Thursday, April 17, 2014

Found It!!

Archimedes may have shouted out this when discovering that his body mass in his bath caused the water level to increase, a piece of mathematical genius called displacement theory used ever since in a variety of ways but it is difficult to understand why General Vallejo, one of the architects of modern day California, should have chosen Eureka for his state capital located as it is so far to the north of the state.

It may have been that at that time it was a highly busy fishing and logging port with the largest number of Victorian homes outside New England (if you believe the California guidebook).  However today it is almost wholly dependent on tourism for its survival as like much of northern California the fishing and logging industries died long ago.

Often foggy in the morning…

… it soon cleared up

We had chosen it as our base in the far north largely due to its proximity to the even further north Redwood National Park, a place Viv and I wanted to visit.  The drive there up the Pacific Coast Highway, Route 1, to Leggett where the road joined up with 101 was nothing short of spectacular, particularly the change from rugged coastline north of Fort Bragg to winding switchback roads through thick forests that Viv behind the wheel handled most adeptly.  The last 30 miles in particular were very, very windy indeed!

At Leggett we found the ‘World Famous Drive Thru Tree’ – sorry about the spelling! – a 2400 year old Redwood called the Chandelier Tree (see website here) standing 315 feet high which years ago had been hollowed out so that cars could drive thru, I mean through, it.  One of the national park publications I picked up charmingly explained that:

“Carving through a hole through a coastal redwood reflects a time passed when we didn’t fully appreciate the significance of all organisms and their interplay with the environment.”

I don’t disagree that in the past that we’d overdone the exploitation of the environment but really there’s no need to be so preachy about it all the time nor to deny the simple enjoyment of driving through this tree, silly as it sounds (three times in our case!).  The place was packed by the way.

We skirted the Avenue of the Giants, another long stretch of scenic road we planned to drive through on our return (see website here) and soon enough ended up in Eureka where we’d booked a hotel ‘downtown’.  In retrospect this was a mistake as although the guidebooks refer to a ‘vibrant Old Town’, on that Saturday night when we searched for it, it was closed or at least seemed to be. 

However that afternoon we decided to take a look around the sand bar that protected the bay from the ocean and was the reason why the logging companies made Eureka their go to port in this part of the country in the old days.  Nowadays it houses the Coast Guard, Samoa Dunes National Park and the Samoa Cookhouse.

I have mentioned that our progress in California so far had been marked by epicurean behavior in spades so the prospect of dining at one of the few remaining cookhouses in California proved an irresistible prospect for us!

First though we went for a long hike along the dunes and jetty that comprised the national park.  Dating back to the mid-1800’s, a local lady we met with her dogs told us that this was one of the most dangerous ports on the coast and certainly the patch of water between the two jetties heading out into the ocean (not piers and definitely not in the class of Southend’s longest pier in the world!) was very choppy indeed.  We spotted some dolphins heading in towards the harbor which was very exciting.

The river that fed the estuary that created the harbor was a main point for ferrying logs down from the interior (no railway like at Fort Bragg).  In the past, the final mile or so to the waiting logging schooners moored offshore in the tumultuous waves was served by a gravity fed ‘railway’.  Loggers put the logs onto the trucks which free wheeled down to the boats with the trucks being hauled back up to the start point again by horses.  Not much of this now remains.

This lady was a fund of local information too but most dismissive of the local marijuana growers – ‘marijuana millionaires’ she called them.  This is big business up here too along with the tourist industry and keeps mainly the young men in employment.  The problem appears endemic now.

A furry friend

The Cookhouse was a real blast from the past.  All you can eat portions of one dish served family style for $15.95.  That night’s menu was baked ham and fried chicken with all the fixin’s you can imagine! 

Nuthin' Fancy

However that wasn’t why we were there.  We’d stopped at the national park office and a ranger had advised a couple of scenic drives and walks up and down the park.  First was in the very far north in the part of the park called the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

The start of the Redwood National Forest

Jedediah (great name incidentally) had arrived in California from his native Kentucky with the first group of overland settlers from the east fired by the notion of vast swathes of new fertile land to the far west.  He was a ‘frontiersman’ – i.e. good with a rifle and able to live off the land – and liked it so much he stayed.  That portion of the park is 10 miles away from Crescent City -- the farthest north town in California and one of only two towns, the other being Monterey, susceptible to tsunami’s.  We’d found this out from the people we’d met in Fort Bragg who told us that the tsunami that hammered Japan a few years back also wiped out Crescent City.  We drove back through that city incidentally and it really is flat as a pancake… as well as being pretty small.  Most of the buildings are on the highway these days.

Tsunami survivor in Crescent City
The drive is on Howland Hill Road and is not road marked at all.  We knew because we asked and because we had GPS in the car – great invention by the way.  The best $150 investment you can make in my view. 

What a drive it was!  All on unpaved roads with monster first growth redwoods on both sides of the track.  Wow!!  We stopped at the shorter Stout Grove Trail to get our tree hug for the day and spent an age just sitting there taking it all in.  Spectacular isn’t the word for it.  I cannot think what is.

The next event was the 15 mile long Newton B Dury Scenic Parkway (see website here) running south of Klamath to Elk Prairie, both tiny townships, which was again full of lovely old redwoods but also Roosevelt Elk, the local large critter.  We found loads of them sitting off just grazing peacefully completely oblivious to strange humans snapping away only a few yards away.  Again the herds were split by gender  -- far more females than males.  

The final trail of the day was the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail just outside a township called Orick, further south.  We drove 3 miles off the highway to the 1.5 mile trail where we were advised to speak loudly as there were plenty of bears and mountain lions all around.  

Despite this threat of immediate evisceration, Viv and I spent another long period of time with these marvelous, monster trees (yes, more hugging too!) feeling quite a connection by the end (even me).

LBJ’s missus had a keen environmental interest and persuaded her hubby and then his VP, Richard Nixon, as well as then California Governor, Ronald Reagan, to dedicate some land to redwood preservation and this happened in 1969 with more acreage being added occasionally thereafter.  Great idea!

We’d been advised that the small town of Trinidad (named by Spanish sailors who landed on the coast on Trinity Sunday 300 years ago) was both cute and had some nice restaurants so we stopped at Larryman’s Restaurant for dinner.  Our friendly lady on Samoa Dunes had told us this was a nice but expensive place and curiously we found it appeared to be full of those folks she was so disapproving of. 

They could of course have been Silicon Valley millionaires up for the weekend!

What a day though.

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