Friday, September 28, 2007

The Great California Adventure - Part 2 - Elk Prairie Redwoods State Park (09-15-2007 to 09-22-2007)

Well, its been a day, I've managed to bathe my face with gasoline in the process of dropping the Dodge's 30 gallon gas tank and had the wondrous discovery that it was a very good thing my gas pump was failing as the fuel lines coming off the pump and going to the steel lines that ran toward the engine (They were rubber) had HUGE cracks forming in them and that Chrysler was no longer manufacturing these hoses with the slip and fit connectors.

2 foot of 5/16" gas line and some specialty hose clamps later, I've got new, snug gas lines and a new fuel pump in the tank waiting for tomorrow to reinstall and refill.

NOTE: Like Part 1, pictures are clickable for a larger version, and I've also had to break Part 2 up as we went a couple places in Part 2 from the same Park, but there's 52 pictures included and this post is really LONG.


Anyway, in my last installment, we left off with Mason and I departing the Oregon Caves and making our way west towards Crescent City California.

Sure enough, we had to stop at the Produce Inspection Station on Highway 199 as we entered California at about 7-8pm that evening. A rather tired looking thirty-something year old inspection lady greeted me at the truck window as we pulled in.

Now, before I go on with what happened next, let me thank you all for making repeat mention of how California has these inspection stations and how they only usually confiscate produce that doesn't have little store bought tags on them. Well, remembering this, I snagged a bunch of the tags off some tomatoes and peaches from the store when I was getting our groceries and afixed them to the tomatoes and peaches I was bringing with us on the trip (Home grown).

Anyway, the lady says her greeting, I could tell she was getting a tad tired by this point, an SUV was getting picked through one lane to the left of me, and first thing asks if "I've been hunting"! Just remember, truck camper fans, if you've got a camper you are automatically qualified as a hunter!

I say, "No, we just departed from the Oregon Caves about an hour or so ago, and we're making our way towards the Elk Prairie Redwoods SP." She then asks if I'm carrying any produce, at which point I say, "Yes, I have some tomatoes and peaches which I bought at the store." At this point she says, thank you and please enjoy California! We're waved on through and proceed on down the road towards Crescent City.

All of this afore mentioned dialogue took about a total of two minutes and we were back on our way without so much as a second glance from the inspectors.

Well, our mission was accomplished there, successfully carried my better than store peaches and tomatoes (Which were in plastic bags in the fridge at that time) into California without a hassle, and we thoroughly enjoyed them with breakfasts the next several days!

Now, I have to say, after driving the 101 and the Redwoods that the MOST impressive redwoods areas were along the Drury Parkway near the Prairie Creek SP and the area around the Jebediah Redwoods in the Smith River Activity Area. The drive along the 199 through the redwoods there proceeded to make us go, "Oh WOW!" no less than 45 times before we broke through the trees and came upon what I think was Washington St. in Crescent City California, the second most expensive place we go gas on the whole trip.

By this point in the adventure we were on fill up #3, having gassed up before we left, topped off in Grants Pass for the drive over the mountains and up to the Oregon Caves and then once more in Crescent City for the drive down to Prairie Creek.

Lemme say this, Crescent City, at least that part of it, leads me to believe its a heavy surfing/pot smoking town. The "Dude, I'm soo high and that's a gnarly wave" mentality coming off folks I encountered while getting gas brought me to this conclusion. If the town as a whole is drastically different, please correct me, but this was the experience I received while there. Oh, that and we found Chick-a-Sticks (Mason was familiar with them and introduced me to them), which I discovered that I do love and hate the fact you can't find them north of the Cali Border.

We returned to the road after our fuel stop and proceeded to drive another 2-3 hours, I don't rightly recall. It was dark, I was getting hungry and not to mention tired, and the road was doing what coastal highways do best, Go UP and DOWN and UP and DOWN. The difference in California being, the Ups and Downs were more frequently 7% grades vs the 5% and 6% I was familiar of in Oregon and Washington.

