Coastal Place Names Part 2

A recent column explored the sources of names on the land from Needle Rock south to Caspar on the Mendocino Coast. This week’s column tells the story of place names from Pine Grove south to Gualala. Plan a road trip and find these interesting places.

1902 Mendocino County Map
Detail from Mendocino County map showing he southern coast and the small towns and landings found there in 1902. (Map by J. N. Lentell)

Pine Grove probably had a pine tree grove and Russian Gulch was supposed to have been settled by a Russian man escaped from Fort Ross in Sonoma County. 

Little River has a little river and Dark Gulch can be a dark spot on the road. It was sometimes referred to as Big Gulch. Albion honored the ancient name for England, and Salmon Creek had salmon swimming in it.

Worn out yet? It’s a LONG drive…crossing the Navarro River in a few miles is Cuffy’s Cove. Two stories here — either sailors saw a cuffey (another name for a baby bear) in the area around the cove, or it was named for settler Nathaniel Smith, cuffey being a slang name for a black skinned man in the 1850s.

South of this is Greenwood/Elk, the town with two names. The folks there wanted their post office to be named after the Greenwood brothers, early settlers in the area, but the name was already assigned by the postal service to a Sierra town, so they chose Elk. Loggers ate a lot of elk meat. A sign for Bridgeport is still attached to a ranch that had a bridge with a port, or landing.

Several spellings exist for Mal Paso, Mall Pass, Mallo Passo, an especially steep loop in the coastal road. The term means “bad passage” in Spanish. Then comes Manchester, one of 35 towns in the USA named by expat Brits. 

Today’s Point Arena used to be Punta Arenas, Spanish for a sandy point. A ship was probably wrecked (or built) at Schooner Gulch. South of here were a dozen places with “landing” as part of their title — Saunders, Iversen, Stevens, Steen’s, Collins, Bournes, and Robinson — all invisible to tourists as they are on private property. 

Some names, like Rough & Ready, Hardscratch, and Nip & Tuck, refer to small and dangerous shipping locations. Arriving at the end of the journey is Gualala, a Pomo native word taken from ghawalaali “Water-going-down place.”

Want to know more about our names on the land? David L. Durham wrote “Durham’s Place-Names of California’s North Coast,” which includes Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino & Trinity Counties (available in digital and print formats). There’s also Erwin G. Gudde’s “California Place Names.”