California Days

Has it really been two weeks since I last posted? Joshua Tree seems like a distant memory, but I’ll try to recreate the high spots of that, and our travels since.

Our hideway site in Joshua Tree was perfect. We love being tucked in among the rocks in such an unusual landscape. We called this our King Kong Kampsite.20180319_110540728641496.jpg Everywhere you look, there are people scrambling up and around these crazy boulders. They have a stubbly granite surface which is very grippy, which makes it easy for one to feel like Hillary on Everest. Well, we didn’t actually get very high off the ground, but it feels high. Green Valley pals Deb and Tony joined us for a day of scrambling around in the sun.

 

 

20180313_133824-1311166515.jpgThere’s a vast difference in the scenery between the east and west side of Joshua Tree. We decided to wander over to the west end for a hike, and couldn’t have been more amazed at the difference in scenery. No granite boulders, but Joshua Trees everywhere (go figure!) There was so much greenery! 20180314_122021788052877.jpgThe Panorama Loop hike was our destination, and we were undeterred by the Ranger’s warning that the forecasted 50mph wind gusts could be a problem on the exposed mountainside. Ha! I thought. The first blast that hit me in the face made me want to drop on all fours for safety. But the views were incredible.20180314_1229371045669474.jpg Snowy peaks were visible across the Cochella Valley.20180314_1356151829682667.jpg20180314_155832808471924.jpg Descending back to the Trailhead, we passed what must be the granddaddy of all Joshua Trees.20180319_1106242085002328.jpg Next time we visit the Park, we may camp on this end to make further exploration a bit easier.

We spent two nights cold rainy nights in the Oak Grove Campground in the Cleveland National Forest. The weather dampened our spirits a bit, but the 40 or so Boy Scouts there for the weekend seemed to have a great time. As they were packing up to leave, I could only imagine how exhausted the leaders must have been. Organized chaos.

On the way to our next stop, we passed by an incredible sculpture place. Who could pass by this spot without stopping to see these treaures? 20180318_092523505329847.jpg20180318_092452833497834.jpgThere was a full-sized stage coach, complete with passengers AND four horses that was jaw-dropping. I bought a $10 ladybug for my garden in exchange for the time we spent viewing these amazing artworks. I’m ashamed to admi that I lost the card with the name and location of this fabulous sculptor. But, you will recognize it if you pass by, for sure.

Get us to the beach! We were craving some warm sunshine, and figured that our next stop at San Clemente State Beach would be just the ticket. While we did get the sunshine (for the most part), the warmth eluded us. But, it was perfect for beach walks. Watch out for sharks! From a rocky outcropping about 150 yards off shore, we could hear seals barking, although we could only see them with our binoculars.

 

 

20180321_121542-11481871097.jpgI probably never would have heard of San Clemente if it weren’t for the fact that Nixon’s Western White House was located here. Seems crazy that I can walk on the beach and see it, but here’s the view of it from the beach. 20180319_133041-1618857943.jpgOld photos in the visitor center show that, during Nixon’s years, it was the only house along the bluff to the south of the State Park. Now it’s jammed with houses of all shapes and colors. Surfers still reign here – there’s a nice beach-y vibe to this area that we like a lot.20180319_124006222710642.jpg20180319_113023219599090.jpgHow is it possible that it’s been weeks since we actually have ridden our bikes? We decided to visit San Juan Capistrano, and utilizing the miles of bike paths seemed to be the best way to go. The wide packed-sand multi-use trail along the beach is a blast on a bike.20180320_1131191542769736.jpg It’s busy with walkers, gawkers, surfers, and moms with strollers. This photo makes that statement look like a lie, but we did find a non-congested stretch or two. Along the way were a few great viewpoints.20180320_1159561934629678.jpgThe busy highway also has its own separate two-lane bike path and pedestrian walkway.20180320_15210954269708.jpg Many of these California communities have made it easy to stay fit – there is a genuine vitality here that we just don’t see elsewhere.

The Mission at San Juan Capistrano is the summer home of cliff swallow, which migrate each spring to SJC from Goya, Argentina – a 6000 trip. March 19 is the ‘official’ return date. We were there on the 20th, and there was nary a swallow in sight. Hope they made it back in time for the official parade and Festival scheduled for the 23rd.

