Monday, 26 January 2009

Orick : The Bigfoot Capital of America

Sunday 25th January 2009
By Sunday, Amy and I had arrived at our destination, the small town of Orick. The town - if this row of roadside shops can be called a town - clusters around the point where the Redwood Highway spans the Redwood Creek. There's an awful lot of redwood around here and we are only a short walk from Redwood National Park. But in Orick the Redwood tends to be carved into odd shapes and standing outside a variety of roadside stores. Amy found some very odd shapes and after a preliminary sniff, she drew my attention to them. "Ah Bigfoot", I said with my usual pretense of ancient wisdom, wisdom so ancient the Wikipedia ink is still not dry.  "Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch", I recited to a patently uninterested dog, "is an alleged ape-like creature purportedly inhabiting forests, mainly in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Bigfoot is usually described as a large, hairy, bipedal humanoid". Amy started barking, but it appeared to be more of an indication of my mental state that a warning against a hairy, bipedal humanoid. The number of large wooden apes lining the street was an indication that Orick is sometimes called the Bigfoot Capital of America : there have been more reported sightings around Orick than almost anywhere else. One feels slightly sorry for Orick : when American small towns gather together for a drink after work and start boasting that they are the World Cucumber Capital or the American Breeze-block Capital, all Orick can claim is that within its borders a lot of people didn't actually see something that doesn't exist. 

Orick does have a good bar and diner however. Hawg Wild Bar and Grill is a renowned bikers stopover, but despite having six legs rather than two wheels, Amy and I were made welcome. Amy socialised with the bar-owners' dog whilst I took a tour of some of the weird and wonderful bikes on display. On the grill a couple of Elk Burgers were cooking and in my hand a glass of ice-cold beer was chilling me out. Time to sit down and work out where on earth we are going to go to next week.


Thursday, 22 January 2009

Stone Lagoon

Thursday 22nd January 2009
Amy has become a keen fan of spit-walking and has insisted that we walk along the coast this week. After my fearful transit of the Big Lagoon barrier, I was marched past - rather I was pulled past - Dry Lagoon and Stone Lagoon, and I have still got Freshwater Lagoon to look forward to. Nevertheless, I did manage to insist on a quick trip inland to get a look at Stone Lagoon Schoolhouse, an iconic one-roomed, red-painted, wooden schoolhouse of the type that once could be found throughout rural America. It is well worth taking the detour to see the school, it looks quite wonderful set against the dense forest and with the ever-present coastal mist sweeping down from the hills. It is usually surrounded by a grazing herd of Roosevelt elk which, to my mind, just add to the overall impression of rural idyll.

Amy didn't share my appreciation of the elk, nor -unusually for her - did she try and chase them. She must have had a frightening experience in a previous life involving elk because she adopted that cat-like, low-slung posture she reserves for when she is scared out of her wits. I ignored her fear as I was determined to get my own back for my hair-raising walk along the sand spit. "There is a distinctive school bell", I told her as I read from the guide, "but the best way to hear it is to go onto the school website and press the button marked "school bell". I was slightly disappointed with this, somehow it didn't seem right. Here we were having virtually walked all the way to Stone Lagoon and we were being advised that we could get the genuine experience by pressing a button on a computer. Seemed like cheating to me.


Big Lagoon

Tuesday 20th January 2009
"It's a stretch of sea water separated from the sea by a low sandbank or coral reef", I said to my dog Amy as we walked north of Agate Beach towards Big Lagoon. We would be having close encounters with four lagoons this week so I thought it advisable to explain the word to Amy as she often had difficulty with complex concepts such as "sit", "stay", and "stop chasing that seagull". I might as well have saved my breath as she took little notice and continued to pull me along the sands even though I protested that our chosen route took us along the east side of Big Lagoon up the great Redwood Highway. Amy had different ideas, she wanted us to walk up the narrow strip of sand and shingle that separated the wild Pacific from the still Lagoon waters. "Hang on, Amy, I'm not sure it is safe", I said as she dragged me north. "Perhaps you can't get through", I tried. She pressed on. "Perhaps it's private property", I declared. She quickened her pace. "Perhaps dogs aren't allowed", said I throwing it my trump card. She trumped my trump so we kept heading up the sand spit.

