Our destination tonight is the tiny village of Elk located half way between Mendocino and Point Arena. The drive would be from Redding through Ukiah and then over the coastal mountains to Elk. Along the way we would first make a stop for the kid in Clear Lake.
What Tim wanted that day was to spend a refreshing afternoon at Outrageous Waters, a small water park. This we did and it was a lot of fun floating around the lazy river all afternoon in our inner tubes. Unfortunately for a kid in a wheelchair, that is the only attraction there he could go on. So we went around on the lazy river...and around and around and around......
Back on the road, we circled Clear Lake and I missed our exit. Soon, we were back on track and found the road over to Boonville from Ukiah. 16 miles of some of the windiest road we’ve come across. Once in Boonville, the map showed one more road over to Elk. 18 more miles of very windy road. That last 18 miles took over an hour.
While the drive is difficult, it provides a formidable barrier to keep the rest of civilization at bay from Elk. It is a beautiful isolation that’s imposed on this rugged section of coast.
The sign says the population is 250 but that may be an optimistically high number. Tim and I easily walked from one end of town to other in 5 minutes.
We stayed at the Griffin House Bed and Breakfast. Accessibility here is compromised for price. The wheelchair could get around the little cabins without too much difficulty but the big old antique clawfoot bathtubs present quite a challenge for a disabled person to get into, even with help. Even able-bodied persons such as my wife and myself had trouble with the tubs, mainly because they were...just...too...big! Once in, however, the shower head is on a hose.
There are no grab bars in the bathrooms but there is a common accessible restroom up towards the front behind the pub.
There are rooms with more accessibility in Elk but tip the scales in price. The Griffin House is among the lowest priced accommodations here, is very luxurious, has a prime cliff top location, and includes a very sumptuous breakfast delivered to your cabin each morning. The cabins themselves include two rooms so parents and kids can be separated at bedtime.
The little Bridget Dolan’s pub at the front of the inn provides the town’s sole means of night life. It’s a warm cozy place where you can wrap yourself around your favorite drink and chat with the locals, read a book or play a game. The Greenwood Pier, next door provides a nice dinner house but, maybe it was just the day we were there, there were many flies buzzing around inside.
A half hour drive in either direction on Highway 1 will bring you to more civilized climes. North will take you to Mendocino. This New England style town hosts many boutique shops and restaurants. Our highlight here was the Mendocino Botanical Gardens a little farther north in Fort Bragg.
The gardens consists of hundreds of acres of unique microclimates and plantings. Miles of wheelchair accessible trails wind their way through the forests, creeks, and flowers ending up at the spectacular bluffs overlooking the sea.
Driving south will take you to the quaint little town of Point Arena. Here you can have a nice dinner overlooking the small century old wharf. After dinner take in a movie at Point Arena’s oustandingly restored theater. This old-style single screen theater will take you back to those great movie houses of your youth while perplexing the youngsters who can’t imagine a theater with only one screen.
No front row stadium seating worries here either. Perfect wheelchair seating locations were built in with the restoration near the center-rear of the theater.
Back in Elk, our main activity was just to relax, sit on the edge of the cliffs with a warm drink in our hand and marvel at the views. You can’t help but to just sit back and take it easy here...cell phones and pagers just won’t work on this isolated stretch of coast.
In short, if you’re just worn out from civilization or just really, really want to get away from it all without traveling halfway around the world, the natural beauty and isolation of this part of the Northern California coast may be just the ticket.
© 2000 Darryl Musick