Monday, June 9, 2014

The River Mild - Kayaking the Albion River

The Mendocino coast is known as a world class kayaking destination, with it's many sea caves, great surf breaks, unbeatable rock gardens, and dramatic vistas. I love all that, but what I think makes this area a true kayaker's mecca is the softer side - the rivers. Because when things are big and nasty, or you just want a mellow day, you can cruise up on of several rivers for beautiful scenery and plentiful wildlife.

The Albion River reaches the sea at the eponymous little village of Albion, several miles south of Mendocino proper. Highway One crosses high above the river, overlooking a rocky, twisting channel that is the entrance to the harbor. Looking west, one sees all the rugged beauty that makes the coast famous. But the other direction possesses something special of its own.

On the north side of the bridge is a road that drives down to the river, with two separate campgrounds that both offer kayak launching (one is closer to the ocean, one further away, so it just depends on which way you want to paddle). Wherever you start, putting in and heading upriver quickly takes you around a few bends and far from the town and civilization, winding your way through steep walls of verdant green, past resting seals and frequent herons. It works best to ride a flood tide, the ocean pushing its way in along with you, before turning and letting the ebb and river current carry you back out.

We didn't have favorable tides and almost got stuck on the sandbars, but about three feet is all you need to make it up three miles where fallen trees block the path. The continued flood fought us on the way back, but it only slowed our pace a little, giving us more time to appreciate the action: a seagull chased an immature bald eagle carrying a fish; a lone cormorant struggled to take flight at our approach, shaking his wings to dry them before the launch; an osprey circled high above, letting the afternoon sunlight reveal targets in the pools of calm water below.

But it's not all wildlife and nature up the Albion. You also get treated to the quirks of the region and the mystery of the floating houses. Three separate structures, each elaborate and quaint in their own way, built on the water with signs of habitation but no owners in sight - perhaps because owning a house on the river isn't exactly legal. Somehow they only enhance the natural beauty of the area, adding charm to its list of good traits.

So the next time the winds howl and the waves crash, or you want to paddle in shorts and a tee shirt for a change, look inward. The Albion, the Navarro, Big River, and the Noyo all provide miles of interesting scenery and peaceful water. It truly is a paddler's paradise out here.

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