Fires burning extensive portions of California surround us. Our intended progress southward is in jeopardy but since we really don’t need to be anywhere until late November, we decided to wait on information about whether or not we can continue on 101 until we were done fooling around. We decided to procrastinate before determining how we are going to get out of here. We therefore had available fun time so we decided to use it.
We had enough fun trying to scope out Arcata yesterday so today we chose to go on a different journey of discovery by heading north from Mad River RV Park. We took 101 north about 20 miles until turning off at the Kuchel Visitor Center of Redwood National Park near Orick. We wandered in, watched their movie, browsed their gift shop and then exited the center’s rear doors for a stroll on the beach. We were careful to avoid getting suckered by sneaker waves by staying away from the surf, which was open for business. The coastline near the visitor center is gorgeous with big seastacks offshore and magnificent cliffs above the shoreline.
After a short walk, we hopped back into the truck and continued north up 101 until we turned off and took the squirrelly road to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove of Redwood NP. The road is very narrow and quite exciting when loaded log trucks come the other way, particularly when we were driving in the lane closest to the abrupt cliff. After a few miles, however, we turned off into a small parking area and crossed the pedestrian bridge starting our hike into Lady Bird Johnson Grove. We did not see any Lady Birds but we were treated to a grand stroll through an astonishingly impressive Redwood, Douglas Fir and Hemlock forest with extremely pudgy trees throughout. We saw some more trees with almost vulgar appendages although it just may be filthy imaginations.
The trail is a bit longer than I am used to but certainly worth the effort I forced my old, stiff, creaky muscles and joints to exert. The surfaces are good and there are not a lot of long climbs, for which I am grateful. I noted a much slower speed for me at the end of our hike than at the beginning. I hope Peg doesn’t get pissed at my snail-like speeds when hiking.
For some pictures of Lady Bird’s Grove and some nearby coastline, click here
We started the day by trying to make reservations for RV parks ahead of us as we continue south. The first guy I talked to at Redwood River RV Park near Leggett apparently thought I was snippy because he hung up on me. That was weird. I jumped on the computer to make reservations online but right away the wifi at our park went off. Foiled, we tried the phone again. We got responses from Verizon that the lines were all busy going into Mendocino County. It seemed strange.
Further investigation found that some horrible fires have erupted south of us, one burning 1,500 or more homes just today near Santa Rosa and another fire near Willitts. We intend to go south on US-101, which runs right through both of these fine, possibly no longer standing, communities. We then got news that the fires have killed communications, including our wifi access to the internet. Phones are kaput into southern 707. That was enough for me. I sauntered right over to the office and booked us for three more days here so we can turn tail and run with a head start.
We then dove back into exploration mode today, hoping to take a leisurely cruise through Old Town Arcata where there is an abundance of gorgeous Craftsman and Victorian houses. Indeed, there are many beautiful residences but the majority of them are located on streets that were originally made for buggies and wagons. The streets are very narrow but they allow parking on both sides, hilly, some streets are one-way sometimes, students and other funny-looking folks from the adjacent state university engage in ubiquitous and distracted jaywalking, homeless persons creep through intersection crosswalks, there are bicyclists going in all directions and the city has installed stop signs in a fashion that is quite incomprehensible. In addition, we drove through this mayhem in what must be the most inappropriate vehicle in existence to master the conditions – our 21-foot long F-250 which is just a bit narrower than the the distance between the parked cars as long as nobody comes the other way. We did a lot of “Watch out!”, “Watch the guy laying in the road”, and “Are you gonna stop at that big red hexagonal sign?”
Peggy had identified nifty old houses and their addresses. Last night she had created quite a list of structures we wanted to see before we departed on this expedition. We thought we were prepared but found we weren’t. To truly make seeing the buildings pleasant, you need to get someone with a small car to drive you, dropping you at many locations around town or to walk, although it would be a long stroll.