FINALLY, around 12:30-1am I came to the exit for the Drury Parkway, the road that takes you to the Prairie Creek Redwoods.

The Drury Parkway is lovely to drive both in the day and night, albeit a bit narrow and curvy. After about 30 minutes, we finally came upon the park, at which point I managed to get myself stuck in the Ranger Station parking lot and had to unhitch the trailer so I could make a tight enough turn to get the truck turned around.

DESTINATION #2 - Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

After that little snafu, we drove down into the campground and proceeded to loop through it five times, two of which I had forgotten to put my headlights back on low beam for, my apologies to any fellow campers I awoke, and three more trips through with my flashlight out so I could inspect empty sites before we finally settled on site 62, a nice flat, LONG pullthrough which was sheltered on both sides with both Cedars and I believe Alder trees.

A quick trip through the loop road once more going the wrong direction so I could pull through the campsite the other direction and make leveling easier, a couple minutes pumping jacks we were settled in and making Chip Beef on Toast.

Several minutes of burping later, we made a trip over to the shower house, and had our first experience with California Coin Operated Showers. Lemme first off state that between California and Washington, I'll take California's Coin OP's any day of the week. For one, they're alot less stingy than the Token Operated Washington SP showers, far nicer setups (I.E. CLEAN and FUNCTIONAL) and they were each an individual bathroom with a locking door.

After a round of nice, pipping hot showers, we passed out.

Site #62, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP

Ten o'clock we were up again, taking in a hearty breakfast of Bacon, Eggs with Cheddar Cheese this time, and pancakes, before dropping the camper and making our way to the Trees of Mystery, which I will refer to by the acronym, ToM, throughout the rest of this section.

Trees of Mystery

First off, as touristy as this place looks, you really should stop and do the tour, its well worth the $13.50 per adult admission. The swedish gondola lift you go on, "The Sky Trail", would normally cost you that much at any other place.

The first things you see when you pull into the Trees of Mystery are Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue Ox. These things are MASSIVE and have been standing sentinel there for close 50 years. At one time, the animatronics in them worked, they were going when we visited, so I can't say if they're still operating or not. The summation of the animatronics is that Pauls head does move, along with his eyes opening and closing and his right hand can wave. I think Babe can move hits head around, but I didn't see footage of it moving on the video tape they had running in the lobby.

A quick perusal around the inside will give you the experience of a large gift shop, along with their own homemade fudge, and a rather neat Indian Heritage Museum. I took pictures of it, but you're not allowed to use flash, I hadn't quite figured out how to switch it to low-light photo mode yet, (I figured it out about 30 minutes later as we approached the Cathedral tree, but, I'm getting ahead of myself ) so none of the pictures came out to a quality I would say would give you a good idea of the experience, you'll just have to see it for yourself .

One of the primary things you do at ToM is the trail. Its a fairly easy earthen trail which winds through the forest land behind the big front building, visiting several ancient and peculiar trees along the way. Originally, one actually walked through the center of a downed giant as they entered, which 3/4 of which is still there, but the tunnel is gone, the top section removed due to damaged, or risk of collapse on visitors, I lack the reason why, but you can see how it used to look in the video.

The Family Tree

Along the trail the first thing you come across is what is called the "Family Tree". The family tree is actually a large number of trees which had grown together into a single trunk. But, that's not the half of it. Growing from many of the massive limbs are actually MORE trees! This thing is crazy, I forget how many seperate trunks are sprouting all along the branches, but its just an amazing symbosis of plants all merged into one.

The Elephant Tree

This tree's roots make up the shape of what looks like and elephant kneeling, but it takes a couple minutes for the eyes to catch the illusion.

The Upside-Down Tree

The upside-down tree is the next oddity along the trail, it has two sets of root systems and both horizontal and vertical trunks. We both wondered what the tree was originally perching upon before the park was built back in the 1940s.

Natures Underpass

Natures Underpass, I think the pictures are self-explanatory .

