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Trips around Northern California

Do you think that San Francisco is Northern California? Hah, I bet you think that Manhattan is New England, too!

Disclaimer: Dislike insect bites, poison oak, severe sunburn, high winds, narrow and bumpy dirt roads, dense fog, gunshots, hot dogs, cow patties, prison work gangs and snakes? Then read no further, and hie thee to a safe national park.

Part I, Summer of '94 trip:

Wolfgang and I went for a 10-day long trip up along the north coast, staying in the following places:

1) Salt Point State Park, north of Jenner. Best tidepools that I know of anywhere. Good seal-watching. This park recently suffered a severe fire, though, and isn't what it used to be. The walk-in campsites are closed. No groceries near this park, so take plenty of rations along. Kites and great blue herons; a dozen woodpeckers on the dead trees.

2) Manchester State Beach, in Manchester. Very nice, private walk-in campsites in the dunes. Quiet. Not much to do though, if you're not a beach person. The shore is sandy, not rocky, but the water is still cold. This is where the San Andreas goes out to sea, as is apparent by looking at the topography.

3) Mackerricher State Beach north of Mendocino. Nice enough, but not worth the extra drive north from Salt Point. More seals and tidepools. Lots of kites (the avian kind). Walk-in campsites here were closed for no apparent reason. On the way to Mackerricher, we had considered staying at Jackson State Forest. As we drove down the road to the campsite marked on our map, we saw a sign saying that it was under supervision of the CA Dept of Corrections, and that only authorized personnel should enter. This discouraged us.

4) Sinkyone Wilderness State Park on the Lost Coast. A beautiful isolated place. The road there from the south, Usal Road, is really treacherous; allow 35 minutes for the 6-mile drive. We didn't drive all the way down the access road from the north (Chemise Mountain Road), but it seemed better. The campsites themselves were unattractive, but the setting is spectacular: steep hills on 3 sides and the ocean on the other. We planned to go hiking on the Lost Coast trail, but the area was totally socked in by fog. More seals, kites and herons. (The north coast is tedious that way ;-)) No drinking water here, and nothing even to filter; you must bring it in.

5) Kings Range Conservation Area, north of Shelter Cove. We made our own campsite on top of the ridge just north of Shelter Cove. The view was panoramic; we could see nearly 180 degrees worth of breaking surf, and only wooded hills in the other direction. We shot at cans with a pistol and no one complained. Unfortunately it was so windy at night that we couldn't sleep, but I'm glad we went anyway. Note: at first we went to have a look at the Tolkan and Horse Mountain campsites, but a large group of men wearing matching blue uniforms was refurbishing them under the direction of a man with a gun! No drinking water here, either.

6) Humboldt Redwoods State Park, near Scotia. After our wilderness experience on the BLM land, we retreated to the prepackaged safety of a kitschy state park. The redwoods are spectacular, but yecch, go see them elsewhere.

7) Six Rivers National Forest, Ruth Reservoir campground. We got there mid Friday afternoon and had a great time swimming in the water, which was clean and a pleasant temperature. The setting of the lake among the peaceful green hillsides was idyllic until the jet skiers arrived late that evening. The next day we tried to go hiking up to Mad River Rock, but couldn't find the dirt road turnoff to the trailhead. (Clearly marked on the map, it was one of a dozen unlabelled dirt roads in real life.) Unfazed, we drove to Forest Glen in Shasta-Trinity National Forest and attempted to hike up to the "Marble Caves" on Copper Mountain. This time we found the trailhead with some effort, but discovered the trail to be a jeep track littered with blowdowns. We only got up a mile or so before we decided to cut our losses. We plinked at some more cans, ate lunch, and started home.

8) Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area. We stayed here on the way back to the Bay Area. This is a Sacramento River fishing/boating area. There are even boat-in campsites. Lacking a boat, we stayed in one of the pedestrian campsites. There is swimming in the river nearby at Tehama County Park.

All in all it was a great trip. We definitely plan to return to Mendocino, Six Rivers, and Shasta-Trinity National Forests and would like to have a go at the Trinity Alps and Lassen. But first I have to save some more vacation!

Part II, Summer of '95 trip:

1)-2) Kings Range Conservation Area: Stayed close by where we stayed in '95, but this time in a spot sheltered from the wind. We hiked along the ridgetop to the peak of Saddle Mountain the second day. Views were good although not better than Horse Mountain. Noted with alarm that the ocean below was fogged in (ominous foreshadowing here!).

3) Drove up along the coast through scenery that constantly made us want to stop, but we pressed on. We were going to drive through Ferndale, but the going was slow enough that we decided to save that for the next trip. Went into Eureka where we stopped at the Lost Coast Brewpub. Thanks to Ken Papai for the recommendation! (You can read Ken's Northern California Brewpub List for yourself.) Suitably refreshed, we headed onwards to Humboldt Lagoons State Park, which we had one hell of a time finding. The signs are really confusing given that there are several state parks in the area, and we had a hard time raising the park service on the phone in order to get the gate combination.

