Saturday, August 15, 2009

Vacation Day 5
Redwood Forest Day 2

[Redwood Trees, Del Norte State Park, California]

Today was the day we really planned this coastal trip around: going to spend a day in the Redwood Forests of N. California. We first drove down to Trees of Mystery, a comercialized slice of classic American road-trip.

Trees of Mystery is cool. From the 1960s voice recordings in redwood boxes along the way that explain things, to the named trees, and Paul Bunyan carvings. They've modernized with the Sky Trail: a tram you can take up through the tall trees to the top of a little mountain to see the views all around.

We took the sky tram up, then walked the 1 mile trail back down. Be forwarned, when they say the trail is for "advanced hikers" they mean it. I thought they were just saying that to keep the motorhome-bound pavement hikers from accidentally going down a real trail, but no, it really is some pretty advanced hiking. Very steep downward trails on which both of my girls fell down on their butts a couple of times, in spite of the holding-on-to-the-rope thing.

We had a great time exploring all of their trails with wierd signs and wierd carvings and even wierder recorded explanations. The creepiest thing was the 'Cathedral Tree' which had creepy 1960's organ music with a guy singing "I think that I shall never see a poem so lovely as a tree..." My wife knows that whole poem by Joyce Kilmer from memory but we'd never heard anyone singing it before. A very religious experience.

(Just kidding...)

After a day spent there we ate at the Forest Cafe, not to be confused with the Rain Forest Cafe. My daughter had read about it on some brochure and was hoping that it would be "really cool" like he famous Rainforest Cafe. Well, it was cool, but in a very unique way. Half the dining room was under water and the other half was under the forest canopy. We couldn't quite get used to eating lunch under a duck's butt.

But the food was the best food they've got anywhere around the Trees of Mystery. In fact, it is the only food they've got anywhere around the Trees of Mystery.

After this we decided to spend the afternoon on the beach. This was our "more serious" beach trip, whereas yesterday was our more casual one. We planned to spend the whole afternoon at the beach and basically we did. The beach was a really pretty one, that isn't quite on the maps so I don't know what they call it. It was about a mile or two north of Trees of Mystery at the very southern tip of the Del Norte State Park, near a campground (also not on the map) called SOMETHING lagoon. If you are ever traveling up there, don't worry, you'll find it. It's the only beach along 101 within 15 mile either direction.

This is a small, but very beautiful beach with rocks out in the water. There is enough sand to build sand castles, and here we built our main sand castle of the summer after strolling up and down the beach for several hours taking photos of birds, and rocks and waves and other interesting things.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Day 4
Redwood Forest 1

Today we had a leisurely drive from Umpqua Lighthouse down to Crescent City CA, stopping only twice: for Pizza lunch in Gold Beach, and at the BORDER. Wow, did you folks know they still had border stations between California and other states? How ancient is that?

Our hotel wasn't ready yet to move into the room, so we went on a short excursion to a beach and to the redwood forest. (Saving the bigger excursion for day 5.)

First stop: Crescent Beach, just south of Crescent City. We had fun playing on the beach but it was so windy that we ultimately had to give up. You don't need to worry about sunburn there, you need to worry about getting all of your skin blasted off.

We did all the important beach things, like building a sandcastle and walking along getting our feet wet, and taking lots of photos!

I got some great photos there of a couple of beautiful birds (and several ugly ones). I was scanning the skies trying to get an Osprey when this seagul flew right into my line of sight. (Thus the amazing close-up... I really wouldn't try intentionally to get right underneath a seagul like that!) I also managed out of a dozen photos or so of Osprey to get at least two photos that were pretty good!

Second stop: a drive Southward through the redwood forest. Xenia "couldn't wait" to see those giant redwood trees. We drove past the Trees of Mystery where we plan to go tomorrow, and kept right on down to the Drury Road, Old Highway 101 that turns off and goes through the beautiful trees. We turned off there and went for a short walk through the redwoods, ooo-ing and ah-ing as we looked up at the giant redwoods.

We got back to the hotel late and went next door to a mexican restaurant for our last (thankfully) seafood meal of the fast. (I've had seafood so many times on this trip I think i'll throw up if I even look at a fish in the next several months.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vacation Day 3

Day three: we enjoyed a scenic drive down the coast from Tillamook to Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, just south of Reedsport.

We didn't stop much on this road trip, but we did stop a viewpoint near Waldport to watch the whales. This was the first time I've ever seen humpback whales in person (not at some sort of aquarium, but in the wild. It was really cool! This isn't a really great photo. We saw them blow quite a few times but I was unsuccessful at catching a photo of it. I think Xenia might have got one, and I'll post that later if I can.

We also stopped later at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, home to some great Ghost Stories, which I have been working on
integrating into my story of a pirate-turned-cowbowy in the 1850s in Southern Oregon.

In the 1890s the first ghost story was written about this lighthouse: how a sailor came into port one day and left his daughter in town because she was seasick, and how she disappeared in the lighthouse after some teenagers discovered a secret passage way that went beneath the lighthouse itself down to the sea. Well, I won't spoil and tell my version of the story, which fits perfectly with he historical facts, but tells the "true behind the scenes" story of pirates and smugglers.

Anyway we made the rest of the trip safely to Umpqua Lighthouse State park where we stayed in a beautiful cabin overlooking the lake there and enjoyed roasted banana's on the camp file and munching on huckleberries, both black and red.

