Having officially gotten myself further up the California coast than I’ve ever been, Lucy the Terrier and I continued our trek along the coastal highways. We’re calling it The Lost Coast Then Just Lost Tour. Today was Day Two. One thing we learned yesterday is that the northern coast of California is beautiful in a somewhat frightening sort of way. But not as frightening as the people. I don’t necessarily mean the people who live here. But, in an area that is very, very sparsely populated, there seem to be an awful lot of strange people migrating here. And by “migrating”, I mean walking on the sides of highways or in the middle of woods that aren’t necessarily pedestrian friendly. Judging by the layers of dirt on them and the size of their packs, I’m assuming they aren’t from around here — or at least that they’ve been on the road for a long, long time. I’m not sure where they are going, but apparently they are headed north. I would have taken a picture, but frankly, I only wanted to drive quickly past any one of them that I saw. At first glance, they appear to be hippies. Then you note the buck knives on the hip and the pit bulls on leashes and you suspect they are more closely related to serial killers. Besides the isolation and the possibility of Bigfoot, there are a lot of reasons not to want to break down on 101 in Humboldt or Del Norte Counties. However, the scenery was worth the trip. So I concentrated on that and just kept moving.
In that spirit, we got an early start out of Arcata and headed into more Redwoods. I was wondering if I could take any more Redwoods. I’m not quite ready to agree with Ronald Reagan’s assessment that “if you’ve seen one Redwood, you’ve seen them all.” But I had spent hours, especially through Avenue of the Giants, pulling over for every Redwood grove and even stooping to driving through a Redwood. Actually, Reagan was misquoted during his campaign for Governor where he came down solidly on the side of the logging companies who wanted to clear-cut old growth Redwoods, while California’s voters overwhelmingly wanted to preserve them. What Reagan really said was:
“I mean, if you’ve looked at a hundred thousand acres or so of trees — you know, a tree is a tree. How many more do you need to look at?”
The trees he was talking about specifically were the trees in Redwood National Park. Thank God, the voters won on this one. The park contains 45 percent of the remaining protected old-growth redwoods in California. And consider that 96 percent of the original old-growth coast redwoods of California have been logged. No Gipper, a tree is not a tree. I’ve been to the Muir Woods Redwoods many times, I have a small grove of Redwoods on my property in Sonoma, and I spent yesterday looking at a hell of a lot of Redwoods. Nothing compares to the trees of Redwood National Park. They are bigger, they are closer together, and you drive through miles and miles of them. The effect is of being transported into the Jurassic Era. I was waiting for a Brontosaurus to stumble out of the woods. I only wish we’d saved more of them.
Around the next corner, I saw a sign for the park’s Elk Channel. I tuned in and found out that Roosevelt Elk (and yes, they were named for Teddy Roosevelt) are the largest elk on the American continent. Adults can grow to 6 to 10 feet at the shoulder and that bull may weigh up to 1100 pounds! And I was right to be nervous — but not about a possible car behind me. Apparently the elk are especially aggressive. That bull could have jumped up, and moving at speeds of up to 35 mph, rammed my Prius. He would have walked away with a headache. The Prius would have been totaled.
The chief difference I found is that California’s coast is more rugged and folded into smaller bays. Oregon’s coast is more open and “beachier”. I also noted very few of the strange hobo/hippie/serial killer transients. Apparently, the migration stops at the Oregon border. The driving experience was similar. Stretches of road that seem to go through untouched forests, only to round the corner into small, funky little towns. Imagine driving for hundreds of miles and seeing no chain stores, no fast food. Just little towns that hover somewhere between Victorian, 1940s and the old David Lynch show, Twin Peaks. I noted that the average population in these tiny burgs hovered around 400.
Speaking of the driving experience, I should warn those who would follow in my footsteps (or Prius tracks) that there is a reason every travel book suggests doing this route from Oregon DOWN to California. If you are driving up the highway, all the coastal turnouts and vista spots are on your left. Which means you have to make a left turn, usually on a blind curve, across US 101 and into what are always narrow, often bumpy driveways. Perhaps this is doable in a four wheel drive with great acceleration. It’s absolutely terrifying in a Prius when the only other vehicles on the road are giant semis toting logs and huge camper vans and RVs. William Least Heat Moon in Blue Highways noted that the long distance roadtripper often gets to the point where he just drives letting the scenery unfold through his dashboard as if it were a TV show.