Monday, 10 November 2008

Week 41 : Pepperwood To Fortuna

Amy and I were walking again, leaving the tiny settlement of Pepperwood in Humboldt County, Northern California behind and heading for Fortuna. In reality it has been weeks since we last took part in our mammoth trek from Los Angeles to New York City, but Amy - my soft-coated wheaten terrier - and myself inhabit a virtual world and are undertaking a virtual journey. So we can pick up where we left off, ignore the increasing gloom of the West Yorkshire streets and stride out once again in sunny California. 

We were walking along the Avenue of the Giants, through mile after mile of majestic Redwood forests. For some weeks now we had been following the course of the Eel River as it sashayed its way towards the Pacific Ocean. The river was only a few hundred yards away from where Amy and I walked, but those tall trees masked its location and gave the impression that we we in the midst of an impenetrable forest. A few hundred yards in the opposite direction was Highway 101, but that again was hidden behind lines of massive trees. Amy, like any half-decent dog, liked trees. I could take them or leave them. I could work up almost as much enthusiasm for a tree once it had been processed into a decent-sized coffee table or a solid and respectable bar stool, than I could seeing it in its natural state. This attitude angered Amy no end and she decided I needed a lesson in environmental responsibility. So, as we passed the tiny settlement of Stafford, I was taken on a brief diversion to meet Luna. 

Luna is a tree: a very famous tree. Between 1997 and 1999, this 600 year old 180 foot tall Redwood was the home of the environmental campaigner Julia Butterfly Hill. She had taken up residence in its upper branches in an attempt to save it from the loggers of the Pacific Lumber Company who wanted to turn it into coffee tables and bar stools. Her campaign attracted nationwide attention, she became famous. Songs were written about her and films were made of her. And after 738 days of tree-sitting Luna was saved.

It was a classic story of the individual set against the corporate giant, conscience versus profit. A few miles further along the road, I got a taste of the scale of the corporate giant as I entered the company town of Scotia, home of PALCO - the Pacific Lumber Company. Scotia was founded in 1863 and from the very beginning was a lumber town. Some of the early loggers came from Nova Scotia and decided to name to town to remind them of their northern homeland. Throught the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, the town expanded in line with the importance of the logging industry. If you had visited Scotia thirty years ago you would have found a thriving company town where the scent of sawdust perfumed each new day. Visit Scotia now and you will find a company town coming to terms with bankruptcy. The once-mighty PALCO filed for bankruptcy in January 2007 and the fate of the company - and to a certain extent the town - is currently in the hands of the American courts. By contrast, Julia Butterfly Hill is thriving.

Just north of Scotia you cross the Eel River and enter the so-called "Warm-Hearted City" of Rio Dell. Whereas Scotia is declining, Rio Dell is still thriving and the bankrupt lumber town has made an application to merge with its northern neighbour. Compared to many of the places we have been to in recent weeks, Rio Dell is quite a substantial settlement with paved streets, coffee shops, burger bars and a brace of churches. Amy stopped for a sniff and I stopped for a beer before we once again headed north. Just before crossing the ever-twisting Eel River we took a brief detour to explore the famous Scotia Bluffs fossil fields. Fossils of all sorts of things have been found here, I explained to Amy, including turtles, starfish and even the odd whale bone. Initially she seemed quite enthusiastic about a spot of fossil hunting but once she realised that the creatures in question had turned to stone many centuries ago, she grew weary of the task and refused to carry on digging. That's the trouble with Wheaten Terriers, they have a short attention span.

The final part of our walk took us along the wide expanse of Highway 101 - flanked now by fields and scrub land rather than by forests - towards the city of Fortuna. The original name for Fortuna was "Slide" but such a name didn't fit in with the ambitions of its nineteenth century inhabitants so it was changed to Fortuna. Since then, in a further exercise in spin, it has tried to persuade the rest of the world that it is really called "Sunny Fortuna : The Friendly City" which is all very well but carries just a hint of protesting too much. There is nothing that the 10,497 citizens of Fortuna like more than a good festival and therefore the pint-sized city plays host to an Annual Rodeo, a Civil War Festival, a river canoe race, and - most spectacular of all - an Annual AutoXpo, "a car show fueled by vintage rock 'n' roll, pink poodle skirts, white bobby socks, sunglasses and cool cars that are hot!" Amy turned her nose up in disgust at such a spectacle, but I thought that it sounded like good fun. Unfortunately we were four months too late. To console ourselves we stopped off at the Fortuna branch of MacDonalds. Amy was far more impressed with that. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Week 40 : Miranda to Pepperwood

Amy and I are walking again: walking north, walking along the Avenue of the Giants. Following the Eel River. Heading first for Eureka, then for Oregon, then Seattle, and then .... well let's not get ahead of ourselves.

