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Published: August 2nd 2011
Leaving San Francisco felt a lot like the beginning of our planned trip around the USA. Although we have been here a couple of weeks now, picking up the vehicle that should be ours until November and heading north it seemed to us that we were really on our way. There is still a need for us to properly equip ourselves for the journey. We will do that progressively over the next couple of weeks.
The decision not to hire a camper or RV meant that we needed to consider the various options. Buses? After South America we had had just about enough of buses and, anyway, buses tend to go from town to town and we would miss the bits we really want to see. Trains? Our one Amtrak experience from Houston to El Paso 7 months ago was excellent. Very hard to justify the expense though for a trip that is likely to be in excess of 20,000 miles. Planes? A real option that received a lot of consideration. Fly in to a point, do a loop or see the surrounding country in a rental car and back on a plane to the next place. OK for a
near Crescent City
month or so but not 3 or 4. In the end we have hired a car on a 4 month lease for return in San Francisco.
We expected to pick up a small SUV for the trip. The 'or similar' that the rental company came up with though was a Mitsubishi Endeavor AWD with nice high clearance – for those expected National Park and forest roads – and mobs of room. A nice vehicle with enough miles on it to have the bugs sorted. A bit more thirsty than we had really wanted but what the hell. We are in the USA and fuel is cheaper here than most other places we have driven over the last few years. There are, of course, locals who find that hard to believe.
The car wasn't available until noon so we made a late start out of San Francisco. Our plan was to head over to highway 1 and drop in on Muir Woods not far north. The drive in was promising and we were looking forward to having a walk and some lunch. Not to be. It was a Tuesday so we thought it would be reasonably quiet. It was
over Columbia River between Oregon and Washington
packed to the rafters. No parking anywhere within a 3 km radius and people everywhere. We thought for a while that we were being wimpish in not fighting our way in, but it was a relief to drive away. Pity though.
Our best option was to get back onto 101 and try to make it to Mendocino or Fort Bragg that night. The heavy traffic dropped away after Santa Rosa and the turn off for Sonoma and Napa and the scenery picked up. The hills at this time of the year are covered by a lot of dry grass. It doesn't appear to be being grazed much at all and there are some reasonable stands of trees. In our part of the world such country at this time of the year would have us nervously watching the hills for smoke from bushfires but it all appears to be normal and acceptable here. Attractive country with the occasional winery about.
At Willits we turned left for Fort Bragg, having decided that Mendocino's accommodation prices were on the usurous side. The journey down to Fort Bragg was 33 miles of winding road through the pines and down to the coast.
A great drive through country that I have always thought we would find in California. Fort Bragg itself is a place that you could probably holiday in happily but there is not a great deal for the traveller, or, more precisely, these travellers.
We did check out Mendocino. A very rough coast and cold but very beautiful. Clearly, a popular place with those looking for a quiet and respectable place to spend their time. Our guess is that a lot of people have decided that this a very acceptable place to sit in their retirement years. We later found out that the slightly familiar look was probably because Mendocino was the filming location for that old series, 'Murder She Wrote'.
From Mendocino we drove up the Shoreline Highway which I think was now Highway 1. We came out onto 101 again near Leggett. This is the home of the famous redwood tree that cars can actually drive through. Many, many years ago a teacher showed pictures of this tree with a car – I seem to recall that it had running boards – parked in the middle of it. A serious tree. We paid our $5 and drove
the Mitsubishi through. Seemed like the right thing to do. Redwoods are actually sequoias and this particular one isn't even the largest one they have around. We followed up our drive through with a run along the Avenue of the Giants which took us off 101 and on a detour of some miles. A magnificent drive. We did spend a bit of time pulling up and trying for some photos but were probably as interested in just standing there staring at these incredible trees. It is no wonder that there are so many timber houses in this part of the world. No wonder the early settlers thought they had reached the promised land.
Crescent City is probably not a recommended tourist destination but it was a handy overnight stop. We were going to try to make Bandon but taking photos can swallow up time and we are trying to maintain a practice of stopping early. Highway 101 provided a scenic drive for most of the way with just a couple of lanes with not too much traffic. Some very good pull offs along the way. The towns don't really live up to the scenery but they are what they
are and provide good services. Mainly a beautiful rough, rocky coast with some good beaches. The highway tightened up a little as we worked our way north through Oregon but a lot of work is being done on it to widen and resurface in places. Bandon would make a good stop on this run with a jazzed up old village centre.
