northern california beach trip: 2005


One thing I didn’t get to do during my summer trip back to the States was drive out to the Northern California coast. The beach is only 20 minutes away from Petaluma, where I spent most of my time growing up, and so the Northern California coast has a familiarity to it that will never leave me. During the summer, when the grass turns brown and gold, there’s nothing so pleasurable as to drive out to the coast through California’s bald hills and wait for the salt smell and the cool air. If you want to, you can stop at Bodega Bay and pick up some saltwater taffy to bring to the beach with you, or you can buy some crab if it’s crab season, or pick up some smoked salmon at a local stand by the side of Highway 1.

Back in the summer of 2005, my sister and I had a nice day out at the beach. We stopped by Petaluma Market to get some sandwiches and wine, and then drove out to Marshall Gulch, one of my favorite Pacific Coast beaches.

Marshall Gulch is quintessential Northern California coastline: There’s a small, sand beach where you can sit, but the beach area itself is defined primarily by the cliffs that surround it and the rock formations that dot the tidal area. There are several large rocks out in the water that you can walk out to and climb at low tide, and there’s a fantastic stretch of tidal pools where you can look for sea creatures. Because the ocean water in Northern California comes down from the Alaska current, it’s too cold to swim in for more than ten or fifteen minutes; but beaches like this aren’t about swimming, or volleyball, or tanning — they’re about exploration, and surprises, and silences, and wind. And beachcombing, which is about reading what goes on in the ocean by the tricks it allows to show up on land. You find kelp pods, and sea purses (the egg sacks of sharks), and sailors-by-the wind that show up like blue jewels, and jellyfish, and skeletons, and sun-faded garbage, and bright orange sea floats. And if you’re especially lucky, you’ll find the old axles and tires of that VW bus that someone drove off of the cliff in 1973.

Of course, there’s also Salmon Creek Beach, if you want to go to a beach that has wide, sandy expanses and fantastic sand dunes. I used to love to drive out to Salmon Creek at night to go sand dune exploring with my friends, nothing but flashlights and warm jackets in hand. Afterward we’d often start a fire on the beach, and there were several nice bonfire parties held there. Salmon Creek is really popular with families during the summer, and people do play volleyball here, and they tan too, although the winds are often high in the afternoon so it’s better to plan for a day of walking and driftwood gathering. Unlike Jenner Beach, there’s not quite enough driftwood to make temporary living structures, but you can certainly make driftwood sculptures, or at least find an interestingly gnarled piece of wood to carry around with you for awhile while you tramp up and down the waterline.

Salmon Creek is also a really popular beach for surfers, though the waves usually seem to me to be casual rather than spectacular. It’s also popular with skimboarders who sometimes ride the dunes as well. One time I spent a good half an hour or so watching skimboarders riding one of the largest dunes at Salmon Creek down towards the creek that runs out into the ocean, and then transitioning from dune to water and skimming out for about ten feet or so before sinking knee-deep into the water.

Note: Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka knew all about the alien beauty of marine life. Glassmakers both, they spent meticulous hours transforming silicon into the crystaline likenesses of sea creatures. Glass is the perfect medium for this because the natural translucence and sheen of the glass creates a semblance of the wet aura that surrounds sea life when it has come straight from the water.

You can find the BoingBoing post here.


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