We sat and looked at the map at the Myers Country Inn, a few miles north of Miranda. It's a smart place: wood verandas, floral prints, all that kind of stuff. All very North Californian. But Amy didn't seem impressed. "This place is No. 24 in the list of 101 things to do in Humboldt County", I told her. "God help the other 76", her look seemed to say.

We followed the road north skirting Humboldt Redwoods State Park. As you walk by this massive 52,000 acre park, you have to admire the American approach to going back to nature. The campgrounds are all carefully set out with well-kept paved roads for your SUV. There are showers and toilets, picnic tables, and even wi-fi networks for your computer. But, as Amy was quick to point out, despite all the promise of going back to nature and the days of the pioneers, dogs are not allowed in most places. It's because you might chase the Grizzly Bears and give them a fright I told her. She ignored me: she was too busy composing a letter of complaint to Governor Schwarzenegger. It wasn't all endless tree-scapes. Towards the end of the week was a bit of a high spot : the point at which the various forks of the Eel River join together. This is near a place called Duckett Bluff which is noted for .... well actually it's noted for very little other than its bluff. The following day we came to the settlement of Redcrest. Checking out the website to find the scale of the place I was intrigued to see an option which promised me "ten job vacancies in Redcrest, Ca". This sounded good, here was a town of some substance if it could offer ten job vacancies in these troubled economic times. Alas, I was wrong yet again. I should have been suspicious when I checked out the first on the list which was a vacancy for an Army Chaplain in Iraq!

Before the week came to an end we travelled through Engelwood, Holmes Flat, Shively and Pepperwood and there was hardly a wooden hut between them. "They love their names, these Americans", I commented to Amy. She sniffed at something and we walked on. Alone. With just the Eel River and the trees for company.


Amy and I are back and walking again after too long a gap. We never stopped walking, we just stopped virtual walking. But we missed the sunshine, we missed the sea, we missed the wine ... and, in truth, we missed the trees.

So we take the story up again where we left off in the tiny Californian town of Miranda. So far we have walked some 600 miles. Only another 3,400 miles to go!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Week 39 : Richardson Grove to Miranda

Amy and I left the tiny settlement of Richardson Grove and continued our walk north, following the course of the South Fork of the Eel River which would eventually lead us back to the Pacific Ocean. It had been weeks since we last saw the sea and we were beginning to miss the ever-changing vistas which only a coastline could provide. We were beginning to go a bit tree-crazy and I began to think lovingly of those islands which are completely bereft of trees. I mentioned this to Amy as we walked along Redwood Highway, but - thinking that I was going a little tree-crazy - she ignored me.

A few miles north of Richardson Grove you have two choices : the serious concrete and tarmac of Highway 101 - a serious road which hereabouts is called the Redwood Highway, and the more laid back, twist-here-a-bit, twist-there-a-bit, Benbow Drive. We took the latter which took us - after a suitable twist and turn - to the settlement of Benbow. Benbow has a golf course, an "RV resort" (it's a kind of up-market trailer park) and an Inn. I read to Amy from the brochure : "You would think you were in England instead of northern California when you first see the large Tudor-style Benbow Inn". She was somewhat confused by this and I could see her thinking "why would anyone walk the streets of England, imagining that they were walking the streets of Northern California, so that they could think they were in England instead of Northern California?". It was my turn to ignore her, so I carried on reading from the brochure. "The English theme continues as you step inside the lounge with its large antique fireplace flanked by comfortable sofas, antique chests, paintings, needlepoint, cherry-wood wainscoting, two grandfather clocks, potted green plants, and a splendid Oriental carpet. At tea time complimentary English tea and scones are served". "Can't you just imagine we were back in England?", I said to her as we gazed at the mock-Tudor facade. Her look said it all : "We are, you old fool".

The hotel was built back in 1926 and has a rich history. It was built by the Benbow family - nine brothers and sisters - and soon became a popular hide-away for the rich and famous. Guests have included the likes of Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Alan Ladd, Charles Laughton, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, Joan Fontaine, and Basil Rathbone. The Hotel and resort has everything a virtual traveller could desire and Amy was particularly taken with the "
special doggie playground and the Salon'd Soggy Doggy™ Pet Wash which is complete with hot and cold water so fido can really be pampered".

