I-5 is a well-beaten path, the main artery of the West Coast, but it goes over some high mountain passes that can get snowy at this time of year. I have chains and rear-wheel drive, but I don't have a lot of snow driving experience, and I don't really want to get more on this trip.
US Route 101 runs along the coast (except for south of San Francisco). It is less well-traveled, less of a straight shot, and farther out of my way. However, it doesn't involve any mountain passes, tends to get more rainy than snowy, and I've heard it's a scenic drive.
I polled friends and family for advice, and got a mixed bag: some said stick to the 5, and others said the 101 is a better choice. I dithered about it for quite a while before deciding it was worth the extra mileage to take the scenic, more-likely-to-be-snowless route.
This turned out to be the right choice. Because what nobody told me is that 101 runs through Endor.
I'm not a serious long-distance driver, so I broke the trip up into two legs of about seven hours each. The first leg took me from Salinas to Eureka, and the landscape shifted rapidly into the hillsides bristly with evergreens that I associate with the Pacific Northwest (and home). But these were much bigger evergreens than I'm used to. Somewhere along there, I scratched my head: Heyyy. Am I driving through the Redwoods, here? Yup, quick on the draw, that's me.
I was in a hurry, that first day, to reach the home of a hospitable couple in Eureka before it got too late; in my road-weariness, I found Eureka (a small town) ridiculously complicated to navigate, and went in circles for a while before reaching my destination. My hosts were very kind and friendly, though I came at a busy time for them; frequent travelers themselves, they make a habit of sharing their home with wayfarers from many lands. I slept hard in their guest bed and woke early, ready to hit the road again.
This time, I'd done my research, and resolved to take my time and enjoy the scenery. I left the 101 to take the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway -- doesn't that sound lovely?
I pulled over by a sign that said BIG TREE. Any tree called Big Tree out here, I thought, must be impressive indeed.
Big Tree is a Coast Redwood, 304' high and 21.6' in diameter. Its age is estimated at 1500(!) years. Big Tree is not all that much bigger than the surrounding forest, which gives you an idea of the kind of giants I was standing among here.
I thought I might give Big Tree a big hug, this being the cheesiest possible action in such an encounter. But as I approached, I saw that Big Tree has a fence around it with a laminated sign:
TO PROTECT BIG TREE
FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS,
PLEASE STAY ON THIS SIDE
OF THE FENCE.
It's not a very big fence, and from the worn texture of the bark up to about 6', it's obvious that many people have ignored the sign. I didn't want to be one of those people, so I settled for giving Big Tree a friendly smile instead.
There was a lot of wandering potential here, but remembering the miles I still needed to cover before night, I stayed close to the parking lot, inspecting the marvels in the vicinity... of which there were plenty, even in such a groomed (well, raked, apparently) and accessible spot.
I found it easier to photograph the small things than the large ones: how to fit such mammoths into the eye of a pocket camera? This mushroom is growing on the side of a felled log some 5' in diameter... merely a small log, in this forest.
I drove on, marveling at the colossal beauty on all sides. As I approached the end of the Scenic Parkway, my track-shuffling MP3 player, entirely of its own volition, offered up the Ewok celebration song from "Return of the Jedi." Well done, little Sansa!
But there were plenty more trees to see, north of this stretch of park. For instance, there were the TREES OF MYSTERY, which make even Paul and Babe look small.
(The mystery, as far as I could tell, was why anyone would pay $14 to see more trees when there are millions around that you can look at for free.)
I was hoping there would be somewhere to get brunch around here, but it was Sunday, and everything was closed, even the diner on the Yurok reservation. The little shack selling smoked salmon was open, though. I came to the conclusion that smoked salmon was the best of all possible road trip snacks.
Somewhere in there, the trees got smaller and the coast got closer, and I had a very late brunch at a small-town diner, just early enough to miss the post-church lunch crowd (if there was one).
The Oregon border came sooner than I thought it would. I got really impatient to get home after that, partly because I felt a wave of gonna-get-a-cold symptoms coming on, and partly because it seemed like surely I had to be almost there by now. I wasn't. There's a lot of Oregon, even measured north-south, and I had to drive about half of it.
The Oregon coast scenery was unarguably beautiful, but I found it oddly monotonous. Every ocean view had scrubby shore vegetation, a long silvery stretch of sand, some cliffs and a couple of sea stacks. It's kind of sad that I felt so unenthusiastic about this kind of scenery after just a few glimpses. I blame the cold symptoms.
Here's a sampling from where I stopped for a nap, at Whale Rock (not pictured).
And another from Battle Rock City Park, the only other scenery stop I made in Oregon.
Crossing Coos Bay, I was reminded of the gothic lines of Portland's St. Johns Bridge.
And then it was getting dark and I was getting sick of being in the car and tired of post-nasal drip and I drove drove drove
and then I was home, at the house where I grew up, where there were lights and voices and smiles and hugs and food and rest.