West Coast Spring 2018 – Russian Gulch State Park

June 27 – 29

After a pretty good breakfast at the Best Western, we loaded up the car and headed out, for what we’d originally anticipated would be a short drive, but turned out to be longer as we opted to head to Highway 1 instead of Highway 101 for the journey to Russian Gulch State Park.  As we pulled away from the hotel a sense of unease dogged us, but we shook it off thinking it was just the effects of having been on the road for many days.

Petaluma - Russian Gulch 101

Petaluma – Russian Gulch The Fast Way

I’ve posted about Russian Gulch before and our attraction to it, for me going back to my visit there with my parents when I was fifteen, but it has been a favorite of ours for its intrinsic natural beauty and proximity to two great Northern California towns, Mendocino and Fort Bragg.  Although a slower route, Highway 1, which we connected to at Bodega Bay, took us straight up the coast, rarely doing more than thirty-five miles per hour compensated for by the breathtaking views along the way.

Petaluma - Russian Gulch 1

Petaluma – Russian Gulch The Slow Way

We stopped at Fort Ross State Historic Park to take a tour, something I’d not done since that trip with my parents’ way back when.  With time on our hands (we had a reservation at Russian Gulch) it was a worthwhile stop given its brief, but significant, influence on the history of the area.

The Barracks

The Barracks

During its heyday, it was hub of the southernmost Russian settlements in North America from 1812 to 1842.  It has been the subject of archaeological investigation and is a California Historical Landmark, a National Historic Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places.

The ChapelIn a report to Emperor Alexander from the Russian American Company Council, concerning trade with California and the establishment of Fort Ross:

“This settlement has been organized through the initiative of the Company.  Its purpose is to establish a [Russian] settlement there or in some other place not occupied by Europeans, and to introduce agriculture there by planting hemp, flax and all manner of garden produce; they also wish to introduce livestock breeding in the outlying areas, both horses and cattle, hoping that the favorable climate, which is almost identical to the rest of California, and the friendly reception on the part of the indigenous people, will assist in its success”.

Looking out to Sea

Looking out to Sea

So, it became established as an agricultural base from which the northern settlements (including Alaska) could be supplied with food and carry on trade with Alta California.  By 1817 after 20 years of intense hunting by Spanish, American and British ships, followed by Russian efforts, the practical elimination of sea otter in the area negated the need for a continued Russian presence.

Docent Presentation

Docent Presentation

In 1838, following the formal trade agreement between the Russian-American Company and Hudson’s Bay Company for their agricultural needs, the settlement at Fort Ross was no longer needed to supply the Alaskan colonies with food.  The Russian-American Company consequently offered the settlement to various potential purchasers, and it was sold to John Sutter, a Mexican citizen of Swiss origin, soon to be renowned for the discovery of gold at his lumber mill in the Sacramento valley.

Barracks and Church

Docent Presentation

It was a cool and foggy day, giving us an idea of what conditions might have been like for those who lived and worked there when the fort was active.  Back on the road, we stopped for a brief snack at a local one size fits all market and deli, then continued on to the campground.  Arriving midafternoon, we set up camp and while doing so realized that our apprehension of the morning was valid.  Jenny Manetta had paid us a visit that day; the small insulated bag that we use to keep perishables in (bread, fruit, cutlery, etc.) had been left behind at the Best Western in Petaluma.

Living Quarters

Living Quarters for Officers

In and of itself this wouldn’t be the worst loss we’ve suffered (our car being broken into at the REI in Berkeley in 2016 takes that honor) but replacing the Swiss Army Knife, two Sea to Summit Alpha Sets (knife, fork, and spoon), various energy bars and a really nice bamboo cutting board would take time and money.


Alpha Cutlery Set

With no cell phone service in camp we drove just down the road to Mendocino to get some groceries, dinner and make the phone call to Best Western.  We parked across the street from the Harvest Market at Mendosa’s, much larger inside than it appeared from the outside and made our call, connecting with the desk clerk who after asking housekeeping, replied that they had not found the bag, but to check back later.

Camp at Russian Gulch

Camp at Russian Gulch

We picked up food to tide us over the next few days and then walked out to the headlands looking south, circling the town itself until we settled on Frankie’s, a pizza and sandwich shop for dinner.

Headlands at Mendocino

Headlands Looking South

We ordered their #9 with red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, roasted onions & olives and a beer apiece, for me the Anderson Valley Boont Amber, a longtime favorite.

First Night Pizza

Pizza #9

It was a very good meal and we polished off the pie, returned to the car and drove out to the north of town to Mendocino Headlands State Park to watch the sun begin to work its way into the water.

Small Bay

Small Bay at the State Park

We made it back to camp shortly thereafter to retire in our sleeping bags for the first time in a month or so, looking forward to a busy day the next morning.  More on that to follow.

Rugged Coastline

Rugged Coastline Looking North


Russian Gulch State Park: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=432

Fort Ross: https://www.fortross.org/

Sea to Summit Alpha Set: https://seatosummitusa.com/collections/backpacking-camping-utensils/products/alpha-set-3-piece

Frankie’s: http://frankiesmendocino.com/



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