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Category — The Redwoods: Wild Trees & Wild Seas

Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 10: Mt. Lassen National Park

Monday Oct. 17, 2011


Boulder CO

Joss House, Weaverville, CA.

We got up early Sunday morning, had breakfast with the sea lions one more time and drove down 101 to Arcata, where we turned east on state 299 to Redding. It was another great drive, 299 parallels 36, the snaky road we drove over to the coast, generally about thirty miles north. It goes up and down through winding, spiraling mountain passes and deep river valleys. The Trinity River Valley was as scenic as the road was circuitious. It’s a big rafting and fishing area. In Weaverville, a historic old mining community, we stopped at Joss House Historic  Park, centered around Joss House, the oldest continuously used Chinese temple in California. We also read that at the end of 2012, the state will no longer be able to keep up this park.

The clouds were racing past the crater area that blew in 1914-15 when I took this shot.

Redding is in the Sacramento Valley, but soon we were back on the road heading toward the north entrance to Mt. Lassen National Park, which we had passed on because of some bad weather on our way over to the coast. The park takes in a dormant volcano that last blew in 1914 and 1915, and you get to see exactly what happened at the first major stop. A short trail offers up boulders shot from the crater three miles away and panoramic views of the blown top. The road circles the mountain and goes through some geothermal areas with the familiar smell of sulphur reminiscent of Yellowstone. Nice 30-mile drive.

The back side of the crater area. There is a walking trail that winds up to the top there.

We stopped in Chester for what turned out to be the last broasted chicken order at a fast-food place closing this afternoon for the season, and we were in Susanville by about six pm. Stayed at the River’s Edge Motel there. Nice place, fifty bucks with the cash discount, andWe got up early, had breakfast at the place across the parking lot from the motel and drove leisurely down to Reno, about an hour and a half drive through the high desert, where we caught our plane and were home by seven.

The mountain, though it has been quiet for awhile, is monitored for earthquake activity.

Our mission had been to make The Wild Trees come alive.

Mission accomplished.

November 12, 2011   No Comments

Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 9: Cathedral Trees Trail, the Big Tree, Prairie Creek Redwoods

Saturday October 15

Curley’s Motel

Crescent City CA

This is the intersection I write about. It's hard to capture the immensity of the trees at this junction. Click to enlarge.

Well, once again we didn’t quite know where we going once we started this. We had another hearty breakfast at the Golden Harvest, and we drove back down not far from Fern Canyon to walk this trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods Park that began at the Big Tree and then took us through an almost surreal atmosphere.

For a photo album I made for Facebook, with many more pictures of this walk, click here.

After admiring the Big Tree itself, another one of those that lives up to its name, we walked a short bit to a place that I can only describe as Middle-Earthian. Today, it’s a place where two trails divide, but over the centuries, it was a place where a great cataclysm, or a series of cataclysms, occurred. Giant trees fell in some kind of succession, creating a place where, years later, we can only stand in awe.

Sometimes you can only just stare dumbfounded at these goddam trees. Try and take in their enormity. Their age. Their wisdom.  Oh, the stories they could tell. Some of the trees seem like Ents, and we climbed up inside one of them there at the crossroads. There was plenty of room for both of us. Like in Fern Canyon, this was one of those places where I got completely lost in time and place, even though we were less than a hundred yards from the parking lot.

Taking the Catheral trail, we climbed higher along the trail, farther from the parking lot, and for awhile it was like we were walking in a theme park, with tableau, in this case, tree scenes, scattered along the way. We marveled at two fallen giants, side by side, both ripped from the roots at the side of the trail and fallen downward into a maze of ferns. Who knows how tall they were? Their roots are twenty feet high.

Gnarly, twisted roots. Redwood root systems are generally more horizontal than vertical.

The trail sometimes ran along fallen trees that, even on their sides, towered above us as we passed, at other times through patches of gnarly root systems that looked positively medieval or science-fiction film. As we climbed higher, I could use the binocs to see the tops of the highest trees, but you couldn’t see exactly which trees they were because you couldn’t see the bottoms. We had to watch our footing in place where the roots, like giant gnarly bony knuckles, had been exposed by erosion along the trail. They seemed like they might grab us at any time, and they hurt when you had to walk on them.

The trees here seem to be taller than any others we have seen, but honestly, it’s hard to tell. We finally dropped into a deciduous forest thick and deep, with giant leaves coating the entire path a foot or more thick in places. We stopped beneath this majestic tree at the edge of one forested area, sat on a bench looking at the tops of another grove across the meadow topped with some neat clouds. A unigue chance to look at the tops of trees and the canopy created by intertwining crowns.

We didn’t take one turn we probably should have and wound up walking the last half mile along the Parkway. It took a bit longer than we expected, but like Fern Canyon, for that much pleasure a little extra walking doesn’t hurt, and the scenery along the park way was incredible.

These volunteers have rescued a couple of seals and taking them back to their rehabilitation facility.

