The Emerald Triangle: Murders, Mystery, and Living in Humboldt County
The Beauty Behind the Mysterious Redwood Curtain
Humboldt County will always have my heart. It is one of the most beautiful regions of the United States. There is an air of freedom and tragedy all in one. There is danger and there is possibility. There are so many secrets, tragedies, evils, and there is also family, love, unity, and heritage.
After 20 years of law enforcement attempting to wipe everybody out, it's really ironic that legalization is able to potentially destroy what criminalization couldn't.— Ed Denson, Cannabis Industry Attorney
Video: Garberville Tour
Do People Really Go Missing in Humboldt County?
Yes. And they go missing all the time. Humboldt has the highest missing persons rate in all of the state. While I was in town there in the summer of 2017 before the legalization, I saw Asha Kreimer posters everywhere. As told in the TV series, Her mother, a nurse in Australia, flies out whenever she can to ask strangers if they've seen Asha. There's a lot of land in Humboldt County, a lot of places to get lost, and a lot of people who go there to get lost. Some disappearances are maybe intentional, and others not. It's truly the last wild west.
While I was in a natural foods market there, I remember hearing a radio call come in for the "coroner." I thought about it for a while. Here I was traveling. . . I was driving up to Arcata to work PT at Humboldt State University, would stay at the Redwood Lily Guest House (beautiful hostel in Arcata, now shut down), and I would head back into Briceland and make a trip out to Shelter Cove on the weekend—which, by the way, the road out there is one day going to fall into the earth. I was covering a lot of territory. I thought it odd at first to hear the coroner being called, but knowing what I know now, not so much.
Video: The Story of Garrett Rodriguez
Commentary From the Inside: Netflix's Murder Mountain
I had heard about Alderpoint, California—the main focus of Netflix's "Murder Mountain." (If you are at all interested in the details of this industry and region of the world, you should certainly watch the series. It is well-filmed, well-interviewed, well-constructed, and the plot is ultimately satisfying, that is, it hits at the major points.)
Why Alderpoint, California?
Alderpoint, California, is just one such region where a lot of killings occurred. In fact, back when my parents were in their early 20s, they used to camp and swim at Alderpoint—the time when James and Suzan Carson made the news for their "psychopathic serial killings." Since, "Murder Mountain" reveals several other tragic homicides, including the petty killing of Garrett Rodriguez of Ocean Beach, Southern California. Garrett Rodriquez becomes a focal point of the plot, as his disappearance sets off a chain of events that ultimately rip the people of Alderpoint apart and led to the naming of 8 vigilantes: the Alderpoint 8.
My Experience Traveling Around Solo in the Mountains
When I arrived to Garberville, I was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of travelers. You had people with packs who looked like they hadn't showered or slept in days, dogs, camping gear . . . people hanging out on the sidewalks . . . there is a definite appropriation of trimmer style (dreads, earthy attire, earthy colors, tattoos) that goes on that makes these individuals stick out from the locals. The locals on the other hand, unless they embrace their mountainous attire (camo, boots, jeans, hats) look fairly average and definitely do not flaunt their presence.
Garberville Is Full of Transients in Weed Season
Just outside of Garberville is Redway, California, which is even more localized than Garberville. In fact, the people in Redway are very much about keeping the community hole. You get trimmigrant visitors here to make phone calls and shop at the perhaps only (and unaffordable) market—one of two, but you also get a lot of locals. Just outside of there is Briceland, Whitehorn, and a road that goes all the way to Shelter Cove. You can explore similar trim scenes like Petrolia, Honeydew . . . drive north up to Fortuna, Eureka, Arcata, Trinidad.
The Locals Are There for the Community
I was fortunate enough to drive a Toyota truck into the hills. On the windy, cellphone reception-less dirt roads, you're mostly going to be passing trucks. It made me blend in. Along the side of the roads, you'll find cars that have been lifted with logs, the tires stolen, and vehicle abandoned. This is a common sight. You will also see gate after gate after locked gate.
What you will notice is that there is a community here. There are families that have been in these hills for generations. As depicted in "Murder Mountain" back in the 70s, people took to the area during the back-to-the-land movement, and once peaceful hippies (now the grandparents of the current farmers) settled the land. Much of it is family owned and passed down through generations. These people are different from a lot of the individuals you see abusing hard drugs and pushing drugs back in town. It's like night and day.
