Monday, September 25, 2017

Norhern California Coast - September 2017 - Part Two

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

With a twist! 

Thursday we retraced Wednesday morning's drive north on Highway 1 but continued past Salt Point.

In the sprawling Sea Ranch area we turned at a sign announcing public beach access. After walking a trail out to the ocean, a sign read with a pointing arrow, "Walk On Beach." It was irresistible to us, going for a walk on Walk On Beach.

Again, it was the rock that caught our eyes, so beautiful and interesting.

Soon the truck was again headed north on Highway 1. We enjoyed our previous stay with the Teds at Manchester State Beach and the Lady wanted to stay here a night or two. We were disappointed the campground still has not reopened after the last state budget crisis.

MacKerricher State Park is a favorite of ours, so after passing through Fort Bragg we pulled in to check out possible sites in the campground. We last stayed here in January 2012.

The happy, welcoming uniformed woman at the kiosk told us there were many campsites available but only for tonight. Friday all the campgrounds were filled with reservations. Her words brought back the reality of weekends. We had been so caught up in quiet and unhurried travels, we forgot midweek didn't last forever.

"You don't have a generator in your little rig, do you?" she asked.

"No!" we both answered in unison.

"I thought so," she answered. "You can go into East Pinewood, the tent campground. That way you won't have to deal with the noise of generators. It's much nicer. Come back and tell me what site you want."

Many of the campsites in East Pinewood offer nice privacy and distance from campground neighbors. This was great. We checked out the showers. They were inside the restrooms so showering wouldn't be quite so much fun. We walked back to the kiosk and discovered campsites in this state park cost $45 a night, but I could get a $2 discount for being a geezer - over 62 years old.

Although shockingly expensive, much is available within our walking distance from camp. Via the Old Haul Road, Fort Bragg is only 2.5 miles. The other ranger pointed out that the park goes off the reservation system September 18th and every site is first come first serve.

"Next week," he explained, "You could come in on Thursday and get a site for up to 14 days!"

We thanked them both but kindly spared them a comment about staying 14 days could wipe out our travel budget.

We walked out to the beach and enjoyed the coarse black sand.

Kelp beds, surf crashing against off shore rocks, gulls laughing at the world were bliss.

We watched a fishing boat bob in the swells, a diver on a line below.

We sat out on the overlook on Laguna Point in the late afternoon. Oyster Catchers were as noisy as ever.

Harbor seals were at home in the surf.

The rock squirrels begged for hand outs and were almost as fat as the wiener dog at Bodega Dunes.

We call these squirrels "Plague Carriers" because in the Sierra, the fleas they host often carry Bubonic plague.

Several years back a campground close to home was closed after a visitor contracted the disease. Squirrels were caught, studied, monitored, dusted for fleas.  A tantalizing tidbit was that blood tests done on the rock squirrels in the campground showed skyrocketing cholesterol levels.  Human snack foods are taking a serious toll on these critters.

At the coast we were always under the watchful eye of dump ducks.

During dinner at camp, I was curious about the tall pines overhead. They were different.

"They are Bishop Pines," the Lady explained. "I read the information sign outside the restrooms. Did you?"

We were back out to the ocean's edge after sunset. The pulsating surf's hypnotic rhythm seemed to be in tune with our heartbeats.

The air smelled of salt mixed in with smoke from distant campfires. We were at home as it grew dark. The Lady held my arm and cuddled in close. She quietly asked as we turned back to the campground, "Do you think we'll run into a skunk tonight?"

We were in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. It could be hard to find a spot to stay Friday night as we planned to head further north on the coast. We sat in our chairs at camp and watched the clear sky overhead.

"I was thinking.........................." the Lady started and paused. I looked over at her and added, "Yes?"

"You said we could go anywhere I want. I was thinking........................." 

