s you descend Highway 101 toward Crescent City from just south of town, a blue road sign points left to announce a “Vista Point.”
Those precious tourists we crave may pull off the road into a wide pull-out I know you’ve all seen, where a view of Crescent City in all its splendor lies before them: its wide crescent beaches, its harbor and jetty, a lighthouse and, beyond, a playground of sea stacks, ragged ribbons of white seafoam and craggy cliffs.
As someone who reads the obituaries in the newspaper every edition, I know Del Norte County has been home to many people who came here just once and knew they had to stay.
Vista points will do that, and it’s hard to imagine a place as dense with surprising, diverse and stunning vistas as our county.
The Del Norte lure hooked me during the summer of 1993 when I was just 17. Along with my dad and brother, I was on a road trip up the coast from our home in Southern California’s Mojave Desert, and I remember an unusual vista point that left a striking memory of Crescent City I carried with me till the day nearly five years ago when I saw there was a job opening at the Triplicate and jumped at the opportunity.
So back in 1993 we had stopped for the night in Crescent City and took a stroll on the B Street Pier after dinner. The fog was rolling in, and soon we found ourselves completely enveloped by and lost in an otherworldly place.
Fog was something I had never experienced much, living for years in a monotonously dry and sunny desert.
As I walked down the pier, there was little to see, nothing but wooden planks beneath my feet and small halos around the pier lights. But my ears took in a vista of colorful sounds: the gentle lapping of water against the pier, the clanking noises of moored boats bobbing in the harbor, the periodic moaning foghorn, and a somewhat alarming roar of nearby waves much more violent than those beneath our feet. In retrospect, it was surely the waves striking the other side of the jetty, but I couldn’t see where they were coming from, how near they were, or if they posed any danger as we advanced into the gray.
It was a strange and wonderful mélange of peace and violence, cocooned safety in the harbor and anxiety about the proximity of a more violent zone of water.
It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
To this day Crescent City fog’s eerie, spectral qualities enthrall me every night it appears. My gas tank empties quicker in the summer not only because of weekend visits to the mountains but also because I go out of my way almost nightly to drive along Pebble Beach Drive and see nothing, really, because of the fog. But that’s OK because that’s what I came to see.
Since I’ve moved here, of course, I’ve found many more vista points in Del Norte County I love — and that’s not even counting our iconic redwoods. The pullout in False Klamath Cove, for example, affords the heady experience of parking so close to roiling waves that it can give the impression your vehicle is a boat fording the ocean. Or there’s the green-mountain-rimmed view of Dry Lake aglow with hot-pink, lily pad-like plants changing colors in the fall. I shared a picture of it online and one old friend remarked, “that is what I imagine heaven looks like.”
While our politicians cry over blight and poverty — problems I don’t mean to diminish — it’s important to remember that for all its problems, Del Norte County is also a unique and precious glimpse of heaven we are blessed to experience.
Editor’s note: Matthew C. Durkee is assistant editor of the Triplicate. Vista Point will appear every other Tuesday.