The Mission is a gorgeous place. Parts of the original church were destroyed only six years after completion by the earthquake of 1812. The alter from the back wall was saved, and appears in one of the photos below. It’s spectacular.20180320_1305382000215669.jpg20180320_1304271336934057.jpgPortions of the original structure still stand. I had to laugh at the two girls taking glamour shots of themselves in front of  the old section. 20180320_130637-1819951110.jpgPeople and selfies – it’s out of control! The Mission seems to do a brisk tourist business – it’s beautifully restored, and worth the few dollars it takes to visit.

 

 

No bicycle outing would be complete without a brewery visit. Docent Brewing, an IPA temple, fit the bill perfectly! We had fabulous brews and sandwiches. One of the best brewpubs we’ve ever visited – and we’ve been to many!20180320_14085012269542.jpgWe just bummed around the rest of our five San Clemente days. Sometimes it’s nice just to be lazy. There weren’t many campers in our area of the campground – most of the showers and bathrooms seemed to be locked. A few of the others seem to be inhabited by the regular gathering of homeless folks to live in the Park during the day. Most would leave for places unknown for the night, returning faithfully at 7am the next day when the Park reopened. But a few locked themselves into the individual bathroom stalls for the night. While we weren’t ‘inconvenienced’ by this, it did make me a bit uncomfortable. The worst part of it were the ones who smoked – nothing worse than using a stinky, smoke-filled bathroom. I can’t believe the Rangers aren’t aware – there must be a tacit agreement to overlook this inhabitation. As you can probably tell, I’m kind of conflicted about how I feel about this. It was creepy knowing that people were sleeping in the bathrooms all night long, although I have a lot of sympathy for their plight.

One new thing we did see here were these food recycling bins, which look exactly like the regular green recycling bins at many facilities.20180321_094049-1754401314.jpg Seems weird to just dump food scraps – apparently we weren’t the only ones who weren’t used to this, as these green bins had more cans, plastic bottles, and cardboard boxes than food scraps in them. Ironically, there weren’t any recycling bins in the Park anywhere that we could find, which just magnified the confusion.

We couldn’t have moved on to a more different location – from sea level to 5500 feet at Mt San Jacinto State Park, a gem of a campground in the San Bernadino Mountains, near the town of Idyllwild.20180323_164800387251762.jpg It’s cold up here, in spite of the brilliant sunshine. Although nearly deserted when we arrived, it filled up yesterday with hikers from the Pacific Crest Trail, which crosses a few miles from here. This perhaps is one of the nicest, most pristine campgrounds we’ve visited – the bathrooms are spotless, and there’s not a speck of litter anywhere. It’s definitely someplace we will return.

We hiked up the Devil’s Slide yesterday, enjoying panoramic views from many places on the trail. 20180324_1212331506636580.jpg20180324_131908411954111.jpgFabulous hike – about five miles roundtrip, with 1700′ of elevation. There are many places where the effects of the constant wind were evident. Tree trunks have been twisted by the constant forces of wind and sun. They are swirled like a barber pole.20180324_113502703562467.jpg We were above the snowline when we reached about 7300′, and with a brisk wind and temps in the 30s, the snow sure wasn’t melting any, even with all that sunshine. This was the first time we have hiked anywhere where a Backcountry Wilderness Pass was required. There’s no fee for the permit – I think it’s more of a counting device.

We wanted to find a hike where we could take Jezzy along – our 94 year old pup (human years, according to our DNA report) has slowed down significantly in the past year. About four miles is her limit, and we try to keep it to an easy stroll. The Iyllwild Nature Center seemed like the perfect place to do that. What a gorgeous county park, complete with its own campground. We would definitely consider it next trip. We found these gigantic pinecones – that’s John’s iphone alongside for size comparison.20180325_135947996377917.jpgJezzy also located a mortar rock, used by native peoples hundreds of years ago to grind grains, or in this case probably acorns, for food. With the accumulated water from the recent rains, the depressions really stood out.20180324_1633042030260130.jpgThis is our last night in California. We cross the State Line tomorrow back into Arizona, and begin our slow trek back to Michigan. As always, we have the feeling that much has been left unseen and undone. Pretty sure a return trip is in our future.

