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Redwoods, great scenery on 101 drive to Eureka
By CARY ORDWAY
Getting there is half the fun, they say, and one great example of that is the trip to or from Humboldt County and its 1largest city, Eureka. The home of some of California's most scenic wilderness, Humboldt County can be reached by going north on Highway 101 through redwood forest groves, lush rolling hills and historic towns that beckon the traveler to spend just a little more time along the way exploring.
We found that the coastal village of Mendocino -- which actually is in Mendocino County -- is a great starting point, and well worth a night or two in one of the charming inns that take advantage of the area's natural beauty. Perched on a bluff overlooking the churning Pacific Ocean, Mendocino is so picturesque it was used as a stand-in for Cabot's Cove, the fictional New England fishing village in the television show "Murder She Wrote." Fine restaurants and eclectic shops are found in some of the town's historic buildings. Artisans can't resist the town and many have wound up living there and opening local art galleries because of its unsurpassed natural beauty.
Fort Bragg is a little more typical California beach town you'll find along Highway 1, just a few miles north from Mendocino. From there take Highway 20 east and you're in for a slow but scenic drive on a curvy road through the coastal mountains. In an hour or so you arrive at Willits, a frontier town with a colorful history and a picture-perfect setting among the rolling hills just east of the coastal mountains.
1If you just want to pop over to Willits and leave the driving to a railroad engineer, you can take the famous "Skunk Train" from Fort Bragg to Willits. It's the same redwood forests you would see driving Highway 20, but there's something a little more adventurous about riding the rails in a historic steam train.
While in Willits, be sure to stop by the Mendocino County Museum, which puts everything in historical perspective. It has one of the finest collections of Pomo and Yuki baskets in the world. And it has an antique steam logging equipment display that actually works.
The scenery north from Willits on Highway 101 alternates between rolling hills and sections that almost look like mountain passes - along the way visitors are taken through a number of fascinating small towns such as Benbow and Garberville. Next comes the Avenue of the Giants, a 32-mile scenic diversion off 101 that we decided was well worth the extra time.
The Avenue of the Giants is a chance to get close to the giant redwoods and we enjoyed stopping at several marked groves along the way where you can get out of the car and take mini-hikes along well-marked trails through the trees. The Avenue of the Giants was originally built as a stagecoach and wagon road in the 1880s and it now parallels Highway 101. It's not far out of the way at all - just a little slower because it's a two-lane highway instead of the four-lane 101. These magnificent trees were preserved as part of the 52,000-acre Humboldt Redwoods State Park.