On Wednesday, headed for Fresno, or other points north, we were driving in the general direction of Yosemite. It was a relatively boring drive through vast expanses of desert, until we got near Bakersfield, where we went through a mountain pass that was resplendent in natural green grass – something we hadn’t seen for months. Desert, desert, desert, desert, desert, desert – green!
Photo: Leaving southern California, we drove north towards Yosemite.
We ended up in Madera, at the KOA, just thirty miles from the entrance to Yosemite. There they ripped us off for $45 a night plus $6 a day for internet, which we declined. At this point in our travels we’re quite used to being spoiled with $15 to $20 a night, using Passport America, which the KOA sites don’t normally honour.
In the middle of the night we woke to thunder, lightning and hail, but by morning it had turned to a light drizzle. We were up early and on the road to the park by 8:30. It was still raining but there were a few bright spots in between.
By the time we got to the park it was still chilly but the spectacular sights of Bridal Veil Falls and El Capitan, on the way in, served to warm our cockles.
Photo: Bridal Veil Falls near the entrance to Yosemite.
Photo: El Capitan; a thousand foot sheer granite cliff face. About five years ago I saw, on television; where a husband was filming his wife base jumping off of El Capitan – her chute never opened. I remember the husband being quite pragmatic about it, saying, “She died doing what she loved.”
We toured the Ansel Adams Gallery at Yosemite Village and when we returned outside, the sun had broken out. We sat and enjoyed a packed lunch at a picnic table where a massive granite cliff face loomed above us.
Photo: Yosemite Falls, visible from our lunch spot.
The scenery all around us was truly incredible. We decided to take an easy, one-and-a-half-mile hike to Mirror Lake. In recent years the lake has been filling with silt fairly rapidly and now looks more like a meandering river. It’s still beautiful though.
Photo: The Merced River as it winds its’ way peacefully through the valley floor from Mirror Lake. Not far from here it begins roiling through its’ furious descent of 350 feet per mile as it exits the park.
Photo: Mirror Lake.
When we reached the trailhead, which had been blocked by a huge rock slide in 2009, we returned via the meadows.
After the Mirror Lake hike we drove to The Tunnel Lookout, where we had planned to hike to Inspiration Point, but the water was running over the rocks too fast, making them very treacherous to navigate, so we decided to turn around.
Photo: Yosemite, from the Inspiration Point Trail, with Bridal Veil Falls on the right and El Capitan on the left.
Photo: That would be us gloating over our good fortune because the sun had come out and revealed a lot of the park that might otherwise have been obscured by clouds or fog.
Photo: As we exited the park I took this picture of granite boulders forming an entrance to the park.
Photo: All along the sides of the road were these beautiful pink trees. The blossoms looked like wild cherry but the trees were much weedier looking.
We had been told about the Hite Point Trail, just outside the park, where the wildflowers were in full bloom. I had been warned though that I might not like the steep drop-offs from the trail. Sure enough, about an eighth of a mile in, I got the Heebie Jeebies and had to turn around.
Photo: Janice snapped this picture on the Hite Point Trail as we returned to the truck.
Back at the KOA, our neighbours, Jerry and Cathy joined us for a drink around the fire. He’s a retired car dealer while she works for the school district in Fresno. After a few minutes it became obvious that he was an unabashed redneck Republican. Did I mention we saw a bumper sticker in Arizona that: Had a picture of a lion on one side and underneath said, “African Lion.” On the other side was a picture of Barack Obama and said, “Lyin’ African.” Come on people.
Friday morning we woke to sunshine and drove the winding, scenic highways all the way to Vacaville, California and the Vineyard RV Park. From here we’re just a couple of hours drive from the coast.
Highway 49 from Yosemite, heading north through Bagby Pass, is so steep and winding that, when we sopped for fuel at San Andreas, the attendant queried, “You never drove this rig over that mountain did you?” I replied in the affirmative and he said, “That road was built for motorcycles, not RVs!”
We had left San Andreas in the sunshine but, by the time we got to Sonoma, about an hour from the coast, north of San Francisco, it had clouded over.
Photo: A view from the winding mountain pass we took to get to the coast.
We stopped at Sonoma, the upscale centerpiece of California’s Wine Country. We walked around the town square with all of its’ quaint shops and varied restaurants. Sonoma is a tourist Mecca. We had lunch at a Portuguese restaurant there before hitting the road again, destination Bodega Bay.
Photo: The village square at Sonoma.
Photo: Janice deciding on a pulled pork sandwich at the Portugese restaurant.
By 2:00pm we were in Bodega Bay at the Bodega Bay RV Park. We had been there thirteen years earlier and it really charmed us – me in particular. Bodega Bay is a picturesque fishing village situated in a well protected harbour – just over the dunes though is the wild Pacific Ocean.
Years ago, on that first visit to the town, there was a waterfront building for sale in the harbour. It occupies an ideal commercial property location, set on concrete pilings, sticking out over the bay. In its’ past life it had been used as a yacht club but my guess is that the yacht club was in trouble at the time because the building was vacant and it was for sale for just $210,000.00. I couldn’t believe the value in the property and I dreamt of it being an ideal gallery/restaurant enterprise. It already had an industrial kitchen in place. It stuck with me for a long time, even months later back in Canada. Had I been an American I’m pretty confident we would have purchased it, taking our lives in another whole direction.
