Sunday, September 29, 2013

California Highway 1: The long and winding road

I called our next potential destination -- MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg, California -- to see if we could possibly get a spot on Saturday without a reservation.   "If you get here early,"  said the ranger.  So Saturday morning we woke up early (for us -- 6 a.m.), got the rig ready, dumped the tanks, filled up both the rig and the tow car with gas ($4.19 a gallon!), filled the tires with air (which took longer than it should have) and took off south on US 101.

MacKerricher State Park is on California Highway 1, which I'd never been on before.  We were only on CA-1 for 40 miles.  Most of that distance Jim was humming "the long and winding road" while I was keeping my finger on the window open/close button in case I  needed to throw up.  It was, indeed, one long and winding, up and downing road with several daunting switchbacks.  In fact, motor homes over 40 feet in length are prohibited from traveling on CA-1 because they can't make those kind of turns.   

During three tight turns, the speed limit was posted as 15 mph.  Then I saw a speed limit posting for 10 mph and closed my eyes.  Jim just kept humming.  The ranger here at MacKerricher promised that if we continue on CA-1, the rest of it is just as scenic with fewer curves.

Anyway...MacKerricher is a lovely, if some what unkempt, state park.  It's very close to the ocean and a very short walk takes us to wonderful ocean views.  Our campsite is large.  A great hiking trail is nearby.  But the place is just not well taken care of.  I asked the ranger (same one that I talked with about Highway 1) if there had been cut back on staffing and he said yes.  "Used to be," he said, "that we had 6-8 rangers on staff all the time.  That way we could have two people at the check-in station and the rest could be out doing projects and fixing things.  Now we only have 2 and 1/2 staff positions." 

It shows.  For example, when something breaks (parts of a boardwalk or a bathroom, for instance) it looks like they slap a hand-made "closed" sign on it instead of fixing it and the bathrooms were a mess. Jim and I discussed that when a place looks shabby, for some reason people who visit are more inclined to abuse it.  And visitors who tend to obey the rules and love their parks  avoid those places.  Both make the situation worse.  However, considering 2 1/2 people are keeping up MacKerricher -- which has 143 camp sites -- it's pretty darn nice.
Near the entrance station is this gray whale skeleton.  Gray whales swim by the park as they migrate between the Bering Strait and Baja, California. It's not migration time so we didn't see any whales, but we did see lots of harbor seals bouncing in the ocean.  The ranger told me that harbor seals and dogs are related.  
Our campsite at MacKerricher State Park.  The place was packed Saturday night, but we are pretty much by ourselves tonight.
This wooden box on stilts is near our campsite.  At first I thought it was a bear box that a bear could make short work of in about 30 seconds.  But it's actually a food storage locker to protect a tent campers' food from raccoons and other small critters.
MacKerricher State Park  has nine miles of coastline. It was once the ranch of a man named Duncan MacKerricher, who moved here from Canada in 1864 and raised cattle, hogs and draft horses.  In 1949 his heirs sold the property to the State of California.
This succulent-looking plant is a larger version of the very same ice plant I grow in my garden at home in Salt Lake.  It's all over the dunes near the beaches at MacKerricher. A sign we read said it's an unwelcome invasive and competes with endangered plants for nutrients.  
A cloudier ocean-view photo taken today, with ice plants in the foreground getting their fall colors. 
My obligatory " water crashing on the rocks" photo.  Today the waves looked about eight feet high and we saw some surfers taking advantage.
Cleone Lake at MacKerricher State Park is very close to our camp site. 
Jim at the North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg where we had pizza and watched the first half of the Buckeyes v. Badgers game. (Ohio State won 31-24.  And Oregon State beat University of Colorado 44-17.) North Coast had three buildings on a street corner in Fort Bragg: their brewery, this pub, and a gift shop.  The pub was pretty upscale (for us, anyway) with lots of entrees in the $25-$30 range, which is why we got pizza.  Fort Bragg is a very cool and interesting little town with lots of shops.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Wow! Redwood National and State Parks in northern California

Today we hiked near some of the most massive trees on earth:  the giant redwood.  Also called the coast redwood or the California redwood, they are protected along the northern California coast in four parks.  Redwood National Park is on the southern end of the string.  The other three parks from top to bottom are Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks. The four parks are jointly managed by the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Rec and it's hard to tell where the national park ends and the state parks begin.  