Later, near sunset, we drove back out to the beach north of town. It’s part of the Castle Rock Wildlife Refuge, and we pass the impressive Castle Rock as we head toward the parking lot. There are about twenty people coming up from the beach, some of them toting a large cage. As it turns out, it’s the rescue group that we visited in town yesterday, and they have two seals, abandoned or lost by parent seals, which they’re crating up and taking back to the rehabilitation facility. The one seal now there will no doubt be grateful for the company.

Then we walk out to the beach, and it’s worth the walk, the last part over a literal sea of small pieces of beached wood, and we spend a half hour watching the sun go down and the waves pressing relentlessly across the beach.

Dinner with the seals.

Dinner once again at the Chart House with the seals. My shrimp alfredo dish was fine, but my only reget of the trip is that I didn’t have the fish and chips a third night in a row. Damn, those were good.

Next: Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park

November 12, 2011   No Comments

Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 8: Jedediah State Park, Hiouchi

Friday October 14

Curley’s Motel

Crescent City CA

Lighthouse, Crescent City CA. Click on photo and you can see the "walking bridge" has already been taken by the tide, so to speak.

Today was a slower day. Had breakfast at the Chart House with the seals, and then headed downtown to the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center, a volunteer organization that rescues seals and other sea creatures. And we got a better look at the lighthouse that has been on the horizon since we got here. You can only visit it at low tide, and we are already too late. We also drive out to another point out by the airport north of town up the coast and decide to return before we leave.

Crescent City’s east side backs right up to Jedediah Smith State Park. We took Howland Road east from 101 and were deep in the redwood forest pretty quickly. We got out at one of the many trails along Mill Creek and walked for awhile before turning back. It was great; we met nobody during an hour walk.

Once again, you really have to click on this one to see how immense the Stout Tree is. I can't explain the notch.

Then we hit the Stout Grove, a short stroll through a small but very impressive grove of reds not far from of the South Fork of the Smith River. Though it wasn’t marked, we’re pretty sure we found the Stout Tree itself, one of the most impressive redwoods we have seen, with one of the widest girths we saw on the trip. Then we had coffee and pie in the Hiouchi Café in the fishing village of Hiouchi. They were getting ready to close for the afternoon, but they made a fresh pot of coffee anyway.

Curley's Lodge was built in the 1950s, and all wood came from one redwood tree. Even the bathroom door.

We caught a late afternoon showing of Moneyball (Brad Pitt is fantastic), and I had fish and chips and Alaskan Amber again with the seals at the Chart House. The slaw was fantastic and the portions large. Woo hoo.

Next: Cathedral Trees Trail the Big Tree, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

November 11, 2011   No Comments

Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 7: Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods Pk.

Thursday October 13

Curley’s Motel

Crescent City CA

Here’s a photo album of our walk in Fern Canyon.

One of our best days ever. The waiter yesterday at the Japanese restaurant in Arcata mentioned that Fern Canyon was one of the best-kept secrets we had to visit. So we decided to do it this morning, not knowing much about it except that he suggested it, and a quick Google search said it was a location for the second Jurassic Park film.

By this time, we were euphoric as we descended into Fern Canyon.

We began with breakfast at some place not far down the road, the Good Harvest Café, where I had an actual chicken-fried steak and eggs. I have pretty much given up on reminding restaurants that deep-fried steaks aren’t chicken-fried steaks, so this time I just ordered without asking, and was surprised to get the first good chicken-fried steak I’ve had in years. A good omen, perhaps?

It was about a thirty minute drive to Davison Road, which took us on a slow, winding road through a wild redwood forest, much wilder than any we have seen so far. The forest floor was quite irregular, with deep gorges and hills and dales intersecting, the kind of area that Michael Taylor and Steve Sillett had bushwhacked to find the world’s tallest redwoods. Then we dropped down along the coast, paid the seven dollar parking fee and headed down along the coast past Gulf Beach for a few miles before we dead-end at the parking lot. We make the best decision of the day to change into our high-top hiking boots and wool socks.

Then we’re climbing into this dense, humid, wet jungle forest. A couple coming back looked at our boots and said we “should be all right” just before we finally have to cross the stream. It’s not too bad, but we wind up taking the coastal trail instead of the Fern Canyon loop, and we walked more than a mile out of our way before realizing that it was the wrong trail. So we walked back this muddy trail and began climbing awhile along another trail to a point near the top of the canyon in a redwood forest before finally finding the loop trail that dropped us down into the best part of the walk. All told, it probably took us about an hour and a half before we dropped into Fern Canyon proper.

These lush ferns covered the wall for much of Fern Canyon's length.

It was worth the wait and the walk. The next forty minutes we lost all sense of time as we moved along down through the stream, over logs and around fallen trees and debris. It was obvious from the start that there was no real trail. We must have crossed the stream twenty times. At first we tried to find the best place to cross to keep our feet dry. But after awhile, we realized that it really didn’t matter, and soon we just didn’t care, crossing back and forth with reckless abandon.

This became quite intoxicating. I felt like a little kid again, moving through a world that was equal parts Jurassic Park and Tarzan of the Apes. Any minute I expected a velociraptor to come into view. Or a half man/half ape with a chimpanzee at his side.

