Now, Fort Bragg is a name I've only heard in connection with the army base, and while I actually took CA 20 to the Pacific Coast Highway before, the junction is just south of the town of Fort Bragg, so I didn't see anything to dispel my preconception of what the place would be like: small boring houses and a few utilitarian businesses and diners--not quite charmless, but not a place people would have much interest in going to for its own sake. As it turns out, though, that's not the case at all. It's a little seaside town filled with Victorian architecture and an inordinate number of bed and breakfasts and small inns, and a huge building proclaiming itself to be the Union Lumber Company Store that looked like it housed a collection of little shops, restaurants and clubs.
Unfortunately, I didn't set aside enough time to explore there--if I'd been a couple hours earlier, I'd have parked and wandered around. Instead, I headed south on the PCH. I stopped at Point Arena, to look out from their pier. Other towns on the coast often had a little seaside area; Point Arena just had this pier, at the end of a mile-long road. By the pier was a weatherbeaten building with a restaurant in it, and on the hill above the pier was one of the prettiest-looking Best Westerns I've seen. There wasn't much else to see but roiling clouds--confirming my earlier observation about Ukiah's valley location changing its weather. As I got over the mountains on the way to Fort Bragg, there was a visible line in the sky: blue to the east, grey to the west. As I moved south, though, I crossed another line, and the sky overhead became clear, with just a line of clouds on the sea's horizon, top edge turning pink as the sun set.
I'd been flipping radio stations as I drove along. This is one reason that I don't jump at satellite radio like XM, even though I theoretically like the idea--I like being able to find local radio stations, and I've found that when you're quite far from metro areas, the radio stations lose their conglomerate sameness--even the commercial ones. What you get is more of a taste of what FM radio used to be like. In Taos, there's KTAO; in Santa Cruz, there's KPIG. In Mendocino County, there's KOZT. At first, I thought it was a country station, as they were playing some Johnny Lang. Not too twangy, so I didn't change the station. It was followed in succession by a live version of the Doors' "People Are Strange," new music from Ian Anderson, something from the Grateful Dead, and a song called "You Dance," from a new group called eastmountainsouth, that almost defies categorization by blending folk rock and ambient beats. I learned today that KOZT won the NAB's Rock Station of the Year, although calling it a rock station stretches it a little. (KOZT broadcasts from Fort Bragg, it turns out.)
Another stop at a little grocery store in Anchor Bay--interestingly enough, also almost entirely organic, despite being as near as I could tell the only grocery in thirty miles in any direction--and I kept going, until I crossed the intersection with CA 116. I realized at that point that I was still farther north than I'd expected I was, and it was well past dark. I pulled over at a vista point to turn around and drive back to 116, but stopped for about ten minutes there, just listening to the steady roar of the nearly unseen surf below me, the occasional noise of an animal behind. Overhead, there were more stars than I've seen in years, the river of the Milky Way clearly visible. I stood there for long minutes in the wind, cool but not yet the icy gusts that come with winter, then got back in the car to head east toward familiar territory.