Monday, June 6, 2011

California Dreamin (for sunshine that is), the "Avenue of the Giants," and Coastal Northern California magic...

We settled into my Aunt Heidi and Uncle Vince's house for three days hoping to get some decent weather so we could possibly go back down to San Francisco to see more of it....but it never came.  The rain just continued on and on so we saw no point in going back to SF (about 40 miles away) in the rain.  On the flipside, it gave us more time to visit with family.  In addition to Heidi and Vince, my grandmother also lives in the area only a few blocks away.  I had not seen her for quite a few years and she had never met Bella or Aldous, so it was great to get to see her again and show the kids off to her.  I don't know who enjoyed it more, her or the kids, especially Bella.  My grandma and Bella had become art pen pals, sending artwork back and forth to each other for the last 6-8 months, so Bella was really excited to meet her.  Getting to see her 3 times during our short visit was a real treat for Bella (and me).  While visiting with Heidi and Vince we also had the chance to check out Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.  It's a short drive from Cotati and is very near the town of Guerneville and the Russian River (both destinations in themselves).  This was the first really high concentration of coastal redwoods we had seen.  It was very impressive, not just for the size of the trees, but the sheer number of them as well.  The big Sequoias, in SNP, for example, were just as big (some bigger), but there were far fewer of them in the same given area.  This reminded me of a densely packed forest from back east, only with MUCH larger trees.  :) 

As nice as it was to see family (they were great hosts!) we realized we needed to get a move on so we set out for the coast on Friday.  We hit the coast at a town called Bodega Bay (the town where Hitchcock's "The Birds" was filmed), took a right on Highway 1 and headed north.   We had already taken Highway 1 earlier in our trip in our attempt to get from Morro Bay to Monterey.  That trip was cut short by a large landslide covering the road, but we had already seen some amazing coastal views.  That stretch of Highway 1 was no doubt beautiful, but I think we preferred this more northern stretch.  Most of it is much nearer the ocean and there are so many areas where you can actually access the beach in unbelievably beautiful settings.  There is one thing CA really knows how to do, and that is create a state parks system.  The number of state parks just along this stretch of road is unbelievable.  There were so many places to camp it was ridiculous, except of course the weather would not allow it.  It rained down nearly our entire trip that day up the coast, but we were taking it slow so we only made it as far aa Gualala, a town my Aunt recommended.  It was a cute little resort town with a beautiful river flowing out to the sea.  We got a ocean front motel room, but the weather was so poor they gave us winter rates!  It was a very nice room (the biggest we've had so far with a full kitchen) and we were able to get a good nights sleep.  The next morning while packing the van to leave we met Esther and Warren, a couple from Scotland who are touring the states by bicycle.  They were taking a break for a day trying to wait out the weather, but were basically headed the same way we were to Portland, OR.  They have a blog here.  They were very nice people and we wish them the best of luck.

We headed out of Gualala in the pouring rain, but the scenery just continued to get better and better.  We had a short break in the rain/clouds, so we decided to stop at a beach in Caspar for a bit.  We promptly locked our keys in the car (nobody would take blame for locking the door), so we called AAA and hit the beach for a bit.  AAA showed up in about 40 minutes, which was just about perfect, because the rain started again 5 minutes after they left!  We got back in the car and headed back north on Highway 1 for a few more miles and then it started to turn inland for about 17 miles where it ends and hooks up with Highway 101.  Now, for any motorcyclists reading this, forget about "The Dragon" in TN, this is the stretch of road you want to do.  I've never been through so many curves in my life in such a short distance.  It was motorcycling nirvana.    Almost as soon as you turn inland on Highway 1 you also start to climb from sea level to about 1200 feet or so....but that is not the amazing part.  The amazing part is your are climbing into a temperate rain forest that is packed full of redwoods.  It's hard to believe that just a few minutes earlier you were at the seaside.  If like me, your frame of reference for beaches, coastline, and the inland areas leading to the beaches is the east coast (and particularly the Mid-Atlantic and south), this is VERY different than what you are used to. 

We hit 101 and took a left.  At this point you are headed northwest, about 20-30 miles inside the coast line.  If you look on a map you see that 101 runs to Eureka where it hooks back up with the coastline, which is what we were looking for, but you will also notice that it runs through something called "Humboldt Redwoods State Park."  Here is where serendipity comes in. We took this path because we wanted to go to Redwoods National Park on 101 just south of Crescent City, CA near the top of the state.  We had never heard of Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  As it turns out, HRSP is the single largest concentration of Redwoods anywhere, and it has a scenic route that parallels 101 called the "Avenue of The Giants."  This is where things get difficult for me to describe, because that 30 mile stretch of road is simply unbelievable.  The road just zigs and zags through these MASSIVE redwoods continually for 30 miles making you feel like a lilliputian.  There are many areas to pull over and get out to view some particularly interesting areas (including the beautiful eel river that runs throughout the area).  The only downside for us is that it was still overcast and raining and we didn't get to this area until about 6:30.  We drove through it faster than we wanted to and even though we stopped a few times it was not enough.  Upon exiting HRSP and getting back on 101, instead of going all the way to Eureka to get a motel as we had planned, we stopped in Rio Dell about 5 miles down the road and got a room.