We chickened out after a while and instead drove up US-101 to the town of Trinidad. It is a cute little community built in a sloping ravine with a magnificent bay at the bottom. We dropped into the beach park at the water and noted some terrific views of the Pacific coast. Leaving town, we took Scenic Drive from Trinidad back to 101. It is very scenic with stunning views of the coast which is just a step away if you drive a wide pickup truck off the one-lane dirt road repair where the old section has slid into the sea. Once back on 101 southbound, we spotted an enormous brown cloud of smoke coming from the fires. We may have a bit of a rerouting of our southward progress because it looks funky down 101.
Check out today’s pix. Click here
We went to Costco today. The Eureka Costco seems remarkably similar to Costcos elsewhere but this one has a great liquor section. In Washington, we were obliged to pay their onerous taxes on liquor, more than doubling the California cost. In Oregon, a bottle of Jack Daniels costs $11 more at the rare state liquor store than here. California has exceptionally reasonable liquor laws; you can buy booze in a grocery store. It is a good concept.
We didn’t do anything else. Today is Sunday so we can’t make reservations for campgrounds ahead because nobody answers the phone on weekends. We will get after travel arrangements tomorrow.
I just don’t know where the time goes. We got up at a reasonable hour and ate and showered but not much else because by the time we got out the door it was 1:00 PM. However, we finally got rolling and headed out on an adventure.
Our first uneducated guess took us down the big sand spit that separates Humboldt Bay from the Pacific. It is about what we expected when driving down the road on a spit but we did find a beautiful old Coast Guard building with an abundance of fencing and wire keeping out the curious. We also found some gorgeous old residences in the village of Samoa, home to the venerable Samoa Cookhouse and its logging camp food. I was a logger when I was younger and I can state that loggers generally eat a lot better than anything served at the Cookhouse. The last two times we have dined there we were disappointed so we gave it a pass today.
Instead, we crossed the bay on the bridge from Samoa to Eureka and checked out a place Peggy wanted to see called Holly Yashi. We have purchased jewelry from this creator before, in National Parks, we think, but this time we went into the main store and found a great little shop with tons of great stuff. There’s jewelry, household stuff like plates and dishes, household decorating stuff, soap, candles and a variety of other doo-dads. I generally detest shopping in all its forms but I actually liked the Holly Tashi store. Peggy liked it even more because our collective wallet was substantially lighter after we checked out.
Cruising through the Old Town section of Eureka we passed by the stunning Carson Mansion which isn’t called the Carson Mansion anymore because some club named Ixnay, Intaglio or Ingomar, I think, bought the spectacular building and quickly excluded everybody except the Ixnayans. Fortunately, the new owners can’t stop folks from looking at the outside of this pretty house.
Then we sort of slipped up. We went to a place called Jack’s Seafood on the Eureka waterfront and were treated to a fair meal. Their soups were good and Peggy liked the shrimp in her shrimp fettucini but my fish and chips were just about nominal. It is also pretty pricey so we are going to give Jack’s a C-.
The waterfront is very scenic but it seems to be infested with the homeless. The residents look like long-termers. I hope they have blankets because it gets cold here at night. We will try to be more productive tomorrow, maybe.
To see some pictures of funky Arcata and Eureka stuff, click here
We continued our progress south down the Pacific coast. We left Kamp Klamath at the Klamath River mouth and headed back to 101 where we turned south. We only went a few miles before turning off 101 to travel one more time down the Newton Drury Parkway through Prairie Creek Redwoods SP. Not only is it a gorgeous drive, it is also shorter and requires less elevation change than 101. We met back up with 101 about 12 miles south and stayed the course through more great scenery.
US-101 has good paving and wide enough lanes but it corkscrews around quite a bit and has a few moderate hills to negotiate before dropping onto flat land near the Little River and McKinleyville. Not too much further on, we pulled off 101 in Arcata and slid into the Mad River Rapids RV Park. From where we set up our trailer, we can see no river or rapids. The park has a recreation room, pool, cable TV, adequate wifi, good RV space sizes and full hookups. Price is $36 a night although we used our Good Sam discount. There is also local tax of $17 from which I doubt we will see any tangible benefits.
