Gateway to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
March 9, 2015
In the late ‘80s, I lived in L.A. for a couple of years. My S.O. knew lots of cool L.A. stuff. One of those was something he’d read that likened Sunset Boulevard, just uphill from us, to a river that flowed to the sea. The writer described the landscapes through which it passed in those miles, from Broadway to the Pacific, and we got in the car and rode it. I’ve never forgotten it.
When I moved to Grass Valley in Northern California 2 years ago, I looked at a map one day and followed Highway 20, a mile from my house, as it went west and discovered it, too, ran all the way to the Pacific. I’ve be been thinking about it ever since, so for this big ending-in-zero birthday I decided to raft it in my RAV4 to the ocean and see how it all looks, decades after last seeing some, and much of it, never.
My 197 mile route along Highway 20 would take me down the hill from Grass Valley, through the farms of the Central Valley, into the hills of the Coast Range, past Clear Lake, a dip into wine country near Ukiah, then over the last of the coast hills to the Pacific Ocean just south of Fort Bragg, where 20 meets famously beautiful California Highway 1.
My first stop would be just south of Ukiah, at a place I hadn’t heard of until recently, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The late Huell Howser had a very popular television show produced by Los Angeles PBS station KCET, called California’s Gold. Still going strong in reruns, I tuned in one day to find the charismatic Huell visiting a place I had to look up on Google maps, having missed the beginning, on the outskirts of Ukiah. It fascinated me and was the first item added to my itinerary. He and his crew had enjoyed lunch, part of the show, in the Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant there and, as I’d be arriving about midday, I would follow Huell’s example.
I turned off Highway 101, the main artery through wine country and the California redwoods, onto a country road with vineyards on both sides. A short drive brought me to the end of the public road, which then entered the community of City of Ten Thousand Buddhas through a huge gate built over the road. The buildings beyond the gate were a conglomeration of styles, some perfectly utilitarian and of a later vintage than others built in a non-institutional style and quite beautifully designed. I’d learned while watching the program that the property had been developed to house the Mendocino State Hospital, beginning in 1889. The 488 acre property was purchased in 1974 by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association and became the home of Dharma Realm Buddhist University, the Tathagata Monastery and the supporting community.
Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas
I parked near the Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas and spent some time in and around the building. The walls outside were adorned by huge paintings of deities, maybe 15 feet tall. Inside was an anteroom and a large hall and I have no doubt regarding the number of Buddhas, the walls covered in encased figures. A ceremony was under way when I arrived, attended by religious and lay members of the community. Afterward, I walked around a bit, had lunch at the nearby restaurant, thinking of Huell, before driving on to my next stop, not far away, in Willits.
Jeweled Hall of 10,000 Buddhas, exterior.
Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant, below.
The community's girls' school.
In 1979, during the worst of the gasoline shortage that interrupted so many families’ vacation plans, my then 8 year old son and I decided to see if we could have an adventure without using our car. A child who had never gone anywhere except in a family car, he was thrilled at the thought of using public transportation. We lived on the San Francisco Peninsula and started our getaway using the commuter train into San Francisco. The Greyhound Bus Depot was a short walk away and while waiting for our bus north, my son struck up an instant friendship with well-known tattoo artist, Lyle Tuttle, in his upstairs studio, next to the station. We rode the bus up Highway 101, where I’d find myself all these years later among the vineyards that no one had thought of in 1979. The bus driver kindly dropped us in front of our motel, the Pepperwood, where we stayed the night in Willits. Next morning we took a train, called the Skunk, west up to the ridge of the coast range, changed to the train that went down the other side (also the Skunk), and arrived in Fort Bragg. Our trip continued over the next days south to Mendocino, then back to San Francisco and home. It was a great success, possibly our most memorable, and this trip would cover some of the same territory.
Eastern Terminus of the Skunk Train, Willits, California
I drove to the eastern terminus of the Skunk Train in downtown Willits, built originally to haul redwood logs and called the Redwood Route. Rides on the Skunk don’t start until mid-May so there were no locomotives to see. But the depot was there and some passenger cars. I headed back to Highway 20 for the last leg of the drive over the mountain to the Pacific, made a right turn into Fort Bragg and found my way to the western end of the railroad, it’s depot and a few more cars on the track alongside. You can read all about the Skunk here.
The Skunk Train's western end in Fort Bragg, California.
It was late afternoon by this time and I decided to head for Elk, 26 miles down the coast, where I would stay for 2 nights with a friend. I stopped in Mendocino for a cup of tea, then drove on south, enjoying as spectacular a display of coastline as exists anywhere, I have no doubt. Jane cooked dinner, made a fire to warm us, I read a little, then went to bed in her charming cottage within sight and sound of the Pacific.
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