Post #149: Four “C’s”: city, coast, cave and canyon

June 25-26, 2022


We slept really well in the cool mountain air with the creek rushing nearby as soothing background noise. So far, every night we’d had either crashing surf or rustling creek to fall asleep to.

Arcata Plaza farmer's market
Beautiful flowers and a variety of herbs for sale

On the road by 8 a.m., we came back down the mountain to Arcata just in time for the farmer’s market at the town square. Dozens of merchants sold seasonal local produce ranging from asparagus to mushrooms to herbs and flowers. Vendors also sold organic clothing, baskets, local chicken and meats, fresh eggs and goat cheese. And lots of oysters. We happened to be there during oyster festival, which we learned is a big deal in Arcata.

In addition to typical recycling bins, there was a compost bin and an oyster shells disposal bin
There aren't very many sunny days like this in Arcata. The locals took full advantage of it
This duo set up in the center of the square

It was an unusually warm and sunny day for this part of the coast and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. For a little while, we sat on a bench, listening to musicians playing in the central square and chatting with a few locals, some of whom had previously lived back in the Washington, DC area like we had.


We’d decided on a hotel for the night so we could shower and put our now-barely-cool food in a fridge and refreeze our ice packs. After checking in to a relatively inexpensive motel, we showered and had lunch in our room, then headed back to walk around the town.


I’d ridden my motorcycle to Arcata a couple of years before and neither the weather then (August, cool and misty) nor the people impressed me. To be fair, I’d stayed in the cheap motel-row section outside of town and never went into the downtown area. But this time was very different. 

Colorful mural on a building in town
A sign quoting the Dalai Lama fit in with the hip atmosphere

Arcata’s population is about 26,000, many of whom are students at Cal Poly Humboldt. There was a hippy vibe with lots of alternative type people and shops (including the oldest pot dispensary in California, founded in 1970). It’s a town that can suck you in to its beauty and quirkiness and we both thought that if the weather were like this even half the year (73 degrees and sunny), we wouldn’t mind living here. But realistically, 20 such days out of a year was a stretch.


Back at the room, I found that the fridge wasn’t working so I wrestled with it for a while and got it to start cooling. Having a small fridge/freezer in a hotel room allows us to simply refreeze our ice packs and not worry about finding ice. During Covid, most hotels closed off their ice machines anyway. Our Yeti cooler keeps things cold for three or four days in moderate weather but only two when it’s hot – not quite what’s advertised. We turned in early because we were excited that the next day we’d see family who were camping nearby for a couple of days.


Cleaned and prepped for a few more days, we left Arcata after a free and mediocre motel breakfast and headed north on Highway 101. The beautiful sunny day had given way to fog and mist as we headed out.

It was too foggy to see the sea from the inlet
A few surfers braved the cool air and even cooler water

Within 15 minutes, we passed a sign for Moonstone Beach County Park and the name made us want to stop and see it. It was foggy along the shore but what we saw was enchanting. The tiny county park where the Little River empties into the Pacific Ocean revealed itself as we walked along the damp sand. With the fog, it was a completely different experience from the sunny day before, but we were glad we got to see it in its misty state.

Kayakers in far distance just coming into view
Arriving through the mist
Then making their way out to sea

As we watched the river, kayakers ghosted into view, vanishing toward the ocean at the mouth of the river.  A bar at the entrance of the river keeps the Pacific breakers at bay offshore, allowing kayakers to play in the shallows where the river meets the ocean. 

It was low tide and strange rock formations and caves rose along the beach. Of course we explored the (dripping wet) caves.

Kids and their dog enjoying the beach
This musician serenaded the beachgoers

Today was Saturday and families had brought their children to play in the sand and cold river water. Dogs were allowed to run free and were beside themselves playing in the water and sand. 

Watch out! This mama elk will become aggressive if you go near her calf
Cow eolk
Bull elk

After exploring Moonstone Beach and its caves for awhile, we continued north on Highway 101, eager to meet up with our daughter, son-in-law and their two young boys at the trailhead to Fern Canyon at (oddly named) Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. En route, we passed both elk and a warning sign about them.


Fern Canyon is very popular, had become over-loved and was in danger of losing its beauty because if its beauty. As a result, now only a limited number of permits are issued each day to get access to the canyon, and we were amazed at the checkpoints that made sure only those who had the permits were granted entry. 

Lush ferns lined the trail
Young explorers

The plan was to take the mile or so hike up into the canyon, and see it through the eyes of seven- and four-year-old boys. We met up with our kids, had lunch in the parking lot and then donned water shoes or sandals and headed off on the hike. Susan and I had done this hike a couple of years before but this time we had our biologist daughter along with her curious boys asking non-stop questions.

Ferns lined the canyon wall all the way down to the river
Moss hung from branches

The hike featured giant ferns and moss lining steep and narrow canyon walls so wet that some parts the walls wept water, a contrast to back home where it was now super dry and 100 degrees. 

Photo credit:
Same canyon minus the dinosaur

The lush canyon felt like something out of Jurassic Park—and with good reason. It was used as a set location for The Lost World: Jurassic Park.


Parts of the hike required walking through the cold water but the boys didn’t mind at all, excitedly stepping into the water at every opportunity. Up the small river we walked until eventually we climbed into a heavily forested hillside that included some small redwoods. The hike is a short loop with much to see along the way and it’s perfect for kids who love climbing over the fallen trees in the river, looking for pretty stones and scrambling up hills. Eventually, we descended back to the river. The boys wanted to do it again so we walked back up a little way before heading back to the parking lot.


We followed the kids back to their Flint Ridge Backcountry Campground, driving several miles along a beautiful road, near where the Klamath River empties into the ocean. Camping was allowed only with a permit (though it was free) and apparently rangers sometimes came through to check license plates in the parking lot against those who had permits (we did) and often issued fines for those who tried to sneak in. 

Our campsite
The kids' campsite
View near our campsite

Our plan was to camp in the small dirt parking lot that overlooked the now-foggy ocean, while the kids camped in tents at a site a third of a mile up a steep trail. Everything for a family of four had to be hauled up the trail, including fifty pounds of firewood for the fire ring. Dinner was a delicious meal of chicken and vegetables cooked over the fire. As night set in, we hiked back down the short, steep trail to the truck where we spent a pleasant night, again the surf crashing not far from us.

Of course they climbed in
There was abundant sunshine during our hikes but but the tall redwoods ensured plenty of shade

We’d spend the next few days hiking through magnificent redwood groves and camping with family before returning home.

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