(NOTE: There isn’t any visual record of this day, because I shouldn’t be near erasable media when I’m tired.)
The day dawned grey, but I’d checked the forecast before leaving home, so this wasn’t unexpected. After breakfast I headed southwest on US 199 (aka Redwood Highway). The terrain between Grants Pass and the Siskyou Mountains is remarkably similar to the pine forests on the eastern side of the Cascades. About an hour out of Grants Pass, the road enters the mountains. The scenery goes vertical and the road becomes more challenging as it follows the Smith River. On a motorcycle, or with the right car (which I had), under dry conditions this road is a lot of fun. And unless you’re on a motorcycle, the posted speed limit of 55 mph isn’t happening. It’s fun throwing your car in and out of corners, but with rock faces on one side, and no guardrails on the other, you don’t want to get too exuberant. After going through border control entering California, I arrived at the junction with Douglas Park Road wearing a big smile.
Douglas Park Road crosses the river over deep pools of exceptional clarity, and then crosses Sheep Pen Creek by way of a remarkably pretty covered bridge. Shortly thereafter the road becomes Howland Hill Road, and you are among the biggest damn trees you’ve ever seen.
The road is 9 miles of glorified dirt trial winding amongst the trees. It’s really only one lane wide, but there are numerous wide spots for passing, and no one is driving fast. Your driving position is hunched over the wheel trying to see out the top of the windshield while attempting to grasp how any living thing can be so big.
Stout Grove is a parking area from which several trails start so you can walk around the forest. The California redwood tops out at near 400 feet, and 350 feet isn’t uncommon. This isn’t a case of a few trees here and there, the trees are as tightly packed as 20-foot diameter trees can be. If you go, I recommend bringing a fisheye lens for your camera; otherwise you can’t fit a whole tree in the frame.
Before leaving the grove, I went to visit the facilities, and was smacked in the face by a solid wall of stank. Not stink, but stank. There’ s the expressions ‘smells like something died’, and ‘smells like shit’; this smelled like some shit had died. Whatever I was going to do, I wasn’t going to do it there.
I spent the better part of the next hour navigating the road with frequent stops to look at the trees. The road exits the forest just east of Crescent City, and I stopped at the information center there. There are some interesting displays inside, including an exhibit of the cones of the several conifers in the area. You’re encouraged to pick the cones up and examine them. The smallest was from the redwood (about the size of an olive), to a pine tree cone that weighed five pounds. Perhaps more impressive was a line about five feet up the side of the building showing the flood height from the 1964 tsunami.
Another display informs, without a hint of irony, that some people have trouble distinguishing the redwood. Jaw, meet floor. We’re talking about trees well in excess of 300 feet tall. How a person could fail to distinguish a redwood is beyond me. (Hint: they have a distinctive bark).
The forest I’d visited was in a state park, and I was headed south to the National Park proper about 25 miles away. I figured I’d stop in the town of Klamath for lunch. But between Crescent City and Klamath is a roadside attraction called Trees of Mystery.
Trees of Mystery is a privately owned redwood grove featuring trails and a tram for an aerial view of the trees. There’s a hotel and restaurant across the road. Out front is a 40 foot tall painted concrete statue of Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe. Despite the name, Babe is anatomically correct for a male. I elected to skip the grove, but did step inside the gift shop. Attached to the gift shop is a museum. I expected some minor collection of logging paraphernalia and local oddities, what I found was an astonishingly diverse collection of First Nations artifacts from the Western US and Canada. You don’t expect to find a world-class collection attached to a tourist attraction, but that’s what Trees of Mystery has. I spent the better part of an hour in the museum. There are replica wood flutes for sale, and the staff will provide you with disposable mouthpieces if you want to try them out. I did, and although it’s been years since I’ve played a wind instrument, I was able to get some credible tones. Perhaps it was my lack of practice, but I found it all too easy to overblow the instruments. Looking through scales in the instruction book, I was surprised to see that all of the notes produced by the flutes are naturals and flats; no sharps.
On to Klamath on the Yurok reservation. Klamath has no traffic lights or banks (that I could tell), but it does have a casino and a Holiday Inn Express (?!). There is one bar, and the only restaurant in town is the bar kitchen. And oh, by the way, they don’t take plastic. I don’t know where people get cash in that town, but I had exactly two dollars on me. So, no lunch.
(On reflection, I probably could have found something to eat in the casino, and I bet they take cards.)
Driving south down US 101, I turned off on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. This is the main road through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and wonders abound. The Ah-Pah interpretive trail starts from the road and winds a half-mile into the forest. This was a logging road, since removed, and the placards describe the removal process. A number of trees showed fire damage. While on the trail I looked for a redwood cone to take home, and it was surprisingly hard to find one. You’d think that a redwood forest would have cones aplenty, but this was not so. I finally did find a specimen.
Near the end of the road is the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, and I stopped to check it out. In the building is a piece of wood with horns sprouting from it. Apparently a deer had got it’s head stuck in a crotch of the tree, and died. The tree grew around the remains of the head, and you can see the back of the skull. There’s also a hollow redwood in which a family had lived in the 30’s. The interior is about 15′ in diameter.
By the time I made the drive back, the storm that had been blowing ashore was making it’s presence felt. The gusts would cause debris clouds of redwood detritus to descend on the road. I found that the parts of US 199 I’d bypassed earlier traversed parts of the gorge so narrow, the road was practically on top of the river. No spirited driving now, just working to stay on the road through wind and rain.
I’d decided to spend the night in Cave Junction , OR, because it wasn’t far from where I wanted to go the next day. However, a town of 2000 souls located in an economically depressed area doesn’t offer a lot in the way of accommodations. Of the two hotels, one had such bad reviews I didn’t consider it. I ended up at the Holiday Motel, which made up for it’s lack of a desk or dresser in the room by charging $68 for a night. They also must have a first-generation TV dish, because there were frequent outages during the evening. And then there was this
Tell me that’s not the poster child for Fire Prevention Week. Fortunately, nothing caught on fire.
I elected to eat at a bar/restaurant, but refrained from entering the bar when I saw the ‘Bikers Welcome’ sign. Wasn’t interested in potential conflict that night. When the server asked me what I wanted to drink, my reply of ‘IPA if you have it, Budweiser if you don’t’ was met with a look that seemed to say ‘we don’t cotten to you city folk’. Given what urban dwellers have done to the economy of the region, I couldn’t fault her, but, oh well. The steak was cooked to order, although service was slow. Amused myself by reading the local police reports in the paper. Went back to the hotel and (intermittently) watched TV.