Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Great California Adventure - Part 5 - The Avenue of the Giants (09-15-2007 to 09-22-2007)

Well, my story winds ever onwards and ever southwards. The road leads us away now from Mattole Beach on east again, following the Mattole River as it snakes its way through the hills towards the shining pacific ocean.

The highway is indeed gentler now, the gradient far shallower and the black top far better maintained than parts north of Pertolia.

We wind through farms and valleys, a few RV-elephant graveyards can be seen here and there as the asphalt passes under our tires.

Finally, we come to the junction that splits the road into two destinations. One route takes us North-East over the spine of the mountains back to Highway 101 and the Humboldt Redwoods. The other route winds on further south back into Lost Coast.

Our route is clear, our destination is the Burlington Campground at the Humboldt Redwoods, so we turn left and onto an ancient green painted steel brige.

The bridge deck is made of ancient planks, the majority running perpendicular to the drive over the bridge, like railroad ties. The others are what look like two sets of twin twelve inch boards set side-by-side to make smooth lanes for the tires to ride on.

The planks of the bridge rattle in their frame, encouraging a slightly tighter grip of the steering wheel as we creep across at 20 mph.

Finally, safely, we're across and the road looms above us, cutting sharp switch backs into the side of the hill, heading on ever eastward.

We climb.

The tranmission selector is locked out into first gear on the column, we rev the old three-sixty up to five-to-six thousand RPM and begin our ascent. Soon we're making good enough headway that the selector gets bumped up to the second gear positon and the engine shifts. Slow, but steady acceleration still continues for a few a little longer before the torque converter clutch locks up and we plateau at 35 mph.

The road is far better than its northern counter part, lanes are wide enough to accomodate larger vehicles and the grade of the road is maybe at worst 8%.

The Dodge makes short work of the first run of switch backs, and as it crests the hill to roll down to the next valley, the selector is shifted to Drive and the O/D lockout on the dashboard is punched, allowing the transmission to shift no further than third gear, forcing the engines RPMs up and slowing our decent down the other side.

As soon as we bottom in the valley, the next run of switchbacks races to meet us, we upshift again as the speed drops off and the torque converter unlocks, climb, shift, climb, shift, climb, crest, shift, coast. Our progress is not fast, but it is not slow either, a median pace is established as we knit our way through God's country.

Finally, we reach the great down hill, we upshift to second and begin our slow decent down, down to the great Redwood forest below.

As we finally reach the bottom, younger, smaller trees, maybe no more than fifty years old greet us. We pass Albee Creek Camground, we continue on. The trees grow more dense, till we round and corner...

And we stop, jaws dropped, eyes wide. We are indeed in God's country.

Ancient sentinels, twenty-fold larger than either of us. Even the mighty Power Wagon with its massive camper is an ant amongst the tall grass. This road, indeed, is an Avenue of Giants.


I haven't written in a literary style in a very long time. Once, I dreamed that I would be able to be a great writer, a fountain of great fiction. I discovered that, while I have the imagination for it, I do not have the proper "organizational" imagination that a good writer posesses. I can come up with a tale, and all its players, but I cannot find the whole of its story, its climax, or its conclusion. Many who have played a game of AD&D with me or our own home-brewed system know that I have this weakness.

For example, we had two seperate consequtive storylines that basically ran for multiple years in a row without ever reaching a halfway point or an ending. The endings usually came when I finally exhausted my stores of plot devices and the games had devolved into mindless dungeon sieges.

I would love to write again, but now, I desire to write in the fashion of Steinbeck's Great Adventure, or more commonly known as "Travels with Charlie." But, I find myself in lack of a business that says, "Hey! We'll pay you a really good salary, plus pay for your travel expenses (Gas, campground fees, stuff like that) if you'll go drive around america and write about America and all the really neat and most times overlooked stuff there!"

But, one can always dream, can't they? To be able to make my own journey of exploration, looking for my America, and perhaps wondering what ever became of John Steinbecks, and if any of it is left.

But, I truely digress from my tale, our journey from the Mattole Beach back to hwy 101 through the Rockafellar Forest, which is where we were when we came across God's Country.

It took, I think, about fifteen minutes before I finally was able to overcome the amazing sense of awe I was feeling in the presence of those trees.

We'd seen a great many behemoths on our journey, but never as tightly knit and as many as we saw there.

The ironic thing was, that not a single other vehicle came along that road from the moment we stopped until the moment I got back behind the driver's seat. It was almost as if we had dropped out of time for a short while, allowed a moticum of serenity to indulge in our facination with these prehistoric relics.

We weaved onwards from there, heading east, till at last we saw the green steel of the bridge over the Eel River on the 101.

Only a few short miles more brough us to the turn off for Weott, home of the "We-Otters", and finally to the Burlington Campground.