It was difficult to find a path through at several junctures. At one point, we ran into a fellow in his fifties who was trying to find a way around a particularly dense debris field created when an enormous redwood dropped into the valley. Knowing he was ahead of us working his way through helped a lot. The trip down was as exasperating as it was exhilarating.

Here’s the link to a photo album of our walk in Fern Canyon.

On the way home, I stopped for coffee at a little shop on 101. The woman there, when I told her we were going to Crescent City, said that when she was a child living there, they would go to the “north end of town,” where they would play among tree stumps that were enormous. After we got into town, I drove to the north end before realizing she had been talking about something that happened decades ago and that the directions were far too vague. But worth a try.

Finished off things with dinner at the Chart House, a short drive from Curley’s. It was close to the motel, and as we got out of the car and walked toward the restaurant, it looked like one of the docks in the marina was alive and moving. A close look turned up about thirty or more seals lying on the dock. Taking it over, in point of fact. Probably two or three dozen. They were also on other rocks in the harbor. Grunting, squealing, making noise. Like seals do.

Our dining companions in Crescent City. Click to enlarge and you can see construction in the harbor behind, where they're repairing damage from the Japanese tsunami earlier this year that hit Crescent City.

The seals – there are three species — have become quite an attraction at the Chart House. Noisy, smell and rude they are, but everybody loves them! All the seats with a view of the seals are already taken. Still, dinner was outrageously wonderful. I had fish and chips and a couple bottles of Alaskan Amber, first I’ve had in years. We drove over to get a look at the old lighthouse at the end of the downtown area and drove up the coast a bit, too. After extending our reservation for one more night with an old hippie dressed in black and silver, we fall asleep to a symphony of seals grunting and squealing.

One of the best days we’ve ever spent on the road — or off.

Next: Jedediah Redwoods State Park, Hiouchi

November 6, 2011   1 Comment

Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 6: Eureka, Arcata, Crescent City

Wednesday October 12

Curley’s Motel

Crescent City CA

Eureka harbor gull.

A leisurely drive today up the coast from Rio Dell to Crescent City, where we’re planning to spend at least two nights.

We stopped first in the historic section of Eureka, and took a nice walk along the edge of the ocean and through a district where old buildings stand in various states of restoration. It certainly seems that the town is trying to revive the downtown area. The tracks of an old trolley line were still visible down along Railroad Street. One old hotel had been wonderfully restored, and there was a great corner bookstore.

This old hotel was rebuilt as apartments and offices.

Out at the edge of the downtown area is the old Carson mansion, built by William Carson, one of the first major loggers of redwoods after trying to find gold in California. It has been refurbished and used as a private club, and we walked out there and gawked at it, too.

The old Carter mansion, now a private club. They don't build them like this anymore.

We took a bridge along highway 255 out to the actual coastline. We drove a few miles and pulled into a community center for the village of Manila, and we walked out to the beach from there, where we got another great view of the waves. 255 led into Arcata, a college town that houses Humboldt State University, one of 30-some state schools and where our friend Darrin Long went to college.

We loved these old neon signs on taverns along the square in Arcata.

It was great walking around the old town and square. The vibe was Boulder circa 1983, when we arrived here, and every business had green marketing and goods. It was really kind of trippy, and we drove up on campus and through the city park, which is a redwood forest, which we thought was pretty cool.

We had lunch at Tomo in the Arcata Hotel building just off the square. Billie had chicken katsu and I had yakisoba. The helpings were so huge and yummy that we got the rest to go, and we both finished our dishes up just now at the motel, along with a piece of carrot cake that Billie bought at the little breakfast place in Rio Dell. Little pleasures that make a difference on the road.

The waiter gave us some suggestions for places to visit on our way north. We stopped for a bit at Trinidad, a small town perched high above the coast, and then we headed for Patrick’s Point, where we walked down to the well-named Agate Beach, which wasn’t made of sand but of worn-down pieces of agate, and we walked around Wedding Rock on a lush old Indian trail through dense thickets of trees and shrubs around the cliffs. Wandering around up there gave me a strange case of déjà vu that took me back to south Kansas City 1955, for some reason.

The path up from the agate beach at Patrick's Point.

As we got closer to Crescent City and the two other old-growth forests, we began noticing herds of elk all along the highway. In fields, along roads and in people’s yards. Almost like being in Yellowstone at the infamous elk traffic jam at Mammoth a few years back. Turns out they are Roosevelt elk, another of the four surviving  sub-species of elk in the United States and common in this part of the world. Elk are no big whup in Colorado, but here they seem unique. No bugling, however.

We’re staying at Curley’s Motel. Fifties modern and built out of a single redwood tree. The woman who signs us in had an old-style curly haircut, and we bantered. Got the cash discount. After we got the room, I went back over and asked what I would have to do to get one more pillow. She smiled and said, “How about please?” Just the kind of place I want to stay.

Crescent City is the only American town damanged by tidal waves from the Japanese tsunami earlier this year. The mutilation was severe in the main harbor across the road from Curley’s, and she shows us a laminated set of photos that show the Before and After of the city’s main harbor. (Every business has the same one that they show when they get questioned, which is often in this place.) Construction equipment and cranes are all anchored around the harbor, and we find out later from a newspaper story that construction to repair the damage is expected to continue for awhile.

