We’re back in one of our regular stops on the northern California coast – Cher-Ae Heights Casino in Trinidad, California. Casinos often offer free or inexpensive camping to RVers as an inducement to come on in and lose all your money, as I have written about before. But Cher-Ae is one of our favorites, because of its unique location and history.
As part of my Googling around to find out more about the locations we visit, I learned about the history of rancherias, small native American settlements along the west coast. By 1900 the native Americans who had not been carted off the reservations had been reduced to a miserable existence, landless remnants clustered on the periphery of Anglo settlements which were going up rapidly as the lumbering industry spread out over the area.
They continued their subsistence hunting and gathering lifestyle but were constantly being run out of areas which the white settlers decided were valuable. Unlike Plains tribes, the weather in the Pacific Northwest required permanent housing, traditionally in plank houses, so constant relocation was a hardship. To rectify this situation, federal agents were sent out to identify these small native American communities, and to designate small parcels of land for them to live on. The term rancheria, which had been used during the Spanish era to describe the living quarters for ranch workers, stuck as a way to refer to these settlements. Fifty-nine of these rancherias were created in the early part of the 20th century.
As was the case with the Seminoles in Florida, the displaced natives were the surviving remnants of the original tribes who had occupied the area before white settlement. Cher-Ae Heights Community of the Trinidad Rancheria is predominantly Yurok, whose original land included this area, but also includes members from the Wiyot, Chetco, and other area tribes. Total enrollment is 154.
The rancheria was created in 1906, and additional land was purchased in 1908, increasing the size of the rancheria to 80 acres. The “heights” in the name refers to its location, on a bluff overlooking Trinidad Harbor, which was prime real estate and the site of the original village, but taken over by the white settlers. This is a success story – the tribal government is a strong and vibrant entity, providing health care, education, and other benefits for the enrolled members. They have a casino and also operate a restaurant, a deli, and the pier in the harbor. And they’re taking excellent care of their land – the casino parking is on the bluff overlooking the ocean, and surrounded by giant redwoods. The tribal office is right next door. As parking lots go, it’s a spectacular location.
What you do after you arrive is walk down to the casino front desk and fill out a form. For twenty bucks, you can stay up to three nights. The usual restrictions you typically find on reservations apply – no guns, drugs, or other obnoxious behavior. Some reservations also frown on alcohol. And as they told me at Blue Lake Casino down the road in Arcata, no, they are not impressed by your medical marijuana card. Tribal regulations apply – they don’t care how you do things back in the state capital. They’re raising their children here.
They have wonderful fresh water here in the RV parking area. I asked about it and the guy said, “it’s what our children drink.” Good enough for me. There are no electrical hookups, which doesn’t bother me any, and they even have WiFi now – ask for the password at the casino desk. There’s an RV dump on highway 101 a couple of miles north of here, so it’s everything you need for a pleasant and convenient stay. We spend our days down at the beach or at Camel Rock, a famous surf location a mile south of the casino. and our nights on the bluff overlooking the ocean, surrounded by redwoods. And our 20 bucks goes straight into the tribal treasury. Somebody’s gonna get the money, might as well be them. They have kids to raise. elders to take care of.