Man In A Suitcase

A three day weekend is a terrible thing to waste. So with no plans for Labor Day, which that year also happened to be my birthday, I decided a little road trip was in order. There's a lot of California north of San Francisco and it seemed high time to see some of it.

Anyway, there I was early on Saturday morning, heading northeast from Silicon Valley toward Sacramento to pick up Interstate 5. My plan was to head north through the center of the state until I reached the Oregon border. Then I'd turn toward the coast and return through the redwoods and along the Pacific. A good plan, although not for the nervous driver. The combination of morning fog on the coast and a maze of twisty roads all different made for a challenging time.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

My first major diversion was to Lassen Peak, an hour and a half's drive east of I5 at the town of Red Bluff. Lassen has the distinction of being one of only two volcanoes in the continental US to erupt this century; even after more than eighty years you can see some of the damage. There's one road through the park, which enters from the south-southwest and exits in the northwest corner. (Some little bit of Boy Scout training stays with me yet.) The drive is beautiful and a healthy workout, with constant switchback curves and a change in altitude of several thousand feet. Well worth the detour.

Shasta Dam

Returning to I5, I started looking for the next interesting place to stop. Shasta Dam sounded promising, so I got off the freeway for a look. Things didn't start off all that well; the road becomes the main street of a small town, then a road to nowhere and finally starts winding through the hills. Still, the signs did say there was a dam around here somewhere, so I kept on driving and wondering when I'd get my first peek. And suddenly I rounded a curve and there it was: the biggest dam thing I'd ever seen! (Apologies for the pun. I'm deeply ashamed. Really.)

Shasta Dam is the second biggest dam in the country, forming an enormous reservoir that's thirty-five miles across at its longest point and has over three hundred miles of shoreline. (I drove a long time before I finally saw the last of the lake.) And the view from the top of the spillway was awe- and vertigo-inspiring; at almost five hundred feet it's three times the drop at Niagara. Which has often been referred to as a new bride's second major disappointment. But I digress.

Eureka, California

Day one ended in Medford, Oregon, just over the state line. Day two saw me heading west across Grant's Pass (which wasn't the dramatic road I expected, although it was nicely rustic) to pick up California highway 101 at the coastal town of Crescent City. And here I discovered I'd made a small miscalculation: the aforementioned fog made my arrival on the coast both visually uninteresting and physically challenging. But I solidered on, enjoying the time spent driving through the redwood forests and thinking unkind thoughts about RV drivers who held up my progress and blocked the view whenever there was one.

My next major stop was the city of Eureka, the nearest outpost of civilization to Humboldt State University and the site of some beautiful old Victorian homes. These examples are in the historic district near the water, although the whole town is a treat for the eye. I can't help thinking that the house on the left ought to have Herman Munster coming out the front door. The one on the right, a former mansion turned private club, looks like Addams family by way of Disneyland; everything's far too perfectly manicured to be sinister. Unless of course your idea of frightening involves Martha Stewart...

I wonder how it is that all the homes look so perfect and well cared for. High taxes? Taste police? Peer pressure? Whatever it is, it works. At least in late summer with the sun shining and the flowers in bloom. Even when a place is being worked on it keeps up appearances. Like the Victorian on the right, whose white spackle goes so well with its peach paint and white trim. The effect is so pleasing that it took me a while to notice that it wasn't supposed to look like that.

I wandered around Eureka's marina, downtown and a a couple of neighborhoods. Then it was time get back on the road. I made a stop in a little town called Fernbridge at the recommendation of a billboard. (Hey, you never know.) Didn't see any ferns on the bridge, a long and narrow two lane affair that appears to be the town's only link to civilization. But the billboard didn't lie; things were as quaint and Victorian as advertised. Another little walk around and I was on my way to see some trees.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

This part of the state is redwood country. I particularly recommend a drive along the Avenue of The Giants. (Giant trees, that is.) Not the best place to take photographs, I fear; this is a place where it's impossible to see the trees for the forest. The views were magnificent, even if they were beyond my limited photographic talents. (Maybe with a helicopter...) And you do have to forgive the tacky tourist shops and all the redwood scupture, which remind me of various elementary school arts & craft projects. I took these two shots after the forest thinned out. Moments later I was back on 101 and preparing for the exciting and dangerous highway 1 along the coast. Too bad I had to concentrate so hard on keeping the car from flying off into the Pacific. Next time I think I'll let someone else take the wheel so I can focus on the scenery.

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California