Humboldt County and its communities are a wonderful blend of the old and the new. Situated in the far northwestern corner of California, it has historically been isolated from much of the State. This has been both good and most recently not so good for an area that has some of the finest natural wonders to be found in the U.S. or the world for that matter.
Nowhere in California has the past been preserved so well as in Humboldt County and places like Ferndale and Old Town Eureka as well as Arcata present the visitor with a very good perspective of a very colorful past.
Like so many other places in the West Humboldt was settled by people attracted to its wealth of natural resources. Arcata, now home to one of California's outstanding Universities, came into existence as the supply base for the gold strikes that were found to the east on the Klamath and Trinity rivers.
Due to the roughness of the terrain, all heavily wooded and with wave on wave of mountains, access by sea was the easiest and quickest way for men and supplies to reach the gold fields. And there was Humboldt Bay, one of the finest natural harbors to be found along the entire Pacific coast north of San Francisco. So shipping has a long illustrious history in Eureka and Arcata, both situated by the Bay.
It wasn't till the railroad finally reached Eureka, some decades after the area was settled, that land transportation became convenient for freight or people.
Today Highway 101, mostly four lane divided highway, offers comfortable access to this corner of the State and for air travelers there is the thoroughly modern County airport at Arcata.
Its relative isolation from the rest of the State has worked well for Arcata, Eureka, Ferndale and other communities by preserving a rural way of life. But the lumber industry which was once its lifeblood has declined so that now the area has been busy reinventing itself as communities filled with artisans, craftsmen and a multitude of activities to bring tourists to the area.
Its natural beauties are unquestioned with its magnificent stands of old growth Redwoods dating back to the birth of Christ, its pristine beaches, and long stretches of shoreline, including the Lost Coast, still as it was when the first white men arrived.
Commercial fishing has also been one of the economic mainstays of the area, and again while still active, it accounts for 40 per cent of the State's catch, it has also been a declining resource in recent decades. The people here have been leaders in seeking a pollution free environment so that Humboldt Bay has remained pollution free and is home to the largest commercial oyster farms in the State and indeed supplies most of the demand for this delectable mollusk.
We recently spent a week in Eureka and adjoining cities with a group of Travel Writers to learn first hand what the County can offer the visitor. And there is a lot to see and to do.
If the visitor wants natural wonders there are the majestic Redwoods in State Parks or the Redwood National Park. The drive on Highway 101 is a delight as it follows the South fork of the Eel River, mostly gentle with very clear water but truly awesome in floods which are a part of the area's history.
A walk in the Founders Grove is like entering Nature's Cathedral with trees so huge that they stretch one's imagination. It certainly did Movie Maker Steven Spielberg's who chose Patrick Point and Prairie Creek State Parks as locations for his movie "The Lost World".
But besides majestic forests there are creeks and rivers to delight any fisherman or camper.
But the attractions of the area do not end there. Ferndale, the entire community, has been named an historic landmark and offers a wonderful view of Victorian architecture. A walk along its Main Street invites a look at a glorious past.
And the same applies to Old Town Eureka which in the past two decades has rediscovered its past and redeveloped downtown to one filled with book stores, art galleries, curio and antique shops and fine restaurants.
Another stop on a tour of the Victorian era and the rough and ready times that preceded it is Arcata. This town was founded as the place where supplies from the sailing ships were loaded on mules for the long trek through the mountains to the gold fields.
Today some very talented people have reinvented the area with small imaginative businesses in everything from recycling glass into unique decorative tableware to purveyors of unique foods, sauces, cookies, candy and other epicurean delights.
In all this entrepreneurial activity breweries and wineries have not been forgotten. The fine wines and brews made here as well as an outstanding regional cuisine must be described in detail and so will be reported in the next issue of Vittles.
We must mention the arts which has ranked Eureka, nationwide, as number one small community in promoting and developing the arts including theatre and festivals relating to them.
Yes, Humboldt has a wide range of festivals and artistic events like the Oyster Festival in Arcata which took place during our visit or the annual Dell ' Arte Made River Festival, a month long event of performances featuring music, comedy, theatre, puppetry and Vaudeville. This all takes place at Blue Lake which has become a haven for artists of all stripes and talents. This event runs from the middle of June to the middle of July each year.
Today the visitor has a wide choice of first rate accommodations like the historic Eureka Inn, a mainstay of Eureka social life since 1922, and now celebrating a 75th anniversary this year, or the new thoroughly modern Doubletree Hotel. And if you want to enjoy the atmosphere and decor of Victorian times there is the Hotel Carter as well as Carter House or the Daly Bed and Breakfast, one of a host of Bed & Breakfast establishments that now dot the County.
If you want elegant accommodations in a scenic rural atmosphere there is the historic BenBow Inn, first established in 1926 and has been ever since the haunt of the rich and famous. Located on the Eel River and adjacent to a golf course it offers luxurious accommodations and cuisine in the heart of the scenic Redwood country.
If your choice of travel is RVing there are many parks in the area and the California State Parks system has 1200 camp sites within easy reach of Eureka, Ferndale and Arcata.
As an important destination for sailing ships the Humboldt region has a rich maritime history, often tragic for the Pacific off its shore is hardly well named and has savage seas in winter from Gulf of Alaska storms.
This Maritime history is a tale to be told and will duly be reported in a future issue of Vittles.
Guide books, maps and schedules of upcoming events can be had by calling the Eureka/Humboldt County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 707 443-5097. Either Don Leonard, executive director, or Kathleen Gordon-Burke, director of marketing, will be pleased to supply any material or information you might need. The Bureau is located at 1034 Second Street in Eureka.
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