The Roasted Bananas: I got the idea from the girl scout who put those things inside aluminum foil with chocolate and throw them on the coals in the fire. Only we didn't have any aluminum foil so I improvised. You cut an opening in the top of a banana. You slit the banana itself it three times (or four) and insert three (or four) squares of chocolate. You stick on a regular wiener/marshmallow roasting stick and hold over the fire until the banana is sizzling and the chocolate looks melted. You remove and let cool. You eat.

If you do this with good chocolate (we used some gourmet 65% cocoa chocolate bars) it tastes delicious!

We had a great time once again at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. This time staying in a beautiful cabin.

~ Basil

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vacation Day 2

Day Two was a leisurely drive from Astoria down to Tillamook OR. We've made this drive down the Oregon coast many times now, but this is the first year I've planned it so that I had only a 1.5 to 3.5 hour drive each day instead of an 5 to 8 hour drive each day. The objective: RELAXATION, leisure time, (what a concept for a vacation!)

I decided our first stop was going to be Tolovana Park near Canon Beach, in order to see the great diversity of wildlife at the wildlife preserve, and of course, to stop and see Haystack Rock.

But as we were driving through Seaside, I thought, we've never stopped at the Seaside Aquarium before, let's stop there. We couldn't follow the signs (what should have meant turn right here and go 1/2 mile, looked like it said turn right in half a mile) but thanks to Google Maps on my blackberry we found it.

The address is SomethingSomethingSomething Prominade. Well, guess what, Prominade isn't a street it's this... a beautiful cement walkway that goes along the beach.

The Seaside Aquarium isn't much bigger than the tropical fish section at most modern pet stores, but I think it contains some beautiful things, several octopuses, and massive (ugly) wolf eels, and a bunch of really beatiful and odd fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. The major draw is feeding the seals which are in a big tank right inside the front door.

They give you a "tray" of fish to feed them for only $1.00. But don't let your eyes pop out of our head with excitement thinking cookie-sheet here, a "tray" is one of those wee paper french-fry bowls they give you at most fast food places.

It was still a lot of fun, and something interesting to do at the ocean when you are "rained in".

Yes, as you can see it was quite misty at Haystack Rock and the Tolovana Park. I was hoping to walk down the beach and see sea life near the Haystack Rock itself. It is supposed to have loads of cool birds and tide pools below it with interesting things to see. But in this sort of weather, horizontal spray of rain, my family and I decided we wouldn't make the hour-or-so walk up the beach to where that stuff is actually located, so after a brief strole we went on our way south.

The most important item on this day's agenda was, of course, a stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, a family favorite. We had lunch there, and cheese: skipping the hour-long-line for a free sample the size of a tiny pebble in favor of buying some cheese which we were planning to do anyway. (Why do people wait in that line when they are just going to buy some cheese anyway????)

We decided not to get ice cream (again, about an hour-long line) and went to our hotel.

After we checked in and freshened up we decided to go out to see Oregon's shortest lighthouse at Cape Meares State Park. We were NOT disappointed. What a beautiful place with beautiful views and most importantly the SUN came out for the first time since we've gotten to the Oregon coast.

One of the highlights there at Cape Meares (asside from the spectacular views) is the Octopus Tree, a freakish Sitka Spruce that has eight main tree trunks growing up from a single stump.

On the way back to the hotel, and dinner, we stopped at another new place, the Blue Herron French Cheese company. I had somehow got it into my head that they made blue cheese there. I love blue cheese, and was really looking forward to that. But, alas, the only Blue in them is from their namesake, the Great Blue Heron. They make Bree. Delicious Bree, but not blue cheese. Anyway, it was a nice visit. Helen and Xenia liked it, particularly the petting zoo. Yes, "high class wine and cheese tasting" with a petting zoo: that's how they bill this place. If you like walking around in muck pretending you are in France (think a french barnyard) this place will really appeal to you.

It really wasn't so bad though, and it was relaxing, even though my family still complains about cr#p on the bottom of their shoes. I did not, alas, do any wine tasting. The really didn't have any wines that looked interesting to me. But if you want salted cock roaches, and mexican spiced dried worms, this is the place to come. (Seriously, they sold those sorts of novelty items in their gift shop right along side their delicious bree, and the classic Oregon Huckleberry everything from coffee-beans to chocolates to jams.)

It was a fun second day, and very busy really. Now, onward to the south. I'm hoping to stop at the Rogue Brewery for lunch or dinner.
~ Basil

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Vacation Day 1

Thank God for a safe trip to Astoria OR. We enjoyed a great day today with perfect weather: warm, but no need for sun screen as we had natural sun screen (clouds) with breaks of sun and brief drizzles now and then. Beautiful fresh clean air down here off the ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River.

We have a great hotel room at the Red Lion Inn where you could fish off our balcony if you wanted.

We had lunch at our old favorite diner, Andrews and Steves, then walked all around Astoria, visiting the (outide of) the Maritime Museum, and then later driving up to the top of the mountain to visit the Astoria Tower.

We've never been up to the tower before: the Astoria Column. It was great. Xenia and I actually climbed to the top and took some photos from up there. The view is remarkable, 360 degrees unobstucted for as far as you can see, which around here is as far as the clouds will let you.

Xenia atop the Astoria Column

View from the Astoria Column

Later we had dinner and I tried out a couple of great brews from the Astoria Brewery: Wet Dog Cafe. Delicious food and great beers! I even bought a cool t-shirt as a souvinir.

I love Astoria. It is the first time we've ever spent the night here, so really the first time we've spent more than half a day here. I'd love to come back sometime and spend a couple of days: check out all the spots where several great movies were made: Short Circuit, Kindergarden Cop, and The Goonies.

Tomorrow, no to another favorite costal town: Tillamook.

~ Basil