The view from Trinidad.

We decided to have a drink. We headed off for the Harbor View Grill, a short walk into the harbor. To get there, we crossed the highway and walked through an area next to the harbor that was like a trailer park, except that the trailers were sometimes boats. The grill is on the second floor, and we walk to the back to the bar, where we had a drink (great martini) while we chatted up the bartender there, a young guy who had just moved to town, before we walked home and ate our leftovers from Arcata. Life is good.

Next: Our extraordinary walk in Fern Canyon in Prairie Redwoods National Park.

November 6, 2011   No Comments

Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 5: Avenue of the Giants, Dyersville Giant, Humboldt Redwoods Pk.

Tuesday, October 11
Cedar Lodge
Rio Dell, CA

Here’s a link to a photo page of our day in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, including some that show just how eye-droppingly huge the Dyersville Giant is.

We had breakfast at Tonetta’s Coffee and Bakery, along the main street of Rio Dell and, as far as we can see, the only restaurant in town except for a pizza joint across the street. But it’s a nice little place. Billie gets a croissant breakfast sandwich while I opt for the biscuits and gravy. There is so much gravy, I can’t see the biscuits. Nice little spot in an old building downtown, and it has a drive-in coffee window on the east side. A few jokes shared with locals hanging out drinking coffee.

One tree down and another root carcass. You just can't figure out how they got in these twisted positions.

As we got out on 101 toward Humboldt Redwoods State Park, we began to really notice the difference between the forests we have been going through so far and this, the first of three old-growth redwood forests we will be visiting. The first thing I notice as we exit 101 and drive into the Avenue of the Giants was the darkness – you could only see a short ways into the forest. Some of the trees are only a foot off the road. Shafts of light break through sometimes to the forest floor.

Just outside the park, we stop at a place outside Pepperwood that advertises a “room inside a live redwood.” It’s behind the business, a souvenir shop, and is a small room that, indeed, is inside a live redwood tree. That’s all I’m going to say. There are a few sculpted pieces of redwood, and some redwood timber stacked close by, and we’re off in a few minutes into the park itself.

Just to give you an idea how large these trees really are.

The Avenue of the Giants begins about five miles south of Rio Dell on Highway 101. Humboldt Redwoods State Park is the largest safe area for redwoods in the state, 53,00 acres of old-growth redwood forest, the third largest state park in California. More than 100 of the 137 trees over 350 feet tall are here, including the Stratosphere Giant, at 370.5 feet the tallest known living redwood until three taller ones were found in Redwood National Park, including Hyperion at just more than 379 feet.

The locations of these trees are a highly kept secret, and scientists who study these trees want to keep it that way. At first I didn’t like that attitude, but I understand their concerns that amateur climbers would seek them out and, if not kill themselves, endanger the trees themselves.

It is, as advertised, an avenue of giants, redwoods lining the road and as far as you can see into the forest on either side. We had read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that talked about an albino tree, a redwood Christmas tree, in a grove off the avenue. We followed the directions in the article and wound up in the right grove. But after walking around the parking lot area for ten minutes trying to recreate the writer’s instructions, we gave up for the time being on the albino tree.

Another fallen giant begins its next phase.

Our first real, jaw-dropping stop was at the Founder’s Grove, home to the Founder’s Tree.

The Founder’s Tree is just a short walk from the parking lot, and then you follow a half mile loop trail out to the Dyerville Giant. Founder’s Tree is indeed, at 346 feet, still a giant. The height to the lowest branch is 190 feet. We walk around it, take some photos and head off counterclockwise, spending about an hour taking in the enormity of this redwood grove.

The cavities inside trees were cavernous indeed.

If there is a religion in nature, this is its cathedral. In 1917, after viewing this and some other like groves, the Save-the-Redwoods League was formed in 1921 to preserve these primeval forests, and this was one of the first. Today, 51,00 acres are preserved here of the 189.000 acres protected in California in a large number of state forests.

There are places, Katmai, McNeil River, Denali, McCarthy in Alaska, Yellowstone, Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef among them, where you understand immediately why they have been set aside. But we have never been in anything like this, an ancient forest. No trees in here have met the sawblade. These trees fall when they’re ready. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see many of those collapsed trees, some whose trunks fade into the darkness and flora. Some trees have come to rest in the crooks of other, still standing trees. Others have been hit and tumbled and are strewn haphazardly, like giant building blocks cast aside.

We found one tree that had been burned almost completely at the bottom – we could walk through it and stand inside it — but it still grew just fine above twenty feet. Fire can take a redwood, but the redwood can come back, too. Redwoods send down thousands of pine cones containing millions of seeds, but only a few of those find the right conditions for growth. Since none have been cut, we don’t really know how old many of them are.

Billie offers a hint of perspective of the immensity of the Dyerville Giant.

