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.

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