Nixon, Revisited

Move over LBJ. We may have just replaced your Museum with a new favorite, and an unlikely one, at that. We visited the Nixon Museum two days ago, and were absolutely blown away. It starts with the gigantic portrait by Norman Rockwell inside the door.20170317_094411.jpg As always, we began our investigation of the Museum by watching the introductory film. No pussy-footing around here – the opening scene is Nixon’s emotional exit speech, and we see him and Pat getting into the helicopter. President Ford wipes a tear from his eye. Bang! What a beginning. This scene is echoed in another exhibit as well, showing Nixon from inside the chopper looking out.wp-1489722399890.jpgClosed for six months last year while the Museum’s exhibits were re-tooled, I can only say that the results are stunning. There are all sorts of interactive displays, and huge sections both on Watergate and Vietnam. Timelines on both are really helpful in sorting things out.wp-1489772426258.jpgIt was disquieting to see the weekly Vietnam stats that were kept in a safe. Take a close-up look at the document on the right.

Actual conversations can be listened in on using old-style big push-button phones. We found things to like about Nixon – things that we forgot, or that had been overshadowed by Watergate. He signed Title IX into being – ending gender-based discrimination in education and sports programs. Anyone who went to school in the 60’s knows how huge that was. When I was in high school, there were ZERO sports for girls. None. Nixon also abolished the draft, and ushered the all-volunteer army into existence. Loved the photo showing mail and telegram response he got after referring to support of his Vietnam policy by the Silent Majority.wp-1489722399830.jpgThe War on Cancer. The opening of diplomatic relations with China. The introduction of the Space Shuttle program. Signing of the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) with Russia.wp-1489772405859.jpgThe creation of the EPA. And, surprisingly, Nixon championed a health insurance program, with subsidies to help everyone afford coverage, which was shot down by the Democratic congress. It’s interesting to remember all the things we’ve forgotten. Here are a few other photos from the Museum. I think these are the same drapes Trump is currently using.wp-1489722399676.jpgwp-1489722399529.jpgwp-1489772488550.jpgwp-1489722399372.jpgNixon was a voracious note-taker, and went through thousands of yellow legal pads during his career. His college roommates nicknamed him Iron Butt, for his ability to sit in one chair for hours, making and reviewing notes. Maybe that’s how I’ll remember him. Make it a point to visit this spectacular site if you’re near Yorba Linda, CA.

Our home for the last three nights has been Crystal Cove State Park, perhaps the most beautiful campground we ever stay in. wp-1489722399742.jpgwp-1489722399716.jpgwp-1489722399395.jpgThis is our third time here, and each time we make plans for another visit. Our campsite is perched right over the Pacific Coast Highway, and the pounding surf lulls us to sleep every night. One oddity this trip has been the dense fog, which rolls in after dusk every night, and doesn’t clear off until after noon. Makes for a short day to whale watch. While wandering down the beach, we did see this sand castle, which pales in comparison to the professionally crafted one at Coronado Island that we saw a few days ago. But beautiful, nonetheless.wp-1489722399306.jpgwp-1489722400001.jpgWe are heading off today to a new camp at San Clemente State Beach, just a few miles to the south of here. San Clemente was the site of the Western White House in Nixon’s time. wp-1489722399527.jpgThe Nixons spent many weekends there while he was in office, and returned to San Clemente after he left. We’re looking forward to exploring a new Park – camping on the CA coast is astonishingly expensive. Our basic site – no water or electric is $50/night. Showers are coin-op. It certainly is the most we have paid for any state park camping, but it is oh so worth it for a week.wp-1489722399181.jpg

City Life

March has been a crazy month – after leaving our cushy mountain cabin, we immediately headed out into the desert. But, all along, we were pushing toward three days in Yuma, where we planned to meet up with Caite and Glenn, Texas full-timers we had met in Austin a few years ago, and with whom we have kept in touch (blogs make that so easy…). It was great to catch up with them, trade camping stories, and see their brand-new, deluxe truck camper. Oh yeah, I have camper envy – Big Time! They have a great system going.