Photo: The yacht club building we could have ‘stolen’ back in 1998.
I reasoned that Bodega Bay’s proximity to San Francisco and, in particular, Santa Rosa, just a half hour away, made it an ideal property to lure tourists and weekenders to. Today Bodega Bay is just as I imagined it would be, a thriving tourist destination with several large seafood restaurants neighbouring the yacht club building. Any property on the waterfront, especially in the commercial section where the yacht club is, is priced well into the millions of dollars.
We took a walk along the harbourfront but it started to drizzle rain. The sound of foghorns foreshadowed more of the same. We returned to the RV Park, borrowed a couple of movies from the clubhouse, and hunkered down in the rain.
When we awoke on Easter Morning it was still raining and foggy so we decided to take a drive to Santa Rosa. As soon as we got on the road though the skies cleared and a bracing wind picked up. There are three different routes from Bodega Bay to Santa Rosa and we chose to drive up the coast about five miles to Highway 116 and then took that winding highway to town.
Photo: The coast just north of Bodega Bay.
Photo: The Salmon River on the way to Santa Rosa.
We took in the historic and quaint downtown of Sanat Rosa but the Walmart on the outskirts of town didn’t have a food store, so we were forced to shop at Safeway where groceries are quite a bit more expensive.
We were back in Bodega Bay by 1:00pm and stopped for lunch at the Lucas Wharf Restaurant and Fish Market. Our corner seats afforded us a perfect view of the yacht club building mentioned earlier as we tucked into some excellent fish and chips.
Photo: Janice at the Lucas Wharf Restaurant.
After lunch we drove up the coast a couple of miles from our RV Park to take some more pictures. The spectacle of the ocean vistas were made even more photogenic by the profusion of wildflowers.
Photo: Near Bodega Bay.
Photo: Bodega Bay.
Back at the RV Park we took a walk towards the sound of the ocean and came across a bell tower, which is a tribute to a seven-year-old boy from Bodega Bay who was killed by highway robbers while touring Italy with his family in 1994. Back then, I remember seeing a piece about the boy and his family on 60 Minutes. The story was made more newsworthy because his parents had donated his organs, which saved the lives of seven members of some fortunate Italian families.
Photo: The Bell Tower behind the RV Park.
Photo: A couple of huge Eucalyptus Trees – the leaves smell like cough syrup.
Later we did laundry while our Easter Dinner of turkey legs and little red potatoes slow-cooked in the oven. I made Caesar salad and we had a bottle of 7 Deadly Zins.
My long-time friend, George Robb, just reminded me via email that Bodega Bay was the location for the shooting of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie, The Birds.
Today, April 25, we’re headed further up the coast on Highway 1.
Photo: The rugged northern California coast, where we stopped for lunch, on the way to Fort Bragg.
I knew before we left Bodega Bay that Janice wasn’t too thrilled about dragging the trailer along Highway 1, on the Northern California Coast. It’s a notoriously winding, up-and-down, narrow road. I tried to reassure her that the Interstates were probably more dangerous but, when we got to the top of the first steep hill, with a rock slide on one side and a thee hundred foot drop, straight down, to the snarling Pacific Ocean on the other, I could see her Brake Foot starting to get a workout. The first thirty miles or so were the worst. Either that or her Brake Foot was plumb worn out because she seemed to relax after that.
We pulled into Fort Bragg and the Hidden Pines RV Park, about 3:00pm. We set up while talking with our new neighbour, Tobin. He’s an interesting dude who travels in a 1969 Volkswagen Van. He regaled us with stories of his travels to Southeast Asia. Looking to be in his mid-fifties, he works for a year or two and then travels for a year; usually in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam because those countries are inexpensive, the people are clean and friendly, and the food is exceptional.
Later we took a drive through Fort Bragg. It’s really grown since the last time we were here in 1998. Due to my fear of flying – make that my refusal to fly in the past – I’ve driven down the West Coast quite a few times. I think this is my fifth time in Fort Bragg.
We started a campfire before dinner and enjoyed some Sangria in the sunshine but as soon as the sun went down the chilly ocean breeze drove us inside.
On Tuesday morning, to our surprise, we woke to sunshine – it’s usually foggy here in the mornings.
After a year of wearing her hair Au Naturelle, Janice decided to get it cut and coloured, so I went across the street to the internet café to check emails and to do a little research on electronic drums.
In the past few months JR, Stephanie and Ron have been working at putting our electric band, Dr. Recommended, back together, in anticipation of when I get home. The guitar player, JR, suggested that I look into electronic drums because the volume can be infinitely controlled, which would be best for all of our aging ears. Well, maybe not Stephanie’s old ears – she’s only in her early forties. OK, so Ron’s in his forties too – and JR’s in his early fifties. I guess that only leaves me.
Photo: Waiting for Janice to get her hair done, I walked around downtown Fort Bragg and took a few miscellaneous shots.
Photo: Another miscellaneous Fort Bragg photo.
