For the past few years, around Thanksgiving time, I made the trek up to Mendocino National Forest from the Bay Area.
I went back up there recently with my boyfriend. He was the first person to take me camping in that forest about three years ago. Back then, I was pretty new to California and hadn’t done anything really outdoorsy since I was kid. But I moved to the Bay Area because of its beauty, and Mendocino was new and exciting to me.
We drove down red-clay dirt roads, through quiet green meadows surrounded by tall mountains and found a clearing in a secluded part of the woods to camp. We also began a new tradition for us: cutting down one of the forest’s small pine trees to use as a Christmas tree at home.
Since then, I’ve been to this forest at least half a dozen times. I’ve solo camped. I've taken friends and family. I even got my car stuck out there once on an off-highway vehicle road and had to backpack 12 miles to the forest’s main road where I eventually hitchhiked to the town of Upper Lake. That’s a story for another time. You could say I’ve had some real California experiences there.
So I felt crushed this past summer when I first heard that Mendocino National Forest was on fire.
Over the course of days, and then weeks, I saw the Mendocino Complex Fire slowly consume parts of the forest I knew well: the main road we first drove down, the hiking trail at Deafy Glade, and my favorite campground, Letts Lake.