As we walk farther along, the trail loops around a series of fallen giants until it finally reaches an especially huge uprooted tree. There is no identifying marker, but we know it’s the Dyerville Giant, which until 1991, was indeed the Giant of this grove. But it fell in that year, after at least one of these other redwoods hit it on the way down to its demise. The Giant was more than 370 feet tall. Now it lies horizontal. It will take hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, to eventually fade back to nothing, all the while providing nourishment for hundreds of species on the floor.

I literally gasp at its immensity. You can walk along the Giant to the top, 275 feet from the base. The rest of it broke up and is scattered somewhere around here. Some of the top branches are almost mulch already, just twenty years later. The major sections might take hundreds, thousands of years to pass away.

The Giant's Burl and a little view of its length along the floor.

After that opening gambit, we get back on the Avenue before stopping at the park’s headquarters, where I quiz a volunteer at the desk about wildlife (yes, there are plenty of critters but mostly in the western part of the park away from the roads, including bears and mountain lions), and he gives me specific directions for the albino tree. In front of the headquarters is Weather Rock. It’s never wrong! Everybody should have one.

Farther down the Avenue, we pay seven dollars to enter a little locally owned “park” that lets you drive through the Shrine Tree. Poor thing is being held up by wires today. But a particularly American kind of place. Corny but fun, and we got a good picture of the two of us at the Keebler mansion.

Later, after an outdoor lunch at the Avenue Café in Miranda, we took a good walk on a trail off a side road off the Avenue that took us past the Tall Tree. It was measured in the 1950s and was an early candidate for the tallest tree in the world, but has been taken over many times as taller ones were found. But it was a very large tree in a quiet, secluded grove on a trail that winds along some unnamed creekbed. Nobody out there with us but those old trees. It was in this area that Telperion, another giant that figures in one chapter of The Wild Trees, fell in the 1990s.

And we followed the guy’s instructions to the albino tree (stop at the white line, walk down a path toward a creek and across to the other side and look back across the creek). It was kind of interesting but not much to look at it. The albino, which doesn’t produce its own chlorophyll, instead gets its nourishment from the redwood it’s latched to – kind of a vampire of the redwood — and it isn’t very impressive. This one would make a mediocre Christmas tree.

After leftover dinner from Hunan Village last night, we drove up to Ferndale again. But first we drove west on Centerville Road for Mendocino Point, advertised as the westernmost point in the United States. We didn’t make that, but we did stop at Centerville beach just as the sun set. Our first look at “the vast Pacific” was memorable.

The beach was fronted by those concrete things they use to keep terrorists from running car-bombs into government buildings today. Vans and RVs are parked along the edge. We pull in and walked to a place where we could walk around the concrete pads and onto the beach. Neither of us was sure we weren’t looking at land, but soon we realized that what we thought might be little walls actually were big waves crashing in. Loud, strong, relentless waves.

"The vast Pacific": Jeff Bridges as Lewis Tater in Hearts of the West

Billie says: “Is it the vast pacific?” an old Jeff Bridges joke between us. But indeed it is. The waves hit, spread and scatter, coming closer to our feet with every crash. I look around, and there’s the full moon rising behind us, the sky in the west pink and blue and foggy at sunset. And what is that with its head down in the grass on the bluffs just below the moon? Cow. From a Buttercup mansion. And these waves crashing in, coming ever closer. The phlegm of an angry ocean. Mesmerizing. And a little unnerving, too.

Full moon fever.

And then, in full moon fever, we drove back and literally bellied up the bar at the Palace Saloon, which reminded us both of Nebraska taverns back in the 1970s in Seward (Heumann’s, where I worked for a couple of years during college) and Lincoln (Casey’s, a legendary place that Billie frequented around the same time). I managed to get a little buzz from a couple of gin and tonics before our ride back to Rio Dell with the full weight of the moon hanging over us. Oh, yeah.

Next: Eureka, Trinidad, Patrick Point State Park, Arcata, Crescent City.

October 31, 2011   No Comments

Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 4: Truckee, Donner, Highway 36

Sunday Oct. 9
Cedar Lodge
Chester CA

Kokanee salmon at a spawning area, Tallac Historic Site, South Lake Tahoe, CA.

Our first on-the-road day begins with breakfast again at Ernie’s before we drove up the west side of Lake Tahoe. We stopped at the bridge where we had seen the crowds of people, realizing it must be a salmon spawning site. Indeed it is, and there are hundreds of fish at this location. They climb up out of the lake, spawn somewhere above, die, and then the runoff from the mountains sends the young back into the lake next year. And we get to go up and over that incredible short spur once again south of Vikingsholm. It reminds us of that spur north of Escalante on Highway 12 in central Utah.

The southwest area of the lake is pretty undeveloped beyond Vikingsholm, but there are more residences and strips as we get farther north. From there it’s a short drive to Truckee. Kind of an interesting place, it’s just two miles east of where the Donner Party was trapped in 1849, it’s kind of like Ward with a tourist area that comprises a historic downtown district and an interstate highway dumped through the back end of downtown. Truckee is one of those places that was once famous but now is left for tourists to ponder its past while wandering three blocks of restaurants, souvenir shops, bookstores and clothing stores. There is an incredible adaptive reuse of a gas station that is now a clothing store that is really cool.

