California North Coast

Posted from Fort Bragg, California, United States.

(Or: The Long and Winding Road)

See the accompanying photo post for great pictures of trees and the ocean.

On Sunday, after a filling “country breakfast” prepared by our generous host, we bid a very fond farewell to our Oregon home for the past two weeks at the organic ranch.  We loved being there – and the time flew by – but it was definitely time to make our way south.  The snow on the ground a few days ago made that clear in no uncertain terms.  On our westward drive through Oregon, the scenery was filled with ranches and thousands of cows.  The roads were curvy and windy, but we are used to that by now.

Our destination, after about six hours on the road, was a campground in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park near Crescent City, California, on the northern coast.  The weather was cool, but cool is better than cold.  Since the sun sets and the temperatures drop quickly in the redwoods parks region, we went for a quick afternoon hike on a river trail before setting up camp.

In the wee hours of the morning it started to rain and continued steadily through the morning.  It was one of those mornings (mostly recently outside of Quebec City) where we waited for a lull in the constant pattering of rain drops before we ventured out to close Maggi up.  In truth, we weren’t expecting the rain but being the pros that we are (and thanks to Joe’s dad for the gift of the ShamWow) we made it work.

Since the weather was not amenable to hiking that morning, Apollo gave us a driving tour of the redwoods.  On the way to our next campground there was a road (called the Howland Hill Road) that was a virtual “driving hike.”  The redwoods were right up to the gravel road, which itself was so narrow it barely allowed for two cars abreast, and even from the windows of Apollo the trees were immense and stunning. But this was just the beginning of our infatuation with these trees.

We arrived at our Monday campground, Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, in the afternoon and it was still raining.  In fact, it was pouring.  If there had been an old man (there was not, thank you very much) he would have been snoring.  But since we are living out of our vehicle we have done whatever is within our means to be prepared.  Not only does that mean raincoats but also – oh, yes – rain pants.  We were not to fall victim of some rain, no matter how assertive.  Having donned our rain gear, we headed out on a five-mile hike through the magnificent redwoods.  We were slapped by wet leaves and moistened branches the whole way, but we didn’t care.  Plus, the canopies of the trees were impressively protective of the downpours.  But irrespective, once you get lost in the profundity of these trees, nothing else matters.  Happily, some hours later, the rain did let up and we were able to trot back with our hoods off.  But our appetite for redwoods and their dwellings had been whetted.

The next day we had a decision to make: stay another night at this same campsite or move on.  Prairie Creek had fantastic trails to hike, from easy to strenuous and from less than a mile to over ten miles, but we were a little burned out from the unending dampness.  Because of the threat of bears (and mountain lions!), our food had to be stored in a protective cabinet at the campsite and everything just kept getting more and more damp: our playing cards, our bed sheets, our books. etc.  So we decided to find another place to spend the night, but not before one final hike in the area.

That morning, after packing up, we did another fantastic and somewhat more strenuous hike in Prairie Creek.  And the forest was magical.  It was still damp from the rain the previous day, and it was very private and quiet.  The leaves glistened from wetness yet the sun was now working up the courage to display itself without timidness.  We would walk dozens of yards away from one another and then whisper – and yes, we could completely hear each other.  (Check out the Find Erik 3 and Find Joe 3 photos; if you can imagine that distance from each other, that was our whispering distance.)  The profound stillness in the forest created acoustics that were unfathomable.  We kept giggling at how unreal it all was.  It was as if we had microphones and speakers.

One final pontification about the redwoods and the national forests:  we’ve stated that the most incredible place we have visited thus far on the trip was Newfoundland, Canada with regard to stunning scenery.  That’s true but… if you are looking for a spiritual experience in the U.S.A., go to the redwoods.  There is one important thing that these mammoth, thousand-year-old trees have on the oldest, tallest mountains: they are still alive.  The energy that we felt among these trees – the living trees, the plants, the bugs and wildlife, not to mention the fallen trees who had given their bodies as a place for new species of plants, trees, and fungus to grow – was palpable.  Everything in the forest was alive or helping to proliferate another species.  The adjectives are pale in comparison with the meaningfulness of what we felt: epic, profound, humbling, inspiring, inconceivable, eternal.  And each tree was like a human being: noticeably different and unique from any other tree in terms of height, width, angle, foliage, pattern in the bark, growths in the bark, age, and so on; no two trees looked the same.  We were wholly incapable of getting bored studying them and marveling at their grandeur.  Not even close.  Pontification concluded.

(Bonus side note:  we made a observation how some of the areas reminded us of the Endor scenes in Return of the Jedi.  Well, it turns out that some of the Endor scenes were actually filmed in this area, specifically Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.  But we are unable to report any Ewok sightings, which is a good thing.)