Yuma is big! Been a long time since we’ve been in a town of nearly 100,000 with all the retail, traffic, and noise that goes along with size. There are acres of RV parks, mostly ‘age-restricted’, which means you have to be 55+ to stay there. Although activities and events abound, I don’t think this would be my first choice of locations – not much hiking, and cycling was tough, due to traffic, and lack of bike lanes. Nevertheless, we had a great time.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Park is one of the premier attractions in the area. We cycled over there – about 25 miles round trip. That was an experience in itself, as Google maps tried to send us down several roads that didn’t exist. We wound up passing through farmlands on dirt roads, primarily used for trucks and tractors. So happy to have our sturdy mountain bikes! Check out this photo from a lettuce farm. There’s a lesson here.20170309_135456.jpgThere are eight tightly packed rows of lettuce separated by a gap on each side. In this photo, there’s a curly green on the left and a dark red on the right. I think this is so that they can harvest the entire eight rows, and that’s your mixed salad bag in the grocery store. I had always assumed that they were grown separately, harvested, and mixed, but seeing the fields has changed my minds on this. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but there’s a definite separation every eight rows. Grow, harvest, wash, bag. Direct to table – no mixing necessary. Genius!

The Territorial Prison was interesting – built in the 1870s, it held nearly over 3000 prisoners (30 of whom were women) until it was closed around 1910. Grim stone cells with iron bars and bunks still stand. It’s amazing that a prison of such size could be supported in the desert all those years. Basically everything used in the prison was made there, and supplies came in via the Colorado River which runs alongside, or by rail. In any case, it was a harsh existence. It was hard to get any decent photos – the bright, harsh sunlight was not my friend. One of the standout features was the guard tower, which was built over the water well, to help prevent evaporation. wp-1489092737493.jpgHere are a few other photos. It was grim.

We tried to wash away the prison taste with a beer at Prison Hill Brewing Company. Happy to report, that was a successful endevour. I was intrigued by their vodka, but wisely refrained from a sample, due to the hot 15 mile ride back to camp.wp-1489092726291.jpgWe did manage one excruciatingly difficult hike in Yuma. Telegraph Hill is the name of the ‘hill’ where all the electronic towers are located. Glenn said it was an “aggressive walk”. OMG! I’ve never been on a steeper road in my life. Here’s the view looking down.wp-1489376836146.jpg The first mile of dirt trail rose a few hundred feet – no big deal. The second mile added about 1000′ of additional altitude, up a busted semi-paved road. It was ridiculous, but the view at the top amazing.wp-1489376850382.jpg We wished that we had started a few hours earlier so that we would have been done before the day really heated up – no shade for the Crankshaws! We roasted.

We were than ready to head toward Coastal California, with its promises of ocean breeze after a few days in Yuma.wp-1489373282778.jpg We love Sweetwater Regional Park, where we’re currently camped. Green grass, shade, and cooler more humid air all seems very welcome. After our last visit a few years ago, we kicked ourselves for not touring the USS Midway Museum, a mothballed WWII-era aircraft carrier which is a permanent museum in San Diego harbor. It’s BIG!wp-1489378194375.jpg The flight deck has planes of all types, including an F-14, helicopters of all varieties, and various other warplanes.20170312_194447.jpg It was quite a contrast to the tiny two-seater open cockpit fighter planes down below which actually were used at the Battle of Midway. The USS Midway, named after the Battle, although it was not a participant, was active from 1945 to 1992 – making it the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century.

I was overwhelmed by the scale and power of war machines. Bombs and torpedos are stacked up everywhere. The Greatest Generation gave everything unquestioningly to the war effort, and there are tens of thousands of heroes. Many vets are volunteers here. At any given time, they are making presentations about aspects of Navy life in WWII and specifically aboard an aircraft carrier. But, I’m done with war museums. They are interesting to see, but depressing as hell. I need to visit a Peace Museum, but I don’t think there are any. Here are a few photos of areas that caught my eye.wp-1489373301193.jpgwp-1489373124090.jpg20170312_194401.jpg20170312_194059.jpgwp-1489372648950.jpg

Another hot hike today in very hot, humid conditions. John and Jezzy turned back about halfway up, as the heat and unrelenting sun were just too much for Jezzy. We should have left her home. I pressed on to Rocky Point, and was rewarded with the flag at the top, and a few great views.wp-1489373240443.jpg Most of the area was covered with a thick blanket of humidity/smog, which made it a challenge to get any photos. It took several hours this morning for the fog to burn off enough for us to venture out on our hike.wp-1489373259766.jpgMonday is our last day here, and we plan to cycle into San Diego again, and take the ferry to Coronado Island to explore a bit. Cycling here is a blast – trails and bike lanes are everywhere. We’re happy not to have to drive/park in the Big City. We’re much better off on two wheels

Deep Blue

Sadly, we left the Redwood National Forest, and pointed the Fireball east for the first time in months. Got one last photo of the giant tree in our campsite ‘backyard’. 20160410_174110As close as we could measure this with our Stanley 10′ tape measure, it was nearly 38′ around.