Clothing store, once a gas station, in Truckee, CA.

We walk the entire strip and around some other back streets before stopping in a place that advertises banana cream pie. It’s not our favorite, but not too bad. An Amtrak train pulls into the station about the time we get there. A few passengers get on and off, and it’s gone in five minutes. Busy place on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Then we climb to the Rocking Stone, which doesn’t rock anymore, but is famous for once teetering at the touch. Nice view of town and the valley and mountains beyond in Nevada from the Rocking Stone.

Truckee, CA from the Rocking Stone above town. To the right behind us, I-80 roars by.

The Donner site is perplexing. The museum is under construction, there are no historical artifacts, just a monument and the museum. This is one of those pieces of history that, today, has lost all its context and is impossible to imagine at this place at a point in time. Luxury homes dot the hillsides and forests, above bustling Interstate 80 less than a hundred yards away and Truckee two miles down the road. It makes me wonder about living in Truckee in the winter, however. Is it like Ward?

The drive north up to Chester was through a huge forest, though at times we dropped down into areas of pastureland and large cattle ranches. Near the north end, we drove through an area filled with deep canyons and heavy vegetation. We saw three small forest fires, one near a home that might have been controlled. Incredible that it’s this lush in October.

The Donner Memorial, Donner Pass, CA.

We drove back and forth along Chester’s main drag, past the airfield and strip malls, but we couldn’t find a motel except for a Super 8 at $89 a night. That’s too much, and we consider heading west, not knowing the next town with a motel would be Red Bluff, more than an hour away and far past Mt. Lassen National Park, which we want to drive through on Monday. We saw the huge dormant volcano sticking up a couple of times on the drive to Chester, and we’re pretty excited about seeing another recently blown volcanic area tomorrow.

But we find the Cedar Lodge at the far end of town west of the turn-off. The sign says No Vacancy, but I pull in anyway, and a nice woman at the office says she does have a room with a queen for fifty-five dollars. Paying her cash gives us five dollars off. She recommends La Casita, the local Mexican restaurant in town. Dinner was fine, but all the place served were wine margaritas, which tasted OK but packed no tequila punch whatsoever. Bummer.

We got back to the motel in time to watch the final episode of the fourth season of Breaking Bad. An extremely satisfying season ender. Don’t know where they’ll take it from here, but the finale had all of the great tension-and-release that we’ve come to expect from this intense program.

Monday October 10
Cedar Lodge
Rio Dell, CA

This is along state 36 west of Mt. Lassen, all volcanic. You can see the cloud cover we found all day.

We had caught a glimpse of Mt. Lassen Sunday afternoon as we were driving toward Chester. It was magnificent in the sunlight, with a snow-capped peak that looked like it had blown its top. Today we had planned on driving through the park on the thirty-mile highway that traverses it, but it was socked in this morning and raining pretty hard, and radar online showed no real break, so we decided to forego the drive and hope to catch it on the way back.

Instead we drove west on state 36 through an area created by old lava flows, now overgrown with shrubs, trees and flora, to Red Bluff, which is in the Sacramento Valley. We didn’t make the correct turn at some point in Red Bluff and wound up on Interstate 5 for a few miles before finding a crossroad that passed through a pleasant, ten-mile stretch of horse ranches before hooking up on 36 again.

The rest of the drive was wonderful. It wound up and down through a hundred and thirty miles of mountain rainforests, high passes and torturous, zigzagging canyon descents and construction zones. It took four hours to drive the one hundred and twenty miles. With almost no traffic, and even though it was overcast and foggy 99 percent of the way, the drive was almost ridiculously scenic. Talk about a snaky road; it seemed like we were going downhill for the last seventy miles.

Horse country, north of Red Bluff after we got lost. This was a great road to get unlost.

The Humboldt Gables Motel is the first one in view as we pull into Rio Dell, a small town just a few miles north of the north entrance to the Avenue of the Giants and Humboldt Redwoods State Park, where we’ll spend the next couple of days, and a heavy-set guy sets us up for two nights for about sixty bucks a night. And again, paying cash saves almost five bucks a night since he doesn’t have to process the credit card. This saved us about fifty bucks this trip.

On the innkeeper’s suggestion, we pack out our bags and then drive out to Ferndale, a real oddity in this seaside area. We wind up on this wide plateau with huge Victorian ranch houses finally giving way to a Victorian village, a couple of blocks of which is on the historic record.

Nothing looks particularly promising for a place to eat, however. We find out the town and the mansions on the ranchland, called Butterfat mansions, were built around the ranchers. So we drive over to Fortuna, which offers, finally, Hunan Village. The food is great, and we get to-go boxes that will give us another meal along the way. We are very excited about tomorrow.

Next: Avenue of the Giants, Dyersville Giant, Humboldt Redwood State Park.

October 29, 2011   No Comments

Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 3: Vikingsholm, Tallac Historic Site

Saturday, October 8
Apex Motel
South Lake Tahoe, CA

Upon the advice of our proprietor, we walked a block down to Ernie’s Coffee House, a large but warm and cozy breakfast nook, where we plan our day. We are interested in seeing Vikingsholm, a historic summer residence tucked away beneath some cliffs a few miles farther up the west side of the lake.

