Fort Bragg

Back in 2006, Maggie and I took an extended weekend vacation to Fort Bragg, California. The main purpose of the trip was to visit Glass Beach.

Despite what you’ll see on the map link above, Glass Beach is actually a beach, not an inn… The beach is part of MacKerricher State Park. What distinguishes it from other beaches along the that stretch of the Northern California coast is that the beach served as a waste dump for almost twenty years in the 1950s and 1960s. Cleanup efforts were made after the beach was closed to dumping in 1967, but the efforts focused on large objects and a huge volume of glass was left behind. Over the years the glass has been broken down and polished by the waves. (Our old friend Wikipedia has a good, albeit brief, write-up on sea glass and how it’s formed.)

gb2gb1From a distance, the beach doesn’t look particularly unusual, but take a closer look (both pictures are clickable for a larger view). No, that piece in the center is not the rare red glass from Schlitz beer bottles. It’s a much more common brown piece that just looks red in this photo. While glass should not be collected from Glass Beach, it can be collected from nearby beaches that have just as much glass, but are not part of the State Park.

We spent most of one day at the beach, split between Glass Beach and the adjoining beach.

st1The second day we devoted to a ride on the Skunk Train. No, it has nothing to do with actual skunks. The name comes from the stoves used on self-propelled passenger cars that operated on the line in the mid-1920s which were reportedly highly odoriferous. The current Skunk Trains are more conventional trains with vintage diesel and steam locomotives – and the oil stoves are no longer in use.

The train line runs between Fort Bragg and Willits, a distance of about 40 miles. The line originated as the California Western Railroad and moved loggers into the redwood forests and moved logs out of the forests. Today the Skunk Train is a tourist attraction with daily trips and special events (wine, barbeque, pumpkin picking).

We took a ride that included a barbeque picnic; while the food was not particularly exceptional, the scenery was very much so.


This brings us to the depressing part of this post. In keeping with this week’s “keep it light” approach, I’m going to break the article here. If you want to stop here, that’s fine. If you want to push on, and possibly do some good, please

Still here? Great.

I said above that the Skunk Train is a tourist attraction. It’s actually the major tourist attraction for Mendocino County, and it’s in trouble. Perhaps surprisingly, the trouble has nothing to do with the current economic climate and its effect on tourism. Instead, the train has been the victim of two separate problems.

In 2011, a suspected murderer took refuge in the forest. The Skunk Train was forced to close to tourists for over a month and spent over $200,000 transporting law enforcement personnel engaged in the manhunt. (The hunt ended with the shooting of the suspect.) While the Skunk Train survived the loss, it was a major hit on the reserves, and left them unprepared to deal with this year’s disaster.

The first tunnel along the route caved in on April 11. The estimate for clearing, repairing, and reinforcing the tunnel is $300,000. All of the trains are on the Fort Bragg side of the tunnel, so the line effectively has only four miles of operable track. That seriously impairs their ability to operate profitably, to say the least.

So if you have any plans to visit the Fort Bragg area, or if you’re a classic railfan, I urge you to swing by the Skunk Train fundraiser and join me in donating a few dollars.

3 thoughts on “Fort Bragg

  1. Thanks for the news about the Skunk Train, a line that has a lot of sentimental memories for me. In the mid-70’s my family and I spent a week in the deep forest, about halfway between Willits and Fort Bragg, providing a break for some friends who were caretaking a mouldering old resort of some kind. The only contact with the “outside world” was the Skunk Train. (The poorly maintained, muddy logging road leading up to highway 20 was, to say the least, an adventure.) The thing was, there were people scattered along the length of that valley, and they all depended on the Skunk Train to get them to “town”- Willits- where they could do their shopping. What made this possible was that the train would stop, pretty much wherever people needed to get on or off. If you wanted to ride, you walked down to a sagging, redwood platform and raised a sort of metal flag on the shelter. The Engineer would see it and stop; the train rarely reached more than fifteen miles an hour or so. Coming back, you told the Conductor (who knew everyone by sight), and you’d be dropped off, deep in the dripping forest. During the long, slow ride, you’d catch up on local news with your neighbors and trade tips and resources for survival in what was, after all, a pretty hostile environment. A few years later, I read that the Train had stopped providing local service, becoming, merely, a tourist ride, and the news really upset me. It surely was a death knell for “the locals” who depended on it. I often wonder what changes were forced upon the community by the train’s loss. “Progress”. Feh!


    • I don’t know how much it helps, but I do recall the train stopping a couple of times at small platforms along the route to pick up and drop off people and packages, so I’m pretty sure the “tourist only” thing didn’t last. No idea how long it was that way, though – a quick web search didn’t turn anything up. It does make me wonder what people are doing now – I have visions of someone refurbishing one of the original “skunk” cars to run on the Willits side of the collapsed tunnel. I sent the question in via the comment form on the Skunk Train’s website; I’ll let you know if I hear anything back.


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