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Humboldt County California Information
Humboldt County PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
ACV - Humboldt's Airport
The Eureka Inn
Humboldt County Products From Amazon.Com
Humboldt County Tourism Information and Facts
Humboldt County Culture
Humboldt County California is referred to by various names, slogans, phrases and even jokes both by locals and tourists alike. It is perhaps best known worldwide as one of the largest exporters of marijuana in the United States. Although marijuana is technically illegal under U.S. federal law, a combination of liberal state regulations allowing for the use of "medical" marijuana, an overabundance of militant pro-marijuana prescribing physicians, the lack of any real criminal penalties in the state for possession of pot in small quantities and the inability of local law enforcement to enforce the few laws against marijuana use combine to make its use more prevalent among the local population than in most parts of the world.
The county's reputation as a marijuana mecca arguably started among the "hippies" of the 1960s, many of which are still a part of the local community. It is a legacy that has been largely kept alive by the thousands of students who flock to the area each year to attend Humboldt State University, the area's only California State University. HSU, as it is locally known, is widely regarded as one of the nation's top "party schools". It's emphasis on liberal arts majors, hard drinking, drug use and ultra-liberal politics have given it a reputation as a university that hands-out degrees for what many locals jokingly refer to as a "major in underwater basket weaving". Although most who graduate eventually leave the area, those remaining eventually face seeking employment in a community where the average pizza delivery driver has a four year college degree and you can find PhD graduates working the grill at the local Carl's Jr.
Yesterday's "hippie" generation has morphed into a 21st century counterculture in Humboldt that seems to revolve around Jamaican culture, Reggae music, dreadlocks, lots and lots of beer, daily marijuana use and video games. This culture stands in stark contrast to that of most county natives who were raised as the children of loggers, mill workers, fishermen, cattle ranchers and other blue collar jobs that were once the economic backbone of the area.
Humboldt County is above all a rural and isolated area. There are few incorporated cities in Humboldt. They include its capital and largest city Eureka, which has a population of approximately 27,000. The second largest city is Arcata, home of Humboldt State University. Arcata has a population of approximately 18,000. Fortuna, to the South, has a population of around 10,000. Eureka, Arcata and Fortuna make up what are sometimes referred to locally as the Tri-Cities. The only other incorporated areas are Trinidad, Ferndale, Rio Dell and Blue Lake, each of which have populations of less than 2,000. In total, the county has a population of around 130,000.
Unincorporated towns in Humboldt include outlying suburbs of Eureka and Arcata such as Humboldt Hill, Elk River, Cutten, Myrtletown, Samoa, Mad River, Freshwater, Kneeland and the Four Corners area. One of the largest cities in Humboldt is not even a city. That would be the unincorporated town of McKinleyville, which hosts the county's only airport with commuter flights. It is officially known as "The Arcata-Eureka Airport in McKinleyville", better known to travelers under the airport code ACV.
Humboldt County Transportation (or lack thereof)
Due to the remote nature of Humboldt County, many items such as gasoline, food, fuel, utilities and telecommunications services are priced far higher than they are in other parts of the state. A lack of transportation only makes this situation worse. The area has not had rail service in decades, and none is on the horizon. The county's largest airport is only capable of hosting small commuter planes, the majority of which are still prop-driven 30 seat aircraft locals have labeled "puddle jumpers". The airport is incapable of hosting typical 747's or large transport aircraft. Airline Ticket prices have traditionally been exorbitant to the point of ridicule. It is often cheaper to fly from most major cities to Hawaii than it is to fly to Humboldt, and that is if you are lucky enough to fly at a time when air traffic is not turned away due to fog. The fact that the Federal Aviation Administration has eliminated all local flight tower operations and now relies exclusively upon automated monitoring equipment had only made matters worse in recent years.