According to the guidebooks, gold-seekers swarmed into this area in 1849 when discoveries were made along the Klamath and Trinity rivers. Prospectors attempted to mine the sand spits, but managed to extract very little gold despite considerable effort. It was only when we were a mile or two up the spit that I got to the paragraph which warned that particular care was needed as several times each winter the lagoon barrier is breached by waves. From there onwards I kept my eyes neurotically on the waves to our left, imagining with each incoming wave that the narrow strip of sand was getting narrower. Amy seemed relaxed about it and happily ran around searching for gold. By the time we passed the half-way mark it was me pressing ahead and Amy being dragged along in my wake. When we eventually got to the northern end of the sand spit she stopped and gave my one of her looks. It was as if to say, "what's all the fuss about, it was a lagoon, separated from the sea by a low sandbank .... ".


Monday, 19 January 2009

Week 45 : Patrick's Point To Orick

You will recall that Amy and I are speeding north, heading for the County Line having illegally allowed a dog (Amy) to sleep in a hotel room which did not welcome pets. Although we won't quite make the County Line in the week ahead, our route will take us through Humboldt Lagoons State Park. By next weekend we should arrive at the town of Orick .... unless the pet police catch us first.

Patrick's Point State Park

"If there is a dog you particularly fancy, you could get married", I said to Amy as we walked from the Patrick's Point Inn where we had spent the previous night along the path to Wedding Rock. I was wasting my breath as Amy rarely answers me. Also she was sulking as Patricks Point Inn had displayed one of those annoying "Sorry, No Pets Please" signs hanging in its window, so Amy had to be smuggled into my room surreptitiously. Hopefully she left a good doggy-smell to permeate the room, and equally hopefully we will be across the County Line before this is discovered.

Wedding Rock really is used for weddings and one can only admire the determination of couples - not to mention the sure-footed courage of their bridesmaids, ushers, sisters, brothers and maiden aunts - who traverse the rocky staircase up to the rock. This spot has been popular for weddings ever since the original caretaker of Patrick's Point State Park was married there in the 1930s. The State Park website says "it's a uniquely special place to start the journey through life together--a rock-solid foundation for wedded bliss". There were no weddings taking place on the day we visited, and Amy hadn't come up with a suitable mate, and therefore we took the path back to Agate Beach to see if we could pick up a fortune.

We found nothing so we contented ourselves with sitting in the shade of a giant Redwood tree and planning out our walk for the coming week.


Thursday, 15 January 2009

And So To Trinidad

Thursday 15th January 2009
And so to Trinidad ... In case that sounds a bit exotic even for this pair of virtual travellers let me immediately point out that today we arrived at Trinidad in Humboldt Country and not Trinidad in the Caribbean. Nothing wrong with Trinidad Ca, mind you: this little seaside town doesn't need to stand in awe of anyone. Actually, it's not a town but a city, and with a population of just over 300, it is California's smallest incorporated city. Small it may be, but it has two lighthouses, ten public beaches and the gateway to a National Monument within its city boundary. Add to this the fact that many claim that it is the oldest incorporated city in California and that it used to be the County seat of the long-gone Klamath County, and you can see that tiny Trinidad punches well above its weight.

Let's start with those two lighthouses : there is nothing much to choose between them because they both look very similar. Trinidad Head juts out into the Pacific Ocean and its phalanx of sharp rocks and craggy bluffs coupled with the areas natural inclination towards sea fogs leads to a natural hazard to shipping. From the 1850s onwards Trinidad became an important harbour for both the gold prospecting valleys of Klamath County and, later, the lumber industry, and therefore a lighthouse was an urgent requirement.  The Lighthouse Friends website takes up the story :

"In 1866, forty-two acres were purchased for a light station on the southern portion of the headland, but work on the project did not begin until the spring of 1871. First, a road was carved into the eastern side of the head, and then work began on the Trinidad Head Lighthouse, which would stand at the top of a 175-foot cliff. Given the loftiness of its perch, a squat brick tower was deemed adequate. The tower and associated keeper's dwelling, located roughly fifty yards from the tower, were finished over the course of the summer and fall, and on December 1, 1871, Keeper Jeremiah Kiler activated the revolving fourth-order Fresnel lens for the first time".

