A Trip too Far too Long Part One: Northern California

Planning a trip to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and my 80 birthday, I reached into my bucket list and combined a road trip along the northern California Coast with a return to Hawaii; it would be the warm place to finish our traditional February getaway.  The great giant redwoods and rough seascapes were on the top of my “Must C B4 i Go”list.”  Hawaii was the first bit of America my pregnant wife discovered in September 1967 on our way home in Chicago from Vietnam.  We were married February 4th in Singapore.  Somewhere on the bucket list was a repeat of driving of the picturesque curly road to Hana and spending a night or two in the eastern fringes of Maui. I had vivid memories of the waterfall and seascapes at every bend as the road twisted hanging along the volcanic coast.

The giant Redwoods and dramatic seascapes of the California coast north of San Francisco required a road trip up famed California Highway with its reported many turns, narrow twists and one way bridges.  Knowing that northern California could be cold during February our traditional get-out-of- town month, to escape the cold to celebrate I figured that a couple of weeks in Hawaii would be great to warm up.  So in August my wife and I began to plan, get flights with Southwest and Hawaiian Air and accommodations.

To achieve my bucket list goals we needed three different B&BS and two airport related hotels in California and four separate accommodation for Hawaii. This wasn’t a problem for me but a major issue for my significant other of fifty years; she needed more stuff to look her usual gorgeous self and hated packing and unpacking.  Her favorite vacations are extended sea cruses which did not do much to reduce my “Must C B 4 i Go” list. She is a trooper and has tagged along on some of my more strenuous endeavors i.e. climbing to see a waterfall in Yosemite.  This dichotomy of course loaded her, “Not My Idea” cannon to be fired later when things go wrong.

It began with a surprisingly beautiful day in San Francisco to rent a car and get out of town over the Golden Gate Bridge.   The timing of our flight allowed our winding escape up Highway One to the first item on my list, Muir Woods National Monument, our introduction to the giant Redwoods; we soon were overcome by the quiet interrupted by a gurgling stream and awe inspiring size of the trees.

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Leaving Muir we encountered the effects of the rainfall that plagued Northern California; Highway One north was closed by washouts.  The “Detour” sign gave no guidance to how to proceed.  We retraced our steps back toward Frisco and fortunately we found a very helpful gas station owner who used his computer to give us a way to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to Highway One and Stone Creek Farm B&B. We were running on Eastertime so our day was three hours later that the rapidly diminishing sun light of Pacific Time. My goal was only driving in daylight and not eating until ensconced.  After meandering through the great trees of Samuel Taylor State Park, we made it. Under a clear night sky featuring brilliant Venus, in Olema we found a great little restaurant Farm House and Deli before we crashed for the night.

Morning broke in a misty rain.  Frank, our host, gave us a warm very filling breakfast and a surprise after opening a large drape opening up his yard filled with birds, including California quails with their heads topped with a distinctive black plume. My goal for the day was to explore Reyes Point National Seashore and the San Andreas Fault which separated it from the North American Plate.  In gentle rain before it opened, we arrived at Bear Valley Visitor Center which offered excellent displays that explained the history and geology of Point Reyes, a chunk of Granite that moved 300 miles north on the Pacific plate along the fault over millions of years.

We discovered why last night’s road was named Sir Francis Drake, who in 1579 beached his boat for repairs.  We drove out to the Lighthouse to see it and hopefully some of Grey Whales migrating to Alaska, but as the picture shows, we could have seen more sea in Ohio.

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The National Seashore is a combination of natural wonders and private dairy farms. Because of the intermittent rain and fog, I put Point Reyes back on the bucket list at the bottom.  We spent the rest of the day exploring the pacific plate along Tomales Bay, which resulted from the ocean gradually filling a depressed part of the fault.  It is famous for oysters and its picturesque communities, such as Inverness.  Eventually we had pizza in Point Reyes Station a town back on the North American Plate.

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The next day we headed north on Highway One as it wondered in and out of the rain and fog along the spectacular coast. Bodaga Bay was the Northern coast, I was looking for crashing waves, sea stacks, and tunnels caved into the rock by the sea.

