Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 3: Branscomb to near Usal/Briceland Road junction

a. 6825’ gain, 48 miles. Night spent at ~1600’ elevation
b. Camped in a rough camp near mile 23.5 on Usal Road. (~1.5 miles shy of the Briceland junction).
c. Food: There is a small, expensive store in Westport, 2 miles south off route on Highway 1.
d. Road info: The Google map on Andreas’ site in the Usal Road area is messed up, as it loops back southeast from Usal Road to Leggett. You want to take Usal Road all the way to Briceland Road, and then follow the paved roads directly to Redway. I believe the profile on Andreas’ site might also be flawed starting at about km 100. The hills matched his profile until that point, but I don’t think we experienced those final climbs to 600 and 700 meters.
Paved until reaching the Usal Road turnoff mile ~24. Usal Road is dirt for 25 miles, until reaching Briceland Road junction. The Branscomb road is paved and most of it is relatively quiet. Highway 1 had some traffic, but it was not too bad when we were there.
Here’s some important information about Usal Road: It is never called Usal road except on the map. On the ground it is called #431 and is reasonably frequently marked as such with small road-side tags. The turnoff from highway 1 is a very sharp uphill left-hand turn ~1/4 mile after crossing a creek on a bridge. There are no road-signs calling it Usal Road, except possibly for some faded painted marks on the pavement. The tags while you are on Usal Road give mileage, with the intersection with Highway 1 at mile 0, and the intersection with Briceland Road at mile 25.09. With the exception mentioned below (Usal Creek) the road stays high and has no creeks or access to water or the beach.
The Google map instructions once you are on Usal Road are irrelevant. There are MANY junctions with logging roads. At many of these junctions Usal Road is marked with a small 431 tag, sometimes placed as much as 100 yards after the junction. At other junctions, you just take the route that appears to be the better used road.
The southern 5 miles of Usal Road is high quality dirt, usable by any car. The next 20 miles are mixed, with some quite rough and rutted stretches that would be difficult even for an SUV. We saw several vehicles on the first 5 miles, but no vehicles for the next 20 miles.
Five miles north of the highway 1/ Usal Road junction is a campground and beach access where Usal Road crosses Usal Creek. The campground does not have a water spigot, and by mid-summer Usal Creek will be dry (at least it was bone dry when we were there in October). This campground is one of only a few beach access points on this whole northern California Loop route. Just past this point is a second portion of the campground. Here the road splits in four directions; Usal road is straight ahead and is signposted as “not passable”; ignore this sign.

e. Water availability:
i. Westport (off route)
ii. Probably Westport Union Landing State Beach. (We didn’t look.)
iii. The creek ¼ mile south of the Usal Road / Highway 1 junction will have surface water in the spring and early summer, and possibly into the fall (we didn’t check when we crossed the bridge.)
iv. Usal Creek in the campground will have surface water in spring, but at some point during the summer it dries out.

f. Miscellaneous Notes:
i. Usal Road is a lovely remote road. It is never flat, and it’s the hardest stretch of the trip in terms of elevation change and road quality. Don’t underestimate how long these 25 miles will take.
ii. After crossing Usal creek and passing through a camp/picnic area and a signed trailhead, there is a road junction. Continue straight to stay on 431 (not right through more campground area, or left on an another unmarked road through more campground area.)
iii. If you are there in the spring you should be able to get water from Usal Creek. But don’t count on any water on the whole 25 miles of Usal Road if you are there later in the season.
iv. There is a somewhat stark and not very attractive campground at Westport Union Landing State Beach. There is a more isolated and nicer (illegal?) rough camp on the beach at the bridge a few hundreds yards north of the junction of Branscomb Road and Highway 1.
v. If you’ve got time there is a very worthwhile side trip. Take the Bear Harbor Road down to the Sinkyone Widerness State Park visitor center and campgrounds and beach. (Bear Harbor Road goes toward the ocean from the Usal/Briceland intersection.) It’s a lovely area down there, and the road runs along the coastal bluff grasslands, with stunning near-ocean views, unlike the Usal Road which is up high in the woods with few ocean views. Although this Nor Cal Loop route is fairly near the coast, there are few stretches right on the ocean, and this Bear Harbor Road would be the prettiest coastal stretch on this route.
Photos of Bear Harbor Road

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