From mid December 2020 to mid January 2021 the Mister and I explored the beautiful area around Gualala, California. The small and friendly town of Gualala is positioned right on the Pacific coast at the southern end of Mendocino County, about 3 hours north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
We chose this area to spend the beginning of winter in order to search for mushrooms! This area of California hosts an insane diverse array of fungi. Ooooh boy, did we find a plethora of mushrooms, from teeny tiny to large and in charge! From dull beiges to purple, pink, blue and oranges! A previous post highlights the beauty and the range of colors mushrooms posses, click here to read! Unfortunately we only found a couple new slime molds due to the below normal precipitation.
I write these monthly re-caps as a bit of my own trip log, documenting our current nomadic life. Even though we can look through iNat to see where we visited I still like writing out where we visited and include the highlights. Hope you enjoy, you never know you may put this area on your “Post-Pandemic Travel” list after reading this post!
But before I get into what we got up to I want to shout-out the real MVP of the weekend adventures. That goes to one of the best purchases of the year, our California State Park Pass. Perhaps our rain jackets take second. BUT it’s so nice to not worry if we have the correct change for self-registration day uses, or hum and haw if we only want to check something out quickly and don’t plan to stay the full day at a park. Even though we were in B.C. for six months out of 2020, and obviously couldn’t use the pass there we still exceeded breaking even. Wahooo! I think this will be an annual purchase, and encourage anyone else to just take the plunge, and cough over the upfront cash, it’s absolutely worth it.
The first weekend we arrived was sort of a jumble. We wanted to scope out Salt Point State Park and get an idea of what the mushroom scene was like. But hunting for beach bugs was still an itch that needed to be scratched. However Mendicino’s lush gulches had to be explored! So why not do everything!? Throughout our stay we often would spend one day doing one activity, and the following day do something completely different. This helped prevent mushroom overload.
Since we visited over the holidays we did have quite a few non-work days to explore around. I’ve listed the places we visited below, most of them we visited multiple times. All the state parks were fantastic, but I think Salt Point really can’t be beat for mushrooming, but the Fern Canyon Trail at Van Damme is stunning, and full of salamanders.
- Van Damme State Park
- Salt Point State Park
- Jug Handle State Park
- Russian Gulch State Park
- Manchester State Park
- Covington Gulch
- Jackson Demonstration Forest
- Ten Mile Beach State Marine Conservation Area
- Black Point Beach
- Stengel Beach
- Walk on Beach
This area is within an area unofficially known as the Redwood Coast. The magnificent tree, known by a couple names the Coast/Coastal/California Redwood grows along the Pacific Coast from their northerly point in southwest Oregon down to Monterey County in central California. The Coast Redwood trees along with others such as Douglas Fir, Tanoak, and Western Hemlock are one component along with unique plants, wildlife, and geology that create this unique ecosystem. The heavy winter rains and fog drip means this area is WET! But that’s exactly what the inhabitants and fungi specifically needs to thrive! And thrive they do!
Mushrooming is an unpredictable hobby. While you can do your best to research and hike many miles, but some years are just better than others. Some mushrooms won’t even pop out at all in certain years! I think we did overall quiet well, but we still could return to this area every year and find a new selection of fungal friends. That’s what makes it so fun!
Often times, you got to get right down in the dirt to reach the mushroom or in order to get the right shot! These photos below show why having a designated “nature outfit” can be useful.
During the end of our time in Mendocino County we finally saw a couple great fairy rings. Unfortunately I’m not talking about fairies dancing in a circle singing praises to the fungal gods. I’m referring to the growth pattern some fungi exhibit. This occurs when the fungi’s fruiting bodies, the mushroom surface in a ring shape. But people did once think that the mushrooms were the result of fairies tip taping around. How cute!
While this phenomena is normally found in grass, which would be much easier to spot, we found a few rings under the coastal forests of the Mendocino area. These rings can grow and grow and grow till they hit a barrier or until the edges of a tree root’s reach in regards to ectomycorrhizal fungi.
Amphibians, Insects & Sea slugs
We found plethora of amphibians while exploring around Gualala. To be specific, mostly salamanders, but shout out to the adult Coastal Tailed Frog I found. They have a special spot in my nature heart as I studied their tadpoles while in university. But the totally new to us salamanders, the “lifers” were:
- Southern Torrent Salamander
- Wandering Salamander
- Coastal Giant Salamander (we’d seen juveniles before but not adults)
- Northwestern Salamander (I’d seen them before, but not T).
When we weren’t out looking for mushrooms or salamanders we enjoyed exploring the property and surrounding area around our AirBnb. The suite was situated on top of a hillside, and on the second floor so these two factors combined meant we could see the pacific ocean through the redwood groves. We got to see the sunrise every day, and the glow of sunset behind the nearby redwoods. But sometimes the fog, and rain poured in, enveloping the cozy suite in a fuzzy haze.
But when the skies were clear and the moon in the bugs favor our “cannon” UV light was put to use on the balcony we had. We thankfully had amazing hosts who found our bug light entertaining and encouraged us to keep finding more! We’ve now started a bit of a trend, which is to share with our hosts in this nomadic life what we find on their property, and we plan to continue to do so.
But the bugs didn’t always come to us! Like I mentioned in the intro we took advantage of the seemingly endless coastline and spent multiple days at the beach! No time for beach forts or chilling out, we had bugs to find, and find them we did! But we did stop occasionally to watch the waves because they were BONKERS! Huge swells came through while we were there, we even pulled out onto the roadside a couple times because they were so massive, and the sound they made crashing AHHH just incredible!
But we didn’t just keep our feet on the sandy shores we got our waders on and went tidepooling!
January hosted the last of the winter King Tides, but due to high swell levels, and rain the tidepooling wasn’t so great. You wouldn’t know that by these beautiful creatures. Thankfully our cameras are capable of capturing their bright and colorful bodies and environment. Sadly we didn’t find the all nudibranchs we were hoping to. But that’s okay, ya wins some, ya lose some. But Trevor did score a Diamondback tritonia, (Tritonia festiva), picture top left. The tidepools at “Walk on beach” in Sonoma County is definitely a great spot, and hopefully we can return when the swell levels aren’t so scary.
Just for fun here are some macro photos I took of slime molds and mushrooms that I love how they turned out.
Thanks for reading this trip log, we had a fantastic time in Gualala and the surrounding area. The overall quietness beats anywhere else we’ve stayed in California so far. We loved being able to get outside and be the only ones around, something we love normally, not just because there is still a raging global pandemic. If you are intrigued by the bug light setup or what “mothing” is exactly, that is my next post.
Until next time, Chloe