After our relatively short drive (1.5 hours), we loafed for the remainder of the day. I know- we were bad. Where’s the whiskey?
It was another gorgeous day in the Redwoods. To get it going right away, we drove along the south bank of the Klamath River for a few miles to take a stroll out to the mouth of the river. What I suspect are California sea lions and some larger seals have set up housekeeping the sandbar at the mouth. It was high tide when we arrived and most of what we witnessed was groups of mammals team hunting salmon that are lurking at tidewater waiting for the river to rise after rain. The seals are particularly noisy, barking at each other even though separated by hundreds of yards. All the predation seemed to be very relaxed, at least from the standpoints of the predators.
We decided to return to see the feeding frenzy a bit later today at low tide and when all the fish will be obliged to run through a much narrower channel filled with teeth. We headed back upriver to 101 where we turned south again to the Newton B. Drury Parkway. The Parkway is much straighter, a lot shorter, absolutely gorgeous and does not require climbing another 1000′ on 101. The roads meet again about 15 miles south at Prairie Creek Redwoods. Our first stop was at the Ah Pah Interpretive Trail where we took another walk to check out the scenery on foot. There were some interpretive signs along the trail but none of them explained what an Ah Pah might be. We ambled between some more massive Redwoods although toward the far end of the trail the forest species become a bit more mixed with Douglas Firs and Hemlocks. Many of the Redwoods visible from the trail had bizarre appendages that would make Georgia O’Keefe blush. The Ah Pah is a very nice trail and is perfect for elderly, gimpy folks like me. There are some tripping hazards along the way but those paying attention will pass by easily.
We had plenty of day left when we returned to our truck so we drove south down the Parkway until we emerged near the visitor center and 101. From a distance that amazed me, I spotted some elk lurking behind the Ranger’s house. They were all large bulls. Mating season is almost here but the bulls are still separated from the cows. First will come the fighting, then the screwing before the bulls shirk their parental duties and wander off into their lonely winter existence to gamble or drink or whatever bull elk do.
We returned back to Kamp Klamath RV Park for lunch before we took another stab at going out to see the mammals eat the fish at the river mouth. It is probably only about 2 miles down the loop to our viewing spot overlooking the mouth but the road is one-way right in the middle so we had to drive the 6 or 8 miles around. It should be noted that going the long way in this part of the world may be better than the short way.
When we made it to our cliff side viewing spot, we could see the sea lions porpoising upstream in the rapidly running river where it was pinched on both sides by shoreline. The much larger seals were all snuggled up like a box of cigars on the far sandbar. They were offering noisy support from the shoreline as the sea lions snacked on the stream of fish flowing out of the mouth. Offshore, sea lions were body surfing in the waves and hanging around. There were lots of mammals hunting – maybe 50 or 100. Sea lions appear to be very astute and highly maneuverable hunters and it looks like the salmon had little chance in this gauntlet.
There’s more pictures. Click here
We had all day to go fool around today. We elected to make another run down the Newton B. Drury Parkway into Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Being old and fat, I asked Peggy to stop by the park visitor center so I could acquire a trail map of the park. I strolled in and a scrawny, healthy-looking female Ranger about 19 years old began telling me about all the park trails that she liked but, strangely, she chose all the trails that were longer than five miles. She also had a flamboyant drawing style that she put to use on my map such that all the important details had been obscured by her furious scribbling. I took the now-compromised map and left. There is no likelihood that I would be taking any of her advice but I was disappointed that she had doodled up my map such that all the important details had been obliterated.
We first chose to drive up a gravel road called Cal Barrel that ran three bumpy, narrow but absolutely gorgeous miles before dying out at a dirt parking lot. It is a beautiful drive but the fastest we could go was about 7 miles an hour, some parts slower. The road passes through groves of gigantic Redwoods and they are impressive. Perhaps an hour later, we returned to the Drury Parkway and headed a bit north to a trail to the Big Tree. We strolled in and checked out the Big Tree and it should probably be described as the BIG TREE. It has a diameter of 25′ and a circumference of about 78′ but the top has been blown out of it so it is only 286 ‘ tall.