Per a park brochure, redwoods once covered 2 million acres of land along the California cost.  They now cover 118,000 acres.  Only about 5 percent of the world's old growth redwoods still exist and more than 95 percent of those are in California.

We spent most of our time in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, just north of the national park and near the tiny town of Orick, CA.  A ranger at one of the visitors centers suggested some hikes for us, and we picked a 4-miler that connected Cathedral of Trees Trail and Prairie Creek Trail. Just a small handful of other people were on the trails, so it was a great day to hike.  Plus, while the park gets about 100 inches of rain a year and much of the rest of the time it's foggy, today was cool but sunny.

We're getting close to the end of this leg of our trip, which started in June.  As of today, I'd say the three most beautiful places we've visited are Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Glacier National Park, and Northern California's Redwood parks.  All are spectacular.
At the beginning of our hike was a tree simply called "Big Tree." At the very bottom you can see Bev almost doing a back bend to view the branches.  I did this maneuver many times today; a couple of times I almost fell over.  "Big Tree"  is 304 feet high, just one foot shorter than the Statue of Liberty if you count from the bottom of the statue's pedestal to the top of the torch.  "Big Tree" is estimated to be 1,500 years old.
Looking toward the sky and the tops of the redwoods. 
Bev standing between a Redwood root ball that split after the tree fell over.  A movie we saw at the visitor center said a redwood's roots are only about ten feet deep but spread out very wide.  They intertwine with the roots of other trees, which helps provide stability.
Redwood needles are softer than pine needles.  And we learned that redwood cones are small -- about the size of olives -- which  surprised me.
If a redwood falls across a hiking path, park staff cuts and removes the section blocking the trail...
...or cuts a hole in the tree big enough to walk through.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hiking near Harris Beach State Park and Eureka, CA

Yesterday we woke up to lots of rain. About 10 a.m. the rain slowed and we saw, as Jim calls them, "blue clouds." So we took our first walk of the day on a park trail called Rock Beach.

In the afternoon we hiked three miles of the Oregon Coast Trail.  The entire trail runs 425 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River at the northwest border of Oregon to the California border.

Then last night we did a couple of miles around the campground including a walk to the campground picnic area for a view of the sunset.  I didn't take my camera on that last walk, but photos and captions of the day's two earlier hikes are below.

This morning we took off for Eureka, CA.  We followed US 101 the entire way here and drove through farm lands, by beautiful ocean bays, and stands of redwoods.  I'm not a fan of the increasing traffic, but the northern California coast is beautiful.

Tonight we met up with Yakima friends Pat and Cindy who just happened to be staying in Eureka for one night on their way to visit their son and daughter-in-law in San Francisco.

Hike Number One
The Rock Beach trail took us to the ocean at Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, OR.
The trail was short but tougher than we thought it would be.  Here Cooper hesitates before going down a big step.  We later realized that about a quarter of a mile away was a boardwalk leading to the same beach.
Starfish at Harris Beach. If you click on the photo you can see that there are five starfish here (three maroon/purple ones and two orange ones).  I was trying to get closer but the ocean kept sweeping up between me and the starfish (also called sea stars.) 
Several people were boogie boarding in wet suits the morning we walked to the beach.
And this guy was standing in the very cold water, waiting for a wave to crash over him.  We watched for while, waiting for him to get knocked on his behind (which we were sure would happen) but he stayed upright and shirtless in the extremely cold water.
Bird/Goat Island off Harris Beach.  You can see the "blue clouds" on the right and a storm coming in on the left. We've had lots of rain on our journey down the Pacific coastline, but also at least one sunny day at each location.