Setting up camp was a fairly short order operation. For the first time on the trip we broke out firewood and set up for an evening of actual campground relaxation. The camper was once again offloaded, to allow us the freedom to drive the "actual" Avenue of the Giants.

During our setup work, our neighbors, a somewhat snooty about a site down made the remark to Mason that the campsite was already reserved, in what he must have assumed sounded like jest.

To Mason, at least, it just made the man sound like an ass. I, personally, wasn't present at the time of the exchange, the lavatory occupying my primary train of thought.

Once our work was completed, we piled back into the truck, made a brief stop at the station at the front of the park to pay for our stay, then headed out, deciding to continue on down the avenue from where we left off at the camground when we turned in.

The road leads on through stands of Redwoods, though none near as impressive as those found in the Rockafellar Forest, until it reaches the town of Meyers flat, where the forest gives way once again to cilivilzation.

Many of the towns, like Weott, Miranda, Meyers Flat, are remnants from when tourists used to flock to the Avenue of the Giants. Almost every town has some oddity of a Redwood tree in it for tourists to stop and look at, take pictures and perhaps buy something from one of the shops, or local eateries.

These towns are also dying.

Many of the towns we passed through along the Avenue are filled with empty buildings, many with architectures going back to the early 1950s. Bygone motels, gas stations, and restaurants dot the sides of this highway, many of which were likely bustling and open when Rociante carried Steinbeck and Charlie through these groves.

But, not all had given in to the modern, pedal to the metal, no time to stop mentality that fills our lives these days.

In Meyers Flat, many shops are still operating, a new high-end hotel has been recently opened and several restaurants are rennovating. The local Drive-thru tree was open and doing business, though I didn't take the time to see it.

We stopped in Miranada, a town stylized after a John Wayne cowboy movie.

On one side of the highway, the town continues on its heritage as a 50's era tourist attraction. On the other-side, it endeavours to be a wild-west town, its post office building modeled after a Wild West city, complete with Jail, which is actually the local video game arcade.

Something neat about Miranda is that the little town has a small, but obviously well-off, antique auto restoration business. Parked in front of what probably was once the local service station is a collection of various vintage autos, all in operating conditions, and a couple with FOR SALE signs on them.

One vehicle, in particular caught my eye when I photographed it. It took me a couple of moments to figure out who was occupying the front seat.

The poor bugger must have been having a rough day, he's all red in the face!

There is one thing you shoud all know about the Avenue of the Giants, it also doubles as the local race track.

The gentleman above drove into town from the south and then promptly fish-tailed the restored Mustang Mach I around reved her up a few times and then laid down a track of rubber as he shot back south one more. A newer, polished black Mustang SVT soft-top followed suit shortly afterwards, by that time I had already returned my camera to its spot in the truck and didn't have time to fetch it out before the second car was gone.

We decided to fuel up the truck in Miranda, the town had a one pump gas station that only pumped one kind of fuel, regular unleaded. They also pumped it for a whole lot less than all the other stations we had seen in the area.

While the gas was filling our thirsty tank, I happened to look up and noticed the rainbow forming above us. With luck, I managed to snap a few pictures before it vanished again, into the growing dusk.

In Miranda, too, was where I did the calculations that yielded our worst fuel economy for the entire trip. Our adventure to the Mattole beach and back had netted us just a tad over 6.5 mpg, a number I had never before experienced in all my RVing travels, and hope to never experiene again.

The Dodge's thirst slaked, we continued on south a little further along, till we came across a place called "Hobbiton, USA."

Hobbiton also posessed the Chimney Tree, a still living Redwood that had its core burned out roughly seventy odd years ago. Unlike the Eternal Tree House that we encoutered later on, the Chimney Tree was in good repair, with a cement floor and a wheel-chair accessible ramp down inside.

The Chimney Tree also sported a small Cafe next door that also sold the tickets for the Hobbiton Trail. Sadly, they were closed for the season.

For you amongst the readers who may not quite understand what "Hobbiton, USA" is, I shall endeavour to explain. Hobbiton is based around J.R.R Tolkiens, "The Hobbit", and the home of the creatures known as "Hobbits", called the Shire. The trail has various scenes from the Tolkien book recreated on it, each with a talking story book pedestal. Sadly, the trail has the gate chained shut with this message written on it: "Hobbiton Trail closed indefinitely due to extensive damage." The pictures above were all I was able to see, sadly.

After visiting Hobbiton and the Chimney Tree, we decided we'd toured enough of the Avenue of the Giants for the evening and returned to camp.

A few minute work yielded us a nice, roaring campfire, courtesy of the 4x4 chunks of hardwood INSAYN provided for the NATCOA rally at Silver Creek Falls back in May.

While Mason relaxed next to the fire, I set to work on our dinner.

Mmmm-mmmm! I do love a good London Broil steak with a nice side of french fires and a cold bottle of Ken's Thousand Island dressing to smoother them in.

