the river & the redwoods
I spent this summer in the tiny town of Gasquet, California on Tolowa ancestral land, tucked away in a VRBO to study for the Bar Exam. Gasquet is just about as close as you can get to Oregon while still being in California, and I'm not sure if it's actually fair to call it a town; it is better described as a few roads of homes and mobile parks that hug the 101, shadowed by forested mountains and vitalized by the stunning Smith River.
Gasquet (pronounced Gas-key) has a population of 685. The "town" consists of one corner store, a post office, and a brand new gift shop, all lined on the 101 to attract the cars driving down to the coast or up to Oregon. There used to be an old school diner, She-She's, but it looks like covid permanently shut her down. Gasquet has an annual raft race in July, and as far as I can tell, the only other public socializing occurs outside the corner store or at the local river spots. There is no cell service.
Blackberries & flowers in our yard.
Gasquet's isolation allows for full appreciation of its main attraction: the gorgeous, untouched nature, whose crowning jewels are the river and the redwoods. The Smith River, which runs through Gasquet from the Klamath mountains to the Pacific Ocean, is the only river in California that runs completely undammed, and is one of the cleanest rivers in the entire world. Its waters are a pristine emerald green color, courtesy of the serpentine minerals they flow over.
Enjoying the waters at Sandy Beach.
Depending on where you pull off the 101 to access the river, you're greeted with the chance of waterfalls, swimming holes, big rocks to sun on that lift out of the current, or trickling shallow spots to test the cold in. If you go to the river during the week, even in the middle of summer you're likely to find yourself free to enjoy the panoramic views in complete solitude. Or, like us, you might be met with the screams of skinny dippers from Berkeley jumping off rocks just a bit further down :) If you ever find yourself in the area, one of my favorite spots I found this summer was Sandy Beach - walk down and turn left. The trail will lead you to a rocky "beach" that can fit 4 people comfortably, right next to a small waterfall and convergence of two of the river's many arteries. Jacob and I spent many an afternoon lounging on the riverbanks, mesmerized by the water flanked by dense forest all around.
The river's journey to the ocean intersects with Gasquet's other main nearby attraction: the redwoods. Gasquet is nine beautiful and winding miles away from the Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park. As anyone who's ever had the fortune to see redwoods will tell you, it's a truly humbling experience to attempt to wrap your arms around a tree hundreds of years older (and hundreds of times bigger!) than you. Hiking through the redwoods, I kept exclaiming comparisons to the elf forests of Lord of the Rings, because I couldn't think of anything in our world that would sufficiently provide a frame of reference for my awed brain to comprehend the utter majesty of the mighty trees. Again, it's pretty easy to have this experience alone - just pull off on the 101 where you don't see many other cars and start walking (or use the signs along the road or the AllTrails app to find a more official hike). Once you've gone in a bit from the road, you'll be rewarded by the silence - that is, the sounds of the birds, the insects, the undergrowth waving in the wind, the trickling streams nearby, and the giant redwoods towering over it all.
An especially big one right off the 101!
Coming from Huntington Beach, where the population is 200,000 + and shops and pollution abound, I was shocked - and cosmically relieved - when we got to Gasquet. The moment we first stepped out of our car at almost midnight and I saw the stars is forever imprinted on my heart. It's like the times you've driven to the desert or the country and laid out at night in awe of the skies and your surroundings, and I got to live that awe for two and a half months. I have a lot of existential dread and sorrow about climate change, and Gasquet really did feel like a little escape from it - a pure nature of times past, happily existing and coexisting with its few human residents. It reminded me so strongly that the health of our earth is so connected to our own mental and physical health. It made me dream of what could be for us all, if our collective cultural value system could shift to loving mama earth better, and it made me so grateful for the immense experience of the stunning lands of the very northwesternmost corner of California.
Gorgeous nature everywhere!
If you feel inspired to have a getaway of your own up in Del Norte County, I cannot recommend the VRBO we stayed in enough (even better than its listing photos!). We were the only house on the street, with utter privacy on all sides. Berries and apples overflow on the property in the fall, and all summer long the yard was dotted with vibrant wildflowers. There is plenty of room to run around, and you can eat a grilled feast outside on one of the log benches, or play horse shoes in the backyard. Out the back gate, you'll find yourself directly on walking trails through the woods that are perfect for an evening stroll.
The indoors is airy and comfortable, with every amenity you could need provided. There is a very "lived in" feel, which we enjoyed, and the walls are decorated with authentic Native American decor from the owner Bob's family. It felt very safe - I even spent a week alone while Jacob visited his family. We both felt the place was underpriced, and we both agree it was the best spot in town!
Enjoying the front yard.
As far as nearby towns, Crescent City is the nearest true town; it's where we did our weekly grocery shopping, and also boasts fantastic coastline views with a lighthouse that is still in operation today (you can climb up the rocks and walk around its exterior - it's adorable and has some great informative signs!) After exploring, we recommend SeaQuake Brewing for lunch. The wings are fantastic and there are some really nice local beers on tap.
For a more spirited day trip, drive to Grant's Pass! This southern Oregon town is a mixture of Old West architecture and modern Oregon granola vibes, populated by a lot of California ex-pats. The Saturday Farmer's Market is fantastic - Grant's Pass is in Josephine County, which the locals told us is the county that birthed the GMO free movement. Needless to say, the produce is ridiculously fresh and tasty.
Lighthouse in Crescent City
Inside one of the many thrift stores in Grant's Pass
All in all, if anyone told me that studying for the bar could be a ... relaxing experience ... I would've laughed in their face. But surrendering myself to the solitude of nature was exactly what I needed, and breaking up the long hours with trail walks and river swims was the perfect remedy to information overload. Now we say goodbye to the land of rivers and redwoods, and head off on our great European tour!
Our last cheers in our summer home to celebrate the end of studying!
P.s.: If you make it out to Gasquet and the surrounding areas, take a bag with you to pick up litter while you explore. It's a small way to preserve what is one of the few truly wild spots in California, and you'll feel good to reciprocate a small bit of the love you'll receive from the land. :)