We started the day with a blackberry pancake breakfast that was to die for, then picked some more blackberries to take with us.
We left Duncan’s Mills mid morning and followed the river west to Highway 1, where we turned north and drove through the town of Jenner. Jenner lies at the mouth of the Russian River, and we stopped at the bluffs north of town to take in the overlook of this famous stretch of beach. Offshore fog muffled the sounds of the seals and birds, and softened the shapes of the towering rocks.
A gathering of fat harbor seals lay strewn across the sandbar at river’s end, and next to them a community of cormorants. A few of each species ventured into the water, but most were content to bask in the mist. A high tide dampened the normally turbulent surf at the bar.
Bikers in hot green vests were braving the narrow curves of Highway 1 in both directions, dodging cars and an occasional logging truck. At least they showed up well in the fog. We took some pictures of the river, then re-joined the flow of traffic heading north, becoming another obstacle for the bikers to dodge.
North of Jenner the road rises in elevation, and by the time you get to the Meyer’s Grade turnoff you’re a thousand feet above the water. Signs warn that RV’s are not recommended on Meyer’s Grade, which is kind of a joke because RV's are certainly not the best way to travel on Highway 1 either. North of Meyer’s Grade the road winds along some very scary cliffs - with many hairpin curves and few places to turn off!
Adding to the fun, as you near Fort Ross you encounter the San Andreas Fault again, which comes ashore here and makes a mess of the already winding highway. For a few miles it resembles Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, then the fault goes inland and the road returns to whatever passes for ‘normal’ here.
For many years Highway 1 went right through Fort Ross, splitting the old fortress into two halves, but in the ‘70’s vandals set fire to the fort and it was badly damaged. The State of California took that opportunity to re-route Highway 1, and it now bypasses the fort which is still in the process of being restored. For an 8 dollar day-use fee you can park at the new Visitor Center, and there you can watch a good movie on the Fort’s history, and enjoy a fine display of artifacts and exhibits.
Fort Ross was founded in 1812, by the Russian-American Company headquartered in Sitka, Alaska. The settlement was established as a southern trade and supply center for the company, and represented Russia’s southernmost venture into North America. Here they hunted seals and sea-otters for the fur trade, and tried to grow wheat and other produce to supply the mal-nourished Alaskan settlement. But 29 years later they had not only depleted the fur-bearing marine mammal populations, but they had increased the coastal gopher population, which got fat and prospered on their gardens and orchards.
In 1842 the Russian-American Company sold their holdings to John Sutter, who moved most of the stock and equipment to his fort near Sacramento. The land was sold several more times, and was used for timber and ranching operations. Ranching continued until the 1970’s, but the fortress property was sold to the State of California in 1903. Fort Ross State Park was established in 1912, making it one of the oldest parks in the state park system.
The old stockade is a .3 mile hike from the Visitor Center. It is mostly restored, but one building is still in the process of being reconstructed. The construction operation distracts from the otherwise peaceful ambiance of the fort, but eventually tranquility will be restored. The picturesque chapel building occupies the southeast corner of the stockade, and two blockhouses stand at the northeast and southwest corners. A few of the 42 original smoothbore cannons still guard the stockade, and from the western block house you can look down on the cove where they once loaded ships, and across the valley to the old Russian cemetery.
Leaving Fort Ross we continued on to Salt Point State Park, where we met Madolyn’s brother Gerry, and his friends Lloyd, Mike and Karen. We moved into a nice campsite, and settled in for a peaceful afternoon nap in the fog.