The next place of note was Garberville, a small town a few miles north of Benbow. It was originally called Dogtown, I informed Amy, but the local dignitaries thought that it needed an image makeover so they renamed it after the local postmaster, a certain Jacob C Garber. Amy showed the local dignitaries just what she thought of them in the way only a dog can. The town is kind of interesting with its fine old Theatre, its town square with weekly Farmers' Market, and its two local newspapers. Kind of interesting, but - if truth be told - not very. Amy and I had a quick pint at the wonderfully named Branding Iron Saloon (OK, I had a pint and she had a dish of water) and then we left town. Just round the corner from Garberville is Redway which is even more kind of forgettable. So we did. And we left.

North of Redway there is very little but trees, but there are an awful lot of them. Again there is a choice of roads : you can take the new Highway 101 Freeway or you can wander up the old road which is now known as the Avenue Of The Giants. "It's world famous", I tell Amy. "It's included in that book, 1,000 Places To See Before You Die". "It's trees", Amy replied. Or at least she seemed to. Perhaps I am going a bit tree-crazy. We pass through Phillipsville which is even less of a town than Redway. We check out the local beauty spot which is known as the Chimney Tree. It turns out to be a tree in the shape of a chimney. "Pretty cool", I say to Amy. Her diagnosis confirmed she starts planning the rest of the trip as a solo walk. Clearly I am on the verge of being institutionalised.

By the end of the week we reach Miranda which sounds as though it should be a big and exciting community. It isn't. The town has a post office, two restaurants, a motel, a market, a Seventh-day Adventist church, a Latter-Day Saints Church and a small, rural high school (grades 8-12), a gas station, and a gift shop. Oh, I almost forgot. It's also got an awful lot of trees.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Week 38 : Dutchman's Flat To Richardson Grove

As Amy and I walked through the almost endless Redwood forests of Northern California, we reflected on the start of our journey. According to the log, this was 38 weeks ago, but in reality it had taken us over a year to get to this point (virtual travel can bend time in a way which would bring a gleam to Albert Einstein's eye). Towards the end of the first week, we had made it out of central Los Angeles to the coast at Santa Monica Pier where we picked up California State Highway, heading north. And for most of the time since, Highway 1 had been our constant companion. Together we had seen good times and bad times, we had seen cities and mountains, we had seen rocky bays and we had seen trees. Boy had we seen trees. But this was the last week we would walk hand in hand with this great highway for at Leggett, State Highway 1 came to an end.

The town of Leggett, California is not much of a place. It is small - even by the standard of Californian towns - and has only two claims to fame : it is the northern-most point of Highway 1 and it has a tree you can drive through. Leggett is also pretty rare these days in that it doesn't have a Wikipedia entry. Discovering this, Amy and I both felt sorry for it and decided to remedy matters by writing the entry ourselves. The bad news for Leggett is that Amy drew the short straw and is currently engaged in penning something suitable. If I were Leggett, I wouldn't hold my breath.

The tree you can drive through is known as the Chandelier Tree and the hole through its trunk was carved by some enterprising Leggett resident some seventy years ago in the sure and certain belief that a town with two tourist attractions was better than a town with just one. It is a remarkably popular attraction still. It always comes as a surprise that in the sophisticated 21st century, people will still drive miles and miles simply to drive through a tree. There again, it maybe was just that having arrived in the town of Leggett and having been to see where Highway 1 comes to an end before lunch, these people had nothing to do for the rest of the day. Amy and I sympathised with their plight and we walked through the tree in solidarity with them. If you haven't a day to spare you can always watch one of the numerous videos of people driving through the tree which are available on the You-Tube site.

Leaving Leggett and Highway 1 behind, Amy and I felt lost and alone. Amy - who can never be accused of being over-loyal to one person or one geographical feature - insisted that we should find a new friend to follow. She found us the Eel River. By the time we met up with it at Leggett, the Eel River (or to be more precise the South Fork Eel River) had been flowing north towards the Pacific for many a mile, minding its own business. It is a nice river, a pleasant river, a friendly river (there is even an organisation called "Friends of the Eel River") : we decided to follow it to the sea. Having read that the river is home to rainbow trout, Chinook salmon, and steelheads, I suspect that Amy was interested in more than the views.

And so the river led us northwards, towards the sea. It was in no great hurry and it would be several weeks before it lost itself in the big ocean. Until then we would follow this blue ribbon through the green trees.

A few miles north of the end of Highway 1, something else came to an end : Mendocino County. Crossing County Lines has become quite a "milestone", and Humboldt County, which we had just entered, was our 12th County so far. Whilst the County is reasonably large, the population is reasonably small and it has a rural, out-of-the-way feel about it. It claims more artists per capita than anywhere else in California. It also claims to have more trees than anywhere else. The latter claim certainly appears to be correct.