Purchasing things on-line is difficult when you are on the move. An address is a basic requirement and general delivery – the US poste restante – is not good for large items. You are able to order stuff from some stores and have it sent to a particular place. We had ordered a tent from REI – a cooperative outdoor store much like MEC in Canada – and had asked them to deliver it to their store in Eugene in Oregon. At the time we ordered, Eugene was a place on the map that looked big enough and had a store. Eugene is in the centre of this relatively long, skinny state and we had to turn in from the coast up the Umqua River Valley. Oregon doesn't just have pretty scenery along the coast. There are great
forests of conifers and a river that made us jealous of the residents.
Our contribution to the apparentely sad economic situation of the USA, and Oregon in particular, was substantial for us. The tent is certainly flasher than most we have had, but we probably will bring this one home. That helps to justify the cost. Trouble is that, while we were there, we found all sorts of other good, and very useful, things. We came out more provisioned than we had intended for the rest of the trip. We have calculated that we need to camp for 20 days to cut out the cost of the equipment against the minimum cost of hotels and motels. And we enjoy camping more than hotels anyway.
The road north of Eugene could have led us to Portland. Hungry for a little more coast, though, we cut back to the coast intending to trial the new equipment in the Suislaw National Park. We hadn't reckoned on the effect of weekends at this time of the year though. A lot of other people had precisely the same idea as us, although maybe without new tents. We were running a little late, having
Path to the dunes
Suislaw State Park
spent much too long shopping, and finally found a place at the Sutton Creek campground in the Suislaw Sate Park.
Campgrounds in national and state parks seem to typically be very nicely set up with plenty of space and good sites with toilets but without showers. Sutton Creek was a good camp well set up for tents and RVs. There were plenty of each but we had a nice spot. It was pretty cold over-night and this exposed some deficiencies in our purchases. We had thought we could get away with a comforter (sort of quilt thing) and a light blanket. We were right and wrong. The covering was fine but the cold seeped up through the air bed and froze us. We survived but had both resolved during the night that an upgrade was necessary.
The new tent worked well. Our first time pitching it took a little longer than expected. It wasn't really that difficult but it did take some working out. It is a much better quality tent than we are used to buying but we decided we were worth it. We also decided that we would send it home at the end of the
A seriously tall tree
Redwoods in Northern California
time rather than dumping it. It is an Asolo Chameleon rated as 3 season, 6 person. This means that it has a good quality fly that reaches to the ground on all sides, good sleeping area with plenty of mesh to allow air out and a good sized vestibule for those times when we are caught in wet weather for a few days.
Sutton Creek campground was a nice spot. It is in a part of the state Park that is centred on large, well vegetated sand dunes. We did a 9 km walk from the camp to the beach through the dunes and back. The area is possibly not as traditionally beautiful in the same way that parts of the coast we had come through were, but it was interesting. Rugged, rough, windy and very fragile from what we could see, and well worth the time to pull up and have a look around.
There are many good stops along the coast road which is National Highway 101 for most of the way. As you move further north it not perhaps as routinely spectacular as some of the parts of the coast before we turned inland to
Eugene but still good. There were more beaches so there were more tourists. Depoe Bay stands out with some great cliffs. Tourism is big along this coast and the towns make the most of it.
I had a developing dental issue as we neared the border with Washington and we couldn't avoid concluding that it should be dealt with soon-ish. We decided to pick a reasonable-sized place where there should be a few dentists to pick from and one that might have a gap in their appointment book. The plan was to go there, get on the phone. We picked Aberdeen in Washington which is town off the coast a little but that kept our options open for either a trip into Olympia National Park or to skip that and head west.
The border between Oregon and Washington is the Columbia River ( for us, of Woody Guthrie fame) the same river that Lewis and Clark arrived at and floated down back in the early 19th C. The size of this river at its mouth is massive. Lewis and Clark arrived here in November 1805 and, unfortunately, originally arrived on the northern side of the river. They spent
4 days in the rain and wind without cover before they could move out. On the day we were there you could understand the name.
We found a very nice camp 10 kms out of Aberdeen at the Artic RV park. This was a lovely, relaxed place where the hosts were very welcoming, even providing a large garden from which we could harvest fruit and veggies. The dentist exercise worked out very well. We also found an excellent health food store, recommended by the lady at the RV park, where we were able to pick up the ingredients for some muesli and other goodies. We are well over US bread and their breakfast cereals seem often to be full of sugar.
The debate over the route east has canvassed a number of options. Washington State seems to have some great country and, possibly, even better tourist information. We have decided to travel across through the Northern Cascades, a mountain range between the coast and the Rockies. All going to plan we come out within striking distance of the Glacier National Park. But plans can change.
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