Rush Sturges' dad and friends in front of his kayak shop in Forks of Salmon in 1982. Courtesy of Rush Sturges
Rush Sturges' dad and friends in front of his kayak shop in Forks of Salmon in 1982. (Courtesy of Rush Sturges)

Raised by the River in Forks of Salmon, California

Raised by the River in Forks of Salmon, California

A lot of us Californians like to hit the open road, explore miles of highway and venture off onto some back roads. Sometimes, we come across towns with some pretty bizarre and surprising names. For this installment in our series “A Place Called What?!” we head to Forks of Salmon, California. Know an unusual place name in California? Tell us about it in the comments below, or send a note to calreport@kqed.org.

Forks of Salmon, California is nestled in between Arcata and Mt. Shasta in the far northern part of the state.

"Kind of smack in the middle nowhere," says native son Rush Sturges.

Actually, it's in the middle of the North and South Fork of the Salmon River, hence the name Forks of Salmon. Growing up surrounded by all that water had a big influence on Sturges' life and livelihood.

Raised by the River in Forks of Salmon, California

Raised by the River in Forks of Salmon, California

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"My dad was a sailor, and he ended up getting into whitewater kayaking back in the '70s," Sturges explains.

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"He started a small school [in Forks] for teaching people kayaking and mountain biking and adventure-driven sports."

It was here that young Rush learned how to kayak, and his love for adventure sports bloomed.

Now, he is a professional kayaker and adventure sport filmmaker who travels around the world riding and filming rivers.

A young Rush Sturges and his dad in Forks of Salmon. (Courtesy of Rush Sturges)

But the harsh, natural landscape that Sturges loves doesn't exactly make it easy on visitors who might want to visit Forks of Salmon.

"The road also scares people away from going there," Sturges says laughing.

"There's one lane [where] it's just like Himalayan-style driving... A couple hundred foot drop off to your side. And in the winter when it's icy and scary, it keeps the keeps the crowd away."

There are definitely no crowds in Forks of Salmon with a population that barely cracks triple digits. Sturges went to school in a one-room schoolhouse with 10 other kids. Everybody has to generate their own electricity.

"Growing up in an environment where everybody is in one room together," Sturges says, "I think it was actually awesome. I feel like it made me able to get along with people easier, and overall I just really loved it."


Sturges thanks Forks of Salmon for the life he has now.

“I know I’m super super lucky. I don’t think there’s any way that I would have been able to sort of find this path had I not grown up in a place like Forks.”

Sturges now lives and works in White Salmon, Washington, but his parents still live in Forks. He sees himself going back there one day, when he's done working, to settle down.

"It takes a certain type of person to be able to to live in that kind of environment in that sort of location," he says.

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