One last pass through Crescent City was in order, as this was our last view of the Pacific Ocean as well. The old lighthouse there (still operating), sitting on its picturesque island is a beautiful sight for any camera lens.20160410_12025720160410_120232 McArthur-Burney Falls State Park was our next stop for a brief overnight. The never-ending county road took us through the Siskiyou Mountains. Bet our average speed for a 40 mile stretch was no more than 25mph, but what a gorgeous route. Sometimes, it pays not to be in a hurry.20160411_112513The campsites at McArthur-Burney were large, secluded, and barely populated.20160411_175254 We wandered down to the spectacular falls. Not only does water thunder over the top of the falls – it also pushes through the bedrock walls on each side of the main falls.20160412_090844 I’ve never seen anything quite so dramatic. Water flow was good, and we could hear the falls back at our campsite, even though it was probably 1/3 mile away. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through this point, so I even got to walk a few hundred yards on this trail, perhaps made most famous by the book and movie “Wild”.

An early start was in order for the next day, as we wanted to check out Lassen Volcanic National Park, and (hopefully) get in a brief hike. Closed!! Even the Visitor Center was closed for the season (doesn’t open until Memorial weekend). We wandered around the area, checking out the early seismograph located there.20160412_101516 For miles around, there are huge chunks of volcanic rock – although I don’t know the history of this volcano, it must have been one enormous eruption, or series of eruptions. It’s a gorgeous area, and we were sad not to be able to explore.20160412_10294920160412_104056 Even the State Highway is closed for the season at that point – we had to backtrack to get to Lake Tahoe, our next destination.

This was one of the rare times we really didn’t know where we were going to ‘land’ the Fireball. We had pinpointed several campgrounds in the nearby National Forest, but all are closed for the season. We finally found one state park on the west side of the Lake, which had probably a dozen open campsites. So, Ed Z’berg Sugar Point Pines State Park became our home for three nights. What an interesting spot. This is a huge State Park with over 175 campsites. But, we were the only campers there. Showers were all locked up, but we did have flush toilets. Solitude, very cold windy nights, and a huge starry sky. Bonus – we woke up on Day 2 to snow.20160414_071457Lake Tahoe is deep and cold. It holds 39 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover the state of California with 14″ of clear, drinkable water. It’s an amazing sparkling deep blue color.20160413_121931image The average depth is 1600′ feet, which I find incredible, since Lake Superior has an average depth of less than 500, and is about 1350 at its deepest spot. We hiked, biked, and wandered everywhere we could. It was difficult not just to sit and appreciate our good fortune for being able to land in such a spectacular spot.20160414_11345820160414_104152One point of interest was Vikingholm, a large Scandinavian style home built on the southern shore in the 1920s.. Dappled light made photos difficult, and I was disappointed not to get a great photo of the snow-covered sod roof which covers a section of the home. 20160414_12284320160414_12231220160413_124015Completed in 1929, it now is part of the Park, but was closed (nothing apparently opens until Memorial weekend). But what a pleasure to walk around.

Saw this notable cedar of some type with its curly bark, and a large pine tree with an unusual repair job to cover up a wound.

The rest of our time was spent viewing the lake from every possible elevation and angle. With the bright clear skies brought on by the prior night’s snowfall, it was a photo dream. I could probably post a hundred photos, taken just because I wanted to imprint these images on my brain.

Lake Tahoe was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and part of them took place right on the trails in our campground. How could we resist taking our mountain bikes (and rifles – HA!) and heading out to the biathlon course?20160413_114121 We got off to a great start, but soon ran into old icy snow piles. Wham! Suddenly I was face-planted in the cold icy stuff. Luckily John didn’t see it, but he did ask me to recreate the scene for a photo. NOT! I managed to biff a second time before we came to a huge (50 yards long) deep muddy hole. There’s no way we could tell how deep it was, and there was no way to bypass it, so we turned back. Yes, I did fall once again on the return. For my efforts, I have a sore knee and a bit of ice burn on my leg. Badges of honor on an Olympic course – I’m proud.