3)-4) Stayed two nights at Humboldt Lagoons, which has very private campsites close to the beach hidden amidst dense foliage and twisted conifers. We watched the surf, collected agates and hoped that the fog would clear so that we continue along the coast to Oregon, which was the plan.

5)-6) This was our 3rd consecutive cloudy day. Being Californians now, we became depressed and decided to head inland, where we knew it would be sunny. We turned south and headed inland (east) along Route 299 along the Trinity River. In Willow Creek we headed north on Rte 96 and camped in the Six Rivers National Forest at Tish Tang campground on the Trinity. The sun was shining bright and I was truly glad to see it. Swimming in the warm river water was a delight after collecting several days worth of grime. We repeatedly saw bald eagles soaring above the river. The second day we drove out on bumpy dirt roads past Horse Linto campground (which looked kind of desolate) and went plinking out in the woods.

7)-8) Enough of river camping, it was time to head out to Clair Engle (Trinity) Lake in Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The drive along the Trinity River to the Lake from Willow Creek was very scenic; we got good views of the Trinity Alps and saw lots of kayakers and canoeists running whitewater. We drove around the lake and looked at national forest campsites, which were packed with boating enthusiasts since it was a sunny weekend day. Deciding we couldn't end the vacation listening to jetskis whine, we drove around to a deserted southern arm of the lake, where we camped on the mudflat created by the lake's ever-changing level.

The campsite was a bit strange, at the bottom of a gully and the end of a dirt road, but the lake was tranquil and clear. For me the highlight of the trip was watching a water snake swim around hunting. I was amazed to watch it eat a salamander, which it wrestled with before our eyes. And there were turtles, too.

And that was the end of the trip. Due to weather problems, we didn't make it all the way up the coast to Oregon, which was the original plan. But there's still 1996!

Part III, Summer of '96 Trip:

This was the first GPS-enhanced vacation trip. We haven't gotten quite as nerdly as Steve Roberts in our mode of traveling, but give us a few years.

To start the trip out right, we stopped at Mendocino Brewing Company on the way up. The draft beer there tasted much better than it does in bottles. Properly refreshed and invigorated, we set out for

1)-2) Kings Range Conservation Area again, this time on a slightly different part of the Horse Mountain area. The sun was out over the ocean this time, making the scene even more spectacular than before, but the first night was cold! I was having doubts about the wisdom of going camping in NCa the third week of September, although we did have benefit of a full moon.

After all my anxiety the first night, the weather was plenty warm for the rest of the trip. Some cold mice did nest in the engine compartment of the car, though. The second morning we awoke to the sound of gunfire, although we were relieved to see that it was evidently not directed at us.

3)-4) These two nights were spent at the Mattole River Campground on the northern end of Kings Range. The drive from Horse Mountain to Mattole River is a pleasure; both the Kings Range peaks and the river valley itself are impressive enough that you find yourself constantly wanting to pause and let the day pass. There's no doubt we could spend a lot of time in this area!

The Mattole River campground is very civilized, with pit toilets and all, and it doesn't have the wild atmosphere of Horse Mountain. The beach in this part of the park was pretty and we made a pleasant day trip to Ferndale, which is unspoiled without being too cute. The drive to Ferndale past Cape Mendocino is itself quite memorable although not for the faint-hearted. The weather was partly cloudy although overall pleasant.

5)-6) After another stop at the Lost Coast Brewery, we headed on up once again to Humboldt Lagoons State Park. Once again, we faced drizzle! I think there must be fog at these parks almost all the time. The campsites can't be beat for quiet and vegetation though.

In order to last out the weather we went and walked around the town of Trinidad. We had seafood and more brews at a restaurant on a pier overlooking Trinidad's naturally enclosed harbor.

7)-8) We stopped at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park where there was supposed to be more environmental camping. Turned out that these sites were a few miles hike from the road towards the ocean. That would be fine in good weather, but we had suspicions that these campsites were in the undesirable drizzle zone, so we moved on.

We continued on to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. It looked pretty buggy and was inhabited only by some creepy looking folks, so we decided to move on. But here we got the opportunity to take free hot showers! Thank you State Parks System.

Finally we settled in at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park just northeast of Crescent City, California's northernmost coastal town. It sounded like Lakes Earl and Talawa State Park had nicer campsites than JSRSP, but Lakes Park was in the drizzle belt. Our campsite wasn't as private as we would like, but it was close to the Smith River and among some immense redwoods. Plus the sky was blue again.

The next day we hiked out along the Smith River, California's last wild waterway. We were lucky enough to spend a few hours watching a kingfisher and some mergansers fish on the river. Kingfishers seem to be spiritual kin to hummingbirds, all self-important chirping.