An important part of the installation was a fog bell which was set into the cliffs some fifty feet below the height of the light. The bell was struck using a clockwork mechanism which had to be wound up by the lighthouse keepers every two hours, an exhausting business.  Electricity didn't come to the lighthouse until the 1940s, but then the old Fresnel lens was removed along with the metal fog bell. It was then that the citizens of Trinidad clubbed together and built a second lighthouse - nearer the centre of the city - to house the relics. This is the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse shown in the picture above.  

As Amy and I stood on top of Trinidad Head we looked out on what is the magnificent California Coastal National Monument for which Trinidad is one of the five "gateways". In all the monument covers 1,100 miles of coastline and some 20,000 small islands, rocks, exposed reefs and pinnacles. Established in 2000, the primary objective of the monument is to "protect the important geologic features and the unique habitat they provide for both terrestrial and marine plants and animals found within its boundaries". This is why, I said to Amy who was getting distracted by certain movements along the cliff edge, you can't chase the birds.

We walked back into Trinidad, it really is a super little town (I can't get my head around the idea of it being a city). Within a few weeks, Amy and I would be leaving California for the state of Oregon. This little town with its rocks and its lighthouses would form just as powerful a memory of the state as would the mighty cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco.


Another Moonstone Beach

Tuesday 13th January 2009
"I'm sure we've been here before", I said to Amy as we headed off Highway 101 down Moonstone Beach Road. The sound of the traffic eventually gave way to the sound of the surf and in front of us we saw a wonderful collection of surf-piercing rocks and near-forgotten rock pools. Amy dropped  her head to one side which made for a quizzical look : she tends to do this whenever I do something or say something she doesn't understand. "Moonstone Beach, Moonstone Beach" I repeat as I flip back through our collected travel diaries. "Ah, here we are, it's just south of San Simeon and we visited it months and months ago". Amy dropped her head a few more degrees from the horizontal plane, which tends to mean "fool" : and in this particular case "it's another Moonstone Beach you old fool". 

We walked on the beach and caught site of Camel Rock in the distance. Named because of its two prominent humps, the rock is a local landmark and a popular gathering point for surfers. The beach is a fine sandy beach and, unlike its Southern California namesake, is relatively unlittered with pebbles or driftwood. After a while we left the beach and wandered up to the Moonstone Grill where we surveyed the menu with much thought. "California Red Abalone medallions lighted coated in almonds and cracker crumbs and served over angel hair pasta in a sauce of chablis, butter capers and fresh herbs" is one of the house specialities but I stuck to good old steak and fries. Amy decided to be adventurous so I ordered her the sauteed duck breast. "Very tasty", I said as I washed down the last of my rib-eye steak with a glass of local wine. Amy gulped down the last of her duck and dropped her head a few degrees from the horizontal plane. Undoubtedly this meant "very tasty"


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Week 44 : McKinleyville to Patrick's Point

Amy and I plan to keep to the coast this week, as we make our way north from McKinleyville to Patrick's Point. The beaches should be pristine, the coves should be craggy and every time we look inland we should see the ever-present tall redwood trees. Midweek we should pass through the city of Trinidad and by the end of the week we should arrive at Patrick's Point State Park.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

McKinleyville Totem Pole

Sunday 11th January 2009
For the last two days we have been walking north up Highway 101 towards our goal of McKinleyville. Someone once asked Amy how we choose our weekly goals which was rather stupid as she is a dog and doesn't speak. If they had asked me I would have said that they need to be about the right weekly walking distance from our starting point and, if possible, there should be something vaguely interesting about them. So what is vaguely interesting about McKinleyville? It has the world's largest single totem pole in the car park just outside Safeway's, that's what.

If you read the notice at the bottom of the pole you will discover that it is 160 feet high, weighing 57,000 lbs and 500 year old. This all sound quite impressive until you discover that it is not alone in claiming to be the world's largest totem pole - there are rivals in both Oklahoma and British Columbia - and it is 500 years old in the same way that my house - which is stone built - is 37 million years old. The redwood tree itself is 500 year old but it wasn't made into a totem pole until 1962. In totem pole terms it is a "celebration pole" and it celebrates the opening of McKinleyville Shopping Centre.  For Amy and I it celebrated the end of another week's walking and for Amy in particular, it posed a challenge of monumental proportions. Now what would any self-respecting dog do to a 160 foot high wooden pole?   