Bus service has dwindled over the past decade. Greyhound still provides limited service running North and South. Amtrak provides one-way bus service travelling East to Redding. Local bus service is provided by Humboldt Transit Authority. City buses are available both Eureka and Arcata. However, all of these buses run on very limited schedules and are effectively unavailable at night. Cab service is available from one major cab company, with at least one other small cab company known to be licensed. Typically speaking, a cab ride in Humboldt is fairly expensive though, and wait times can be as long as an hour. In the unfortunate event that your auto breaks down, you may be waiting closer to two hours for a tow truck.
Those who wish to drive in Humboldt County face some of the steepest gasoline prices in the nation. Although a number of official investigations have been launched, no one seems to be able to explain the area's unusually high gas prices, which are often lower in remote parts of the county than in populated areas. Strangely, the more populated areas are actually located closer to Humboldt Bay, where all of the area's petroleum distributors receive their shipments via a single tanker ship. The general consensus on why gas station owners charge so much more than in other areas of the country seems to boil down to a severe lack of competition and total disregard for the normal channels of supply and demand that drive most markets in the United States. Humboldt County is almost literally an island unto itself in more ways than one.
Humboldt County Roads are notoriously unreliable. Three "highways" currently run through the area. Highway 101 is the largest, which runs the entire North-South corridor and passes directly through its capital of Eureka. For the most part, all areas of any decent size population are located directly off Highway 101. Although 101 stretches from the Mexican border nearly all of the way to Canada, Humboldt's section of the highway is quite possibly the worst maintained and is often closed during the Winter for days at a time. Long stretches of the highway are only one lane in each direction and make for hazardous driving at even the best times of year. As of the moment, there are no plans for any type of extensive overhaul of Highway 101 in Humboldt. There have been many proposals over the years, but environmental or budgetary concerns usually derail any efforts to build a reliable alternative to the current route. Slides are common near the Humboldt and Mendocino County border, which at times result in the area becoming totally isolated from the outside world by land.
A Tale of Two Highways
Two highways cross Humboldt County from East to West. Highway 299 is impassable on a regular basis during the Winter, usually due to rock slides and/or snow in Eastern Humboldt or Trinity County near Weaverville. Sections of the highway are also subject to frequent delays during Spring and Summer due to road construction and repair by Cal-Trans. Since many parts of Trinity County can reach temperatures into the 120's during the Summer months, it is recommended that you do not use a vehicle without air-conditioning, especially if you are forced to stop for long periods of time while road maintenance is being performed. Most of these planned delays last 15-30 minutes, but can last upwards of an hour. That is more than long enough to fry you to a crisp at 120 degrees (with no shade) on asphalt inside of a sizzling four wheel coffin.
The majority of the highway is one lane in Each direction, with a 55 Mph speed limit (or less) the entire way. The highway eventually passes through the town of Redding to the East, where it meets up with a "real" highway, Interstate 5, sometimes called I5. The highway largely follows (roughly) the same route as the Trinity River thoughout most of Trinity County, up until it reaches the Trinity Dam near Lewiston. With the exception of Blue Lake, Highway 299 does not pass through or near any incorporated cities in Humboldt. Anyone taking this road would be wise to fill-up before heading East, as stretches between gas stations can be up to 40 miles. Most of highway 299 passes through forestry land owned by the State or Federal Government. This includes the largest national forest in the State of California the Shasta-Trinity National Forest which consists of a staggering 2,100,000 acres of wilderness areas, dams, lakes, rivers and campgrounds. There is a nice "what to see" guide on the website GORP.AWAY.COM if you want to know what you will be passing through along the way.
