2000: California Coast


July 19 - 20

Is it a tree? A house? Or a tree house?

A light breakfast of tea and toast, the obligatory smoke-alarm incident, a trip to the dump station - the curse of the RVer - and we're on the road again. A few miles up the road is Scotia, a company town of Pacific Lumber. Mike wants to take the mill tour, so we stop in. The Mill has a blessedly wide-open parking lot, with plenty of room for the Monster.

The mill tour starts with some young aides handing us earplugs; we will need them! We climb up a metal staircase and enter a viewing area for the bark stripper, a high-pressure water device which shreds and strips the bark from the redwood logs entering the building on a conveyor. An operator above decides when each log is clean and sends it tumbling into a water pond to join its brothers.

We are looking through foggy glass and I can't resist a lever labeled "Clear window". I tug, and dribbles of water stream from a dozen small jets to clear our view. I smile at the hospitality of the lumber company.

On to another deafening building, where operators use lasers to sight optimal cuts on the great logs, then take multiple slices using huge circular bandsaws. Workers reach into the conveyors periodically to remove and redirect stray bits; they are uncomfortably close to the saws.

Cutting-waste drops into an unseen lower level, to be sent to the mill's own power plant which produces electricity by burning the waste wood. The rough-cut lumber continues down the line for more processing; we watch workers sorting the pieces and sending them hither and yon on a maze of conveyors. The best lumber goes on to be smoothed and cut into uniform lengths. Most planks have knotholes and cracks; one young man is especially speedy at marking flaws on boards with a machine-readable marker, then sending them to a computerized saw which cuts out the bad sections. The smaller, good pieces are later end-glued together, then recut to standard lengths.

We end the tour in a showroom display of various types of redwood products, mostly exterior siding and interior paneling. We shop for the right "look" for our future home in the mountains.

While I came here to please Mike, I find I have learned much from the tour and have gained a new perspective on the lumber industry. Perhaps it's just PR, but they seem to respect the renewable resource they must shepherd. After watching many hard-working people labor at back-breaking, repetitive jobs, I feel lucky indeed to have such an easy life.

Downtown Ferndale. Ferndale flower garden.

On to the next stop, the Victorian village of Ferndale.

We leave Highway 101 and its mountainous curves and find a surprising expanse of flat dairy country, nestled between the highway and the rugged North Coast. As we enter town, we encounter the ever-present road construction and are detoured around a truck route. Disoriented, we park on a side street of charming small houses with brilliant flower gardens.

Victorian Inn.

A couple of locals visiting on the street are friendly and helpful, and direct us one block over to downtown, where we find wonderful old buildings, lovingly restored.

Hungry, we ask another local for a breakfast recommendation and end up in an old saloon which is now a grill. An odd-looking, bespectacled little man single-handedly works the place, darting in and out from behind the bar to take orders, flip pancakes, and fill coffee cups.

His grill is well-used. My stomach recoils dreading a grease-laden meal, but we are treated to a delicious, perfectly cooked breakfast and excellent service. Our host's energy and no-nonsense intensity for his work provide entertainment as well, and we leave with our appetites sated and smiles on our faces: another diamond-in-the-rough experience to tuck in our virtual travel backpacks.

Gingerbread Mansion.

A shopkeeper suggests a visit to the Gingerbread Mansion, a breathtakingly beautiful Victorian Inn one block away. The sign on the door says "Visitors Welcome", so we ring the bell and wait to be admitted; the door is kept locked for guest security. After a minute we are welcomed by an employee and invited to look around; we may visit any room with an open door.

We tour the downstairs sitting rooms, which are filled with wonderful antique furniture, fresh flowers, Victorian carpets and wallpapers. The guest rooms are also spectacular, with four-posters and claw-foot tubs sharing space with modern showers and bathroom fittings. We leave via the tiny but breathtaking garden packed with fuchsias, roses, and romantic statuary.

Back to the road!  We drive past Eureka and surrounding towns. We've already had a great day and I am satisfied, but our next stop is another winner!