We packed up Friday morning and headed north on Highway 1 passing Westport and Rockport. Highway 1 turns inland here, a curvaceous ribbon of asphalt under the dark cover of redwoods. Evidence of the past winter's landslides were abundant. At Leggett the highway joins with 101 on its way to Eureka. Several highway repair projects reduced long stretches to one lane with either flaggers or signal lights. We crawled through busy Eureka and hit red at every one of their traffic lights. Finally we intersected with Highway 299 and turned east and encountered one highway repair project after another.

We were not in a hurry but were surprised with the time our journey was taking. By mid afternoon we were checking out campgrounds along the Trinity River but each one we turned into was above the highway, deserted, with no sites approaching level, and in run down condition. At 4 pm we turned right, toward the river and into Pigeon Point River Access and Campground.

There were seven well kept campsites above the beautiful Trinity River and there was no one here on a late Friday afternoon. How could this be? We were baffled.

"This is odd," I remarked to the Lady, "Do you see anything out of place?" I asked.

"Well, there's a small column of smoke across the river."

She pointed it out. The column was in green timber, half way up the steep slope on the opposite side of the river, about a hundred yards away.

"A hold over lightning strike fire?" I asked out loud.
The Lady looked with her see mores, "There are no flames, yet."

With that, a helicopter with a dangling water bucket appeared over the ridge just above us.

"He's going to drop water on it!" the Lady yelled and pointed.

No, he did not. 

The pilot lowered the bucket into the river beside us, filled it, turned on the power and lifted the full bucket, spraying us with water. He flew a short ways down river and then up over the ridge and out of sight. He ignored the fire on the hill above us. His water drop was a two minute turn around back to his fill point, the river beside us. We had never seen a Kaman Power Lift helicopter in use before, with two synchro rotors, and a quiet amazing sound.

We watched four or five fills as we wisely decided this was probably not a good campground to stay at. We were surprised it was open and there was not one warning notice about nearby fire.

Back on the highway and entering Junction City, the devastation of the Helena Fire was heart breaking.

We continued on through Weaverville and then the tiny burg of Douglas City. A small brown sign with a tent symbol caught our eye. We turned down a rural road, the direction the arrow pointed, and found the small BLM Douglas City Campground beside the Trinity River. Although busy on this Friday night, there were spaces available and we settled in at one pleasant, private site along the river. The cost was $10 and half off ($5) with my geezer card. The new CXT restroom building had flush toilets and around back, the Lady found two shower rooms with push button combination locks. A nearby couple filled us in on the combination for campground guests and the information that showers were free. This was a great campground find!

After our showers and dinner we walked down by the river. The overcast sky muffled sounds except for the river beside us. We picked a cup of wild blackberries, topping for our morning goat meal.

We still had some traveling to do to our new destination - "You said we could go anywhere I want."

We filled the gas tank in Redding and continued east on Highway 44. The northern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park was already busy on this Saturday morning, but nothing, nothing compared to Yosemite standards. Most vehicles pulled into Manzanita Lake and our drive south on 89 was quiet and fun on this dreary overcast morning.

We reached our destination at 10:30 am.

The parking lot was full. Two buses were unloading. Walt Disney had to be around here somewhere, watching.

"I'd like to go to the top of Lassen again! I looked at the map. It's kinda on a loop back to home!" This was the answer to "I was thinking.................." We had fought road construction, wildfires, helicopter water drops, city traffic to get here.

After waiting in line at the restroom, we were on the trail at 11:00 am.

We last climbed Lassen Peak in the summer 30 years ago. That time we started at 5:30 am from a deserted parking lot and were up and almost down before encountering other visitors. This was different; different but fun. This was amazing people watching. People from all walks of life, many different cultures, were all heading for the top or on their way back down. For many this was, or would be, a monumental achievement. It is 2.5 miles to the top with a 2000 feet elevation gain to the summit at 10,457 feet.

We encountered a big barrel chested gentleman about 3/4 of the way up. In his late 40's or early 50's, he had nothing with him - no pack, no water, no extra clothing. He sported two trekking poles, way too long and always in front of him. Arms were wide out to the side. He was marching. There was no way around him. With the Lady behind him, it was obvious he was determined to keep ahead. His pace quickened, staying just ahead enough it would be awkward to kindly ask him to step aside. The Lady switched into middle school PE teaching mode. She knows just how to keep kids moving. I was afraid he was going to blow.