Saturday, 10 January 2009

Humboldt State University

Friday 9th January 2009
Amy and I had carefully timed our arrival in Arcata, a city about eight miles north of Eureka. Arcata is the home of Humboldt State University (HSU) - the northernmost campus of the Californian State University System - and HSU was due to host a concert by the jazz singer Bobby McFerrin on the 9th January. The human half of our duo is a great Bobby McFerrin fan and therefore entered town humming along to "Don't Worry, Be Happy". The canine half kept him on a long leash. But the best laid virtual plans of men and dogs ... and all that. The concert was cancelled due to ill-health and therefore I had to pretend it happened as I listened to one of his CD's on my MP3 player. A pretend concert on a pretend tour - how sad is that?

The cancellation did give us time to explore the campus. The present-day seven-and-a-half thousand student university developed out of the Humboldt State Normal School, a teacher training college established in 1913. It has a excellent reputation as a centre of learning - "Humboldt students are among the brightest and most unique students anywhere", trills the university brochure  - and as a centre for student activism and libertarian views. Architecturally, its most prominent feature is Founders Hall which dominates the local landscape. During the second-world war it was painted in camouflage so Japanese submarines could not use it as a navigation aid.

Today, the university is keen to entice anyone in its direction and I thought I might as well check out the opportunities for Amy (after all she keeps telling me what a clever dog she is). There's a Department of Wildlife Management, I say as I flick through the prospectus. She objects to this and indicates a degree programme in kinesiology as an alternative. "What the hell is kinesiology?" I ask as we walk out of town. I look it up in my dictionary. Ah, yes - exercise science!


Friday, 9 January 2009

Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Thursday 8th January 2009
Amy and I spent yesterday walking up the length of the Samoa Peninsular, enjoying the feel of sand under our feet and the sound of the crashing ocean in our ears. Manilla Beach was windswept, largely deserted and hugely beautiful and my dog and I walked on without a care in the world.  Towards the top of the peninsular the view is spoilt by a number of caravan parks - charmingly known by the locals as the Ghetto By The Sea - but I promised Amy that we would soon be returning to the delights of Mother Nature as we were approaching the northern dunes which form an integral part of the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I read from the brochure, trying to transmit my excitement to Amy. "The coastal habitats conserved at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge - from lush wetlands to fragile dunes and jutting seastacks - support an incredible wealth of plants, fish, and wildlife". By then we had reached the entrance to the Ma-le'l Dunes and my eyes focused on that dreadful phrase, "No Dogs Allowed". I tried to explain it to Amy : "it's in order to protect the fragile ecosystem and ensure that these rare creatures are safe". She gave me a look of contempt which clearly indicated that she understood the double-standards which us humans are capable of, and cocked a leg up at the bit of the sign which clearly stated that hunting and fishing were allowed! As I have probably said before, strange place this America.


Thursday, 8 January 2009

Samoa Bridge and Indian Island

Tuesday 6th January 2009
Leaving the city of Eureka behind, Amy and I head along Highway 255 which effectively means transversing the mighty Samoa Bridge. Built in 1971, the bridge - or to be more exact, three bridges - provided a direct route from Eureka to the Samoa Peninsular and made the old Humboldt Bay Ferry service redundant. The bridges first of all links the mainland with Woodley Island, then Woodley Island with Indian Island, then Indian Island with the Peninsular.

Amy and I stopped off on Indian Island - or Duluwat Island as it was originally known - to pay a visit to the site of Tolowat village, the ancestral home of the Wiyot Indians. It was here in 1860 that a shocking massacre took place when a group of European settlers paddled over from the mainland and killed about one hundred Wiyot men, women and children. The tragic story of the massacre, of the slow decline of the tribe following the events of 1860, and of the attempts to preserve the sacred sites and the culture of the Wiyot people is told in full on the Wiyot Tribe website. Contributions are needed to help return parts of the island to the Wiyot people : a cause fully supported by these two virtual visitors.


The Carson Mansion, Eureka

Monday 5th January 2009
Refreshed by our Christmas break, Amy and I stood on Waterfront Drive, Eureka, California, contemplating the three and a half thousand mile virtual journey ahead of us. It was quite an undertaking : we needed to press on, waste no further time, keep our four eyes on the grand objective. I tried to send a determined look in the direction of my dog, she scratched her ear the way she does when she has fleas. "Off we go then", I said aloud, facing north in the general direction of our next objective, the small town of McKinleyville. Amy yanked her head, the dog-lead, and my arm south. There was obviously somewhere she wanted to go first.