After our hike, we headed south towards Arcata.  Arcata is another one of those little cities that we have come to love on our travels.  Similar to Asheville, North Carolina or Nelson, British Columbia; it’s a total hippie town and extremely progressive and laid-back.  We witnessed dozens of backpackers, guys in their 20’s with long beards and dirty, old cargo pants and stocking hats, lots of energy-efficient vehicles, and in general a welcoming and loving vibe.  We did a self-guided driving tour through this awesome city and headed south to our next sleeping destination in between Arcata and Eureka.

It feels like a bit like we sold out, but there are valid explanations: our campground for both Tuesday and Wednesday nights was a KOA, Kampgrounds of America.  (Why this international chain of campgrounds chooses to spell itself with “K” is beyond our comprehension.)  First, it was conveniently located.  Second, it has impressive amenities including showers (free), laundry facilities… well, that was enough for us.  Third – and this is really unfortunate but it is how it is – the cost was 20% cheaper than camping in a state park in California.  Paying $35 each night does actually sting a little when you are traveling on a preplanned budget.  The campgrounds in Canada were closer to $20-25.  Having the option to pay $28 at a KOA for a couple of nights is rather enticing.  So there.  Yeah, we did it and we’re not sorry.

Wednesday was mostly occupied with exploring the fun city of Eureka, which shares the progressive mentality and vibe of Arcata.  We did a walking tour of the Old Town area, walked along the Boardwalk and the bay, saw some of the great Victorian houses and buildings, and caught up on some internet work at a local cafe.  In the evenings, although we have been going south, we have been surprised at how cold it gets at night.  The temperatures only register around 50 degrees, but because of our close proximity to the ocean the dampness is what is chilling us to our core.  We are as warmly dressed in sleep here as we were in northern Newfoundland.

After a second night at the posh (not!) KOA, Thursday was a busy but fun day on the road.  After a quick stop in Arcata at the SERVAS office (the organization we belong to that helps us arrange for homestays), we drove down the famed Avenue of the Giants, another scenic road that gets you up close and personal with these magnificent trees.  The road is slow going because it is so curvy and scenic, but the traffic was minimal and we just enjoyed ourselves, even stopping to get lost on another quick hike.  We also stopped to see the famed Eternal Tree, which is a redwood that has survived fire, floods, lightning, and even axes trying to chop it down.  Then we pointed Apollo southward onto the hyper-windy Highway 1.  The first 20 miles are in forested areas and are definitely nausea-inducing because for the unending curves.  (Funny story: for our listening pleasure on this road, Joe selected The Beatles’ album Let It Be, completely forgetting that Track 10 is the song, “The Long and Winding Road.”)  But eventually it comes out to the coast and although it is still somewhat curvy at least the ocean is there for you to marvel at.

For our sleeping quarters we did cough up the extra $7 to stay at another state park (MacKerricher) even though Joe longingly eyed a KOA only a few miles away that was literally right on the ocean beach.  For a treat that night we visited an old haunt, the North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg, where we ate in 2003 (several times) when we were in the area at that time.  The beer is the same but the restaurant has changed a bit, not necessarily for the better (especially the service – ugh).

Friday morning we headed to the coast and spent some time watching the crashing waves and even spotted some seals close to the shore romping about.  After a quick stop at a coffee shop to post this, we are headed to Willits for the weekend; our hosts will be another SERVAS stay.

This week we did pass a couple of personal landmarks.  First, we have now officially spent more than one month of combined nights (31) sleeping in Maggi.  And we still get asked about her every night.  It’s also a rather telling shift in mindset when one of you matter-of-factly states, “But I’ve only been wearing this shirt for three days…”  Hmm.  Also, we have now driven the entire northern California section of the coastal highway; we drove from Big Sur to Fort Bragg in 2003 and this week completed the remainder of it, from Fort Bragg through northern California.

Next week: the calendar says we are to visit vineyards in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino, and who are we to argue with the calendar?


This entry was posted in U.S. (Sept - Dec 2011) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to California North Coast

  1. Leslie Zander says:

    Have you read “The Wild Trees” by Richard Preston? I was mildly obsessed with redwoods after reading it and now your post has revived that obsession. I need to get out there and see them!

    Also, the ShamWow website’s banner at the top of the window says, “Holds 12 times it’s weight in liquid.” Perfect.

  2. Merie says:

    I hope you can visit Ferrari-Carano – great wines and an incredible garden! You are in one of our very favorite areas of the state!

  3. Chuck says:

    Pontificate away! Even in only two dimensions, the redwoods are overwhelmingly beautiful. But that description falls pitifully short, too. I’m happy to know that the Eternal tree is surrounded by his patient, strong, and caring friends; a fitting place for one who has suffered.

    RE: your stay at a KOA – Julia Child probably ate a Quarter-pounder once or twice, loved it and just never told anyone!


  4. Sue says:

    My friends were married in the Rewoods near Eureka several years ago. After the ceremony we took a walk through the woods. We kept hearing music drawing us further into the branches of those wonderful trees. We found a guy playing bagpipes! He said he loved the acoustics and goes there to worship. It was great.
    You will love Willits. I don’t think that town ever left the 70′s. Beautiful! Wishing both of you the best of travels!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>