All the hits: week seventeen and eighteen (in which we encounter giant trees and giant snow banks)

Northern California

The Bay Model: In a huge hanger just north of San Francisco in Sausalito sits The Bay Model, a massive scale model of the San Francisco Bay and its tributaries the size of two football fields. Before computers could handle this sort of work, the model was used to simulate the impacts that various developments would have on the waters within the Bay, as well as how salt water might move up into marshes to the north. One proposal modeled even saw parts of the Bay damned off to form fresh water reservoirs for the city. While all this work is now done by computers, the model continues to exist for educational purposes, its huge pumps circulating water and endlessly simulating the tides.

Point Reyes National Seashore: This was a bit of an afterthought following our early morning visit to Muir Woods National Monument (see below), but it turned out to be the highlight of the day. Located just over an hour from San Francisco, Point Reyes feels like a different planet. From the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) a beautiful 45-minute drive takes you past marshes, through forest, over rolling green pastures with the ocean on both sides, and finally, out to the lighthouse. Hundreds of Elephant Seals were causing a ruckus on a beach nearby, and we were lucky to spot a Peregrine Falcon. As we drove back, we took in stunning vistas of undulating sandy cliffs plummeting from the green fields to the endless beaches below. It would be easy to spend a week exploring this park and all it has to offer.

Mendocino: A picturesque little community that may look familiar to some as it played Cabot Cove in the television series Murder, She Wrote. There were lots of little boutique hotels, craft shops, restaurants, and lots of cute houses – but the surrounding scenery steals the show. Crossing the road away from town leads into fields of wild grass and flowers filled with birds. The fields then end as steep steps work their way down to the beach where caves and arches have been carved into the cliffs by the slow grinding of the ocean waves and tides.

Drinking a beer in the sun while watching the ocean waves crash onto the rocks or beach: It is THE best.

The Avenue of the Giants: This scenic byway follows the Eel River as it carves its way through old growth forest in Humboldt Redwood State Park. The trees here are much larger and more impressive than Muir Woods, and the area is much more remote. The drive is punctuated by a series of short-to-medium length hikes, several of which we enjoyed. The forests up here smell absolutely amazing.

Redwood National and State Parks: Approaching the parks, we were forced to stop in the middle of the highway as a herd of Elk tried to figure out whether or not to cross the road. It was kind of surreal to see dozens of these beautiful creatures just standing there. Redwood National Park also contains a scenic drive, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Again, we took many opportunities to stop and take walks into the woods and again, the trees and forest here were much more impressive than Muir Woods. Also amazing were all the rhododendrons growing wild in the forest. As we descended one isolated trail called “Damnation Creek” we passed several ecosystems and came across animals and insects of all sorts as we descended 1,000 feet to the ocean. While we stood on the beach contemplating the long climb back, we were surprised by a small head bobbing above the waves just off the shore. The curious eyes of a sea otter were trying to figure out what we were about.

Bonus: Fresh road-side cherries, Himalayan Kabob and Curry House in Windsor, wine country, Muir Woods National Monument (an easy day-trip from San Francisco, but it gets very busy and the Redwood experience is better further north), Manchester Beach, Glass Beach in Fort Bragg (we were here on Mother’s Day and saw a mother seal trying to teach her pup how to balance on a rocky island in heavy surf but the poor pup kept getting swept away), West Coast Knittery in Eureka, Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka (specifically, the Sharkinator IPA), Northtown Coffee in Arcata, Redwood Curtain Brewing Company in Arcata (delicious), Japhy’s Soup and Noodles in Arcata, Perlita’s Authentic Mexican in Crescent City.

Southern Oregon

Oregon Caves National Park: The only caves we’d seen on the trip thus far were the spectacular Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico. While not on our itinerary, we noticed that the Oregon Caves were not that far off our route and so decided to take the detour. It is a much smaller cave system that requires a lot of crouching and body-twisting. Unlike Carlsbad Caverns, the Oregon Caves have to be entered as part of a tour, and our tour was only eight people. So, with so few people and a smaller cave system, the experience was much more intimate. At one point, the Ranger leading the tour turned off all the lights and were were plunged into darkness. Very cool. Also, Amalia found a cave cricket.

Crater Lake National Park: If taking one detour, why not take another, so we headed from the Oregon Caves up to the rim of Crater Lake. Even in mid-May, the park is buried in a tonne of snow, and most days the upper rim is enshrouded in cloud. We were super-lucky that it was a beautiful and sunny day when we were there. The snow banks were massive, but the views of the lake were spectacular. While the road around the rim was still closed (doesn’t open until later in the summer), we were able to walk along the rim for a while and get some sweet views of Wizard Island. It was a short stop, but dramatic and totally worth it (plus, because of all the snow, we basically did everything possible within the park). Warm weather and snow makes for a good snowball fight too.

The drive from Crater Lake to Ashland: The drive was surprisingly amazing since it was just a random route chosen by the GPS. Instead of dipping down into the valley where the major highway is, we drove across mountain plateaus, through fields and forests, beside lakes, and then plunged down into Ashland on a winding road alongside a river. At various points along the drive we were treated to fantastic views of the Crater Lake mountains and Mount McLoughlin.

The Growler Guys: At our first stop in Ashland, we grabbed a few beers and a pizza on the patio here. They have a VERY comprehensive beer selection, and everything tasted excellent.

Bonus: Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area (a gorgeous park and campsite – though Ben thinks this is where he was attacked by a tick), Case Coffee Roasters in Ashland, Green Leaf Restaurant in Ashland, The Web-sters knitting shop in Ashland, the Ashland Food Co-op, Harris Beach State Park, the Bell & Whistle Coffee House in Harbor, Arch Rock, Face Rock, the Cobra Lillies in Darlingtonia State Park, the Rogue Brewery in Newport, the Devil’s Punchbowl.

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