drive back in a (gasp!!) rented Cruise America RV, making stops at Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Glacier, Yellowstone & Grand Tetons (second stop), Theodore Roosevelt and who knows what else on the way back to Rhode Island.

So of course I go to your AMAZING site and what do I see as you 2013 trip - many of the same spots we were on our 2013 trip!!! We were in San Francisco 7/12-14, The Caspar Beach RV Park on 7/15-16, The Jedediah Smith Campground in Redwoods State Park 7/16-17, Crater Lake 7/17-19 and then on to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Sequoia/Kings Canyon. How incredible if we had bumped into each other! This was our maiden rented RV trip - and it was AMAZING! We only wished we had done our 2009 National Park trip in an RV (a Vegas to Vegas loop through parks in UT, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Badlands/Rushmore, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam) - however traveling with grandparents made us drive in a Suburban and stay at park lodges.

Needless to say - I am consulting your site yet again for tips on our 2014 tentative trip. I can't thank you enough all of the time, energy and tears you have saved us with your excellent advice!!! I am so grateful to you both for empowering us with the confidence to do trips like this! They have brought all of us closer together and given us such an appreciation of this beautiful country we live in! We have some amazing family memories - and we can't thank you enough for helping us to make them!!

As my 15 year old starts to get older, I keep thinking about your boys and hoping that he will still want to go on vacation with us. But with your sage advice and picking amazing places - I think we have him for many more vacations to come!

You are an wonderful couple - thank you again for all that you have done to inspire so many!!


Lolo on March 1, 2014

Hi Denise,

Thank you very much for what has got to be one of the most heartfelt and gracious comments that we have ever received.

While we would certainly have taken the time and efforts to document our travels just for our own
personal use,,, letters like yours ensuring us that others have planned and taken trips of their own after receiving inspiration from our site, add an entirely new dimension of satisfaction to our humble efforts.

It's unfortunate that we were unable to meet at one of the common sites we visited last summer, but perhaps one day in the future. We plan on continuing our travels in earnest as soon as possible.

Our advice is to keep traveling as a family as long as possible. Our boys still look forward to joining us on trips, and I can't see any reason that would change even as they start to develop independent full lives of their own.

Please let us know if you would like any additional trip planning advice on your upcoming 2014 trip. It sounds like it will be another incredible experience.

Safe travels,

Herb and Lolo

Denise on March 1, 2014

Thank you for the nice reply - my comments to both of you were so well deserved!!

I think we are closer to finalizing our 2014 trip - while not what I had originally planned as we were having a difficult time with a one way rental for a variety of reasons and a better half who is a bit gun shy using 3-4 days of the vacation driving home to RI (he does not have Teamster in his blood as I do - lol !!) - Here is the framework for the 2014 trip:

Fly to Portland, OR (they had the cheapest per day rate out of the Pac NW sites we looked at) and pick up Cruise America RV - camp 1 night Ft Stevens State Park, Hammond OR
Visit Lewis & Clark National Historic Park 1/2 day - Drive 5 hr to Olympic NP
Olympic NP - 4 nights Kalaloch Campground
Mt. Rainier NP - 3 nights Cougar Rock Campground
Seattle to sightsee (Space Needle, Starbucks) - 1 night Hampton Inn to do laundry etc
North Cascades NP - 3 nights Newhalem Campground - reserved for now - may try walk up at Colonial Creek later
Glacier NP - NP's St. Mary's Campground 4 to possibly 5 nights
Return to Portland, OR (10 hrs) for red eye home to RI (Logan airport)

We plan to start the trip on 6/20 and return around 7/9 - 18 nights. Would love any insight - but please do not retype anything you already have up on the site - just directing me there would be great! I have more reading to do on your 2000, 2001 and 2013 trips as we are covering some of the stops listed.

Thank you once again for your time!

Warmest regards,

Lolo on March 2, 2014

Hi Denise,

Your trip sounds great! Much better to fly and use your time on the West Coast rather than driving back and forth across. Also, spending several nights in one place, as you are doing, really gives you the chance to explore a place thoroughly. When you get to Glacier NP, you might want to think about renting a car for the day to drive the road through the park, as RVs are not allowed.

We plan to do some touring around the Seattle area this summer as well, as our younger son lives there now. Who knows, maybe we will bump into each other.

Let us know if you have any questions as you progress in your planning.

Herb and Lolo

Denise on March 2, 2014

Thank you! Great advice! I will look into the car and book early!! Will stay in touch!


Denise on June 22, 2014

Hi Lolo & Herb!

We are on our 2014 Pacific Northwest journey!! Just finished up a day channeling Lewis & Clark @ Ft Stevens and Ft. Clatstop (OR) and Cape Disappointment (WA) now heading on to Olympic NP Kalaloch Campground. We will be in Seattle on Sunday 6/29 and Monday 6/30 (one night stay for laundry!) and to sleep in a real bed! If your in Seattle on 6/29 or 6/30 would love to catch up! We are actually taking a tour of the Boeing plan on Monday afternoon.

Denise & Paul (and our 3 sons)

Herb on June 23, 2014

Hi Denise, Paul, & Sons,

Sounds like a great trip. Olympic National Park should be a lot of fun.

We were actually just out there earlier this month visiting the boys but our trip was cut short by a week due to a call from hospice regarding my 94 year old mother-in-law. At the time, she wasn't expected to make it through the weekend so we rushed home,,,, only to find her fully awake and eating as well as ever.

Anyway, it looks like you have got a great trip ahead of you. Enjoy, and please keep us posted.

Safe Travels,

Herb and Lorry

Denise on June 24, 2014

Sorry to miss you. Our thoughts and prayers go to you and your family. 94 - I we can all be so blessed!

Denise on June 24, 2014

You won't believe where I am right now - ER in Forks, WA. Had a battle with a vacuum packaged salmon. My middle finger lost and needs stitches!!

Too funny!


Herb on June 25, 2014

Wow Denise,

That's too bad,,, and an unfortunate coincidence.

That is the same place that stitched up Lorry's forehead after a sons errant stone shot put hit her in the head. You may have already seen it at http://www.cross-country-trips.com/olympic-national-park.

Feel better soon...


Mendocino location map in "high definition"

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