Friday, May 29, 2015

The Redwoods, Day Four: Avenue of the Giants

On our last full day of vacation, it was time to leave the magical and mystical world of giant trees and head back to the reality of drought stricken California via a seven hour drive.  And, of course, the reality of heading home.  We decided however, to head home with one more scenic drive, a pretty touristy drive called the "Avenue of the Giants".  It is a 31 mile scenic route that travels through some very small towns (think, population: 31), and some very big trees, along highway 101.  Not only was it an absolutely beautiful drive, but it saved us from some of the more treacherous and curvy stretches of the highway that made us (okay, me) a little sick on the way north.


The Avenue of the Giants was pretty crowded, much different than the farther north forests we'd been in days before.  After a lot of research, I'd decided that our best bet was to just make one stop, inside the Roosevelt forest in Founders Grove.  Here, we'd find some walking trails and we'd also be able to see the Dyersville Giant, the tree that had been the tallest documented tree in the redwood forest (well over 300 feet tall) until it fell down decades ago.

I'be almost run out of forest and trees, heading back into civilization.  But one last stop in founders grove, along the Avenue of the Giants has found me some of the largest crashed trees ever.  This is the left over root structure of a 300 foot redwood


This stop did not disappoint as it had the Founders Tree, which was 325 feet tall and just amazing to look at and had a dozen or so giants that had fallen.  Their root structures were absolutely amazing and so large.  We learned on our first day that redwoods have very shallow and wide root structures and that if the ground around them is trampled too frequently that it will destroy the roots and the trees will die.  So, when a tree actually does crash, all it's roots become exposed and just hang out.  It's really a pretty cool thing to see and I was pretty excited that we were able to stop and see them.




Once we finished walking and seeing and stretching, it was time to get some lunch and get back to San Jose with as few stops as possible.

We did our best.

The boys were definitely running out of steam, but we'd had a great vacation and were ready to head home.

We managed to avoid all the traffic that we hit on our way to Eureka and with a stop at an outlet mall got back to our hotel with only moderately numb butts.  After finding some dinner, getting the boys showered and bathed, it was time for bed.  Our sleeping arrangements were a little odd for the night; Wyatt was alone on the fold out sofa; I was with Elliott and Ross was with Quinn, but it worked out well and I think that Ross and I, sleeping on tiny beds with tiny bodies probably slept a little better than we had the rest of the trip. Minus Elliott kicking me in the face and Quinn falling out of bed head first anyway.

As with all trips, they end in a pretty anti climactic manner.  We got up in the morning.  Found some breakfast, packed our bags returned the rental car and made it to the airport.  Our flight was on time.  Quinn had a complete and total melt down that was so extreme we thought they were going to kick us off the plane because he didn't want to wear his seat belt.  Then, he fell asleep for the entire flight.

The flight was uneventful.  Which is always a good thing.

It was so strange, in the last few minutes before we arrived home, to realize that the day before, we'd been among literal giants, and now we were at an intersection with a Walmart and a Costco.  But, I guess that's the beauty of a vacation.  It lets you experience those amazing and cool things with your family that you wouldn't otherwise be able to experience.

This trip ended up being part of my birthday present.  It was the best birthday present.  I'm so grateful to Ross for planning and cooperating and being so willing to go along with my schemes.  The trip was really an absolute dream.  I couldn't have asked for anything better.


Except for maybe a glimpse of a real bigfoot.  But, that maybe would have been a bit too much.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Redwoods, Day Three: Lady Bird

Day Three of our adventuring got off to a slow and rough start.  You know how sometimes on vacation, you just can't seem to get going?  Well, that was today.  Lots of in and out of the car.  Lots of fighting boys.  Lots of wrong roads.



We started our morning with a visit to Humbolt University in Arcata.  We wanted to find the bookstore to look for a souvenir.  We finally found the bookstore, but not without some 8 and under bruised knees and egos.  Like I said, it was a rough morning.  The bookstore however, was a little on the lame side so we left with nothing more that two key chains.  One of which we had to buy because Quinn declared it his and ripped off the price tag.