The Donner Party met its demise in this area, so we headed to Donner Lake State Park to see the new Museum there, which just opend in Fall 2015. The Donner Party was a group of 89 pioneers headed to California in 1846-47. They took a ‘shortcut’ which didn’t turn out to be that, and bogged down for months. The upshot was that about half died along the way, and their bodies were consumed by others in a desperate attempt to survive. Only 47 of the original 89 survived that brutal winter, the worst in 100 years. Other areas of the museum are dedicated to the Chinese laborers who cut the railroad tunnels through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the 1860s. The labors of these workers are finally being appropriately credited to them, after years of silence for this achievement. The Museum doesn’t really lend itself to photos of these exhibits, but a statue outside, dedicated in 1918, pays tribute to all those California pioneers.20160414_145408We left much unseen in the Lake Tahoe area, in the hopes that we’ll make a return trip.image 20160414_121830Hard to believe, but we’re already feeling the pressure of moving eastward to make our deadline of being in Maggie Valley, NC on May 18. How are we going to cover all of those miles in a mere month?

We’ve rolled into Carson City NV for a few days. No more camping in the woods by ourselves – we’re in a crowded RV park.20160415_141906 But there’s WiFi! Showers that aren’t coin-operated! Electricity and water. All the things we haven’t had but for a day or two in the last two months. If it wasn’t for all the traffic noise, other campers, and barking dogs, it would be great!

The trek eastward continues.

 

The Campshaws and The Giants

Let’s go for a walk and a bike ride. I’ll show you what we’ve learned about the Redwoods in the past week. We decided to see this area from three different campsites over a range of 120 miles or so, and that was the best decision, as each has its own character. Humboldt Redwoods State Park was our first stop for five days, and we could not have had a better experience. The Fireball was nestled in a deep floor of redwood needles – when you’re camped in an ancient forest, you’ve got lots of time to built up a soft floor.20160401_171449 The area where the campground sits had been logged about 100 years ago, so many of the biggest, oldest trees were only stumps. No ordinary stumps, mind you.image20160402_10345720160402_104605 Everyday was full of new treasures – the forest explodes with every shade of green you can imagine, streaked with bits of sunlight that can make it through the dense canopy 200-300 feet above our heads. All of the biggest trees are not named or tagged, but we think we saw the best of them all. 20160402_14152420160402_11383620160402_11380220160402_110011 Redwoods have the ability to regenerate new shoots from old roots, creating ‘fairy rings’ of trees. Some are fused at the base, separating into separate trees many feet above the surface. They survive fires, floods and droughts. It’s the wind that generally bring them down, unless the timber companies have gotten to them first. Redwoods are still logged, but regulations say that only trees between 40-60 years old can be cut, and five new trees must be planted for each one cut. Big trees also grow from the tiniest pinecones – this photo shows (clockwise from top right) the eucalyptus seed pods, a pinecone from a large non-native cedar that was everywhere in the campground, a sequoia cone, and three redwood cones. Amazing, isn’t it? In the center is a quarter, for size comparison.20160402_130648The forest floor is full of white, pink, purple, and variegated trillium. The high rainfall (60-80 inches per year) also means that there are rhododendron everywhere, although we’re a few weeks early to see them in bloom.