Small Farms and a Way of Life
One thing that has been communicated to me is how the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64) has wiped out small farmers. Now that cannabis has become commercialized in California, these small farms that had been tended to for generations and generations (I'm talking families with children attending the local schools, sending their kids off to college based on their earnings) are being wiped out due to fees, inspections, and other regulatory dues.
Not only that, medical-grade cannabis is now being inspected on such a level that it is being tested for pesticides, mold, and similar (which it should be if being consumed, especially for the immune compromised). The days of care-free trimmigration are soon to be over—we're talking masks, gloves, stainless steel countertops etc. Because of these many requirements and the devaluing of the "pound" of weed, the black market is alive.
The Black Market Is Alive
Much of the criticisms law enforcement has regarding the effects the weed industry has on the region is due to the black market. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Small farmers are being pushed out and plots of land are being sold up.
Real criminals find a motivation to engage in illegal activities, while small farmers are trying to do the right thing by getting permitted. (Some even chose to keep things running illegally because the system has nearly made it impossible to stay afloat.) Regardless, legalization has temporarily welcomed more crime into this area because of desperation and the burgeoning black market. But the hope is that legalization will make it easier for law enforcement to crack down on true criminals.
Video: Pros and Cons of Living in Humboldt
Living in the Emerald Triangle—Marijuana Country
For one reason or another, I arrived in Redway in the Fall of 2017. I had been there once before at Benbow Inn near Garberville when I was younger for a family vacation . . . we dissolved into the trees, passed time near the rivers, and all I can recall of this place was bones, river snakes, redwoods, and mist. Fast forward several years, and I found myself in the center of marijuana country: Garberville.
Garberville Is the Jumping Off Point
Garberville is a hub of transients in the summer through late fall. People from all over the world arrive here—many Europeans—for one thing: to trim weed. These individuals are called "trimmigrants." They join up with acquaintances (or strangers), often times with tents and a minimal amount of belongings, and find themselves a farm to live and work on.
A Day in the Life of a Trimmigrant
These farms are often equipped with the bare necessities: a roofed workstation, a generator for electricity, propane for a hot shower, water, and an outhouse. Many trimmigrants set up tents for sleeping.
The day consists of waking up, eating, bucking (reducing the weed plant to the flower), trimming, weighing your trim, and bagging it in large turkey bags. You record your name and quantity and wait for the day that the farm owner shows up, counts your bags, and pays you cash.
Don't Put Yourself in a Situation
The sad situation which "Murder Mountain" tends to reveal, is that hopefuls come out the Humboldt County to get rich. What they don't realize is the region is desolate (you can get stranded fast), people are there to take advantage, payment is dealt with in cash, and it's hard to trust anyone. In fact, you are better off trusting no one. Unless you are a local and grew up in the area and know the ins and outs of the region, you're alone and on your own.
My biggest risk was my car breaking down and getting stranded. Otherwise, the towns are fairly safe so long as you don't wander where you shouldn't. Most property entrances are secure, so simply don't go where you shouldn't. Mind your own business, don't dress flamboyantly, and don't talk back. The locals just want to life to go on as it should, so as a visitor, don't be a nuisance and be self-sufficient. Also, don't burn bridges, don't take advantage of people, yield to the locals, and don't stand out.
Video: Murder Mountain Trailer
I Highly Recommend "Murder Mountain"
What "Murder Mountain" truly reveals, is the ongoing disease of a region. These are people who have made a living in a real craft—generations of farmers cultivating. Then there is the evil—the drug war—essentially, driven by outsiders (and sometimes insiders) and lingering hard drugs (not weed) corrupting the environment.
In "Murder Mountain" you will meet William Honsal, the Humboldt County Sheriff coroner who looks like he doesn't sleep, ever. You realize law enforcement is after bigger and badder things—not you. You'll meet the locals . . . the type that will know everything they need to know about you if you flash a passport or pay with 20 dollar bills with resin on your hands. Locals just trying to live.
"Murder Mountain" is an honest look into the heart of weed country. It's fair. If you want to get a taste of this beautiful landscape and the last frontier, but from the safety of your couch and behind your screen, watch it. Things aren't always what they seem.
© 2019 Layne Holmes