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.
After a good night of much-needed sleep, we woke up in the gorgeous Carter House Inn and decided to explore it further. The Inn consists of a lovely bed and breakfast in a modern yet Victorian style house, and also the hotel building across the street that we were in. Very nice place, although some odd art choices. They had a lot of antique furniture throughout the building, and one glass front cupboard had been converted into an impromptu, unofficial, little free library! So naturally I left some books behind.
After our continental breakfast, we then drove around Eureka a bit, to enjoy other fine architecture, including the Carson Mansion, which is now the private Ingomar Club, and the Carson House, also known as the “pink lady” which is just across the street from the mansion. I do love the Victorian style, but I’d sure hate to pay the heating bill or have to maintain a house like this myself. The town is also full of gorgeous public art and, sadly, quite a few homeless people.
From there we drove to Humboldt Redwoods State Park to travel the Avenue of the Giants. What an amazing place. That area, plus various small towns just south of there, are sort of the love child of nature and tourism. We got to wander through several groves. There were lots and lots of huge trees, of course, and lots of places willing to take your money so you can experience or own what man has done to those trees.
We also took a wrong turn out of Founder’s Grove and wound up on 6 miles of severe switchbacks before we knew it. (If Humboldt sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s the county that used to produce a lot of illegal weed back in the day. And I can see how. There are a lot of nooks and crannies in these woods. But now that weed is legal in so many states, there’s no longer a need for subterfuge.)
I love that these redwood groves had relatively little undergrowth except for blankets of clovers and ferns, and fallen redwoods, of course. The area had a severe flood the week I was born in 1964, and I stood by a sign indicating the high water mark. The sign itself in the photograph doesn’t indicate it. The striped one much higher up the pole does. Thirty-five feet in some places. What a nightmare that flood must have been for the locals.
We passed gift shops selling redwood everything, plus post cards, and t-shirts. We passed cafes with interesting wood carvings out front. We also went to the eternal tree house, which is a 20 foot room inside a living tree. In addition, we saw the Travel-Log, which is a motorized camper made from a tree stump at the visitor’s center, and we went through the Shriner’s tree, one of three drive-through trees that you can still drive through. This one was not living. Here’s my brief video of the experience.
At one point we somehow got a tree branch stuck under the car and it sounded like it was ripping out the entire undercarriage. That would have been a disaster. Dear husband removed it and we drove on, wondering if the trees were trying to tell us something.
Then we drove through the Chandelier Tree in Leggett. That one, miraculously, is still living. It’s much more impressive than the other one. Many modern SUVs and trucks can no longer fit through it, but we were able to squeak through with our side view mirrors pulled in.
We also saw the fairy tree houses, and a one-log house which is made of one tree, and while windowless and claustrophobic, it’s still very ingeniously designed inside.
We also saw a gray whale skeleton in Cleone. Despite following the coast for thousands of miles, we never saw a live whale. We would see another dead one, though, the next day.
From there we went back out to the coast, to Fort Bragg. We had intended to ride on the Skunk Train there, but this was the one day a week that they’re closed, of course. This would be the first of many disappointments on this trip.
Just as my eyes tend to be bigger than my stomach, my aspirations tend to be much bigger than my travel abilities. We missed things because they were closed due to COVID. We missed things because there were simply not enough hours in the day. We missed things because they now require reservations several months in advance. We missed things because we arrived too late. I’ll be mentioning these things not because I’m whining. I know how incredibly lucky I am. I mention them because you might pass this way and want to see these things, or we might pass this way again and shouldn’t forget to target these things.
Instead of the Skunk Train, we visited Glass Beach, which as you can see in the last batch of photos below is chock full o’ glass. But locals say it used to be even more spectacular. It’s been picked over since then. Still, it was impressive. Truth be known, I stayed in the car, because the coast was being hammered by a freezing wind as this video I took just prior to going to glass beach indicates. But dear husband got some glass for me and took pictures.
The shoreline was still rocky and rugged, and gorgeous to witness. We drove through Mendocino, which is a pretty town. We deposited some books in a really beautiful little free library in the town of Elk. We wanted to visit the Pygmy Forest in Van Damme State Park, but it was getting late and we were getting hungry.
When we rolled into the town of Gualala, we were looking for food, but first we came across the gorgeous onion domes of St. Orres, which is now a high-end restaurant and hotel, so we stopped for pictures only. Then we ate at the Cove Azul Bar and Grill, which serves good seafood with an ocean view.
We would have dearly loved to go to Fort Ross State Historic Park. It has the restored remains of a Russian fur trapping outpost to explore. But by the time we got there it was closed.
We saw our daily deer, and then we saw, and studiously avoided, a skunk. We arrived at Bodega Bay well after dark. We were staying in a modest little cabin run by the Bodega Harbor Inn, and we gratefully took advantage of their hot tub before bed.
If we had had more time, we’d have visited the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which is also supposed to be an excellent place for whale watching, but it was way out of our way, and we were bushed and more than ready to go to sleep.
It was a cute little cabin, but the mini-fridge made an intermittent tapping sound all night long. (The owner says it’s being replaced soon, but that did nothing for my ability to sleep.) But I was warm and dry and safe, which is so much more than so many others on this planet can say. I managed to drift, off and on, knowing that I was on an excellent journey with an excellent companion.
Here’s where you can find Day 5 of our adventure!
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