Scenic Byways - CA HWY 128
CA 128 is another drive in Northern California that I really enjoy cruising on. The scenic drive begins in the golden ranchlands above the Ukiah Valley to the east, winding through the coastal range, cattle ranches and California Live Oaks. Descending into the Anderson Valley, the drive goes through some of the state's most beautiful vineyard country and the rustic country town of Boonville. Boonville is home to the Mendocino County Fair and Rodeo, and some nice inns and restaurants.
After Boonville, heading west towards the coast, is the little town of Philo, home to picturesque vineyards and inviting tasting rooms. Time to stop, taste and take in the beautiful roses along the rows of vines growing up to the golden hills above. The road then winds down into the Navarro River valley along the river and graceful, shimmering leafy trees. On the coastal slope the highway enters a wonderful redwood forest and Navarro River Redwoods State Park. The highway winds its way under a canopy of old growth redwoods and through the red bark carpeted forest floor. I think this redwood forest is perhaps the most beautiful in Northern California.
128 ends at the coast near the coastal town of Albion. From here you can go south or north along the coast on Highway One, Shoreline Highway. To the south is the landmark Pt. Arena lighthouse. The north drive winds along the coastal canyons, pocket beaches, coastal lagoons, eucalyptus groves and coastal cypress trees. There are many charming Victorian cottages, inns, B&B's and restaurants hugging the cliffs along the Pacific Ocean and tucked away in the coastal forests. At the northern end of this stretch is the nineteenth century lumber port and village of Mendocino. A great place to spend the night (or more) at one of the carefully restored Victorian inns and B&B's. Mendocino sits out on a wild flower covered coastal bluff surrounded by panoramic views of the ocean, bay and redwood forests. The village is easily walkable from end to end; a great photo op and a relaxing day of good eating, sipping lattes, shopping and admiring the architecture and beautiful seaside gardens.
You can also start on CA 128 from the southern end where it meets Hwy 101 at Cloverdale. Going north from
San Francisco toward the northern coast, this part of 128 goes through some beautiful vineyard country, wineries and then north up through the Anderson Valley.
When I originally started writing this it was still late summer, early autumn. Now the drive, closer to winter, is still as nice. The golden summer hills are now a pale green after several autumn rain storms. The vineyards have been trimmed but the wineries are still open for tasting and decorated for the holidays. The "winter" rains have started off and on, but on the nice days in between the storms, the coast is often very mild and calm this time of year, and usually clear without the "summer" fog.
Mendocino is even more charming now that the beautiful shops, inns and restaurants are decorated and twinkling in the night with all the holiday lights. Great evening weather to sit by a roaring fire and have an elegant dinner at one of the fine restaurants. Some of the inns have fireplaces in the cozy lobbies and in the rooms to sit by and enjoy.
During December to early February, the California Gray Whales are migrating south. Beginning in February you begin seeing whales migrating back to Alaska with their newborn babies by their sides. Gray whales have returned from the brink of extinction. Protection came finally in 1946. Since that time, the population has grown to over 21,000--probably what it was before modern day whaling. As a result of this population recovery, gray whales were removed from the endangered species list in 1994.
Since gray whales migrate relatively close to shore, whale watching for them has become very popular. Many opportunities are available for viewing whales from coastal cliffs and headlands or whale watching boats. I have also gone airborne in a small low flying airplane and viewed them from the air, which I think, is the best and perhaps the most spectacular way to watch the whales. From the air the pods are clearly visible swimming just under the surface of the water and the sight is breathtaking, as is the plane ride at times as you zoom low over the water and fly by sea caves along the coast.
Updated: 4:01 PM GMT on December 17, 2005
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