Next stop was a gas station for a drink - from a soda fountain that didn't work - and a bathroom break - from a dirty bathroom that you had to get the key and make a purchase - but the soda fountain didn't work.  The boys got a drink so we could pee.  Then, it was a few miles up the road to Trinidad to see a lighthouse, that wasn't nearly as impressive as I thought it would be.  A light house that is on land, and no longer out on the rocks generally isn't that impressive.  Nor are the "tide pools" that aren't actually tide pools but just the jagged rocks that you can see when low tide is out.  We did though, eat at the lighthouse grill in Trinidad and they had great garlic fries.



We suffered from some severe bathroom problems on our trip.  These bathroom problems required a lot of stopping - preventative and necessary.  We ate lunch at noon, but felt like we'd already stopped a thousand times to use the bathroom.

Finally, we were on our way after what felt like a wasted morning.  I have to admit I was getting a little nervous that the trip was going downhill, and I wanted it to be spectacular.  Little did I know that Lady Bird Johnson had something spectacular in store for me.

In the 1960's LBJ's wife worked with then Governor Ronald Reagan to save the redwoods.  Because of her apparently valiant efforts, they preserved a whole grove of trees (hundreds of acres) in her name and made a one mile scenic walking loop through the grove.  Here you can walk and touch and gaze and these giant trees.  It's not a drive by like the Drury road the day before, but it's up close and personal.  Like if you could touch the gorilla at the zoo instead of just looking at him through very thick glass.  I have absolutely no words for the trees.  I realized that I love trees more than I ever had any idea and I was pretty sure, walking through this grove, that at least for me, this is what heaven looks like.  It was just spectacular, amazing, delightful.  There aren't enough adjectives to describe the beauty that exists in this forest.  I'd just never seen anything like it in my entire life.  At one point, our little family got separated and I seriously thought for a moment that maybe Ross and Quinn had been swept away by a forest inhabitant.





I told Willie in my weekly e-mail that I'm certain these forests are inhabited by fairies and gnomes, pixies and trolls and the like.  He replied and told me that after living in Lithuania for the past year, and experiencing some of it's forests, he too believes that mythical creatures exist, and that they are just much smarter than the people who are looking for them.  After visiting the redwoods, it has definitely got to be true.





We left Lady Bird and decided that it would be fun to drive through down town Eureka and spend the late afternoon, before dinner wandering through a cute small town.  Two problems with that.  One, Eureka (and Arcata) were hosting a "kinetic sculpture race" and the towns were full of weirdos and two, Eureka is not a cute small town.  It is a gross small town.  We really spent the whole day just driving around aimlessly it seems so once we gave up on that, we headed to dinner.  A roadside burger joint with duck taped seats called Toni's.  It was delicious.  One more fabulous food stop on our trip.

The boys were done being in the car by this point and really wanted to hang out at the beach house and let's face it, we were all done being int he car at this point, so with a day close enough to being over, we headed back to our rental and spend the evening reading Charlotte's web, watching movie's on phones (because there was no Internet service on the island where the house was) and generally having a really nice evening "at home".



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Redwoods, Day Two: Trees of Mystery


On our first full day we woke up ready to go.  The goal was to head about 90 minutes north, into the Prarie Creek Redwoods State Park to a pretty touristy destination called the "Trees of Mystery" and then work our way back down through the park via the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway to see Fern Canyon and hang out at Gold Bluffs Beach before heading back to Arcata for dinner and Eureka for the night.

The weather in the redwoods is really interesting.  Apparently, it's always around 60 degrees.  In the mornings, it's foggy.  In the afternoons, sometimes there is a break in the clouds, but otherwise, the weather doesn't waiver except in the winter, when it's just 60 degrees and raining.  It was so strange to see such heavy clouds and no rain, especially because at home right now, the clouds we were seeing in California would have meant inches of rain and bitter cold.  But in the redwoods, it was really pretty pleasant.



Interesting note:  Redwoods contain no resin or sap and have a special type of bark which makes them resistant to fire, pesticides, water and bugs. That's why they grow to be so big and live for so long.  Most of the redwoods along the California coast that make up the multiple Redwood Parks are 300-600 years old and 200-300 feet tall.  The trees, in their initial growth, go for height first, striving to reach the sunlight, and then they start to add their girth.  That's why there are no short fat trees, just tall giant trees.  There are of course, other types of trees in the forests, like evergreens and dogwood trees and rhododendrons but they aren't as tall or as impressive and people don't travel for hundreds and thousands of miles to see them.