Our week ended in the tiny settlement of Richardson Grove. Richardson Grove - named after the 25th Governor of California, Friend WIlliam Richardson - may seem to have all the magnetic attractions of Leggett without the tree and the road junction, but it does have one thing of note, a State Park. The Richardson Grove State Park is a jolly affair with numerous campsites and even more trees. It is true that, by now, Amy and I were getting just a little tired of trees, but these were majestic things, "well worth cocking a leg at" as Amy so charmingly put it.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Week 37 : Westport To Dutchman's Flat

Amy and I set out from Westport knowing that the week ahead was going to be pivotal. During the last twelve months of our virtual journey there has been lots to virtually see. The detailed Google Earth photos have been brim-full of information : villages, towns, shops, and places of interest of all kinds. This week the Google Earth photos are brim-full of ... trees. Big trees and small trees and even more big trees. Mile after green mile of them. Don't get me wrong, they're lovely. Kind of majestic. Unchanging. Grand .......... (sorry I must have dozed off there) .... and just a tad boring.

"This week", I announced to Amy as we walked out of Westport, "we are making for Dutchman's Flat". She didn't ask me about our destination which was a good thing because I knew nothing about it. As far as I could gather it was nothing more than a couple of buildings in a clearing surrounded by ... trees. But we had the sea with us for the first part of the week and when you walk in sight of the coast there is always something to lift your spirits.

A few hours north of Westport we got to Wages Creek and went in search of something to lift our spirits. We found a campsite and a beach and, guess what, some trees. " Wages Creek Beach in Mendocino County, California is a really good place to spend some time" says a strange little website called "Wages Creek Beach is a relaxing place and it sure is a nice beach. Among the things you can do near Wages Creek Beach are paddling, fishing, swimming, and boating, so there's no way to get bored". They certainly got most of that right although they forgot you could also throw pebbles into the water. And count trees. Anything but bored, Amy and I forced ourselves ever northwards.

Soon we reached Westport - Union Landing State Beach. There were fine coastal sunsets, lots of fish ... and trees. The main species of fish which can be caught around here are Day Smelt and Night Smelt. As you might imagine, the Day Smelt spawn during the day and the Night Smelt spawn at night. "Isn't that fascinating", I said to Amy, but she was otherwise engaged, chasing some fish through the surf.

After all that excitement, Amy and I settled into day after day of walking and trees. At times, the road left the coast and headed into the hills, but eventually it came back again. And then one day it didn't. We were about to leave the sea behind and cut inland. We were at the start of the Lost Coast.

I avoided telling Amy that we were at the start of the Lost Coast : she would only make silly jokes about how we had found it again. Instead we walked a few hundred metres away from the main road so that we could get a taste of, what is, one of the last coastal wildernesses in California. The 40 mile stretch of coast between Middle Rock in the south and Eureka in the north is so craggy and wild the normally robust Highway 1 has to skulk inland. It would have been adventurous and challenging to trek up the coast, but over recent months Amy and I had become addicted to Highway 1 and we were determined to follow it to its end.

So we headed inland. Into the trees. For a couple of days we saw nothing other than trees. I misquoted Ben Jonson to Amy : "I think that I will never see, anything other than a bloody tree". By the end of the week we reached Dutchman's Flat - or at least I think we did. There was a brief clearing in the forest, a barn, a house. It wasn't flat and there were no Dutchmen around. But for a precious few square yards there were no trees.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Week 36 : Fort Bragg to Westport

I'd like to see the Skunk before we leave", I said to Amy as we prepared to head north out of Fort Bragg, California. She looked slightly surprised, but nevertheless grateful. She was used to a hefty tug on the leash whenever she tried to investigate the local wildlife. She was used to being dragged past squirrels and hoisted over dormant door-mice. Now here was her guide, philosopher, feeder and owner actually suggesting they go in search of a local critter. She had never eaten skunk and she tried to imagine what it might taste like. Her train of thought was interrupted by a great hiss of escaping steam. Her train of thought was interrupted by a train of iron and steel.

The California Western Railroad (a.k.a. The Skunk Train), like almost everything on this part of the Californian coast, was a child of the booming nineteenth century logging industry. It was built in 1885 to move the massive redwood logs to the Mendocino Coast sawmills from the rugged back country. Steam passenger services were started in 1904 but discontinued in 1925. During the latter half of the twentieth century its decline matched the decline of the logging industry. Until the 1960s it was operated as a division of the Fort Bragg Logging Mill but was later taken over by the Arizona-based Kyle Railways. By the 1990s, the logging days were in the past and the main purpose of the 40 mile line was as a tourist attraction, In August 1996, a group comprising entirely of local Mendocino Coast investors took over the railway and it has been thriving ever since.