Emerald Bay, with the tea house island near South Lake Tahoe, CA. (click for larger image.)

A controlled burn near the highway north of town is blowing some smoke across to the lake. And after winding past Tallac and noting a bunch of people on a bridge near there, we drive up this breathtaking, short spur that leads to views of something I had briefly read about, something about a a tea house on an island. That’s what it looks like we’re seeing in this small, secluded bay, and soon we are in the Vikingsholm parking lot, located near a huge outcrop of rocks overlooking Emerald Bay and Fannette Island, the tea-house island.

The way to the home, which sits directly below the rock outcropping, is a mile walk down and back along a fairly steep incline, with warnings at the top for people not up to a walk like this. All in all, we find the walk less difficult than advertised, and well worth the effort, as it winds down through a nice forest.

At the bottom is a castle-like home built by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight in 1929. The coast here reminded her of her native Norway, and she built it with local materials. It’s a strange kind of American Craftsman-style, 38-room home, parts of which contain no nails or spikes. It’s quite lovely, almost completely hidden among the trees from above, and we take a lot of pictures as we stroll the grounds. The back was also the entryway, with small rooms as part of an enclosue that made an impressive entrance after the ride down. Emerald Bay is a popular lake boat tour stop, and a steady stream of tour craft, from small motorboats to a couple of paddlewheelers, circuit Fannette Island all day. Even in the off-season, it’s a popular spot.

Vikingholm, showing some of the intricate inlay work. (click for larger image.)

We also took a short walk a little past the house. A guy was in the stream taking pictures above a pool, and we are introduced to the Kokanee salmon. It’s spawning season. Last week South Lake Tahoe hosted the Lake Tahoe Kokanee Salmon Festival. The Kokanee here were introduced by holding ponds at the Tahoe City Fish Hatchery that overflowed, or so the story goes. Three years later, the freed salmon returned to the streams, and they have integrated into the ecosystem. All in all, a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Last night we caught a glimpse of the Tallac Historic Site as darkness descended on the forest. This time, walking among the tall trees with the sunlight streaming through the gaps, we got a quick glimpse at a past time of opulence in the early days of the white occupancy of this area. Three family summer cottages were here, and walking among them, you can easily imagine their heyday.

The Tallac site is really something. It’s in a deep forest along the shoreline. It was quiet, the almost full moon rising over the State Line high-rises in the late afternoon, a scene out of an era that, with our relentless need to redevelop, is disappearing. I guess I know I’m old when I realize this. But like Ojo Caliente before it was re-developed, this is one of those places you just don’t see much of anymore. The buildings, all made of wood with high ceilings and interesting ridges and roofs, are definitely of another time. Nobody would build houses like this today. Nobody.

Gardens at the Pope estate in the Tallac Historic Site. (click for larger image.)

The Baldwin estate, now the museum, closed for the season, was smallish, with nice gardens amidst the redwoods. Baldwin ran the casino that used to sit on one part of the park.

Next door, the Pope estate was particularly fascinating, with lots of small buildings behind the main house, which faced the lake, for the servants and help — a blacksmith shop, dairy, school room and tiny apartments for the seamstress, maid, butler and other full-time servants. The grounds included intricate gardens and lakelets and waterfalls. A table seemed to be hewn from one tree, with the branches woven into the cover.

The Popes even had a boathouse for their own boat, with tracks that ran 100 feet out into the lake, so that the boat could be hauled to land without the guests even getting their feet wet. Along the beach was a marooned sailboat, slammed into the sand with a Jolly Roger flag waving at a precarious angle. Wonder what happened there?

Next door to the Pope estate was the best of the lot, Valhalla. The home is the only one in actual use today, set up for weddings and receptions, one of which is going on during our visit. The Valhalla boathouse has been converted into a community playhouse, which, to my mind, is an enlightened way to “redevelop.”

Another view of the Pope estate. (click for larger image.)

We also walked around the area where the resort the Baldwin’s operated once sat. The buildings there didn’t have stone foundations, and today the forest has taken it all back, leaving folks to guess where the buildings stood. The only clue, which took us awhile to find, was a circular lagoon you can see near the front porch of an old photo on display. Another reminder, that like Tikal, given enough time, the natural world will take back what we have built and return to its natural state. That’s a little encouraging.

Hallway between the servants and main house at the Pope estate. (click for larger image.)

After the walk, we returned to Orchid Thai. We wound up in a corner next to a local couple who, according to the guy, had started drinking at 9 am to watch a football game. The woman, a bleached blonde who kept having to hitch up her jeans to keep her butt crack from showing, used to work at Orchid Thai, knew everybody who was working on this night. While we were perusing our menus, she suggested the pumpkin curry, which Billie got and was great. When the guy couldn’t figure out if Singha, the Thai beer, was like Sing Tao, the Chinese beer which he hated. I explained the difference. He interrupted his champagne to order one.

