June 12, 2007
Grants Pass, OR to Ukiah, CA
Way back when we starting planning this vacation, I asked my wife what she wanted to see. Her answer was "Redwoods!" I wasn't really enthusiastic because I figured a big tree is just a big tree. I suggested that she could see redwoods when she visits her sister in Santa Cruz, but suddenly her sister inexplicably went nuts and said she never wants to talk to my wife again. So I'm glad we saw the redwoods for her sake, and I enjoyed it, too.
Before heading down U.S. 199 (Redwood Highway) toward northwestern California, we ate breakfast at Elmer's, another predominantly PNW chain. It was okay but not as good as Shari's. The drive was pretty uneventful. We drove into California, went through a tunnel, and stopped at a visitor center for info about Redwoods National Park. A ranger suggested a short hike in nearby Simpson-Reed Grove, which is in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The NPS and California seem to manage the national park and related state parks together, or at least that's how it's presented to tourists (funding and staffing are probably a different story).
When we got to the trailhead, cars were everywhere -- I guess everyone who came through got the same advice. We didn't run into many people on the trail, though. Redwoods really are magnificent trees to see. I was surprised to learn from the trail's interpretive signs that redwood root systems are not deep. But I should have remembered that climate (i.e. moisture) determines root depth more than tree height does. With frequent coastal rains soaking the soil, the roots stay shallow. The trail was a pleasant but short walk with little elevation change, just enough to immerse oneself in the forest without getting too far from civilization.
This decomposing redwood is being used as a food source by the tree straddling it.
I figured I'd better pose in front of a redwood because if it can't make me look skinny, nothing will.
U.S. 199 ended at U.S. 101 outside Crescent City. We continued south on U.S. 101 into Redwood National Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and along the edge of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Here, however, the ocean was the main show with several scenic viewpoints along the highway.
We drove through heavy traffic in Eureka. We hoped to reach Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Avenue of the Giants before dark -- and dark comes early in a redwood forest!
We made it, but barely. The first tourist stop along the way, the Immortal Tree, was closed.
The Eternal Tree House, however, was open. I was expecting something out of Swiss Family Robinson, but it was just a room carved out of the bottom of a redwood.
The attraction also featured a gift shop (we were burned out and didn't buy anything) and a café. We were starving and sat down for a meal. By the time we left, they were closing, which didn't bode well for other stops down the road. As it turned out, a mudslide forced us to bypass a significant portion of the Avenue of the Giants anyway. We were getting tired, so we didn't bother getting off U.S. 101 again where the Avenue reopened. I guess we missed the "drive-through" trees, but those are kind of cheesy and environmentally incorrect anyway. My wife read two articles I had printed about the drive-through trees, and that was enough to discourage her from visiting them.
We continued south to Willits where I bought discounted gas by using my Dominick's grocery store card at a Safeway gas station (patting myself on the back for remembering the Chicago chain's corporate parent). We spent the night at Motel 6 in Ukiah. We expected it to be a weird town since Jim Jones' Peoples Temple once lived in the area, but we didn't notice anything unusual. Once again I went to bed hungry. Several times on this trip the towns were too small or the late-night options not appealing enough to bother with dinner.
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