It’s an absolutely mind-boggling experience to wander among these giants, and each grove had its own character. 20160402_120228We saw the Dyersville Giant, which had been the third-largest Coastal Redwood in the world until a wind brought it down in March 1991. Unbelievably, it fell in one piece, so you can walk along the full length of this tree.20160402_141730 One resident recalls the night it fell, saying that it sounded like a freight train – and she lived 15 miles from the site. It’s estimated that this tree weighed a million pounds. One favorite tree was an enormous specimen which had been girdled in 1901. About ten feeet of bark had been removed from the bottom, and shipped to San Francisco for an exhibition.  Remarkably, more than a hundred years later, the tree still lives.20160404_130144I’ll leave you with a few other photos of our exploration of this magnificent Park and the area nearby. Their Visitor Center was wonderful – full of photos and newspaper articles of the Great Flood of 1964, which destroyed entire towns. In several spots, there are high water mark signs.20160402_13461220160403_12374220160402_13485520160404_122801 If a State Park can be this incredible, then the Redwood National Park must be even better, right? In our minds, unfortunately not. The National Park is actually a combo State/National Park effort.. We get to use our Geezer Card for half-price camping, but the facilities are actually run by the State. Complicated, but I guess it works for everyone. So, our second stop (first within the National Park) was Elk Prairie Redwoods State Park, which is kind of a godforsaken campground cut out of a swamp. A musty creek winds through this low area, and skunk cabbage is the prevailing plant, resulting in a very strong, skunk odor every day, all day. Our site was carved out of a thicket, and didn’t have many memorable qualities (of the good type). Elk Prairie is also home to a large wild elk herd, which resulted in an interesting experience for John and Jezzy. While strolling one morning, Jezzy caught the attention of a large bull elk, who happened to be snoozing in the field nearby. He decided to investigate, and began following John as he walked back toward camp. John stopped, and the elk continued his advance.  At that point, the Camp Host noticed John’s predicament. He jumped in his jeep and came roaring down the road, passing between John and the elk, who was now only about 50 feet from him. The elk retreated and John and Jezzy scurried back to the Fireball. Whew!

Fern Canyon is one unique hike that visitors to this park usually want to do. We decided to bike to the trailhead, through a series of extremely muddy singletrack trails and dirt roads. I have NEVER ridden on such steep dirt roads in my life – twisting and turning through the dark forest. Unfortunately, we shared the road with cars, so there were a few uncomfortable moments as we flew through some of the downhill portions only to find a car coming up the middle of the road toward us. Fern Canyon is just a few hundred yards off the ocean, and is a steep slot cut into the coastal barrier. The soft, rocky-pebbly walls are dripping with ferns of all sizes. At this time of year, the creek is high, and there’s lots of water in the bottom. We decided to sacrifice our hiking boots, so we just sloshed in, and let the water in. After riding all that way, we weren’t going to go away without seeing what we wanted. The dappled sunlight into the canyon makes for lousy conditions for photography (at least what I can manage), so I have no photos. (The scenes are beautiful to my eye, but just don’t translate to the camera. I find the same is true for so many of the beautiful wooded scenes I shot.) The barrier dunes (I guess that’s what you call them) leading up to the Fern Canyon area have been eroded away. You can see from this photo that they don’t appear to be much more than big mounds of gravel, stuck together with a bit of vegetation.. 20160406_115102Recent slides are everywhere. From a distance, the shifting terrain is even more obvious. At the top of the dune are the cedars and pine trees that have been there forever. Below that, the lighter colors are all deciduous trees that have sprouted in the areas uncovered by the landslides.  At the bottom, some of the cedars still hang on, with beach grasses leading to the ocean’s edge.20160406_131328We were happy to leave Skunk City and move to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, our northernmost stop in the quest to see the big trees. This is very near the area where the 1936 film The Last of the Mohicans was filmed. Our campsite on the bright green Smith River is perfect. Here’s a photo from camp, and another from directly across the River.20160408_142827We’ve hiked to the grove where the biggest trees are, encountering an interesting stream crossing get there. John successfully navigated his way across the fallen logs, using a large branch as a walking stick.20160408_140414.jpg I wasn’t so successful – looking down at my feet on the log with all the swirling water caused a motion sickness sensation. So, to hell with it, I waded across. It wasn’t bad except for a section about five feet across where the rushing water was just up over my knees.imageOnce again, my boots filled from the top – and we had just gotten them dried out from Fern Canyon. The Stout Grove was interesting in that it’s an ancient grove, having never been logged.20160408_13575620160408_13174920160408_12594420160408_125715 But….our hearts still belong to the Humboldt Redwoods.  They just seemed to be the biggest and most beautiful. I was disappointed to review my photos to date from J. Smith are all a bit fuzzy – probably due to my greasy fingers grabbing my camera out of my pocket all the time. Lesson learned. It’s been an amazing camping trip – real camping in a huge, quiet forest. Being among these ancient giants seems to make (most) campers behave respectfully. In the woods, there’s a hush. People talk in soft voices, with the occasional exuberant yell from an excited kid. It’s an awe-inspiring place to experience.

But, I have to say….my heart still belongs to the sequoia groves. If I can only visit one place again, it would be there.20130401_132743.jpg

We are leaving here in two days, and pointing the Fireball toward the east. We’ve seen the biggest and best, and are satisfied.