16 January 2017

Mad River Beach

Humboldt County Park



Maybe the Mad River is so called because it wanders northward for a few miles before finally dumping out into the ocean. A road along it jogs back and forth along the peninsula formed until there is nothing more than a few sand dunes ahead, then dumps into a sandy parking lot full of big puddles. I find a higher spot for the car and head out into the dunes. They are short and while still near the parking lot, full of the evidence of people in the form of fire rings and footsteps and trash. Except for the footsteps, this quickly tapers off.

Mad River in its flood plain
Out on the dunes. Civilization starts again on the other side of the Mad River.

much stomped sand and waves crashing
The waves crash five deep not too far from the parking.


I take a quick loop around the dunes from the parking to the beach where the trail is wide, then back again where the trail is narrower and more of the plants can be observed.

edge between dunes and beach
A shallow cliff marks the edge between beach and sand dunes.

small colorful rocks
Small colorful rocks dot the beach. It is a very sterile looking beach without any kelp. No tar either.

dune grass
Grasses primarily hold the dunes in place. This is knee high, thick, and sharp at the end.

furry leaves with dew
Where the grasses thin, other plants can take hold.

After the short look around, I start south among the dunes. The trampling of many people wandering reduces down to a few trails as I go. Sometimes I find myself walking among the grasses, but they really are quite sharp at the end and are itchy where they stab me, so I try to pay more attention and stick to the trails.

sandy and wide and full of footsteps
A wide trail cuts through the sand dunes.

waves and dunes
Back near the interface of the dunes and the beach.

rows of footsteps
A low cliff and rows of footsteps on the beach.

After enough stomping on the dunes, I think I should maybe wander along the beach. It has no grasses and other plants trying to make a living. A low spot in the dunes leads to a low spot along the sandy cliff, and I can drop down to join the many lines of footprints on the endlessly flat beach. It only has some big chunks of redwood and a few blades of sea grass and a very small selection of shells to hint at the life around it.

redwood base
The sea has brought out swirls in the wood and little bit of bark left on this redwood.

holes in the sand surrounded by smaller holes
Holes in the sand hint at life hiding just below it.

After a while on the beach, I am ready for some different terrain. Much of the sand cliff is too high to climb, but sometimes there is a spot. I go for one of them.

tree island
Even some trees are holding onto these dunes.

grass and valley and distant trees
Grasses at the tops of the dunes, scattered low lying plants in the valleys, and more trees in the distance.

The attempt to be among the dunes is short lived. There appear to be trails along the crest, but this is an illusion from the way the wind whips at the grasses there. These thin trails hide very uneven ground and every step comes with a couple dozen stabs from the sharp, thick grasses. The beach is better.

sandpipers feeding
Sandpipers grabbing the sand crabs from the beach.

sandpipers in the surf
Little sandpipers at the edge of the surf.

After a while, the sand cliffs drop down and it looks a little easier to travel the dunes, so I go for it. I am a lot closer to the trees among the dunes now. The dunes still have plenty of grasses, but there are also ferns and a woody lupine along some northern slopes.

grassy hills
Out in the grasses again and close to the trees. It is not windy, just a bit foggy.

Near the trees are some trails coming up from the south. I follow one a bit and it wanders into the trees and ferns. It is like a jungle under the trees. Nice big signs mark it as it crosses wide sandy areas. I should probably come at it the normal way if I want to explore the trails.

steps and ferns
Down a few built steps into the ferns and shade.

sign in the sand
Following a well used trail after a lot of free wandering.

lots of sand dunes
Almost back to the beach again.

The trail meets another that drops me on the beach again, so it seems time to return. The tide has come in. I was fairly certain that was the way it was going. There are a few spots where I am risking getting my feet wet as I go.

more driftwood
Another piece of driftwood on the beach.

higher tide
Like I said, the tide is coming in.

After a while on the beach, I have had enough of the flat. Somehow it hurts my legs to have no hills. There is a spot where the face of the dunes is cracking away and gives me an opportunity to climb up into the stabbing grasses again. However, down the hill and over the next one, there is a well used trail to return along.

dune valley
Just over the top is a valley that catches whatever the sea throws into it.

small bird in the grass
A cluster of bird food brings a hungry bird.

sandy trail
Back along the paths that people have made.

I keep on going past the parking as I get there. There is still more of the peninsula to check out. Maybe heading up to the mouth of the river would have made a bit more sense as a destination for this. There are a lot more people hanging out in the area as I pass this time, including a few getting a small fire started. It is allowed here so long as they are small.

ocean and river
The ocean on the left and the river on the right.

I do not actually go out to the mouth. There is a muddy trail on back near the river that is slick, but usable until it becomes a pool. There is a smaller trail off to the side to get over to the dunes again. They are a little higher, so not full of water so I can get back with dry feet. Hey, it is chilly, whether by sea or puddle, I do not want wet feet.

trail by the river
A little more dirt beside the river, but the area can be quite muddy.




©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 22 January 2017

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