Mendocino & Humboldt Counties, California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 7 – Redwood Forests

After yet another Denny’s breakfast, we went down the block for a stop at Glass Beach, part of Noyo State Park.  The beach is covered in colorful smooth clear stones that looked like glass, with white, green, amber, red and clear glass scattered among stones and shell bits throughout the beach. The glass stones reflected the morning sun making is easy to see the glassy pebbles.

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After that great early start to the day our trip continued north to Leggitt, California, where we paid our $5.00 entrance fee to enter the park to see the famous Candelabra Tree that is hollowed out so that a vehicle can drive a path through its center.

With some guidance I drove our bulky Chrysler 300 rental through the tree’s passage with inches remained between the inside of the tree and the car. It was close enough I could sit normally in the driver seat, reach out and touch the walls of the tree. A T shirt from here rivals my Carhenge for the most kitschy shirt.

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As you proceed north on U.S. Highway 101 north of Garberville you come to the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile portion of old Highway 101, which parallels the 101 with its 51,222 acres of redwood groves.

This road list flanked on both sides by the most outstanding display of these giant trees in all of California, as it is in the middle of Humboldt Redwoods State Park which has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world.

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Our lunch stop this day was for burgers and fries at the Chimney Tree Grill, named for the aptly named Chimney Tree. It is a massive tree that has a hollowed out area from a burn in 1914, as large as a twelve foot room. We entered the tree at its door entrance and stood inside a tree larger than the bedroom of my childhood home.

After lunch, our tour continued up the Avenue to a noteworthy forest of giant trees; standing inside the base of a fallen tree that was taller on it’s side than a massive motorhome parked at the end of it. These trees are the oldest living things on earth and they just amaze me to think that these trees standing today were here before the Vikings landed in North America.

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U.S. 101 has historically been a tourist route, and many smaller quirky tourist spots exists. One which had signs for about 100 miles before we arrived was Confusion Hill,  so we had to go see it to satisfy our curiosity. We new it would be a tourist trap but it only cost $5 per person to explore the laws of gravity.

From the lobby we entered the wooded area following a path leading to a makeshift wooden cabin hung onto a side of a hill. There were activities for us to try. A level platform mounted to the slanted structure made me look taller at one end; we also stood on short ledges mounted to the wall while leaning forward without falling. Another activity had a golf ball roll down a slanted plank and roll back up again on its own. The weirdness of this place and the strange, amusing things were worth the price of admission.

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Another stop was at a chainsaw art shop that was on the way. There were impressive wood sculptures of a native chief, Sasquatch, eagles and more. Finally before we left the Avenue we hiked through the Redwoods at Founders Grove where we saw the coast redwood tree, the tallest trees on earth. These trees average 350 feet tall and are one thousand years or older. I learned that these trees are so tall that the trees live within three different climates.

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By mid afternoon we found ourselves in Ferndale, California, in southern Humboldt County, where they have a small downtown with a variety of shops; an artistic blacksmith shop had interesting high quality stylish pieces; the Palace Saloon, westernmost bar in the continental United States, and many others.

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Finally we arrived in Eureka, California, our stop for the night at the Best Western Marina Inn. We explored the town checking out an art gallery, the murals throughout the town, and the Carson Mansion – also known as the pink lady so named for its paint color. Across the street was another mansion used as the model for the Disneyland train station.

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After dinner at the Lost Coast Brewery, we toured the town a bit more finding the Eureka Theater, which was showing the movie M.A.S.H complete with an army hospital ambulance was parked in front of the theater.

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As we walked through the town we came upon a ‘Glass Shop’, thinking art glass we went in; it was then we remembered we are in Humboldt County, California, home of the largest pot growing region in America!

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Northern California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 6 – From Wineries to the Mendocino Coast

After leaving Chico, California, we continued west to the I-5, continued south California Highway 20, ironically the same highway we had taken coming out of the Sierra Nevada’s, only we caught it on the west side of the Central Valley. After a short distance we stared up into the Mayacamas Mountains, part of the Coastal Range.

After passing Clear Lake, the largest natual lake in California, we reached the small town of Geyersville, home of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. We have been fortunate enough to eat in many scenic places, but our lunch on the edge of the patio in the shade in perfect 70 degree weather, with a view of the vineyard, was as good as it gets. Excellent, friendly service provided us with a couple of pasta dishes for lunch (rigatoni and sausage and penne with olives and capers in tomato sauce), with olives as an appetizer and a lovely wine called Sophia Riesling. If you could only bottle the day and atmosphere it would be one you would want to relive often.

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After lunch we toured the building to see Mr. Coppola’s movie memorabilia. Items from Apocalypse Now, a miniature ship from Marie Antoinette, posters, props, scripts and other items from films that he directed were displayed.

The most impressive items were those from the movie The Godfather. Although it was prohibited to touch any item, but someone didn’t pay attention to the sign and laid a hand on the Godfather’s desk before seeing the sign not to do so. Outside the building was a patio and pool for receptions and acres of vineyards.

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After leaving the winery we headed back up into the hills for a curvy 40 mile drive to the coast, stopping at Lake Sonoma, where I had the opportunity to GO HOLLYWOOD.

A videographer shooting a commercial for the Sonoma County, California tourism department asked us to act in his video. I was the only one who would do it, so I walked up and down a path along a cliff to photograph the landscape of Lake Sonoma. It only took about two minutes to shoot, afterward I took my photos and we were off.

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We reached California Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH, and started north along the coast stopping at times to see the scenery or a quirky roadside attraction. A stop at a grass-top cliff provided a magnificent view of the rocky islands and the pounding surf. We tiptoed around cow pies making our way down a trail for new angles for photos. It seems that the cows of northern California have first class views; no wonder the state advertised that they have happy cows.

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Bowling Ball Beach was to be our next stop but we were unable to find the road that led there. We did find the Pygmy Forest which is a rare ecosystem featuring miniature trees, inhabited by small species of rodents and lizards. These dwarf forests are usually located at high elevations, under conditions of sufficient air humidity but poor soil. It is a unique forest of pine, rhododendron and other species that grow much shorter than their species along the coast. The poor soil is caused from the flat land unable to drain properly creating an acidic soil base. The area known as the Van Damme State Park is near Mendocino. The isolated area of stunted trees, less than ten feet tall are surrounded by a forest of tall trees.

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Our hotel, Surf and Sand, in Fort Bragg, California served as our stop for the night. It was a nice room with a deck of a view of the beach and a walking trail. We settled in to watch the Penguins play against Tampa Bay in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. Delivered pizza to our hotel room was dinner. The game was intense but the Penguins won the game 2-1, and it is on to the Stanley Cup Finals. Yeah Pens!

One of the great things about being in California is all the east coast sports that end late there, are at a reasonable time on the West Coast, allowing us to still take a romantic walk on the oceanfront trail behind our hotel that led to a pedestrian trestle bridge crossing a stream flowing into the ocean.

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On our return we caught a beautiful sunset with palms blowing in the wind. The setting sun cast a bright pink sky at the horizon. The evening cooled to about 50 degrees with a brisk wind when we decided to go in for the night.

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