He kept it up far too long. We even tired the dirtiest trick imaginable, we carried on an easy running conversation with each other, remarking how well done the recent summit trail rebuild and improvements were. There was no way this poor gentleman could get enough air to utter a word.

He finally pulled aside at a switch back and stopped.

"Sorry to be on your butt like that." the Lady said.

"No, its not you," the gentleman answered. "It's my son, ahead, who is driving me up this mountain."

We reached the rim of the summit crater and saw the line of people, like ants, crawling up the highpoint on the rim.

"Look! This is like the Hillary Step on Everest!" the Lady exclaimed.

So many different languages were heard, although the constant din reminded me of gulls on the coast. There were family groups and groups of friends, of course all spread out from one another. It was good to see so many people wanting to make this climb and experience the top of Lassen.

"What's the time?" the Lady asked. It had taken us an hour to the top, the same as thirty years ago.

The highpoint was packed. We stepped to the side and climbed a chimney to another high point. People immediate followed us. A young Indian man stopped and studied our route up. I politely stopped him with a request to take a photo of us. We carefully lowered the camera down.

With that done he climbed up and right over us. It was time to go. We found a spot on the rim and away from the crowd.

The sky above began to clear with pockets of blue.

We were above an inversion layer trapping smoke below it. Mount Shasta became visible to the northwest.

How can you get away from the crowds on Lassen? Explore the summit crater. This the newest rock in California and there are reminders this is a real volcano and not just a must see feature in a National Park.

I love this place. It is raw and alive. This is why I took the bait when the Lady said, "I was thinking........................"

A video of fumaroles along the summit crater rim.

We spent an hour and a half on top. It was time to rejoin our fellow summiteers.

The Lady enjoyed talking with several folks on our descent.

Why were the boy scouts in such a hurry and running down the trail? They had to pee. The only bathroom is at the parking lot.

It had turned into a beautiful day as we neared the trailhead.

It was an experience and quite fun. Days like this give you a wealth of stories. It was wonderful to see so many people want to make it to a mountain top. It reminded me of what my father always told me, "Son, when your woman says she wants to climb a mountain, get on it!"

Where to stay Saturday night? South of Chester we found the half empty Almanor Legacy Campground. A newer small (only 14 sites) campground, it was built for large RV's and trailers. With full hookups, nobody would use generators and everybody would be quiet, inside, watching television. By USFS standards it was expensive but only $15 with the geezer card. We had the outdoors to ourselves. We wandered down to the shores of Almanor Reservoir and took in the quiet evening light. The air was cool, refreshing, good.

We returned home mid day on Sunday.

Did we feel guilty about taking off midweek? I think not.


  1. Keep telling yourselves "you are retired and mid week trips are allowed".
    Boy $45 for a tent site at Mc K.SP that's outrageous.
    But when you need a spot oh well you pay the piper.

    Your neighbor in the RV your first night reminded me of a trip to Alaska.
    We had camped at Mosquito LK SP outside Haynes.Near us was a older RV,in the
    3 nights we were there we never saw them.Just stayed inside.
    Oh well to each there own.
    Thanks for the trip.Also a favorite journey for us.
    We have done your route many times.
    It just doesn't get old.And Lassen is so great.

    1. You are right Frank, the north coast and Lassen are great spots!

  2. Did I miss the conclusion to the skunk encounter?

    Looks like a nice mid week circuit!!!

    1. It was a great time Steve! No, the skunks did not let loose on us. Thanks for your nice comment!

  3. Great post! If you want to return to the Mendocino/Ft. Bragg area and camp for a lot less, maybe check out Jackson Demonstration State Forest -- redwoods all around, very quiet. But not right on the coast, so it involves a bit of a commute.

    1. Dan, thanks again for your nice comments on our trips! And, thanks for the tip on a place to stay!