It came as a bit of a surprise when she took me a few blocks south to the historic Carson Mansion : she is not usually so keen on architectural monuments. But I couldn't fault her choice. Carson Mansion may be a bit Disneyesque, a bit like a Gothic Filmset, but it is well worth a visit. Built in the 1880s as a family home for the timber magnate William Carson, the wood-framed, mongrel-styled, eighteen room villa is a monument to possibilities of Douglas Fir. You get the feeling that William Carson approached the construction of his home in a similar way to that which Iron-Mad Wilkinson approached the fabrication of his cast-iron gravestone back in eighteenth century England.

The mansion stayed in the Carson family until 1950 when it was bought by the Ingomar Club which, according to its website, "serves a dual mission of the restoration and preservation of the unique historical building and grounds of the Carson Mansion, while providing fine dining and social experiences for its members". Unfortunately one of the ways it preserves the building is by keeping people - and especially dogs - out of the grounds, so we were unable to do anything but look on from afar. But it created an interesting diversion - a good start to the new year.


Week 43 : Eureka To McKinleyville

Refreshed by a Christmas holiday at home, Alan Burnett and his dog Amy re-start their mammoth virtual walk from Los Angeles to New York. This week they leave the Northern Californian city of Eureka behind them and head north to McKinleyville.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Week 42 : Fortuna To Humboldt Bay

Amy and I are walking with renewed spirit in our steps : we are heading back to the Pacific Ocean. We walked through the outskirts of Fortuna, feeling sure that we could smell the salt of the sea. As we walked alongside the Eel River we gazed into the distance, trying to see the point where river meets ocean. But what we saw was a bridge and what we smelt was ice cream! 

The bridge was Fernbridge which is the lowest crossing point of the Eel River and a listed National Historic Monument. When the 1,320 foot bridge was built in 1911, it was referred to as the world's largest all concrete span. It has worn well over the last century and stands out from the carpet of green fields and forests that surround it. The green fields provide a home for dairy cattle and these, in turn, provide the raw material for the Ferndale Dairy which produces ice-cream for a large area of Northern California. The local dairy farming industry is a legacy of Danish settlers who came to the area in the 1870s .  They established a number of local co-operative creameries which quickly gained a reputation for both quality and innovation.
Ferndale City, which Amy and I could see in the distance, south of the River, became known as Cream City. I entertained Amy as we walked along by reading to her a list of notable innovations the local Creamerey had been responsible for : the introduction of the first butter wrapping and cutting machines, the first milk tank trucks and the first cow testing programme in California.  Amy gave me one of those looks which implies that I have crossed the concrete bridge between harmless eccentricity and raving madness.

Fernbridge - as distinct from Ferndale City - is a tiny place with a population of just 59 souls. As its website says - blink and you will miss it. That may be the case if you are speeding north along Redwood Highway in your gas-guzzling SUV, it is not the case if you are a footsore man and his pawsore dog walking from Los Angeles to New York. There was a nice little wooden store where I had a beer and a little wooden bear where Amy had a wee.

We went on our way, and soon the aroma of ice-cream was replaced by that of cheese. We reached the town of Loleta. "Just a vowel shift away from temptation", I said to Amy but my literary joke fell on flat ears (well, actually, remarkably hairy, long, terrier ears). The small town of Loleta is the home of the Loleta Cheese Factory which ships its famous cheese throughout the world. Amy and I took a tour of the factory and Amy - who enjoys a bit of cheese as mach as the next dog - did a big tasting performance which seemed to please everyone and resulted in her being given even more cheese. Eventually I had to drag her away and we headed west out of town. I was anxious to see the ocean.

The back tracks north-west of Loleta cut through the low-lying, swampy estuary country and eventually merge into the sand-dunes. It was then, towards the end of the week, that Amy and I heard the crash of the waves once more and we knew that after far too many weeks, we were about to be re-united with the ocean. We walked to the very end of the promontory that forms the southern barrier to Humboldt Bay. Across the still waters we could see the City of Eureka, our destination. The problem was, how to get there? There were no boats, no way to cross the water and to retrace our steps would add another three or four days. We were tired and wanting our Christmas break. I looked down at Amy and she looked up at me. "What the hell, I said, it's a virtual journey after all. Let's fly!".