Road Trip Day 15: Oregon Coast and California Redwoods

This morning the alarm went off at 7 am, and as we tried to motivate to get up, we could hear the birds outside our tent. For a few minutes they were the typical happy little bird noises. Then we started hearing a crazy bird that sounded like a seagull that had been tutored by a parrot. Once we got outside the tent we saw it atop a tall dead tree – a raven! Not what we expected.

We had a bit of breakfast and broke camp, and then headed up the hill adjacent to our campground to see the view from the Perpetua scenic overlook. From above, we could see the Devil’s Churn and the cove we had hiked around last night. There was a very light fog on the coastline, so the visibility was rather good. In the sunlight, the scene looked much less creepy than it had last night!

Looking out over Cape Perpetua

We were on the road by 9:30 am, continuing our drive down Highway 101. We stopped for a few minutes at Heceta Head Lighthouse, hoping to get a photo. It’s an Oregon State Park, so our National Parks pass was useless – meaning we would have to pay $3 to park and walk around. They did a good job of hiding the lighthouse behind some trees so you can’t photograph it from the parking lot. Even more clever, when we got around a couple more curves in the road, they managed to hide the lighthouse in a fog bank so we couldn’t photograph it from the overlook!

Dunes at Joaquin Miller State ParkAt 10:30 am we stopped for gas in Florence, at a Fred Meyer that had beach sand dunes directly behind it. A couple of miles later, we pulled off the highway into the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. We hiked up one of the dunes to take some pictures. I took off my shoes before walking up, knowing that my Chuck Taylors would get filled with sand otherwise. I was glad I did – it was actually easier hiking up the dune by digging in my bare feet. Plus, the sand was delightful – soft, dry, and warm.

We got back on the road and drove for quite some time. We passed two construction projects featuring the recovery.gov logo, though there was not a lot of actual work going on that we could see. The signs insisted that the projects are “Putting Oregon back to work”. Driving on Highway 101 is, I suppose, a unique experience. It’s hard to avoid getting stuck behind an RV, logging truck, and/or the occasional porta-potty carrier or trash truck. The weather changes every quarter mile or so, from dense fog to bright sunshine and everything in between.

Oregon CoastWe breezed through North Bend and Coos Bay around quarter to 12 and just kept on going. About an hour later, just north of Ophir, we came to a spot that was really beautiful, so we stopped to take some photos. The large rocks were cool formations, the water was blue, there were no people on the beaches, there wasn’t anyone climbing around below the rocks taking photos. If this spot had been in California and 20 degrees warmer, the whole place would have been swarmed with people. Actually, go to Morro Bay and check out Morro Rock, and this would be the un-touristy pristine version.

We stopped for lunch in Gold Beach around 1:30 pm. We bypassed Dairy Queen and Subway in favor of the Panther’s Den Pizza and Deli, so named in honor of the high school (you can guess the mascot) across the street. It was decorated with jerseys, cheerleader uniforms, awards, and photos of Panther athletic events. We got there just as a small crew (about five guys) of construction workers were also getting there for lunch. I think the place was overwhelmed by all the business, because it took a long time for our pizza to arrive at our table. In the meantime, we watched the VH1 Classic special that was on, and when that ended, the cook gave the remote to the construction workers and we watched the nonstop Michael Vick news on numerous versions of ESPN. The pizza was yummy, but the stop was long – we didn’t drive off until 2:20 pm.

The next large town was Brookings, which we breezed through. Shortly after that, we came to the California border. We were stopped at the agricultural inspection station, where we had to vow that we didn’t have any out-of-state produce. Then the inspector gave us a newsletter for the Redwoods parks, which Dave perused while I continued driving.

Crescent City was not much further down the road, and we stopped there at the Redwoods Information Center. We were glad we did, because we got some good recommendations from the ranger there. She advised us that the best old-growth redwood groves were in nearby Jedediah Smith State Park, and that it would be worth our time to go there rather than to the more touristy National Park further south.

Fallen Redwood at Jedediah Smith State ParkSo we drove into the state park and soon found ourselves driving down a gravel road through some very dusty redwood groves. It was beautiful and peaceful, especially with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” album playing through our car stereo and the motor on our hybrid vehicle on silent mode, as we gazed up through the sun roof.

The giant redwoods are amazingly beautiful, and you just get the sense that you’re looking at something ancient. In these groves are trees up to 2500 years old, and are also the tallest living things on earth. Aside from those unusual features, one of my favorite things about the redwoods are the quality of the foliage. The branches start perhaps 100 feet up the trunk of the tree. The branches are very short, so they tend to bunch around the tree a bit. They have a puffy, feathery quality to them that is really unique.

Smith River
We stopped to hike in Stout Grove, a small area just filled with beautiful, huge, old-growth redwoods. The loop trail here was short, easy, and flat. We took a little spur off the loop trail where we crossed a tiny bridge across a creek, then a longer bridge across the Smith River. The water was gorgeous – so clear, calm, sparkly, and warm! The water was pretty shallow – probably not much more than 2 feet in most places. If we could have spent another hour here, it would have been fun to wade around in the water. I watched wistfully as a group of rafters paddled up the river, just making it under the 3′ clearance of the bridge.

We knew it was time to leave when three grizzled rednecks arrived at the shore on their bikes and were yelling to each other so loud it could be heard across the river. One of them dove into the shallow water headfirst with all his clothes on. As we hiked past them to return to the loop trail, I noticed that they had a fat little chihuahua. What a strange group when the chihuahua is the calm, normal one.

We left the grove around 5:30 pm and headed out of the park. We got back to Crescent City, and stopped for a while at Starbucks to go online and plan our next steps. We determined that we didn’t need to do the scenic tour in Redwoods National Park, and aimed ourselves for Eureka. We were in Starbucks much longer than planned, and didn’t leave until about 7 pm.

Back on Highway 101, we stayed focused and drove all the way to Eureka without stopping, getting there around 8:30 pm. We checked into the Travelodge, where we had reserved a room while online at Starbucks.

The motel was only a few blocks from the brewpub where we had decided to eat dinner, the Lost Coast Brewery. Dave ordered the 10 beer taster, which allowed him to sample 10 of Lost Coast’s brews. He recommends the Alleycat Ale, the Downtown Brown, and the 8 Ball Stout. The taster also included three different fruity beers, which weren’t really his thing. A misunderstanding with the waiter caused me to order a liter of the house red wine, which I gamely drank about half of. For dinner, I had beef stew with sourdough bread, while Dave got the wings sampler. The guys sitting at the table next to us – sales guys, as it turned out – were very friendly and chatty. One of them leaned over at the beginning and asked Dave what he was going to order for dinner. I think the surprised and put-off expression that Dave reacted with was sufficient to keep him from doing much chatting with us for the rest of the evening. They turned their attentions to the couple on the other side of them, who turned out to be from Washington DC… but we didn’t get involved in the chit-chat.

The restaurant closed at 10 pm, and we were still finishing up. Though the waiter brought our check way before we were done eating, when we were actually ready to pay and leave, he was nowhere to be found. Finally he came and took care of the bill and we headed out. On our way back to the motel we walked around downtown Eureka for a few extra blocks to see what we could see (I thought there might be some beach on the west side of town, but it looked to be a very dark marina instead). There wasn’t a lot going on, and even the few bars and restaurants seemed to be shutting down. So we headed back to the Travelodge and enjoyed some Jon Stewart instead.

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