Bigfoot Has Left the Building
Willow Creek is the lone stop along Highway 299 before heading East to Trinity County, which is even more sparsely populated than Humboldt. This tiny town is currently a shadow of its former self. It's economy largely collapsed in the 1980s, along with the decline of the area's timber industry. The town is perhaps best known outside the area as the "Gateway to Bigfoot Country". Numerous sightings of the elusive creature were reported from the late 1950s to the 1970s. Unfortunately, Bigfoot has ceased making public appearances in recent years. Willow Creek is the nearest town of any population to the Bluff Creek area, where an infamous video of "something" was captured on film by photographer Roger Patterson. It is the probably the most widely circulated video and photographic "evidence" of the existence of the mythical creature. Willow Creek still holds a "Bigfoot Museum", a large wood statue carved of the creature and plenty of tacky t-shirts, postcards and trinkets to buy at the local grocery store. Having lived in the Willow Creek area and after meeting some of the "witnesses", I sadly have to conclude that the majority of sightings linking Bigfoot to the Willow Creek area have been largely hoaxes, practical jokes, drunken recollections and attempts by local businesspeople to increase tourism. It's not too big of a secret among the old-timers in the area that many of these shenanigans were staged. Most of the original hoaxers have taken their secrets to the grave though, and we will probably never be able to sort all of the outright hoaxes from legitimate sightings of "weirdness".
Highway 36 provides another opportunity to travel from East to West, meeting Interstate 5 at one point and continuing East until hitting U.S. Route 395 near Susanville. It is officially known as "State Route 36", although none of the locals refer it it as such. Much like Highway 299, it is impassable at times during the Winter, is difficult to drive and poorly maintained. You will see very little commercial traffic along this route, and populated areas are few and far between. Highway 36 passes through even more remote parts of Trinity County than Highway 299 does, if that is possible. Populations of towns along these highways is typically 20, or less, and few services are available after dark. Be highly cautious when driving either of these highways, especially during Winter. You are well-advised to carry chains, or at least travel using a four wheel drive vehicle. The prevalence of 4-wheel drive vehicles among local residents is no accident, nor is it some type of yuppie fashion statement. Anyone driving on Humboldt's roads or highways outside of the city limits, especially during Winter, is likely to face harsh road conditions. It's roads are plagued with snow, ice, sleet, hail, rain, runoff from local rivers or the ocean, potholes that are large enough to actually have their own names in some areas, mudslides, rock slides, wandering cattle, deer and other wild animals, transients near Eureka and Arcata, hitchhikers, abandoned vehicles and the list goes on. Suffice to say, Humboldt roads do not suffer from much gridlock, but they are affected greatly by the local climate and lack of funds to pay for its many needed repairs.
More to come...
Humboldt County... Reloaded
This is just a brief update to the above article that I originally wrote in 2008. It is now May of 2010.
Since I wrote the original hub, not much has really changed in Humboldt. The economic situation in the area is worse than ever. Unemployment has hit it's highest numbers in the area's history. The main industries supporting the area are quickly disappearing. One of our largest employers, the local pulp mills have both shut down. One has been basically dismantled, while the second has been in mothballs for more than a year now. The fishing industry is growing bleaker every year, as the fish population continues to dwindle. The lumber industry is about the only one left that generates any legitimate income, but jobs in this industry are much more difficult to come by, wages are much lower, margins are much tighter and the vast majority of trees logged in Humboldt are being shipped out of the area by truck, rather than being turned into lumber at local mills.
The transportation sector has grown even more dim. After a brief stint of less than 3 years, Delta Airlines has decided to discontinue all flights to/from Humboldt County's only commercial airport (ACV). They are unlikely to return anytime soon, due to the increasing cost of fuel, the declining profits of the airline industry as well as the lack of disposable income that locals have to spend on air travel. The local airport is actually scheduled to be upgraded in July of 2010 to accomadate larger airplanes by lengthening the runway, even though no airlines have expressed an interest in landing larger planes here. On the bright side, the County finally got around to adding a 10' fence around the entire airport perimeter in order to improve security. Although the chances of Al Quida being stopped by an unmonitored 10' chain link fence are fairly small, it should at least keep stray deer off the runway, which had become an increasing problem in recent years. I believe that the security fence was actually funded by the Department of Homeland Security, or (at the very least) mandated by it.