Janice got finished at the hairdresser about 11:00 and, as always, went right home to wash her hair and re-do what the stylist had done. The colour is a little bit redder than she’d have liked but I’m going to help her put some lighter highlights in it.
I keep asking her, “Who are you? And, what have you done with my Janice?”
After lunch we drove the eight miles back to Mendocino where we had a bowl of soup and some garlic baguettes in a very old pub. I’ve always been fond of the Northern California Coast, especially Mendocino. I was immediately drawn to it on my first trip down here, at about age twenty-two.
The whole north coast is spectacular but Mendocino is cradled in a particularly beautiful setting. While it’s always been an artist’s colony, during the 60’s and 70’s, it also played a major role in the Hippy and Peace Movements. It’s where Earth Momma’s first appeared. It’s where people first became conscious of, and promoted, healthier, organic, food. Generally, it’s where the Back to the Land movement began. It’s also where marijuana was first cropped in the U.S.
Many of the original Mendocino characters, and their traditions, still remain. The difference being; a lot of them are now sitting on multi-million dollar properties.
Photo: Downtown Mendocino.
Photo: The bay at Mendocino.
Photo: Wildflowers at Mendocinco.
Photo: The property with the residence complimented by all the flowers in front also has a nice art gallery building at the street and is for sale for $1.6 million.
Not everyone is as enamoured with the area as I am. I’ve always lucked out and had good weather, but I hear it can be pretty dreary and foggy a lot of the time or, otherwise; cold, damp and windy.
Lucky us. In the afternoon we took a walk to downtown Fort Bragg in glorious sunshine.
Photo: The harbor at the Noyo River, taken from the bridge. It was about a five mile walk, something we welcomed after a number of days of relative inactivity.
In the evening we watched the new TV show, The Voice.
Wednesday was sunny again so we decided to book another day here. I helped Janice highlight her hair and then we walked to the Noyo River Harbor, this time taking the steep path down under the bridge and walking along the riverfront.
Photo: Fish Boats at Noyo Harbor .
From Noyo Harbour we walked to The Headlands and Chicken Point – so named because sailors would walk out to where we were and decide if the Pacific looked friendly enough to fish, or not.
Photo: Janice with her new hair colour at Chicken Point – just a teaser.
At camp we’ve been witnessing the strange comings and goings of a man and woman tenting on the hillside, a hundred feet or some from our site. While they don’t appear to have any cooking facilities, they do have cereal, milk and sandwich kind of stuff. We watched as he pulled a cooler out of the dumpster, taking it back to camp. She sits quietly at the picnic table for hours while he wanders off, apparently to do odd jobs around the park. Their situation appears miserable because the air is cold and damp here at night. We’d love to know their story but they’re too weird to approach.
We left Fort Bragg on Thursday morning, in the sunshine, enjoying the coast drive for another hour before the road veered eastward, away from the ocean. We’re headed for the Redwood Forest, close to the California/Oregon border. The sky became overcast and then it became downright dark as we drove through the towering Redwoods. The highway twists and turns just as wildly through the Redwoods as it does along the coast.
We pulled into The Shorelines RV Park at Eureka, back on the coast of California, about 2:00pm. After setting up we went for a walk around the downtown area which is graced with a lot of beautiful wooden architecture. Some, like the one pictured below, built by a lumber baron, have been completely restored. It’s now a private club for the people who paid for the restoration. Other buildings look as though they’re probably in constant need of a paint job.
Photo: The private club at Eureka.
In the evening we went to a Chinese restaurant so Janice could indulge herself in her, once yearly, All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. I’m not as big on Chinese buffets as she is because often the places are not really very clean. You know the kind; greasy fingerprints everywhere, from the front door to the sneeze guards. This one was good though – clean and not exclusively deep fried food. It was inexpensive too, just $8.99 each.
On Friday we hit the road for Brookings, Oregon. It’s the southernmost town on the Oregon Coast and is self-described as the Banana Belt of the north coast. Janice’s brother, Alan, had guaranteed us good weather if we went there and, sure enough, just as we pulled into the Driftwood RV Park, the sun came out.
We spent the afternoon getting an oil change on the truck and replacing a safety chain hook on the trailer that had somehow come off on the winding highway. Because of the sunshine we were able to BBQ some burgers and then sat around a campfire until dark.
Saturday morning we woke to sunshine again and so decided to book another day here. We back peddled about twenty miles into California, to the part of the Redwoods that we missed because the weather had been so crappy. About fifteen miles down the road we crossed back into California and then took Highway 297 about five miles to Jedadiah Smith State Park.
We were the only ones in the park when we got there. We walked the Nature Loop Trail and then returned to the river to have lunch. The Smith River is a brilliant turquoise colour. It contrasted kind of unworldly with the new greens of spring on the trees. Of course some of the Redwoods are massive. We were glad we made the effort to make the trip back.
Photos: Janice measures a giant redwood at Jedadiah Smith State Park.
Photo: The park was almost deserted. We saw one other couple.
Photo: The Smith River.
We headed north again on Highway 1, re-crossing the Oregon border, returning to Brookings, Oregon.