Another group came into our little nook, and one of the women was having a birthday. When they started singing happy birthday, the couple started in singing, and we all wound up doing a rousing chorus. The blonde, who was bombed out of her mind, helped everybody in the booth order, and finally, when they began taking pictures, she dropped onto somebody’s lap while the boyfriend took pictures of the whole kit and caboodle. We left after telling them that we hadn’t had that much entertainment in a restaurant in years.

Next: Truckee, Donner Pass, Chester.

Some smoke from a controlled burn north of South Lake Tahoe from the Tallac site.

October 26, 2011   1 Comment

Wallking the Wild Trees Pt. 2: South Lake Tahoe

Friday Oct. 7 2011
Apex Motel
South Lake Tahoe CA

Our flight landed in Reno International Airport this afternoon, and half an hour later we were in our Chevy Cruz rental and heading south on California 359. The rental agency rep had tried everything to get Billie to upgrade the car, but the Cruz offered great pickup, and got 35 miles to the gallon. Woo hoo. We turned off to the right on state 341, which took us over a mountain pass into the Lake Tahoe area. We’re spending our first two nights in South Lake Tahoe.

We loved the woodwork on the door of this coffee shop in South Lake Tahoe.

It’s a thirty or forty minute drive down the east side of the lake on state 28, eventually going through State Line, the border town separating Nevada and California. A mini-mini-strip of resorts and casinos and a couple of high-rise hotels, State Line is the kind of blot on the environment you kind of get used to around here.

South Lake Tahoe is a couple of miles farther, and we had booked a couple of nights at the Apex Inn, on highway 89/50  just south of the main town intersection. The only booking we make early, it’s rustic, older but clean and convenient. Run by an Indian family, there is a hint of curry in the air. At $100 for two nights, it’s within our budget. After a nap, we are hungry and find a place called Orchid Thai around the corner, where we find the food fabulous, reasonable, and I celebrate with a couple of Singhas. Living, baby.

Afterwards we drive west on state 99 out of town to try and get better oriented. South Lake Tahoe is in a forest, and we drive several miles up the coast, past Camp Richardson, which looks interesting, and pull into the parking lot of the Tallac Historical Area. It’s dusk, turning to darkness quickly, and we manage to see the outlines of two wooden buildings, one of them really impressive, in the redwood shadows before having to give it up. Very mesmerizing. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Next, walking Vikingsholm and the Tallac Historic Site.

October 26, 2011   1 Comment

Walking the Wild Trees Pt. 1: Boulder

Click on this to see how large this tree really is.

About five years ago, I read an article in the New Yorker about redwood trees. Botany is not my strong suit, and beyond that they were quite old and large, and that redwood burl coffee tables were popular amongst hippies forty years ago, I hadn’t thought much of anything about redwoods.

But the article, written by Richard Preston, if you’ll excuse the expression, lit a fire under my ass to find out more. In a sense, my prayers were answered when, in 2007, the article was expanded into a book, The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring.

The Wild Trees was centered around a new breed of redwood researchers. Using new climbing techniques and better technology, scientists, for the first time, were able to determine the tallest among these protected groves of ancient giants. Even more amazing, those researchers enter and are, for the first time, studying the canopy of these tall, wild redwood trees (a wild tree is one that has never been climbed), some of them more than 350 feet high – that’s taller than most buildings in downtown Denver and eleven stories above the Newsgator offices, where I worked at 250 feet.

Interspersed with the botany and history, the book’s concentration on the intense, personal stories and intimate relationships of the scientists Steve Sillett, Marie Antoine and Michael Taylor were remarkable enough, but what I found even more astonishing was what Preston wrote about the trees themselves. Their ages. Lifespan. Evolution. Ecosystems.

These old-growth forests once were prevalent all along the Pacific coast and even further inland. In evolutionary terms, redwoods are extremely well-adapted. They live in moist soil near the ocean with a lot of fog and rain. They produce a substance, tannin, that most bugs detest. Though they can burn, they are mostly fire-resistant. They can stay dormant without sunlight. They grow to great heights and then, sooner of later, they fall back onto the forest floor, feeding other species and allowing the dormant trees to move to the top of the canopy, to grow tall and finally drop down.

And the canopy, once thought of as the “redwood desert,” turns out to be an ecosystem up there. In the hitherto unseen redwood crowns are squirrels and other canopy critters sharing space with lichens, ferns and shrubs, huckleberry, elderberry and gooseberry, among them. The crowns’ tops often fall into the canopy and hang until dislodged, bus sized widowmakers just waiting for the moment to fall into the forest. It’s a new world of wild trees.

The redwoods’ only real enemy is mankind, which lusted after the redwoods with a staggering thirst that remains unrelenting. Were it not for individuals in the 1920s who put up the money to start buying land and the later help of state and federal governments, these 170,000 acres would have been clear-cut, and there would be no old-growth redwood forests and several million more burl coffee tables. Only 1% of the old-growth forests in California remain, hopefully protected forever from any chain-saws, though not from the vagaries of weather and climate.

Reading and imagining all this, Billie and I determined that we had to see the redwoods, walk in their midst and bring the concepts behind the book and those incredible-sounding trees into actual focus.

Next, South Lake Tahoe.

October 25, 2011   No Comments