The successful political move by marijuana advocates to essentially legalize the unlimited personal growing and use of marijuana for "medical purposes" has been a real political coup. California courts have recently ruled that the measure approved by California voters allows individuals to grow an UNLIMITED number of marijuana plants for their own, personal use. Previously, county District Attorneys had set rather arbitrary limits on the number of plants that medical marijuana patients could possess before being considered "illegal". The number stood at 99 mature plants for quite some time. That seems to have now fallen by the wayside though, and the sky is pretty much the limit these days. Since it is possible for literally anyone to buy a prescription for medical marijuana from a number of both local and "virtual" Doctors online (the going rate is about $150 for a prescription), the drug is now all but legalized here. This has prompted marijuana advocates to take the next step, which is to fully legalize the drug by placing a measure on the state ballot later this year. California may become the first state in the U.S. to make the use, possession and sale of marijuana 100% legal for everyone over 18. Currently, polling indicates that the measure is unlikely to pass this time around though.
Highway conditions have not improved, other than a partial widening of Highway 101 near Southern Humboldt County. It is only a small stretch of road being affected though, and nowhere near enough to making trucking firms or bus lines consider changing their routes to bypass Interstate 5 to the East with a trek along Highway 101.
Absolutely no progress has been made in the way of rail traffic. There is none, as of this writing. The existing infrastructure continues to deteriorate and there is little chance that rail service will ever be resumed here.
Along the same lines, the port of Humboldt Bay has also seen the number of large boats entering the harbor drop to nearly nothing. Absolutely no tourist ships of any type have stopped here in years now. Due to the closing of the pulp mills, few large cargo ships enter the harbor any longer. The only regular large vessels seen locally belong to the petroleum companies, who deliver gasoline to Humboldt County on a regular basis by way of ship. It is still the cheapest way of moving large amounts of petroleum into the area, since rail is unavailable and large tanker trucks can not navigate the narrow stretches of Highway 101. The local harbor district has finally reduced itself to hiring a single, local harbor master, who makes a fairly substantial amount of money for sitting around and doing nothing 99.999% of the time. Two other harbor employees were let go, due to the lack of work for them to do.
The retail sector has definitely seen better times. Humboldt's largest indoor shopping mall (The Bayshore Mall) in Eureka has become a near ghost town, with most of the leading anchor stores fleeing the area. 2009 saw the loss of both Mervyn's and Gottschalk's department stores, due to bankruptcy. It also saw the closing of "The Movies", which was one of only two movie theatres in the city of Eureka. Mervyn's was replaced within several months by Kohl's department store. However, both the Gottchalks and The Movies stores remain vacant. The majority of the malls smaller shops have closed as well, including the last of the original stores that were present when the mall opened 20+ years ago. The only reason I am spending this much time on describing events at The Bayshore Mall is that it acts as a relative barometer of retail sales in the area. In fact, other than the opening of a chain of Dollar Trees stores (one of which has already shut down), few new stores seem to be opening here any longer. Those that have are definitely aiming at selling CHEAP merchandise and generally pay employees minimum wage. Needless to say, the job market in the area is saturated with ridiculously over-qualified, unemployed workers, many of which have graduated from Humboldt State University in recent years.
On a positive note, the historic Eureka Inn recently announced that it has been partially restored and will soon be open to take reservations once again. The Inn has been shuttered for the past 10 years, after the previous owner declared bankruptcy. The current owner has worked for years on restoration, and is finally ready to start accepting guests once again this Summer. Only the second and third floors have been restored thus far. Still to be completed are the first floor hotel rooms, the huge reception hall, it's two resturants and at least one pub that had been part of the establishment for over 100 years. The Eureka Inn itself is well over 100 years old, and is probably the most famous and recognizable building in the entire community (except, perhaps, The Carson Mansion). Needless to say, the entire community is thrilled at the prospect of having the Inn open once again. Almost everyone who has lived in Humboldt County for 20+ years has either stayed at the hotel, had their wedding reception there, had friends or relatives who stayed there, dined at their resturants or enjoyed a drink at one of their pubs. It is most certainly the most famous and oldest existing commercial establishment in Eureka. Hopefully, it is a sign of better days to come.