Along the trail back to our truck, Peggy spotted a unique appendage growing from a Redwood tree and promptly named that tree Biggus Dickus for plainly obvious reasons. There is a picture of Peggy and Biggus in today’s photos. We admired Mr. Dickus for quite a while before heading back to the truck for a spin back toward the visitor center to eat lunch. We wanted to eat near the almost ubiquitous elk that inhabit the park and we went to the elk viewing pasture a few miles south but found no elk of any ilk.
We returned to an “authorized vehicles only” road near the visitor center and authorized ourselves to park where there were no other folks nearby. When we looked over, we spotted 5 big elk bulls grazing in the maintenance yard. The elk were quite serene, browsing on grass shoots when some woman with a German accent pulled up almost to the elk and got out of her car, a very poor idea during elk rutting season. The elk started to get restless and gave her the fish eye. A pair of park Rangers pulled up behind her but were blocked from continuing by her vehicle. She then started hollering at the Rangers, alleging their dog was spooking the elk. The only thing we saw spooking the elk was the woman and we didn’t see any dog at all. After the German left, the elk calmed down and settled in for a nap in the shade. Roosevelt bull elk are just entering mating season and it is best not to approach them, even if you are a Hun.
We finished up our lunch in the park before heading back up the Drury Parkway toward another trail, this time to something called the Corkscrew Tree which was actually several Redwoods that have grown with their stalks twisted around each other like a candy cane, albeit a several hundred ton candy cane. Walking around these giant trees makes even big dorks like me feel insignificant.
There are some pictures, including one of Peggy and Biggus Dickus, if you click here
We ran out of days in our park in Jed Smith Redwoods and were obliged to move today. We hooked up the Barbarian Invader and drove onto CA-199 westbound. After a short, curvy but incredibly scenic drive, we dropped into Crescent City, where we turned south on US-101. Very shortly after leaving Crescent City, 101 starts climbing and gets very twisty but there were numerous stops for road construction which kept speeds low and tailgaters off my bum. It is a gorgeous drive through a dense Redwood forest, past an oddball attraction called “Trees of Mystery” and on into the town/casino called Klamath. The Yuroks are helping to settle old treaty disputes with white men by emptying their pockets in their attractive wood-framed sucker processor.
The town of Klamath is located on the north shore of the Klamath River. We shot right by town and crossed the Klamath on a bridge with big concrete bears standing on the handrails before exiting 101 at South Klamath River Road where we turned off a couple miles to Kamp Klamath RV Park. We have stayed here before – maybe in 2016 but my memory now is about as accurate as Trump denying being a bigot. The park offers full hookups, very rudimentary wifi and absolute nighttime silence. It is also cheap when we use our Passport America discount – 50%.
Our arduous drive of 31 miles was over quickly so we pulled into camp, set up and had plenty of time to do a little exploring. Not far from our park is the Newton B. Drury Parkway which was closed the last time we were here because a big Redwood had blown over and squashed the road. Today, it was open and we took it as an alternative to 101. The parkway and 101 come together again in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park south of us. 101 through the Redwoods is pretty nifty but the Drury is better. It slithers through a truly impressive Redwood forest with named groves and walking trails lining the road. We will be investigating the Parkway further tomorrow.
We also took a little side trip to the overlook at the north side of the mouth of the Klamath River. It is a great viewpoint and the river, an enormous sandbar, the ocean and the jagged seastacks are all visible from one place. There is a colony of sea lions that were murdering the fish flowing through the narrow mouth of the river. More of the seals were lounging on the sandbar and they looked quite tubby.
Peggy took a few pictures from the navigator’s seat and you can see them if you click here
Shopping was the woeful task for today. We went into town, we bought groceries, went to the Romiano Cheese factory to get some and filled up the fuel tank. We are supplied to leave. Fortunately, due to my spouse’s acumen at retail shopping, we finished all this drudgery in time to go exploring.