The small coastal town of Trinidad perches on a cliff, overlooking a sweeping harbor dominated by one giant granite mound and sprinkled with jagged rocks jutting out of the water. The weather briefly smiles on us; the sun breaks through and as we hike the hilly shoreline, we gasp repeatedly at the sheer beauty of the coastline.

Trinidad lighthouse monument. Mike enjoys the view. Trinidad granite mound.

We walk a long pier stretching out into the harbor and watch the many sea birds: placid pelicans, crabby cormorants, and the biggest seagulls I've ever seen. Two Humboldt State students are trolling for plankton samples, teaching some children about the marine environment.

After a climb up to the flower-surrounded lighthouse monument, we reluctantly depart.

Our target campsite for the night is in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where the only elk in California graze. Of course, we haven't called ahead; the park is full and does not accept RVs as big as ours. So we continue up 101 to Klamath where we find Riverwoods RV Park, a bit run-down but in a spectacular wooded setting several miles from the highway. We snag a spacious spot with no immediate neighbors, with only tent-campers across the dirt track.

Carolyn the firebug.

After we settle in, I take a short stroll around the park. I notice the concrete fire rings at every campsite; they are all at least three feet across, and near ours there is some unburned redwood left behind by a previous visitor. A bonfire sounds like a fine idea in this chilly climate!

I start gathering some of the plentiful dead branches around the park, while Mike drags over the redwood logs. By 6 p.m., we have a roaring fire going and I am cozily soaking up the warmth. The only disturbance is a brief period of Lawn Mower Mania while the campground owner tests out her new riding mower. For the next three hours, I am serene and satisfied to feed the fire, poke the coals and contemplate a career as an arsonist. This is what we came for!

The next day, we decide to spend a relaxing day in camp; Mike is tired of unhooking The Cube from life support every time we want to go somewhere. We have another light breakfast. Mike finally surrenders and permanently unsheathes the smoke detector after another toaster-tooting.

While cleaning up, I notice a faint but insistent peeping from outside the RV window. Following the sound carefully, I discover a tiny baby bird, no bigger than my thumb, stranded on the ground beside our RV. He is underneath a large tree and a tangle of bushes; Mike and I search in vain for a nest.

We retreat to watch and soon see the parents - a pair of goldfinches, the male bright yellow. They appear to be feeding the baby on the ground, and although I am overwhelmed by a need to rescue the sad little thing, I reluctantly realize that I have neither the knowledge nor the means to help it. All we can do is hope for the best.

Mike and I strike out for a walk on the paved road alongside camp, where there is almost no traffic. We walk for a mile or so, enjoying the greenery and seclusion. The hillside across from camp is wallpapered with lush ferns and blackberries. A chattering chipmunk chides us from a fallen tree ten feet above; we see his mate foraging ahead of us on the shoulder. Robins are everywhere, this part of the state is full of them. Probably lots of great worms in the soft, moist ground, soaked by 40 inches of rain a year! On the way back, we gather more dead limbs for tonight's fire; the campground has been well-gleaned already.

When we return from our walk, I search for my foundling - he seems to have disappeared. I'm haunted by visions of him as a one-bite snack for some unknown predator. A bit later I check again, and find that he has moved (or been moved) slightly underneath some ground foliage. Is this a parental attempt at camouflage? Unfortunately, he does not look healthy; he has ceased the constant peeping and sits shivering with eyes half-closed. Once again I sadly leave him to his fate, not knowing what else to do.

In the afternoon we decide to try biking to the beach, but we are foiled by a steep hill.  Even the Zap can't help me here! Huffing and puffing, we walk our bikes uphill to a beach overlook, where we join other campers who have discovered a family of whales close to shore. We watch the whales surface and spout for a while, then mount our bikes for a thrill-ride to the bottom of the hill. We pass the camp and find a pleasant canopied side-road where we continue our ride for a few miles.

Mike likes fire too.

When we return to camp, I check again for the hatchling, but this time he seems truly gone. I resign myself; I will never know his fate, which is probably just as well.

In the afternoon we watch a videotape and take another short walk, wood-gathering in earnest. As evening slowly spreads, we build a truly magnificent blaze to feed my pyromania. Filet mignon cooked on the grill brings to a close this truly soul-satisfying day.