West Coast Wander, Day 3: Newport, Oregon to Eureka, California

The Day of the Tree.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

I woke up hearing the sea lions barking at Newport’s waterfront. That made me smile. I wonder if I’d be equally enamored of them if I lived here and contended with that sound on a daily basis. No matter. I enjoyed it.

Once again we got a late start as errands had to be run first. Then we drove down the coast, enjoying Oregon’s gigantic rhododendrons and its equally impressive sand dunes. And more invasive Scotch Broom.

We happened upon a little free library covered with hand prints in North Bend (which, as I mentioned yesterday, is south of South Bend). Naturally we left some books behind. Then we stopped at the Port Orford rest area to enjoy the huge rocks in the ocean.

We passed Bruce’s Bones Creek, and I knew there had to be a story behind that name. Sure enough. A lazy Google search yielded this information: “In 1950 a crew was surveying for the new alignment of US 101. Bruce Schilling got lost and his buddies said they would find his parched bones next spring. Bruce did find his way back without mishap, however.”

I’m affectionately calling this “The Day of the Tree” because I would be seeing my very first redwood trees, ever. These trees are the tallest living things on earth. Pictures can never do them justice.

Once upon a time, there were about 2 million acres of old-growth redwoods on coastal mountains of California, but thanks to European immigrant expansion in the mid1800’s, these trees were viewed as dollar signs. Now only 5 percent of those redwoods still stand. Of those remaining trees, 35 percent are protected by Redwood National and State Parks, and I was to have the great privilege of visiting them.

Our first stop on our arboreal journey was to the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, about 15 miles south of the Oregon border. Some consider this to be the most perfect of all the remaining redwood forests. I will definitely concede that it was the best one I was to see on this trip, bar none. I wish I could have seen them all.

We were gratified to discover that we’d have these trees mostly to ourselves. I have no idea why that was the case on that lovely spring day, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

When you stand and look up, up, up, your jaw tends to drop. That’s a function of our anatomy. But in this case, the reaction wasn’t purely anatomical.

We were standing amongst the largest trees we would ever see in our lives. The tallest redwood is 370 feet. That’s 5 stories taller than the Statue of Liberty. You could stack up the three largest whales in the world, nose to tail, and they’d still fall short of that height by about 50 feet. These monster trees can be 30 feet wide at their bases, and they have a circumference of more than 94 feet. That means it would take about 17 people, arms outstretched, to envelop a full-sized redwood in an all-encompassing hug. Imagine.

I’m telling you to imagine this, but I have been imagining it for my whole life, and yet nothing prepared me for the reality of these things. Each tree can weigh more than 50,000 pounds, and could crush you like a bug without thinking twice. And that’s what I felt like. A bug. An ant. If trees have even the slightest bit of sentience, they probably don’t notice us at all. Some of these trees have been around for 3,000 years. To them, we’re gone in an instant.

It’s a humbling feeling. It puts things into perspective. I mean, in the overall scheme of things, who cares if your partner leaves the cap off the toothpaste all the time? These trees sure don’t. I mean, I’m sure they’d prefer it if we’d stop chopping them down and they’d really rather avoid all this global warming we’re causing, but other than that, we don’t even amount to a tick on a dog’s behind to them.

It’s actually liberating, standing in a forest that is so completely quiet that you can hear the trunks creaking and groaning when the wind blows. It makes you realize what a tiny speck you actually are in the universe. I have to stop taking myself so seriously.

It was kind of weird not seeing any squirrels. They’re not very common on the West coast. Lord knows why. But if I were a squirrel and I saw these gigantic things, I’d be in instant party mode. These groves ought to be squirrel heaven. Go figure.

We briefly considered visiting the Trees of Mystery, an attraction that would have allowed us to get up into the canopy of this forest, but the huge Paul Bunyan statue, complete with his blue ox Babe, was a bit of a turn off after gazing at natural beauty all morning. Besides, we had 313 miles to cover on this day, the longest drive of the entire trip, and time was sifting through the hour glass.

We enjoyed much more of Redwoods National Park as we drove, but we did not see the world’s tallest tree there, as it requires a hike and time was limited. Besides, we were suitably impressed with the trees we were seeing. We also stopped briefly at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where we saw 18 Roosevelt elk calmly grazing by the roadside.

Speaking of grazing, it was getting dark and the sandwiches we had made for lunch were long gone. We were still in the middle of nowhere. Finally we came upon the small town of Trinidad, and had one dining option: Headies Pizza and Pour. It was too close to closing time to order a pizza, so we settled for their leftover pizza by the slice, and sat in the car to eat it. It actually wasn’t half bad. It sure beat starvation.

We had hoped to explore the town of Arcata, which has gorgeous Victorian houses and craft shops, and we did enjoy driving through it. It’s a pretty town, worth more time than we had. We also enjoyed driving around the campus of Humboldt State University.

When we finally rolled into Eureka, California to stay at the Carter House Inn, we understood why the town got its name. We were really glad to finally be there. We dragged all our stuff inside as quietly as we could, so as not to disturb the other guests, and then we almost instantly went to sleep.


Check out Day 4 here.

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Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

3 thoughts on “West Coast Wander, Day 3: Newport, Oregon to Eureka, California”

  1. When I was 7, my maternal grandfather in Santa Cruz had one of those trees right outside his house, a mere 8 feet across, but I was impressed. Just think how tall they could get if they had internal pumps.
    Good thing you stayed in your car around those elk. Someone I read said that the scariest animal encounter he ever had was with cow elk.
    I like the root-ball-whatsit-thingie next to the restroom. When I was a kid, my folks subscribed to National Wildlife and one Oct. there was a photo spread of scary things in the woods and I just thought they were neat.

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