Today we selected another gravel road to take a spin in the Redwoods. We drove west a few miles to the Simpson Reed Grove off Walker Road. Leaving CA-199, the road immediately enters a shadowy world where very little daylight gets to the ground because this part of Jed Smith appears to be a mixed forest with Redwoods, Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock all growing in the same place. Over in the Stout Grove on Howland Hill Road, the timber is almost 100% Redwood. There must be more wind at Simpson Reed because there are many windfall Redwoods that must have done an amazing amount of destruction on their way down but their long-term legacy was giving the whole area a nifty pattern of criss-crossing downed Redwoods that the Simpson Reed Loop Trail wanders through. There are no adequate superlatives to address the beauty of this grove. I’m glad someone had the foresight to set this gorgeous area aside for future generations. It is an almost mystical place. My consumer rating of Jedediah Smith Redwoods National and State Park is the most stars or points or quatloos possible.
Peggy and I strolled the loop trail and it is a wonderful walk. The Douglas Fir and Hemlock trees are very large but they are dwarfed by the Redwoods. Some of the Redwood trees in the Simpson Reed Grove top out at over 350′, only about 150′ above the runt Fir and Hemlock. The ground is basically clear of any little trees or saplings and, with the exception of some crossed Redwood windfalls about 25′ high, there are ferns covering the soil. There’s some tan oak and vine maple brush but those species are held in check by the vast canopies of sun-blocking branches above them. Walking alongside a big Redwood windfall is like walking alongside the hull of a really big yacht. The lumber from only one of these trees would make the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, a half-dozen sister ships and still have enough left to bang out a score of three-bedroom houses. This is a great old, fat guy trail. Less than a mile, flat-ish ground, good pathway, spectacular Nature scenery, dog-friendly.
On the way home from the park, we came across a cautionary traffic sign that had a big exclamation point over a diagonal sign with a silhouette of a walking man with a hula hoop and a sign below indicating he may be near. To see a picture of this and some nifty nature shots, click here
We don’t generally like to cover the same ground twice but we took almost the same drive today as we did yesterday. We left our campground in Hiouchi and headed east on CA-199 a few miles up the gorgeous Smith River. The river has cut an amazing rock gorge and the walls look like places to be skinned, squished and smashed should you fall and get introduced to the jagged shoreline formations. The river water is emerald green and the rocks on the bottoms of the deeper pools can be easily seen through the crystal-clear water.
A few miles up 199 we turned left into Jedediah Smith Redwoods and started our second journey in two days down Howland Hill. After crossing two bridges, the road, now gravel, heads into a truly remarkable stand of old-growth Redwoods. Our first destination was the Stout Grove, which we thought might be a good name because all the trees around here are quite stout but we found out, by reading a sign, that it was actually named after a guy named Stout who was fundamentally responsible for keeping this part of the world out of the hands of the voracious lumbermen.
We parked our truck and took a stroll down an incline and onto a quite level loop path through some of the largest living things on earth. Huge burls and weird growths growing from the trees and stumps have fanciful shapes, some of them surprisingly phallus-like. Other looked like gargoyles, monster lizards and enormous versions of Kirk Douglas’s chin. Gigantic windfalls crisscross the ground but the trail winds through and offers superb views of these Big Hombres. Windfall rootwads have ripped big holes from the forest floor that one passerby stated was about the size of the crater left when a high-explosive 155mm artillery round arrives. We spotted many trees with butts greater than 15 feet in diameter and a couple around 20 feet. Their height seems to be in the 300’+ range. There are amazing life forms here.
After our Stout Grove stroll, we intended to head a bit further up the road to the Nickerson Ranch Trail but there was a pretty substantial problem only about 100′ down the trail. A massive windfall tree had selfishly dead-centered a bridge along the path, causing complete demolition and no way to get across Mill Creek. We drove on.
We emerged from the Hill where the Redwoods crap out near Brookings. Repeating the same drive two days in a row is rare for us but we will gladly take Howland Hill Road every time we need to go toward Crescent City.
A bit of advice for fellow travelers: The liquor store where Howland Hill intersects US-101 is a gyp.
We shot some pix. Click here