One thing that we’ve noticed on this trip is how much can change when you cross a border. Again and again we’ve commented on how the landscape, the people, or the development changes dramatically as you cross a border. There’s a lot in common between southern Oregon and Northern California, but they’re still two completely different states. Most notable among the differences was the significant increase in the cost of camping, gas, food, and well…everything! We really enjoyed exploring the beaches and redwoods of the Northern California coast, but the $35+ a night tent campsites (often without a shower) were a bit hard to stomach. We’ve never seen public camping cost so much! In fact, this was the first state where we began camping at private campgrounds because the cost was comparable, but the amenities were better (hot water and showers for the win!). All of this was exacerbated by the government shut down, which meant that camping at federal campgrounds was out of the question.
Although visiting and camping in the parks can be costly, there are many mighty fine California state parks. Since we were barred from entering Redwood National Park (government shut down, grrrr), we were happy to discover that the California state park system preserves many of the finest Redwood groves that are still standing. We spent our first days in California exploring Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park and Prairie Creek Redwood State Park. Although long hikes were out of the question, we took many short jaunts to stand in the cathedral of redwoods. The air just feels different in a forest of redwood trees. Breathing in deeply, I felt transported to a place where the trees are more powerful than the people.
We were lucky enough to get a spot at Gold Bluffs campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – our first night camping at the beach. Yes, we’d camped along the coast, but falling asleep to the sound of the waves and walking from our site right down to the water was a first for us on this trip. It reminded us of our annual camping trip with our friends Sandra and Bryan to Assateague.
We spent the next day driving some seriously narrow dirt roads and roads that were paved at some point long ago but to call them “paved” would certainly be a misnomer. We began by heading to Fern Canyon, just a couple of miles past our campsite. Since Alan was still in a lot of pain from his sprained ankle, I took a solo walk to and through the canyon. It was the kind of place I could imagine a group of kids spending hours or days exploring and making it into their own private kingdom. Or maybe that’s just me…
After driving on some dirt roads through several of the Redwoods State Parks, we decided to check out the Lost Coast. The Lost Coast is a stretch of Northern California coast that Highway 1 and 101 avoid. We received recommendations from a couple of people to check it out. None of them had done it, but they had always heard it was beautiful. It was remote, stunning, and much more slow-going than we had expected. Clearly our friends who recommended it had never traveled on these roads or they would have warned us. The paved portions were the worst maintained paved roads we’ve been on during this trip. It was SLOW going. The stretch right along the coast (which was only five miles or so) was beautiful, but we’re not sure it was worth the all-afternoon and -evening trip along roads on which we could go barely more than 20 miles per hour – sometimes much less. If we were one of the locals in a big truck, we would have traveled much more quickly, but driving a car weighted down with all of our possessions, open range cattle in the middle of the road multiple times, numerous hairpin turns, and deceptive signage slowed us even further. We noticed that there were signs warning of curves ahead, but unlike other places we’ve been, the shape of the curve on the sign was in no way related to the curve or direction of the road. It’s as if the state knew they needed to put a sign before a curve, so they just threw up whatever they had available. It became a game for us. What way do you think the curve will go?
After a fruitless search for a campground down a narrow, dark, dirt road, we eventually found our way to another state park and set up camp under the redwoods in the pitch black night. I was expecting to crawl into the tent once it was set up, exhausted from a long day, but instead Alan cooked up a delicious dinner of steak and beans. It was one of our tastiest dinners of the trip!
We awoke amongst the redwoods and spent another full day exploring their home. It is hard to overstate the beauty and grandeur of these trees.
We bid goodbye to the redwoods and headed back to the coast. We spent the next couple of days in Fort Bragg and Menocino, soaking up the perfect weather, the warm sun, and the incredible views. I could have stayed and stayed…
If there’s one thing that made the Northern California coast even more beautiful than I expected, it was the light. There was a magical quality to the light that made everything sparkle and shine.
This was a place I could imagine coming back to over and over again if I lived anywhere nearby. It is the kind of place best experienced over long stretches of time, not just hours or days.