Another interesting thing to note is that there are no animals in the Redwood forests.  No squirrels or rodents.  No bugs.  There are mosquitoes closer to the coast, but not inside the forests.  Apparently, the trees do not make good homes for critters.  I guess there are a few bears, some Bigfoot here or there, and lots of birds and that's about it.




Anyway, at the end of the tree tour there is a gondola ride that takes you, I think, 700 feet to an overlook at the tree tops.  Great idea right?  Not if you are afraid of heights.  I'm not sure what I was thinking, being the one who suggested the thing, but the boys in my family loved it.  I was terrified of every single second going up.  Eyes shut tight.  Holding on, bracing for dear life.  The view from up top was foggy at best, but still pretty cool and the ride back down, with my back to the down, wasn't nearly as scary as the ride going up.




After the gondola, and a wander through a pretty pathetic gift shop, it was time to find lunch.  But guess, what, lunch is pretty hard to find in the middle of a redwood forest.  We drove around for a while through some tiny towns when I finally asked for some help and was directed to a little gas station that had a small restaurant in the back that could fix us a pizza.  SOLD!  The pizza was pretty good.  The french fries were tasty.  The dirty old man who was limping and not wearing any underwear who ordered a pulled pork sandwich and a beer was pretty entertaining.  And, Quinn chose to sit in a high chair for lunch, something he hasn't done, for, oh, about 9 months maybe.  Good times.


After our very late lunch, we drove the Newton Drury Scenic Parkway.  Let me tell you, this was the most magical and mythical rode I've ever been on in my life.  The sun could barely poke through the trees and as we drove, it's like you were just waiting for fairies and magic dust to pop out, or maybe a dinosaur to swing it's tail across the road.  I think I smiled the entire drive.  The trees were gigantic, absolutely gigantic and the green!  The deepest most emerald sparkly green your eyes could ever stand to see.


After this, we headed on a 4 mile dirt road that took us from an emerald forest, to what felt like a jungle out of an Indiana Jones movie to another 4 mile dirt road along an isolated beach.  Here we saw elk.  Yes, elk.  Elk by the ocean, eating grass, is one of the strangest sights you ever will see, and also one of the coolest.  We parked and walked a short hike to Fern Canyon, which is a deep canyon, lined up all sides with ferns.  It was impossible to take a picture to do it justice, but it was really quite cool.  It was also very wet and in our 20 minutes there, all three boys lost a shoe and pant leg or two as victims to the creek we had to cross multiple times.




With everyone wet, it made perfect sense then, to get more wet so we headed straight for Gold Bluffs Beach and the ocean.  We found a completely isolated spot and the boys had a great time getting chased by waves, beach combing, and just getting all around soaked.  The ocean in northern California is so much different than in the South.  Warm gray sand, no shells or signs of life, and just the birds to keep you company.  This was Quinn's first time to experience the ocean.  He was a bit timid at first, for about 5 minutes and then he just went for it, chasing his brothers, burying his feet in the sad and having so much fut.  The boys found a dead fish and each had to pick it up.  They also found crab legs, which I'm sure were left by a bird that Elliott wanted to bring home.  As the boys followed their dad down the beach, I found a quiet spot and just listened to the waves.  They were so loud, quite literally crashing in a way that they don't crash on Huntington beach. It was a lot of fun and a great way to end the day.





We went back to the beach house and got cleaned up and headed into Arcata, California, which is so much cleaner and hipper and cooler than Eureka for dinner.  Ross found a place, Renata's Creperie for dinner and it was delicious.  The boys each had a sweet crepe, filled with fruit, and Ross and I had savory.  A great way to end a great day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Redwoods, Day One: The City by the Bay


When we first started thinking about a family vacation, the Redwoods was my first, and lets face it, only destination idea.  Ross wanted to do something closer and easier than driving all the way to Northern California, but I was pretty persistent, and pouty, and made a pretty good argument, that went something like this:

The redwoods are always going to be very far away and there is never going to be an easy or fast way to get there.  We might as well do it now when they are a captive audience and not angsty teens.

Good argument, right?

After mulling it over a bit longer, it was decided.  We would travel clear in the heck almost to Oregon to see the biggest trees in the world.  And oh my!  Was it ever worth the drive.