If the Mayan calendar turns out to be correct, this may be our last update! If not, I'll try to update this page on a more frequent basis.
If I could use only one word to describe changes in Humboldt County since our last update in 2010, it would probably be "worse". The downhill economic trend in Humboldt County continues. Despite a slow uptick in population, the job situation is no better than it was. About the only expansion industry in the area seems to be federal government. The state's financial woes have meant layoffs at some state agencies in the area. Less money is also being returned to the county and cities from state government, which has led to layoffs by local government as well. A decline in retail sales has also contributed to the area's woes through loss of sales tax revenues. Local governments, which have traditionally been a steady supplier of good paying jobs, are downsizing.
The local retail scene has seen a number of closures to both franchises and local stores. Some of the businesses that have closed since our last update are Safeway in Eureka (two stores replaced by a single, larger supermarket), a Dollar Tree store, two Kentucky Fried Chickens, Jack In the Box, Hometown Buffet, Borders, Stanton's, Arctic Circle, Henderson Center Pharmacy, Myrtle Avenue Pharmacy, numerous retailers at the Bayshore Mall, etc. None of these stores have been replaced with new ones in the place, with the exception of a new Safeway pharmacy, a Church's Chicken, an additional location for Rita's Mexican Food and a recently-announced opening of Walmart coming to the mall. The announcement of Walmart's arrival has already prompted two local businesses at the mall to close, with additional closures sure to come.
Walmart will definitely add more (minimum wage) jobs to the area, but as we have already seen, those gains are likely to be offset by the loss of jobs at local retailers who will shut down as a result of not being able to compete against the giant, big box retailer. It's choice of location at the Bayshore Mall (formerly occupied by now-bankrupt Gottschalk's) is rather curious, as the company doesn't usually locate at malls. As a result, we will have one of the smallest Walmart's in the country. It will also add a lot of traffic to already congested Broadway Avenue, which currently hosts one of the only regular "traffic jams" in the county.
In a strange twist-of-fate, one of the biggest hits to the local economy comes from an unlikely source... pot smokers. When Prop 215 was passed in 1996, legalizing the use of "medical marijuana", pot smokers were overjoyed at the ending of local "prohibition" against weed. The poorly-written proposition spent years in the courts before the state supreme court ultimately decided that those who grow pot for their own use (with a prescription) can basically grow as much as they want. This led to a huge, new cottage industry in the cities and suburbs or Humboldt, growing marijuana indoors to sell to legal cannibas co-ops. A LOT of money was being made by these individuals until quite recently. When the business was legalized, pot was still a relatively expensive commodity. A permit to grow pot was like a license to print money. Untaxable money, at that. Eventually, the inevitable happened. Supply outpaced demand. There were more people growing pot than smoking it. This led to the exodus of many who had moved to the area to stake their claim to Humboldt's green gold, as the price of pot plummeted to levels at which it simply was no longer profitable to keep growing indoors. As a result, there are less rich pot farmers around to spend money at local stores, pay local property taxes, and generally inject income into the local economy. Since the still federally-illegal pot industry accounts for as much as 25% of Humboldt County's economy, local businesses and governments were certain to suffer. The result? Higher unemployment. Less sales tax revenue. Layoffs. General economic disaster. Yes, there is a price to be paid for cheap, legal marijuana, and Humboldt County has paid a steeper price for it than any other county in California. The irony is, it is mostly the NON pot smoking public who is left to clean up the economic mess through paying higher taxes and losing legitimate jobs.
