Tolowa Dunes State Park is a sandy, grassy wonderland stretching from Point St. George to where the Smith River opens wide on its final push to the sea. Beautiful and desolate. Mapped and yet mysterious.
We spent longer than we’d planned on a bluff trail between the Smith River and the ocean, which we eventually veered left to meet. Del Norte Triplicate / Richard Wiens
When Laura and I decided to explore its northern edge Sunday afternoon, we knew we were taking on a couple of extra challenges: fog throughout and high tide at the edges. Still, we thought we’d make it all the way to the river’s mouth. What we didn’t take into account was the exhaustion induced by traipsing through deep sand while not completely sure where we were.
We’d never before driven all the way out Lower Lake Road into Del Norte’s dairy country. Cows come first here, and they’re not all behind fences. After a forced left turn onto Pala Road, we parked at the trailhead and set out across Yontocket Slough, the hallowed ground of the cemetery soon rising to our left.
We turned right onto what’s called the River Trail on the map that you can find at www.tolowa
coastaltrails.org. “River 0.4 mi, Ocean 1.2 mi,” read the sign. Piece of cake, right?
Within five minutes, the two-track trail turned sandy. At first, a pleasant development to be expected on the way to the beach. Eventually, arduous, although there were intermittent stretches of firm ground for a while.
After another right turn at a sign promising still shorter distances to the river and ocean, the trail wound through wooded and open areas. Trees draped in Spanish moss. Colorful mushrooms. A deer just off the path that froze for a photograph before springing away.