Hike Number Two
We started our very short Oregon Coast Trail hike at House Rock Viewpoint in the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.  Boardman was the first superintendent of Oregon State Parks.  There was a memorial to him a few yards away from where I took this pic. 
The only wildlife we saw while on our afternoon hike: a five-inch-long banana slug Jim spotted on a tree.
Jim on the deeply wooded section of the Oregon Coast Trail trailed we hiked on yesterday.  

A moss-covered Sitka spruce on the Oregon Coast Trail.  I told Jim I'd like to hike a longer section of it, if we could plan it so we could spend our nights at motels. Seriously.

Meanwhile, in Eureka, California
And tonight we watched a 49ers-Rams game with friends Cindy and Pat from Yakima at the Eureka, CA Red Lion.  The Red Lion really missed out on making some bucks as the place was packed but hardly anyone, including us, was getting waited on.  Cindy and I went into the dining room hoping we could order food there and take it back to the bar.  The waiter told us he'd be with us "as soon as is possible."  That turned out to be never. But we still  had a good time (plus Cindy and Pat are big 49ers fans and the 49ers won).  And, I had my favorite dinner when Jim and I got back to the rig:  microwaved popcorn.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Harris Beach State Park, Brookings, Oregon

We're at yet another new campsite, this time at Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon. Brookings is in the southwest corner of Oregon, just six miles from the California border. Jim says the area is called the banana belt because the temperatures are very moderate and, in fact, I read that it usually reaches 70 degrees every month of the year. Per Brookings' city website, major industries are lumber, commercial and sports fishing, and lilies.The website says the 12 mile area between Brookings and Smith River, CA produce 100 percent of the lily bulbs grown in North America. I find that hard to believe, but OK.
Before we left Sunset Bay State Park this morning, I wanted to get a photo of the juvenile humpback whale jawbone on display.  A passerby offered to take a photo of us with the jawbone.  The bones washed up on shore one mile north of Sunset Bay in 2007.  
The campsite we left this morning at Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay, Oregon.    
And, a photo of the actual Sunset Bay.  We hooked up our tow car to our rig right where I took this photo. I mentioned in a post a few days ago that our tow car's right turn signal didn't work when the tow car was attached to our motor home.  This morning the right turn signal worked but our tow car's front headlight was out.  Someone is messing with us.
It was a misty, sometimes rainy drive from Coos Bay to Brookings, Oregon, but the scenery was beautiful.  This photo was taken near Gold Beach. 
Our campsite at Harris Beach State Parking in Brookings.  Once again we didn't make reservations but took our chances.  We got the only campsite left available for two days.

Jim and Cooper at a picnic table near our campsite at Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, OR.  Brookings was established in 1913 by John Brookings, the cousin of Robert Brookings who established the Brookings Institution.
As seen from Harris State Park:  Bird Island, also known as Goat Island, is a National Wildlife Refuge and a breeding area for the tufted puffin.
Thanks to Wikipedia for this photo of the tufted puffin.
He's no tufted puffin, but here's a California gull sitting on a car at the Harris Beach picnic area.  The car had Alaska plates, so we figured he was coming rather than going.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay, Oregon, and amazing views

As we backed into our new campsite at Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay, Oregon, last night our motor home neighbor walked up and asked "Did the rangers warn you about this spot?"

Uh, no.  In fact, we didn't  talked with any rangers here other than on the phone.  We had no reservations, and were looking for an empty one on a first-come-first served basis.  The ranger had told me if a spot was empty and not on a list of Sunday/Monday reservations at the office, we could have it for two days. 

According to neighbor, the campsite we'd chosen flooded in the last rainstorm.  “There must have been eight inches of water there.  The guy in it left and was really mad,” he said.

We looked around and didn't see any campsites we liked better, the weather forecast called for less rain, and we thought "what the heck" and stayed put.  About an hour later it started to rain. And rain, and rain.  We stayed inside watching the Emmys on TV; every now and then we looked out the window at the small lake growing outside the rig.