I explained all this to Amy who didn't seem particularly interested. Indeed, when a train steamed into the depot and caught her off her guard, she launched a vicious attack on it and we had to scurry away and go in search of a more gentle and serene location. We followed the signposts and headed for what has been described as one of the most unique beaches in the world - Glass Beach. The story of the beach is interesting, almost inspirational, and therefore I didn't need much prompting to explain it to my dog (which was fortunate because I didn't get much prompting). Beginning in 1949, the area around Glass Beach became a public dump for the town of Fort Bragg. People dumped all kinds of refuse straight into the ocean, including old cars, and their household garbage, which of course included lots of glass. By the early sixties, some attempts were made to control what was dumped, and dumping of any toxic items was banned. Finally in 1967, the North Coast Water Quality Board established a new dump away from the ocean. Now, some 40 years later, Mother Nature has reclaimed the beach. Years of pounding wave action have deposited tons of polished glass onto the beach. There were quite a few tourists around taking photographs of the shining glass pebbles and Amy and I joined in the game. You had to be a bit selective with your field of focus in order to avoid the bits of old car tyres which were also in the habit of being washed up. But the beach is a fine place and a monument to natural recycling. Amy did her bit for the recycling movement by appearing by my side with what looked like a bit of dead seal in her mouth. We hurried on.

Later that same day we waded across Pudding Creek on the seaward side of the recently rebuilt trestle bridge which carries the old Mackerricher State Park road over the estuary. Our old friend Highway 1 was a little to the east but I had decided to stick to the coast as far as possible this week. For the next few days we would be travelling the length of
Mackerricher State Park which, Amy was pleased to note, was one of the few dog-friendly State Parks in California. As we walked over the rocky headlands and across the numerous sandy coves, Amy was free to wander - as long as she kept within the legally required limit of a six foot leash. If the truth be told, at one stage, as we approached Lake Cleone, her leash extended to about six and a half feet for a few minutes and we spent the rest of the afternoon hiding behind bushes and living in dread of Governor Schwarzenegger swooping down on us in an helicopter gunship. The northern part of the Park is given over to the less than appropriately named Ten Mile Beach and Ten Mile Dunes. In fact they are seven miles in length from end to end : their name comes from the Ten Mile River which can be found at their northern end. The name of the river comes from the fact that it is ten miles north of the Noyo River which - quite appropriately this time - is ten miles to the south. As usual I explained all this to Amy and, as usual, she preferred to sniff things.

We could have crossed the river and kept our feet and paws dry if we had tracked about half a mile inland and crossed over the bridge that carries Highway 1 north. But Amy knew better and decided to risk wading across what she assumed was a shallow little stream : the result was that we got soaked and when we dripped and squelched into the tiny settlement of Seaside Creek we were a sorry site. The weather was kind, however, and we lay on the white sandy beach until we were dry. The sea and the land, nature and mankind all seemed to be in harmony on this delightful bit of coastline. I lectured Amy about this as we walked north, making several very valid points about love and universal friendship, harmony and mutual dependence. As the lecture drew to a close we approached a marble memorial stone which had been set adjacent to the road a few miles out of Seaside Creek. It celebrated the life of one Randy Fry, an enthusiastic diver and fisherman who died a few hundred yards west of this spot in August 2004. He was eaten by a Great White Shark!

We kept to the main highway as we travelled north and were eventually delivered to the beauty and tranquility of the
Pacific Star Winery. Wine barrels line the cliff tops, maturing casks of glorious wine are stored in sea caves within the sound of breaking surf. The tasting rooms are open almost every day of the year and you can sample up to ten different wines - all for free. There are even picnic tables available so you can drink your wine, enjoy a picnic and watch the whales swim by. This really is a little bit of paradise on the Pacific coast. Amy behaved herself and sat quietly and watched the sun set over the Pacific. I just sat quietly and got slowly pickled. If you are ever travelling through Northern California it is worth stopping off at the Winery. If you are not, if you are just driving to work on the A616 through Keighley, it is worth making a detour. We spent the night at the charming Howard Creek Ranch Inn, which was remarkable both for its old world charm and for the fact that dogs were welcome guests.

Our week came to an end in the little village of
Westport. A hundred years ago when lumber was king it had a population of over 20,000, now it is home to little more than 230 souls. It's a pleasant enough spot, but - as I suggested to Amy - one could easily get bored with so little to occupy yourself with. However she had spotted a poster advertising the village's famed annual chicken barbeque. She was smitten. If paradise for me had been that glorious winery a few miles down the road, paradise to Amy was a chicken barbeque. As our week came to an end we were searching the lists in Real Estate offices looking for a property midway between village and winery.