Geography - Mendocino County

Amid the redwoods

Ukiah at night

Near the Northern California coast, about two-and-a-half hours north of San Francisco along old reliable 101, a picturesque valley lies nestled in a cleft in the Sierras. The county is named for this Mendocino Valley, though most of the land is actually mountainous forest and rugged coastline.

Ukiah itself takes up the southernmost part of the valley proper, a quaint little city sloping upwards as one travels north. A strip of farmland fills much of the valley, fed by the numerous rivers that collect between the mountains, until you reach Willits, the westernmost settlement in an agricultural sprawl. Then the valley ends, with nothing but deep woods for a hundred miles beyond.

Halfway between Ukiah and Willits, the Redwood Valley blooms from the Mendocino. Mostly farmland partitioned by slender veins of forest, there are no major settlements. The people of Ukiah, Willits, and Fort Bragg tend to view their Redwood Valley neighbors as slightly backwards and standoffish. Certainly, these are more traditional rural “farm folk” who don’t take kindly to the wine- and pot-growing that goes on to the west. Potter Valley, feeding off of Redwood, is even more insular.

The man-made reservoir of Lake Mendocino lies just northeast of Ukiah, providing potable water throughout the region, and recreation year-round.

Mountains rise high to the east and west of Mendocino Valley, offering some of the more treacherous climbs in all California. Overgrown with evergreen forest, they form magnificent and imposing barriers, like something out of a brooding Romantic landscape.

The western Sierras give way to the California coast, one of the most breathtaking stretches of coastline anywhere in the world. The high altitude means that much of the coastline consists of seaside cliffs, with treacherous walks down to isolated little yellow-sand beaches. Birch and cypress trees mingle with the sparser oaks along the coastline, rising from the never-ending river of Iceplant and stretching far out over the water. Small communities such as Mendocino and Fort Bragg dot the coastline.

Of course, one cannot discuss natural Mendocino without mentioning the mighty Sequoias that cluster in several copses throughout the region. Unlike the much larger and well-trodden Sequoia National Park, these smaller colonies were mostly natural preserves, where these giants could be safe from interloping tourists. Thus, few people know the nature and location of some of the grander specimens.

Sadly, as the State and Federal governments lose influence, they lose their ability to safeguard the national forests and parks. Soon, no precious natural treasure will be immune to the depredations of the greedy and the desperate.

Geography - Mendocino County

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