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Hiking the Mendocino Coast

Let's talk pedology. A dirty topic indeed. The word derives from the Greek pedon, meaning soil, and logos, meaning study. Pedology is the study of soil. What did  your first glance mislead you to think?

Pedology is a specific part of soil science, focusing on the evolution of soil formation. A pedologist concentrates on how soil has been distributed on a given geographic landscape. This leads us to Hans Jenny, the Swiss born pedologist who began his work at the University of California in Berkeley in the late 1930s.

Professor Jenny spent a good deal of his research time over the coming decades on the Mendocino Coast. There he found a relatively unique area in which he could study what amounted to an ecological and evolutionary geographic staircase. A spot where the layers extending eastward from the Pacific Ocean could be separated into distinct stages of ecological succession; a place divided into five unique terraces over an approximate three mile expanse. Hans Jenny's work demonstrated that each succeeding terrace had risen above sea level about 100,000 years prior to the one immediately westward.

This takes us to the case of Burger v. County of Mendocino, decided in the California Court of Appeals on Valentine's Day, 1975. The bottom line of this decision stopped a development by Pacific Holiday Lodge Corporation on the land that is now known as Jughandle State Reserve. Hans Jenny's work in pedology demonstrated the uniqueness of this area, thus paving the way for the state, in 1978, to preserve over 770 acres within Jughandle State Reserve, less than a mile north of the small town of Caspar.

Mendocino County was the defendant in this case because the Board of Supervisors, displaying the ever popular theory of business before environmental concerns, had ruled in favor of the development project for the Jughandle area. The name originated due to a rather unique bend in the trail and later road near Jughandle Creek. Further instruction on the historical good guys vs. bad guys theory may still have import today in the name of the law firm representing the developers, Pacific Holiday Lodge. That firm was then known as Bell, Cox & Mannon. One of the attorneys for the prevailing plaintiff, Elizabeth Burger, was the then youthful James W. Luther.

Nowadays, travelers and locals alike know Jughandle Reserve for its access to a relatively pristine beach and its hiking trails. The Ecological Staircase trail appears to head east from the parking lot, but don't miss the chance to first walk west to the lip of the Pacific. From there, choices of trails loop back to the east and the main branch leads you under the Jughandle Creek bridge on Highway 1. Where else in a state park do you get to walk under a highway?

I have hiked this Jughandle trail many times. On October 25th there was added purpose. It being the first step in a vow to complete all of the trails described in Bob Lorentzen's The Hiker's Hip Pocket Guide to the Mendocino Coast within a year. According to the cover, Bob “first wrote this guide in 1986 because nobody had described the trails of the Mendocino coast” in print. The Mendocino Coast guide is one of an eight part series Lorentzen has authored on Northern California.

There are fifty-four hikes described in The Hiker's Hip Pocket Guide to the Mendocino Coast. I have completed two already in the first three days. Walking the Jughandle Trail now is a bit different than when Bob Lorentzen first described it in the 1980s, but if you decide to make the trek yourself, you will get to experience all those ecological terraces, from ocean side to pygmy forest and back again.

Take the Lorentzen guidebook with you. As Backpacker magazine extolled, “Thoroughly organized, detailed and illustrated – and they actually fit in your pocket. Especially in the Jughandle section, Lorentzen doesn't skimp on historical background. 

If you are new to hiking as much as five miles, which Lorentzen describes the full Jughandle experience being, the plus side is only a couple of short, strenuous uphill huff and puffs in each direction. This is an out and back hike. When I did it, a large pine had given up the ghost prematurely as pine trees are apt to do, falling directly across the trail about a quarter mile east of the crest after you climb out of Jughandle Creek. If still there, you'll get a relatively harm free chance at bushwhacking for a minute or two.

I do get a kick from champagne, but I get no kickback from praising Bob Lorentzen's guide. However, if you need a shameless plug to complete your day: When you are done with your hike, autumn or winter is a perfect time to settle into a cozy read of Outlaw Ford. You can drop in at Main and Kasten Sts. in Mendocino or order in comfort online at Their online ordering system is as easy as, if not simpler than, the corporate giant. 

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