Report from one of the most remote California coasts

A Project of the Distant Pacific Series

We pulled in here as a set of waves wrapped around a point into a tiny cove—nobody out,nobody here! We recognized that after an immediate surf we'd be here a few days. We'd been looking for a special place and this was it.

Before this we'd been at the region's best-known spot—not necessarily the best, but the easiest to reach because the paved highway swings close to the coast. It was more crowded than I imagined possible—twenty-two in the water at one point. That's as many as comparable spots at home on weekends. [The rest of the essay is below photographs. Click photos to enlarge.]

Arch on Rocky Shore  Cardon Forest (Cardonal)  First Out

Coastal Agave (Shaw's Century Plant)  Cirio (Boojum tree)  Red Cardon Cactus

The Way Through the Sierra Colombia  Ocean Spray on Rocky Point  El Marron

Fishing Village Church  Abandoned Pemex  Early Morning Dune

It's hard to believe that so many would be willing to make the journey. There's a twelve-hour drive, scarcity of gasoline, fresh water, and wood. There's surprisingly cold water, alternating cycles of wind and fog, the need to dig a hole every morning. And there is truth to the myths: crooked cops, bandits, guilt until proven innocence.

But as my companion Mike reminds me, "There're twenty million people up there." That's in Southern California alone. A small fraction of them do come. They come in groups of 1, 2, 3, 18, to stay a few days, weeks, months. And more are coming every year. They come to get away from crowds and become a crowd instead. They are us and we are them.

"The crowd yoyos," said someone that spends half the year here. "One week it's heavy. One week it's medium. It's never light anymore." He's found his solitude by making his camp a mile away, on a secondary point.

We resolved to find ours by driving up the coast where we'd be further from the highway. We encountered one coyote and one car during several hours of driving. We discovered a long beach, sand piling up mountains in one direction, lighthouse on a rocky point in the other. There might be some good beachbreak there sometimes, but not today.

In the late afternoon we'd pulled into this cove, silent except for the peeling wave. From within the water the place was even more wonderful than from shore. It was full of fish; there were blues, greens, browns, reds, and yellows in all directions. Waves that looked waist high from shore were actually chest high.

Then we saw it. Mike saw it first. An occupied campsite. It had been hidden from our approach by a headland, but from the water it was now perfectly visible. And then we saw them. Two wetsuited figures walking up the point with boards in hand, jumping into the water, paddling toward the lineup.

Imagine our surprise. We weren't deluded into thinking that we were the first ones ever here but had hoped that nobody was here now and maybe not for a while. We'd been here alone for ten minutes and already had company.

Imagine their surprise, having really been here alone since yesterday morning, and just as the surf comes up for the first time since their arrival, two guys drive in. "What the-...there's two guys out," one of them said as they changed into their wetsuits. "No way, that has to be a couple pelicans," said the other. But it wasn't birds; it was us.

Over the next couple days, there were new faces—more guys in the water, a woman doing yoga in the dunes, two dogs that chased away the local wildlife. We left it to those that had arrived after us—fourteen in all.

Continuing north, we came to a fork. To the right was the most direct route to the highway. To the left, the deteriorating road would follow the coastline for fifty more miles. Somewhere up there was the ultimate discovery, the last remnant of a closing frontier. But we were out of time.

We turned right.

- Dedicated to Lisa Harris

Mike Reed  Cerro el Salado Sunset  Speeding Bull and Matt (photo by Mike Reed)