The King Range

By Fish, Peter | Sunset, May 1998 | Go to article overview

The King Range


Fish, Peter, Sunset


Stormy beauty on the Northern California coast

* California is not supposed to be so wild, so storm-wracked, so brutally beautiful. California is supposed to be themeparked, Prozac-ed, liposuctioned. But the King Range, on the Humboldt-Mendocino coast, is a rugged realm unto itself.

Three warring earthquake faults have shaped this shore, often called the Lost Coast because of its remoteness. The earth shivers: is it a shifting continental plate or the pounding of the Pacific? Fog sidles in, veiling the Douglas firs, muffling the raw barks of sea lions into the cries of ghosts. Then the fog retreats, the sun swells, the sea lions smile, the firforested mountains are dewy-each ferny streambed an Eden.

Right now, though, the 62,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area is embroiled in controversy. Near its southern end stretches Black Sands Beach. On weekends the dark gravel beach buzzes with off-road vehicles. But Black Sands also forms the last 3 miles of the Lost Coast Trail, the most hiked stretch in the range.

Can backpackers and four-wheel drivers coexist? That's what the Bureau of Land Management is deciding, via environmental studies and contentious public hearings. "The off-highway vehicle use is not really compatible with the primitive backcountry experience of the King Range," argues the BLM's Gary Pritchard-Peterson. The possible ban makes off-road vehicle enthusiasts smolder with anger. "Black Sands is one of only two beaches still open to offroad use in California," notes Don Klusman of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs. "We want to keep this a multiple use area, open for everyone."

Even without the Black Sands brouhaha, the King Range isn't as quiet as it once was. …

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