First, we had to get there.  We rented a beach house on Samoa Island, just outside of Eureka, California.  It was perfect and beachy and post modern and cozy and everything I wanted it to be.  There were raccoons and opossums (just a dead one in the road, but it counts) and fishing cranes, pelicans flying in formation and so many mosquito's.  We had our own private beach.  The boys could be loud.  Everyone had their own bedroom and we fixed our own breakfast each morning.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

We had to get there first.

Getting there is always half the battle.

Delayed an hour....

Lets make that an almost 3 hour delay.  We arrived on time, have tsa preheck and were ready to go.  First,  our crew was late.  Then, they gave our plane away.  Now the new plane they brought us needs maintenance.  Getting off to a bit of a rocky start.

After hours of delays in Utah (crew, plane, mechanical problems) we finally were in the air and landed in San Jose, California.  The next morning we were up bright and early, the boys being on Utah time, and got ourselves ready for a long day filled with adventure.  Things did get off to a bit of a rough start, for me anyway.  In an attempt to save space, an spare ourselves lugging around too many suitcases, I had the brilliant idea to consolidate, and just throw all my stuff into the spare corners of every other bag we took.  Bad idea!  Not only could I not find anything, I forgot quite a few things, like deodorant, and hair brushes, and my blood sugar test strips.  We were going to spend a good part of the day in San Francisco along the pier,before starting our five hour drive up the coast to Eureka so we thought, "Hey, lets just stop at a Walgreen's and Annie can get her stuff".  Well, we did stop at a Walgreen's and lets just say Annie got her cultural and ethnic experience of the trip.  Let's also say it wasn't the safest area or drug store because 1) everything was locked up behind glass, including the deodorant and 2) the kid in line in front of me at the pharmacy was only there to buy needles.  It was an experience!

The boys loved what they saw of San Francisco  There is so much to do in the city, we kept it really simple.  A drive down Lombard Street, a harbor cruise through the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge, some sourdough bread, sea lions, and a delicious lunch at a Diners Drive-In's and Dives recommended Deli (New York Style mind you)right in the heart of the city.



Elliott was fascinated with the bridges and Alcatraz.  It's so fun that he is old enough to listen to stories about history, the narrator on the harbor cruise, and ask questions.  We had some great talks walking around.  Wyatt just loved getting out of the car, being outside and riding on a big boat.  He, for the most part is an easy going kid.  Quinn, from the moment he saw the bay, wanted to see sea lions, and was not satisfied until we found them.  And when we did, at the end of Pier 39, he laughed and giggled and pointed.  It was a spectacle that I don't think his little brain was prepared for.





As soon as we got plenty to eat, it was time to hit the road.  As we planned and prepared for our trip, Google insisted that the drive to Eureka would take us at least 5 hours.  I insisted that Google was wrong and that there was no way, driving on interstate, traveling just over 200 miles, we would be on the road for such a long time.  Well, google was right.  We encountered a lot of traffic traveling outside of San Francisco, until we hit a town called Willits and once the traffic broke, we pretty much hit the mountains and it was some of the windiest roads ever.  If you ever plan on taking the same trip, you really drive about 55 the whole way up.  It's pretty crazy to drive so slow in a world that usually travels so fast.  But, the drive was beautiful.


Once we got out of San Francisco, we entered Sonora county and wine country. The hillsides were covered with vineyards and the skies were full of hawks.  I've never seen so many hawks, flying so low, in all my life.  I really think we saw hundreds of hawks.  Then, as we got more into the mountains, the hawks gave way to turkey vultures and dirty hippie hitch hikers.  I also didn't realize that hitch hiking was a thing anymore, but apparently, in Northern California if you are either in your mid twenties, or late fifties, haven't bathed for a while and have an equally dirty dog, it is perfectly acceptable for you to stick out your thumb and look for a ride.  Only once in all of our driving did we see any hitchers get picked up, but we sure did see a lot trying for a ride.




We arrived in Eureka around 8:45, found a 24 hour grocery store for a bathroom and some supplies and headed out to our beach house.  Quinn and Wyatt fell asleep on the 10 minute drive from store to house which actually made unpacking and setting up shop quick and quiet.  Elliott was a great help with suit cases and groceries and when it was time for him, and Ross and me to hit the sack, all three of us were out like lights.  The only things left up in the night were the critters, primarily the raccoons.  One of which, Ross made the acquaintance with when he went back outside in his skivvies to grab the stroller, which we'd left outside and forgotten was full of sourdough bread in the bottom basket.


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