The Cathedral Tree

Now, this one truely is moving. This set of trees makes a living alter in the forest. Apparently it is the site of a fair number of weddings. Combine this already sacred place with the way the light was passing through the trees that afternoon and the soul moving music playing, makes a grown man weep. This one set of trees, by far, was worth the tour.

The Brotherhood Tree

I'm not certain if this was always known as the brotherhood tree, or if it was recently named that, but is the biggest tree, diameter-wise, in the tour. You really have to careen your head back to get a look at the top.

The SkyTrail

Once you've visited the Brotherhood tree, your next stop is the SkyTrail gondola ride. The SkyTrail takes you up to the top of the mountains above and behind Hwy 101 and looks out over the gorgeous California coastline. If you plan to take pictures from the look out, don't do what I did which was forget the UV filters for my camera. The sun glowing on everything will mess with your cameras light adjustment system.

After you've finished with the SkyTrail, the last thing to visit on your way back towards the exit is the Trail of Tall tales, which tells the stories of Paul Bunyan, with scenes carved out of redwood sections by a very skilled gentleman with a Loggers Chainsaw. I've not included any of my pictures from it, as if I show ya everything, there won't be anything left to suprise .

After we finished up, it was going on around 6-6:30pm and we decided to head back towards camp. Along our way to and from ToM, we came across this sad sight:

I don't know how long it had been sitting there, but it looks like it either had a jack collapse during an attempt to offload (why on the side of the road beats me) or it was thrown from the truck in an accident, I'm leaning towards accident.

After snapping a few photos of the camper (Which, btw, still had its propane tanks onboard!) we drove on back towards camp. Having seen a turn off for a "Scenic Coastal Drive", we searched around for the road again.

Here is where we learned Cal-Trans Lesson #1. If a road is labeled as "scenic" it means the road is in piss-poor shape or is no longer a road at all. I think this was one of the two areas where I acutally decided to make use of 4x4 mode on the truck due to the many areas of one-lane remnant ashalt, mostly dirt and gravel road.

The view, however, was worth the drive. The three hours I spent trying to find the access road (Which magically had a locked gate, no clue how the other cars got out there) to that beach was not.

After that, we returned to camp for the evening, made some delicious hamburgers and fries, ate about a pound of in-shell salted peanuts, then retired once more for a good, sound night sleep.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Great California Adventure - Part 1 - The Oregon Caves (09-15-2007 to 09-22-2007)

Well, after offloading the gigabyte worth of video and photos from my new camera, I decided that I was going to need to really break this tale up into several threads.

Together, it'd make one very long single post with far too many pictures, making it load very poorly for those on dial-up. So, I'm breaking the trip up into Destinations, allowing me to give more pictures per destination than I would have if I had made this all one post.

It'll also give me more time to compile pictures and make adjustments for lighting (new camera, still getting used to it) and allow you to enjoy each destination as you wish.

NOTE: All pictures are clickable for a full-size view, I made mini-thumbnails to make the page load easier on dial-up users.

DESTINATION #1 - The Oregon Caves

The tale of the Great California Adventure begins with us leaving several hours behind on Saturday, September 15th. My original plan was to leave around 2-3pm in the afternoon. This plan went to pot after I was up all night doing the last of the cleaning and prep on the camper, I managed to snag 4 hrs sleep inbetween doing the get-ready work before we set off.

In hindsight, this kind of worked out to our advantage in that I didn't really have to deal with alot of other drivers, I-5 heading towards Grants Pass is really empty that time of the night.

Sometime, I believe around 4-5am, we managed to finally reach the Cave Creek Campground. This campground is the one closet to the Oregon Caves Monument, but is also on a section of road posted as "Not Recommend with Trailer". Compared to other roads we traveled later on in our adventure, this road was tame by far.

If you don't want to try the drive up, there is another campground at the bottom of the windy section of road, I believe it goes by the name of Little Greyback.