To round out the trip, we stopped off at Humboldt Brewing Company in Arcata. Alas, this isn't much of a place beerwise. I'd rank the beer near the Tied House or Seabright, not to be compared with the output of stellar institutions like Marin Brewing or Pacific Coast or Mendocino Brewing.

And so, back to work. Off to Brazil in 2/97.

Part IV, Summer of '97 Trip:

For a different woodsy experience this year, we decided to spend most of our vacation in a cabin, the way we often used to do in the Dartmouth Outing Club in those happy days of yore. Accordingly we rented Interrorem Cabin in the Olympic National Forest. This cabin is located in Washington state on the eastern side of the Olympic peninsula near the Hood Canal. September is supposed to be a good-weather month in Washington, so we had high hopes of spending a lot of time hiking the hillsides.

We did in fact get in a few memorable hikes. We walked up Jupiter Ridge, where we alternately had views of the Duckabush and Dosewallips River valleys and saw some varied thrushes and a sharp-tailed grouse. It rained the next day so we walked down the easy "Ranger Hole" Trail from the Cabin to the mighty Duckabush, whose water had risen impressively.

It rained more, so we drove out to the Quinault Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. (What better to do in a downpour than visit a rain forest?) We ate lunch at the historic lodge overlooking Lake Quinault and then walked around the multimile nature trail, which was truly lined with weird and impressive stuff like trees growing out of other trees, trees with unsupported tall mangrove-like roots, and ferns growing out of everything that had stopped moving even for a moment. As we returned to the trailhead near the Lodge, we noticed that the sun had come out. It was time to gather by the lakeside, drink beer and catch some rays.

Then it rained more. What better to do in a downpour than go see a waterfall? So we walked out to Murhut Falls, which was reasonably impressive and scenic. Also uncrowded on this wet mid-September day!

The next day, it rained again. I had read about half of Gravity's Rainbow, a wonderful but long book, and accomplished a similarly impressive beer-drinking record. Interrorem Cabin was pleasant, but a wood stove would have helped a lot. We had already catalogued the variety of slugs around the cabin ("banana," "cigar" and "licorice" according to my personal taxonomy). We had examined moss and slime from all angles. We had eaten really a lot of oysters and clams, which are farmed locally in Hood Canal. There were still 4 days of vacation left, and despite the fact that our cabin reservation had a full day to run, it was time to move on to the land of sunshine hiking.

We started driving south, planning to stay near Crater Lake, which sounded like an excellent place. The map indicated that nearby Diamond Lake in the Umpqua National Forest had campgrounds and access to the Mount Thielsen trailhead. Perfect! But then we heard on the radio that it was forecast to snow at 6000 feet and above, about the elevation of Diamond Lake. Change of plans!

We decided instead to go to Castle Crags State Park near Dunsmuir in the Shasta-Trinity region that we have visited on all our California vacations. The campsites at the park were surrounded by tall trees, sunny and private, but the catch proved to be that the noise from I-5 was quite noticeable. Since we arrived at about 1 AM on the first night , we didn't particularly care, but if we would have arrived during the daytime we likely would have stayed elsewhere, probably at one of the Shasta National Forest campgrounds or one of the Castle Crags environmental campsites.

The good news was that hiking within the Park was excellent. The first day we hiked from the campsite up to the Scenic Overlook, where there were picnic tables and views of both glaciated Mount Shasta and the remarkable Crags themselves. This Overlook made a fine lunch spot. We then proceeded on up the Crags trail towards the summit. This was a great hike in every way: the trail was smooth and gradual, the air smelled of cedar, and the views just kept getting better. The last part of the trail is reminiscent of Garden of the Gods in Colorado, except the large monoliths around you are granite instead of that redstuff. When we got to the summit, thunder began to crash around us and we were forced to abort. Still this was among the nicest hikes we've done on the West Coast.

The next day we went off into the National Forest and shot things, mostly cans and fruit. Nothing makes a mess like an exploding cantaloupe, I must say. (I know you're supposed to eat what you kill, but it would have been challenging.) On the last day of the trip we hiked up the Dog Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and walked around to see Burstase Falls and a last glimpse of the Crags. That's all folks until next year, when I'm thinking "High Sierra" or perhaps "Ruby Mountains of Nevada" as possible vacation themes.

Part V, Summer of '98 Trip:

Robb's Peak firetower trip, Sierra Nevada

Part VI, Summer of '99 Trip:

MacArthur-Burney Falls, Castle Lake, Castle Crags

Part VII, Summer of '00 Trip:

Lake Oroville, Sierra Nevada brewpub, Woodson Bridge State Reserve, Lassen National Park

Part VIII, Summer of '01 Trip:

Castle Crags and Diamond Lake region

If you've ever been on a similar drive-around-and-look-for-a-nice-spot camping vacation in the Sierra or in the Great Basin, I'd like to hear from you! Ditto if you have a mountain cabin to rent that has a woodstove and water but no tv, phone or electricity.

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