It was an uneventful night in Rio Dell, so after a quick breakfast, we decided to take advantage of the good weather (it was very sunny and warm!) and head back to the Avenue of the Giants to spend some more time exploring it.  We went back, spent some time on the cool rocky banks of the eel river and went to check out the "Founders Grove" of redwoods, when out of nowhere, the sun disappeared and the rain came again.  We decided to then just head north again to Redwoods National Park and try to make it to Crescent City for the night.  On the way we came across a beach with beautiful sand dunes so we stopped there for lunch and to let Bella run in the water a bit.  After an hour or so of freezing our toes off we climbed back in the van and headed for Redwoods National Park.  We made it to the RNP area shortly thereafter and after a few more miles Aldous needed to eat so I just turned into the next area that looked decent to park for a few minutes while he ate.  Serendipity strikes again.  I just by chance happened to turn into "Elk Meadows Park."  This is a park that true to it's name has a resident herd of wild elk that can be seen here, but it also has some beautiful hiking trails that run through a redwood grove.  After feeding Aldous, the four of us went of a hike on the trail through the redwoods to Trillium falls.   This hike, though it was only about  an hour, was to this point, the highlight of this whole trip.  The trail led you up and down this little valley that was full of redwoods until you came to this beautiful little waterfall that was surrounded by ferns and a tree that had been completely covered by  thick green moss.  I've said it before about areas we've seen on this trip, but this setting honestly felt very mystical.  It seriously seemed like something out of Lord of the Rings.  As beautiful as it was, we needed to get settled for the night so we hiked back to the car and drove the last 20 miles or so to Crescent City, CA, where are settled for the night.   Here are a few pics....

Bella, Heidi, Vince, Michelle and Aldie in Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve.

Bella and Aldie sitting on top of a redwood plaque.

Yes, the flower power van can drive through a tree.

A closeup with details on the tree.

This was at Caspar beach.  The first black spot you see is a black lab swimming back to shore with it's ball.  The other black spot is a seal who was playing with it just a few seconds earlier. Unfortunately he was not that close by the time I got the camera out.

Bella on Caspar beach.

An interesting "non-denominational" chapel along Highway 1 around Sea Ranch, CA.

Something you would not expect to see along Highway 1, but in fact there are cows all over on both sides of the road.  The ocean is only about 50 yards to the left in this pic.

Cool cypress tree sculpture.

Other side of the same yard as above.

Bella about to take a dip in Eel River (no, not really).  All the rivers out here are this beautiful green color that doesn't really show up that well in pics.

Aldie, right before he decided to start taste testing the sand.

Tis a gorgeous view...the ocean looks nice too!  :)

Our new friends Esther and Warren trying to stay dry for a day. 

I really want one of these Bigfoot chainsaw carvings.

Looking up at the redwoods.

This is he underside of the root structure of a fallen redwood.

A couple of little tree huggers.

This tree fell in 1991....370 feet tall, 17 ft diameter, 52 foot circumference and about 1,000,000 lbs. in weight.

I'm kneeling for the camera but I could easily standup inside this tree.

Aldie right after deciding to taste test the sand.

This was an awesome beach.  Cool sand dunes, wide flat beach area, waves breaking 100 yards from shore and a mist that continually rolled in off the ocean that was about 3 feet or so off the ground.

Love this pic with the horses in the sea mist.  That blue area right above them is not blue sky, it was angry looking dark blue storm clouds.

Tough to see, but those are elk out in these marsh lands eating something.

I thought this was a cool shot with the sky reflecting off the water from the receding wave.

These signs were all over the place.  Several harbors in NoCal had ships destroyed by the Tsunami that hit earlier this year.

This tree was completely covered in thick green moss.

It kinda looked like a giant green tarantula.

This water was COLD!

More of the moss tree.

Banana Slug!

It's hard to capture there massiveness in a picture, but this is a decent shot.

Wild elk on someone's lawn.

Me, Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe hanging out.

Just some pretty coastal scenery.

Daddy can fly if he has too...  :-)

Unfortunately it was late and the light was no good, but what you are looking at is two different levels of clouds over the water.  It was really cool in person.


  1. I am running out of oh wow...what an amazing entry and photos today! The Paul Bunyan photo made me laugh out loud and the Aldie-eating-sand was perfect! When Kate worked in No.Cal at as a camp counselor, I heard all about banana slugs...and now I know what they look like, thanks to you. Gross! Has Isabella grown a few inches already? We miss you all!

  2. what a wonderful trip the Pelot family is having! YEAH!