Walking Amongst the Great Ones

DSC_0969_01

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.

Welcome to the Northern California Coast!

Welcome to the Northern California Coast!

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.

The Magnificence of the Redwoods

The Magnificence of the Redwoods

Helloooooo up there!

Helloooooo up there!

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.

The Sunset from Gold Bluffs Campground

The Sunset from Gold Bluffs Campground

The Morning Mist

The Morning Mist

Playing With His New Fish - A Gift From a Neighboring Camper

Playing With His New Fish – A Gift From a Neighboring Camper

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…

Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon

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…

Views from Mendocino

Views from Mendocino

Mendocino, CA

Mendocino, CA

The Mendocino Coast

The Mendocino Coast

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.

DSC_0920_01

From the Mountains to the Sea: The Oregon Coast

Leaving the warm confines of Mary and Roger’s home just outside of Portland, we headed over the mountains into the high desert to camp in Bend, Oregon for a couple of nights.  Unfortunately, our arrival coincided with the day the government shut down.  While this didn’t hurt our camping plans in Oregon (the state has a fantastic park system), it did mean we were blocked from visiting several of the places we wanted to check out.  For starters, we weren’t able to see much of Newberry National Volcanic Monument.  We headed over there on the morning of the shut down, hoping to see a bit before the monument was fully closed, but we only got so far as one back road that had not yet been gated.  We had been looking forward to it since we enjoyed Craters of the Moon so much, but instead we spent the day checking out the great town of Bend.  We spent the morning at the fantastic town library.  While we intended to read with Van, he spent the entire time playing with the library’s toys and the many, many other children who were also at the library that morning.  While we were both big fans of Bend, we decided that two nights was the limit because the temperature was dipping into the twenties at night.  Even with the long underwear, hat, sleeping bag, and blanket, Van was still a little icicle in the morning.  We now know that camping in the thirties, while not ideal, is completely doable, but camping in the twenties is something we’ll try hard to avoid.

Instead of heading south to Crater Lake, which was our original plan before the government shut down, we headed east on the Cascade Lakes Highway toward the coast.  And what a beautiful drive it was!  I’m disappointed we missed Crater Lake, but so happy we were able to travel on this majestic road.

The Imposing Mount Bachelor

The Imposing Mount Bachelor

Our Route

Our Route

Utter Stillness and Silence

Stillness, Silence, Breathtaking

We woke up in the high desert, traveled through snowy mountains, and ended our day at the rugged and windswept Oregon coast.

View of the Pacific Ocean

View of the Pacific Ocean

Windswept, Indeed

Windswept, Indeed

We packed a lot into those four days, from an after-hours lighthouse tour (thank you to the gracious lighthouse keepers that showed us around after we let ourselves in to the open door, not realizing it was not open for tours at that time – oops!), to a fantastic tour of the historic Hughes House at Cape Blanco State Park, as well as beach walks, rock throwing, and wave watching.

But even with a hobble in Alan’s step, we were still able to appreciate the unparalleled beauty of the Oregon coast.  Because the state granted public access to all of its beaches back in the 1960s, Oregon is a great place to view accessible and unspoiled coastline.  And we were not alone.  There were lots of other folks, including many bicyclists, making their way down the coast.  You can’t drive more than a few miles before hitting another excellent and affordable state park.  We were practically tripping over great places to picnic and camp.  If only traveling were always this easy…

The Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast