Lost In The Mendocino National Forest
by Katy Tahja, November 22, 2017
Like all misadventures this one started simply enough. In the process of research on the 150-year history of Mendocino County I am writing I decided I should visit the four geographic corners of the county.
The northwestern corner is in the Kings Peak Recreation Area off Chemise Mountain Road, which is north of Usal Road at a location called Four Corners. Got that? Serious middle of no place, except for the folks who live there. I couldn’t visit this corner as it is in a roadless area.
So travel down to the southwest corner of the county and you find Gualala Point Regional Park. To find the southeast corner of the county you drive south on Highway 175 from Kelseyville in Lake County and go west on Cold Water Creek Road to a spot where Lake, Sonoma and Mendocino counties join.
Where my husband and I got lost was just after finding the northeast corner of the county at Green Springs, a lovely campground at 6,000’ in the Mendocino National Forest. We had food, water, a full tank of gas, and the newest forest map available and we are country folks used to driving back roads and we still got lost.
The drive east from Covelo and north from Mendocino Pass was no problem and we planned to return the same way. We drove into Green Springs campground, explored, and when we drove out we went over a bridge we hadn’t passed on the way in, so we turned around and returned to the campground. We then took the other exit road we saw and again drove over a different bridge we hadn’t passed coming in. Hmmmmm…Well, we decided since this one went east we knew eventually it came out in the Central Valley we could take a longer drive home….little did we know.
I should mention that from the point we left Mendocino Pass on Highway 162 we never saw a car for the next six hours. No deer hunters, no loggers, no forestry trucks, no traffic. We’re living proof you can drive in Mendocino and Tehama counties for hours and never see anyone. I LOVED it.
Old rusting signs told us we were on forest highway two (FH2) which is a good gravel highway. How long could it take to get to Paskenta? Three hours and a hundred miles of twists and turns. In the dark you can see the lights of the Central Valley long before you reach it. We were exhausted by the time we reached Corning and got a motel for the night.
At the Mendocino National Forest headquarters in Willows the next day we stopped to ask how we got so turned around. On maps they have logos they put on campgrounds and trailheads that are placed on top of road junctions. Turns out there were four exits from the campground at Green Springs and we choose the wrong ones.
What I learned on this road trip? That there is a whole lot of EMPTY in the wilds of Mendocino County. Cedar and Sugar Pine forests, river canyons, beautiful vistas and a serious lack of people in places off the major roads. And the next time I plan a trip like this I’m taking a roll of flagging tape with me to mark those intersections on the forest roads.