After a thoroughly filling dinner, we pulled retired to our chairs by the fire pit and stocked the coals. One is never too full to top of their evening's dinner with a lovely round of S'mores and some fine cigars.

As the s'mores were finished, we dimmed the gas lantern as low as it would go before going out and leaned back in our chairs to gaze up at the myriad of stars above us.

Our throats were filled with those words that come when one allows their mind to grasp at the infinite smallness of our lives in the scale of cosmic events. We pointed at constelations, we guess poorly at what the they were named.

Our cigars burned down slowly, our bodies filling with a warm contentment and the feeling of an evening well spent.

Satiated and sleepy, our fire down to little more than glowing embers, our cigars only memories, we doused our coals, paid visit to the showers and returned to find sleep waiting patiently for us in the camper.

Neither of us had a deeper sleep than the one we did that night.

We awoke the next morning, well rested and warm (Furnace was left on the night before) and hungry as the dickens. We feasted upon scrambled eggs, smothered in melted cheddar and pepper jack cheese, bacon, peaches, english muffins and a good stack of pancakes.

Our bellies full, we dressed for the day and set out once more to explore the rest of the Avenue of the Giants.

We headed north today, driving from our campground back towards Weott, then continuing on the Avenue of the Giants instead of traveling the 101. On a short detour, we crested a hill, giving us a glorious view of the Eel River Valley below. Here and only here, was the Eel retaining its looks as a river. Else where along its banks, the river had shriveled to little more than a stream. Algae warnings were prevelant, warning that no one should come in contact with the river or drink its water under any circumstance.

We drove back to the Rockafellar forest again, deciding to visit a grove we had skipped the prior day on our drive towards the Burlington Campground.

We decided to video tape our drive through the forest on the return, though we did not journey as far back as we had been when we had encountered that stand of giants upon entering the valley from the CA-211.

We parked amongst the giant trees, certain we had encountered the road in which sleepy had problems getting his truck and camper around a bend. A short hike yielded the trees above.

From here we drove back to the 101 again, and drove on through more of the Avenue of the Giants. Sadly, nothing else we encountered on that drive could muster up even close to the Rockafellar Forest.

The last, most notable thing we saw was this odd Log Truck for the Immortal Tree RV Park. It, too, had a tourable tree of some sort, but by this time I was feeling a bit let down by a great deal of the Avenue of the Giants and shortly after photographing the truck, returned to camp and got ready for the push south.

I think, reflecting back on the journey, that if I was to overnight in the Humboldt Redwoods area again, I would prefer to stay at Hidden Creek vs Burlington. The Burlington Campground, while nice, is also situated directly between Hwy 101 and the Avenue of the Giants, with really little to zero setback. During the day, you can hear the traffic on the 101 highway, punctuated periodically by the sounds of vehicles tearing past on the Avenue of the Giants. Had Hidden Creek been open, it closes after labor day, we probably would have stayed there. The campground is both larger, and set atop a hill a ways back from the highway.

Whilst we packed away our camp, and readied the camper for reloading, a theory that had slowly been blooming in the back of my mind was reinforced when an ingratiating couple in a small Toyota-type mini Class C made six loops past our site, then proceeded to complain at us. It was roughly a half-hour to fourty-five minutes past the noon check out time, and they had decided they wanted the site we were occupying. They were not holding a reservation of any kind, but nonetheless found it necessary to go out of their way to be as rude as possible to us as we scurried about getting camp packed up.

Now, take to heart that my theory is only grounded in my experience with motorhome owners in the portion of California we were in, but from repeat experiences with them here and there, it seems that if we encountered folks with a motorhome, the odds were 99.999% they were *******s.

I don't know what encouraged the behavior, we were quiet and polite as possible, I can only assume it came from an attitude of "Hrumph, I have Camper Trash next door to me, and I have to look at it!"

Travel Trailers, Fifth Wheels, Toy Haulers, Class Bs, etc, all of those we encountered were amiable, polite, friendly people. Class As and Class Cs, both full-size and Mini, went out of their way to be unfriendly and rude.

From the Humboldt Redwoods, we set our course for San Francisco and the tale of the great campground search.

But, before I end my tale, I will tell of one interesting tree we did encounter on our drive south. The Chandlier Drive-Thru Tree.

Somehow, I just don't think I'm going to fit through.... A group of Motorcyclists, several of whom I noted were GJs (Gypsy Jokers for those that are unfamiliar), gave encouragement that I could make it if I made a running start at it .

I think in my mind, I expected all the trees in the Redwoods to be like the Chandlier tree, massive. I can only think that the truly massive trees must be in Sequoia National further south.

Well, that wraps up this part of the tale, we only have one more part to go in the California Adventure, thanks for following with us as I relive our adventure!

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