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.