Night 16: The Redwoods

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
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Trip End Jul 18, 2012


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Where I stayed
Hidden Springs Campground Weott
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, July 5, 2012

Today we drove 260 miles. The weather was cold, about 59 degrees most of the day with fog and clouds rolling in as the day went on. The night was windier than the day.

We began the day eating pancakes served up at the Bandon KOA. It was a restful night, but I tended to have a headache most of the day.

The man hired to cut the branches of these stately Oregon pines in the KOA told the motorcyclist gawking at him that he didn't like his years working as a lumberjack out of Redding, CA. "It's hard working away from home." He added in his Californian accent, "The work is dangerous. The branches out there fall and BOOM!" He reenacts the scene with his arms for dramatic effect.

Off we went after breaking camp in Bandon. We began today's journey by exploring Cape Blanco, the southernmost of Oregon's scenic capes. Thus one, like the others, housed a beautiful historic white and red lighthouse. The building was blunt and efficient with a stately lens. It sat upon a high cliff facing the wide Pacific. Rocks jutted out into the sea here and there. This was a land ruled by constant wind. To the south we hiked over beautiful sand dunes where the Pistol River meets the sea. Andrew urged me on as he enthusiastically flung himself up and down the hills of impassable sand all the way to the surf.

We passed many notable towns like scenic Port Orford with its lumber yards and big "ocean view" sign painted on the pavement. We passed through Gold Beach on the Rogue River with its busy fishmongers. Then we headed south into towns that resembled California more than they  
did Oregon. There is a bit of a "dude" culture that should be noted here. The people seemed to dress like it was 1990. Some seemed to go all the way back to the 1960's. The attitude seems cool, but there is an intense and slightly threatening side, at least to a humble, by definition, low key Miswesterner like myself. The people who work, work hard in lumber operations and as longshoremen.

These towns between Brookings and Eureka are full of bums, begging for rides and living out of shopping carts. They sport long stringy hair and many have the telltale signs of meth abuse. They often carry menacing dogs. They are the Californian hobos of Woody Guthrie songs and John Steinbeck novels. Eureka, California, in particular, was full of hundreds of these hard timers. I know from experience that I saw a similar caste of people in San Francisco and so I don't expect this situation to be very unique to extreme Northern California.

 We crossed the cultural border long before the geographic one: 42 degrees north. This was the Mexican border for about two years in history. The agricultural inspection station was closed so we moved on unharrassed by the state of California about the cache of cherries we bought in Florence, Oregon, yesterday.

Very quickly we found ourselves in Redwood National Park, which shares jurisdiction with several state parks. US-101, which in California is more often a limited access four lane freeway, passes through incredible swaths of the biggest trees in the universe.

The Redwood tree is hard to explain. It us sometimes half as wide as my house. There are many stumps one could drive straight through. It is thousands of years old. It has mere branches that could pass as tall, stately trees in my neighborhood. These branches were called "widow makers" by the 19th century lumberjacks who saw money when they saw these trees. When the wind blows, redwoods creak like an old caravel at sea. They each seem to have a spirit of some sort. They are near immortal. These trees were there long before me and will stand long after the memory of my existance fades away. They will still be reaching for the sky when my tombstone is crumbled and unreadable.

And the heights! Driving through these forests naked one feel tiny and humble. These are the tallest trees in the world. They are higher than some of the older skyscrapers in Chicago. If you can even see the top if a redwood, you have to bend your head back 90 degrees. They go  
straight up and seem to compete with each other for the height record. They are unphotographable and indescribable.

Living around the bases of these forests are huge Roosevelt elk, the largest deer nature can muster. Even these 500 pound bull elk look like rodents in this forest. In the forests also lurk bears and mountain lions, which is why I am having trouble sleeping tonight.

Whenever I had the chance, I was off on the scenic roads that coast along busy US-101. The Newton Drury Parkway passes through thick stands of trees. North of the town if Orick is the Ladybird Johnson Grove, a mighty collection if trees and lillies along a smart little hiking trail. We hiked it for a bit. Andrew and I crept into the holes in the trees. Andrew even peed in one with two trunks split out of one that he said looked like his pants. So we had quite a laugh when I asked Andrew why he peed in his pants. Down the road from here are grand vistas of the  
Pacific.

The smaller towns like Orick offer camping and sundries and other tourist related distractions like drivethru trees and the giant statue of Paul Bunyon (or as Andrew calls him: "Tall Onion.") The bigger towns like Arcata, Eureka, and Crescent City are too busy in milling and shipping to care about tourists. Everything has a sullen, thick feel to it in these dark woods. The canopy is so thick, I am having trouble getting GPS or satellite radio... or cell or FM signals.

We reached uncharted territory for us as we passed the turnoff that goes up the scenic Trinity River into Sasquatch country and toward Mount Shasta. I was surprised then to see that the redwood country continued far south of the national park.

After getting supplies in Eureka, we drove into Humboldt State Park along the Avenue of the Giants. That is exactly what it was. 25 miles of thick redwood groves. We stopped at one, the Lady's Club Grove, to goof around on the giant logs. I fell off one and fell about eight feet to the ground.

Further down the Avenue of the Giants, we came to a campground that actually had vacancies. I am not even sure the name of it. We were shocked to find that the state parks of Californua charge $35 for primitive camping. The ranger asked if we were shocked because we were  
comparing it to Oregon, which charges around $20. I was actually comparing it to the rest of the nation. The only state-level parks system that comes close to these fees are Minnesota or, in Canada, Ontario's provincial parks.

Since it is an honor to camp in the redwood groves, I didn't protest much more. I was tired, had a nagging headache, and did not want to pay for a hotel in some creepy port city. So here we are, camping in the cold of the ancient forest.

We made a simple, clean dinner at our site and stoked up a nice roaring fire with our cheap Oregon and Wisconsin wood. It was a very pleasant evening of enjoying family. The boy... My wife...

But it is a cold night and my sleeping bag is broken again. I know I should fix it so I can get some sleep, but it is so much trouble and I might wake up Jessica or, worse, Andrew. So I freeze... For $35! Back home in Chicago today, the radio tells me, my native city's 105 degree  
record high might have been broken. It is 50 degrees cooler than that in this tent in the midst of the redwood forests. One thing in California feels like home: gas prices.

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