Site #1 - Cave Creek Campground

As you can also see in the above pictures, I finally finished the paint job on the KIT. The original perpetually dirty look of antique white, Copper and Butterscotch is now well covered over with Bright White, Hunter Green, and Dark Hunter Green. At some point I will need to go back and add an accent stripe of silver or gold between the two shades of green as they are not highly discernable right up next to one another.

The Cave Creek Campground is very nice, its nestled in a little valley area surrounding the Cave Creek, which is the creek which flows out of the Oregon Caves itself. When we pulled in, I think there was only a total of 2-3 other people in the entire campground.

We wound up choosing site #1, as the parking pads all had steep slopes along the sides of them and #1 was the only one with a shallow slope of land along the passenger side of the truck, giving us a safe walking route. The campground was very quiet this time of the year, with really the only sounds being that of the creek and us chatting deliberately (We saw bear warning signs, and one thing I was taught was to make noise to keep from accidentally suprising a bear, so we chatted and sang a bit to keep our nerves at bay, no bears were ever sighted).

A good seven hour nap later, we were refreshed, and after a delightful breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs smothered in melted pepper jack cheese and corn beef hash, we were pumped and ready for cave exploring.

Oregon Caves National Monument Lodge

The first thing that caught my eye after parking the camper in the parking lot and making the hike back to the Lodge (Not visible from said parking lot) was how the buildings had all been sided using Cedar bark! I'd never seen a building done as such before, and further exploration of the property only sent me into a tizzy of exciment of a structure built well in our past (1920s or 1930s I believe).

For example, the little water fall picture is of the Cave Creek which flows out of the Oregon Caves and makes it way THROUGH the lodge directly across from it. I managed to take one picture of the little stream, it goes right through the dining room and I was trying my best not to annoy the patrons anymore than I already was.

As it was, when we got up the road the rest of the way to the Oregon Caves, it was already 3pm going on 4, so we lucked out and caught the last tour of the day (5pm tour).

I've been on cave tours before, my last notable one being the Tuckaleechee caverns just west of the Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

The Oregon Caves was absolutely nothing like them at all.

For one, the hike is a great deal more strenuous. Two, its very narrow and short in a great number of places. I walked away with 6 good size memories beaten into the top of my head from where I either stood up a little too soon, or failed to notice a rock outcropping.

My friend, Mason, who was my sole company on this trip, (and a past resident of northern california), loved the challenge of the hike. He's a good man, but is afflicted with Cerebral Palsy, which makes alot of things we normally take for granted, more challenging for him. However, he managed to stay ahead of me most of the hike and I'd also guess a great deal less beaten up than I was by the end of it!

The Oregon Caves Tour

The walk through the Oregon Caves takes roughly 90 minutes, and the interior temperature is a constant 44 degrees. This, combined with the fact that I was putting off steam from the hike in quantities that would rival a few steam locomotives, made it a triffle challenging to take photos underground.

Couple this with a new camera, and a novice who didn't understand that clicking the exposure button with an external flash on, disabled said flash, I was happy I managed to come away with any pictures at all of the inside of the caves. I look forward to my eventual return trip to Northern California with the misses to be to repeat the Oregon Caves adventure and finally procure some better quality photos with the more sophisticated flash which I wasn't able to use this time around.

Earlier explorers of the cave had found more and more of the cave as they had went and had also dug alot of it out, (At one time, a great deal was filled with mud), a few explores signed their names with a grease pencil on the smooth rock surfaces back in the 1800s. Believe it or not, the parks department wanted to remove these traces of the earlier explorers from the monument, but were unable to as they had been covered over in the rock equivalent of laquer. As I remember, the tour guide went on at length about "Not touching anything" and about volunteers having to remove lint with tweezers. Those volunteers probably would hate me as I had squeeze myself through a great many spots in the cave which meant my green cotton sweat coat drug on a number of surfaces.

Well, this concludes the first part of my tale of California Adventure.

From here we set out west on our way to the 101 and the Elk Prarie Redwoods Park.