In local transportation news, despite expensive renovations to the county airport, Humboldt lost another airline service, bringing the number of available airlines in the area to a single carrier. United Express is the only airline in town now, and the cost of flying here has never been higher. It's cheaper to fly to Hawaii or even Europe from many parts of the country than it is to fly to Humboldt County. To make matters (much) worse, the main destination for local flights, San Francisco International Airport (SFO), recently announced that it will spend the next two years refurbishing their facilities, which means that locals flying to/from SFO will be forced to land at a more remote airfield, walk quite a distance to a shuttle bus, then spend 20+ minutes shuttling back to the main airport. SFO already has more flight delays than any other major airport in the country. The situation is looking to become worse. For those brave enough to fly in the small commuter planes that fly in/out of Humboldt (all turbo propellers) there is already a considerable amount of grief in often having flights delayed due to local fog. Since the FAA shut down the airport's traffic control facility a few years ago, quite often flights here have to circle the runway for ridiculous amounts of time. During Winter, planes often have to return to where they came from (usually SFO) due to inability to land at our local runway. If you love lousy, expensive air travel, Humboldt County will be a favorite destination. For the rest of us, it continues to be a nightmare.
There have been almost no improvements to local highways in recent years. Widening of Highway 101 has been blocked for years by lawsuits claiming that the widening will destroy a number of redwood trees in the way. Railroad service. Dead. Resurrection is unlikely. There is little in ship traffic at the local port. Gas coming in. Redwood chips going out. Besides what fishermen are left, there is not much activity. No plans for cruise ships to visit, nor is it very likely that commercial traffic will increase as long as Highway 101 remains too narrow for large trucks to pass through.
The bleak national economy and accompanying inflation have led to a toxic mix of lower wages (for what jobs exist) and higher prices for basic commodities such as gasoline, electricity and food. At present, the future of the U.S. economy looks rather bleak. Unemployment figures are high all over the country, and Humboldt County is worse off than most parts of the country already. Occasional riots are already being seen in many, major U.S. cities. The situation is likely to get a lot worse before it gets better.
On the bright side, it has been quite some time since Humboldt suffered from a major earthquake and utility services have been unusually reliable. Weather has been fairer than normal. Flooding seems to be on the decrease. Air quality has vastly improved since local pulp mills shut down. We still have plenty of clean, excellent quality, relatively cheap water at our disposal. Violent crime has decreased nationwide in recent years. Except for the lousy economy and incompetent government with a resulting assault on the public in the way of higher taxes, there is room for improvement here, but it's still a nice place to live.
Humboldt County Links
- Humboldt Online California Homepage
A local news website covering Humboldt County in Northern California. Updated daily. Covering Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna and beyond. News, blogs and regional RSS news feeds.
- Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce
Eureka is the coastal Capital of Humboldt County California as well as its largest city.
- Humboldt County Homepage
The official homepage of Humboldt County Government.
- Wikipedia on Humboldt County
More facts and figures on Humboldt County from online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
- Humboldt County Convention & Visitors Bureau
If you are looking for tourism information on Humboldt County, this is the first place to look.
- Humboldt State University
Humboldt State University, the only California state university in Humboldt County. One of the top party colleges in America, according to Playboy Magazine.
- The Times-Standard
Humboldt County's oldest daily newspaper. Sort of. They no longer publish on Mondays. Your first and last choice for a near-daily newspaper in the county.
- The Arcata Eye
Arcata's only (weekly) newspaper. Covers the multitude of drama happening in Humboldt's second largest city.
The ONLY television channel in Humboldt County that reports local news. The local NBC affiliate offers clips of local stories on its website.
- Humboldt Craigslist
The leading place for online classified ads in Humboldt.
- City of Arcata Homepage
The official Homepage of Humboldt County's second largest city.
- Humboldt County Historical Society
The Humboldt County Historical Society is dedicated to preserving the history of our county. Lots of old pictures.
Lots of useful links to various websites on the Northcoast.
An interesting community website from the suburbs of Eureka. Includes an extensive list of local blogs.
- St. Bernard's Catholic Church
Constructed in 1864, it is one of the tallest and easily identifiable buildings in Eureka, CA
- The Humboldt Herald
A regularly updated blog with lots of news about what's happening in Humboldt County
- Salem's Lot - The Mini-Series
Another hub I wrote about the 1975 mini-series Salem's Lot, which was filmed in Ferndale, California in Northern Humboldt County.