You asked about the road between Petrolia and Ferndale, and I might have been tempted to say something like “beautiful,” but that word can apply to so many places, just as “scenic,” which most would say best describes the Big Sur Coast. I think a better word would be exquisite, as it conjures up a flood of emotions that rise up and engulf the traveler like a mist. There are emotions that are not simple enough for labels such as anger, joy, sadness, love. Some defy the process of naming, they simply well up and take possession of the traveler. As the scenery along this stretch changes, so does the mood, the thoughts, the reflections.
Climbing out of Ferndale and onto the ridge, views of the meandering mouth of the Eel River appear between the stands of lush, blooming bushes and trees, and then there’s that incredible drop into a valley, through a ranch that seems so far removed from civilization that it could exist in another century. The Bear river cuts the road in the middle of the ranch, a river almost unknown to all be the handful of people who live in this remote valley. And the the road rises again, twisting through the wild, empty hills, until the first view of the ocean.
Coming down the steep hill from the north and first sighting Haystack Rock at Cape Mendocino, the most western point in the lower forty-eight, catches the breath and the imagination, and that short slice of beach seems to be cut from some other place, some other time and placed there just to stir some primal memories, and even though the rational mind knows it is on a public road, there’s the subtle feeling that you are the first person to have ever traveled there, and everything beyond your field of vision is a mystery, haunting, inviting and compelling.
If one were to film a road trip anywhere, there would be an appropriate sound track. A film maker can pick music that fits Big Sur, the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, and that music would seem suitable to most people. But a film of this drive would have to be totally silent, devoid of even the sound of a breeze or the hum of tires on the road. It would be as if one were a disembodied spirit, drifting along, in a space were time refuses to pass and primal dreams refuse to die.