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The road moved inland through crops and grazing fields, then back to the coast past Sea Ranch, Gualala, and Schooner Gulch until we reached Mendocino and the Sea Gull Inn.

Mendocino Town sets on a tiny knob formed by the wide outlet of the Big River and rough rocky outcrop from the interactions of the Pacific and North American Plates along the San Andreas and related faults, leaving it surrounded by the not-so-pacific Pacific Ocean.  We could see and faintly hear the crashing waves as we moved into our B&B room. I picked Mendocino because of its somewhat famous Beaujolais restaurant where we would celebrate our actual wedding anniversary while on this part of our road trip.

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The ragged shoreline was a perfect depiction of the relentless war of sea against land.  I relished rambling along the edge in rain, fog, and sunshine.  Spring was just poking its nose into reality during early February with miniature flowers hiding in the dry grass that covered the area from water to road. It was perfect for me but not what my wife thought of a 50th anniversary treat; there were some nice art shops and she found a few treasures to send home. We spent a few days exploring parks in the surrounding area, the nearby famous logging town of Fort Bragg to do laundry and the Vineyards of strung out along the Navarro River in Anderson valley.

My plan was to take Highway One along the coast north to Leggett where it joined Interstate Highway 101, but another washout closed Highway One just North of Fort Bragg, which forced a slight backtrack to 101at Willits along scenic Highway 20.  This added about an hour to our destination, the Victorian Village of Ferndale.  We had plenty of daylight, so we got off 101 at Phillipsville and continue north on the Avenue of the Giants meandered along the South Fork of the Eel River through Giant Redwoods; the pavement literally was up against the trees with reflectors nailed to their trunks.  We rested and had lunch at the Avenue Café in Miranda, then on our way to Humboldt Redwood State Park in the Bull Creek Wilderness.

The Visitors Center’s staff said that some trees were 2000 years old, not the oldest on the planet but at over 370 feet, the tallest. They said the areas frequent earthquakes did not affect the trees and their bark, which can be a foot thick and low amount of resin makes them very fire resistant, however, these redwoods have connected but shallow root systems and can topple from high winds and floods.

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I chose to visit Ferndale because the most seismically active area on the west coast is just off  the Lost Coast  south of Ferndale where the San Andreas faults turns out to sea and the remnents the Juan de Fuca plate dives under North America. One ofthe oldest still operating Seismographs is in the Town Museum.

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We stayed at the Victoria Inn. All the rooms were on the second floor, which required lugging luggage for a month up 26 steps to our comfortable Victorian room.

I did not get to Lost Coast to view the place in America with the most earthquakes because the rains had washed out or weakened the access roads. Secretly I hoped to experience a mild earthquake. Since most of the shops and restaurants were not yet open for the tourist season, we ate most of our meals in the excellent hotel dining rooms. We explored Eureka a few miles north and extensive collections of Native American basket and artifacts at the Clarke Museum

In retrospect there are problems with long range trip planning and booking flights and accommodations, we lost the flexibility to adjust the agenda to the reality of the environment.  We set out our trip with the unconscious assumption of good weather, which we did not have.  Whereas I did not mind tramping around in boots and a raincoat, my wife does not. We booked one day too long in Mendocino, and two days in Ferndale were a waste, but we were locked in by flights and B&B commitments.   A conscious assumption was the weather would be real cold in Northern California and tropical in Hawaii, which resulted in excessive baggage toting items never used since it never got real cold in California and I did not need nice shirts and  long pants in Hawaii.

Our trip back on Highway 101 to a hotel in San Francisco for our next day’s early flight to Maui, Hawaii was wet until we got to the Russian River vineyards, when beautiful sunshine welcomed us to the Golden Gate. I experienced the problem of luggage, a hotel for early flight, and returning the car. We checked in with all stuff at the hotel near the airport, and then I drove to the rental car return. I needed to take a train to the terminals to catch the shuttle bus back to the hotel.  Shuttles don’t come every five or even 30 minutes, so when I finally got back to the hotel I was famished and found out what the hotel called a restaurant had a very minimal menu of bar food.

–Jack Riordan


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