California Flying

Mendocino - the jewel of the northern coast

September 1, 2004

Airports with 5,249-foot-long-by-150-foot-wide runways should be pretty busy — that's the first surprise that awaits fly-in visitors to Little River Airport. It's quiet and this quiet foretells one of the attractions of California's northern coast.

The Little River Airport is located two miles inland from the natural beauty of the coastline at an elevation of 572 feet msl.

Located within a 10-mile radius of the airport are the scenic and historic towns of Albion, Elk, Mendocino, and Fort Bragg.

Fort Bragg is the largest town on the northern coast, but with only 8,000 inhabitants there is plenty of elbowroom for fly-in visitors. Whether these visitors are raring to spend their days physically challenging the beauty of the coast with pedals, paddles, oars, or boots or are seeking the undiluted delights of luxurious accommodations set among unspoiled surroundings, one visit to the north coast is usually all it takes to convince pilots that they will be returning to the Little River Airport for years to come.

Plate-tectonics classroom and hiking trails

The California coastline has been shaped by a collision between the westward-moving North American Plate overriding the Pacific Plate. This overriding phenomenon has occurred with unequaled regularity over the past 500,000 years. Guidebooks report that there is no better place in the Northern Hemisphere to study the uplifted terraces caused by this plate movement than the Jughandle Ecological Staircase State Reserve. A five-mile (round trip) trail in this reserve, located between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, winds up and down over the progressively uplifted terraces.

A few miles farther north of the reserve on Highway 1 is the 47-acre floral wonderland of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (see www.gardenbythesea.org). This is the only public garden in the continental United States that directly fronts the ocean — if acres and acres of carefully tended blooming gardens set along the wild seashore sounds like a dream come true, then this garden is a must-visit spot.

The Mendocino coast is a playground for active hikers, kayakers, and backpackers. One popular guidebook to hiking and backpacking the coast is The Hiker's Hip Pocket Guide to the Mendocino Coast, by Bob Lorentzen. More than 48 different trails are listed with hints for hikers and a comprehensive cross reference breaking out the best trails for hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers, bikers, and joggers.

Where?

The Mendocino coastline of Northern California covers a large area (north to south) and is comprised of many small towns and villages, rocky coastline, and beaches. The town of Mendocino is located approximately 150 miles north of San Francisco on Highway 1.

Mendocino — the Down East village on the left coast

The small town of Mendocino sits on a peninsular headland that guards a white sand beach at the mouth of the Big River. The Ford House, built in 1855, is located on the south side of Main Street and is now an interpretive center for the Mendocino Headlands State Park. Stop by, study regional history in the interpretive center, and pick up a self-guided history walk guide to the one-and-three-quarter-mile trail that circles the headland.

The homes and buildings of Mendocino are so beautifully maintained that the entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Buildings such as the Presbyterian Church (1868), the Kelley House (1861), and the Mendocino Hotel (1878) are only a few of the beautiful Victorian-era homes in this easy-to-walk town. One feature visitors can't help but notice is the abundance of water towers throughout the town, as plentiful as rainforest mushrooms.

Many movies have been filmed in Mendocino. The first, Johnny Belinda, was released in 1948 and received 12 Oscar nominations. Jane Wyman won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the film. East of Eden, based on the John Steinbeck epic starring James Dean, was filmed in Mendocino in 1956. Recent pictures include Summer of '42, Same Time, Next Year, and Forever Young.

Two buildings that may look familiar to Mendocino visitors — the Hill House Inn and the Blair House — were featured in a weekly television series titled Murder, She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury.

Airport access

Mendocino County is sparsely populated. The largest town, Ukiah, is located 26 miles east. The Ukiah VOR is the closest navaid to the Little River Airport, while Ukiah Municipal Airport has the closest instrument approach. Until Little River gets its own approach, fliers have to plan their arrivals and departures around marine-layer fog.

During the summer months a blanket of white moisture creeps inland during the night hours and blankets the airport until air temperatures rise above the local dew point. This usually doesn't occur before 11 a.m. The preferred runway is 29 and traffic and weather advisories can be obtained on the unicom frequency, 122.7 MHz. Weather reports usually can be obtained by calling Dave Thorpe in the airport office at 707/937-5129 (he has Tuesdays and Wednesdays off) or Coast Flyers at 707/937-1224.

There are four Web cams in and around the village of Mendocino that may help pilots get a real-time glimpse at the local flying conditions. Unfortunately none of these is up at the airport — they're all down near the water. Not withstanding the morning fog, summer weather is usually ideal. Many weather-savvy fly-in visitors plan their visits for the spring and fall seasons when the fog is less of a problem.

Fly-in visitors are asked to help take care of the future of the airport by using the following noise-abatement procedures. Maintain a pattern altitude of 1,572 feet, maintain at least 2,000 feet agl within a five-mile radius of the airport, fly left-hand traffic and maintain a close-in pattern on left downwind to Runway 29 to avoid flying over Albion Ridge (which is directly south of the end of Runway 29), turn 10 degrees left when able after departure from Runway 29, and avoid downwind departures over Albion Ridge. See the Web site ( www.littleriverairport.com) for clarification on noise procedures.

Self-serve 100LL avgas is available but there isn't any food on the airport — the nearest restaurant is more than two miles away, down the hill at the Little River Inn (call toll free 888/466-5683 or visit the Web site [ www.littleriverinn.com]). This full-service resort features tennis, golf, the Third Court Salon and Day Spa, a well-regarded restaurant, and ocean-view guest rooms. The Little River Inn picks up fly-in guests at the airport. Airport pickup service is also available from other resorts and inns in the area. The Mendocino Chamber of Commerce can supply visitor information; call 800/726-2780 or visit the Web site ( www.mendocinocoast.com).

Rental cars are available by calling Coast Flyers at 707/937-1224 or by calling Enterprise Rent-A-Car (707/964-4300) at its office in Fort Bragg.

If trekking, fishing, snorkeling, paddling, or sitting quietly listening to the wind caress the trees describes your favorite activities — especially near, around, and in sight of the forests, beaches, and blue ocean of the northern California coast — then start plotting a getaway to Little River. You will not be sorry you made the trip.


E-mail the author at steve.ells@aopa.org.