It didn't get anywhere near eight inches deep, though, and by this morning had receded enough for us to leave the rig without getting our feet wet.  So we took off to explore the coast just south of Sunset Bay on the Cape Arago Highway.   There's no way in from the south, so I'm guessing this area doesn't get the traffic of some of the rest of the Oregon coast. 

The area used to be owned by Louis J. Simpson, a wealthy lumberman and shipbuilder. In the early 1900s he built a mansion on a cliff overlooking the ocean there; he called it "Shore Acres." The home included a heated swimming pool, ballroom and a five acre formal garden.  The mansion burned down in 1921 and Simpson built an even bigger home.  When Simpson lost money during the depression, however, the home and grounds fell into disrepair.   In 1942, the home and adjoining land were sold to the state of Oregon and became a state park.
The bridge over Alsea Bay on Oregon's Highway 101.  We left our previous campground -- South Beach State Park in Newport, Oregon -- at 8:30 a.m. because the wind gusts of 50 miles an hour were predicted for Newport in the afternoon and weather going south looked better.  

Last night's view of the step out of the rig (bottom center) and our campsite lake.  
Two views of the ocean crashing onto the rocky beach at Shore Acres State Park.
JL Simpson built his house on a nearby cliff with a similar view.

Jim enters Shore Acres Gardens at Shore Acres State Park.

Roses from two of the 600 rose plants at Shore Acres Gardens.

Shore Acres Lily Pond.
When Jim and I were married, I'd only been to Oregon once -- to Portland for business.  Then Jim took me on a tour of where he once worked in the Tillamook Forest and I kept saying "Look, there's moss on that tree!  And moss on that tree!"  I still think it's beautiful, but I've come to realize that moss is on most everything including this path to the ocean from Shore Acres Gardens. It wasn't as slippery as it looks.
These California Sea Lions at the Simpson Reef Overlook on Arago Highway did a good job of staying put even when waves crashed over them.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The beach and Newport, Oregon's Bayfront District

We lucked out on the weather today.  The forecast was for rain and the day started out very overcast.  But by the time we finished a morning walk on the beach at South Beach State Park in Newport, some blue was peeking out. And the weather got even better as the day went on.

After our walk we went to Newport's Bayfront District.  Bayfront is both a tourist area with restaurants, gift and fudge shops and art stores, plus a working pier and home to Oregon's largest commercial fishing fleet.  We had lunch at Mo's, a seafood/chowder house started in Newport in1946 and that now has six restaurants along the Oregon coast.   One of Mo's claims to fame is that when a customer accidentally crashed her car through the side of the restaurant some years back, founder Mo (real name:  Mohave Niemi) put her arm around the customer and told her the restaurant would put in a garage door so she could drive in any time she wanted.  And there still is a garage door at the front of the restaurant.

After lunch we walked around Bayfront, then went to the Rogue Brewery there to watch the Oregon State Beavers play San Diego State.  The Beavs were losing at half time, so we came back to the rig. Jim finished cheering his team (who won 35-30) while listening to the radio and I took a sunset walk on the beach.  Nice day.

Cooper on the first part of the path from the South Beach State Park campground to the ocean.
After the asphalt trail, a boardwalk takes you to beach grass and sand.
And here's the beach.  Our camping spot is close enough that at night we can hear the waves crashing.
I can't do justice to the power and beauty of the Pacific Ocean with my camera, but here's an attempt:  waves crashing into the South Jetty near our campground.
The Yaquina Bay Bridge on US 101 spans the Yaquina Bay.  It's very art deco looking and, in fact, one of Newport's five neighborhoods is called the Deco District.  The others are Agate Beach, Nye Beach, Bayfront (where we spent the afternoon today) and South Beach (where we're camping.)
Jim with his clam chowder and two beers our waitress gave him because the restaurant temporarily didn't have a chilled pint glass.  I also had the chowder and we split some halibut.  Very good.

Two of 23 sea lions we saw at the Bayfront pier.  
A view from the street in Bayfront: A machine at one of the fish processing plants dumps shrimp peelings.