That Curvy Undulating Ribbon of Black

My sisters used to play guitar and sing Peter, Paul and Mary’s 500 Miles, a folk song that would haunt my earliest dreams as a four year-old kid. The memory of the dream is still pretty vivid; I’m on a road walking west to the horizon and it’s getting dark. The feeling is even more vivid, a combination of fear and purpose.

Throw in the Mamas & The Papas’ California Dreaming and the sum for me is the reason I’m still drawn to the West Coast. That, and being land-locked in the Southwest. If you’ve been reading this blog you’ll know we’ve been making the best of that as well. Mindy’s always been patient and tolerant enough to go along for the ride.

A trip we’ve been planning to Eugene to pick up our daughter from Duckland for a break turned into a trek up the northern extension of the Pacific Coast Highway; the Shoreline Highway, the Redwood Highway and the Oregon Coast Highway, that curvy undulating ribbon of black that forces all your senses to their fullest operating capacity.

And while we’ve been touting overlanding as our latest gig in adventuring, we only managed six miles out of 2,505 of this journey off-road. Having only eight days to make this trip kept us on asphalt, but we did keep freeway slabbing under 120 miles, making most of our miles on backroads and two-laners.

We left early, Saturday, July 28th, south on I-15, seventy five miles to Moapa, Nevada where we watched the Interstate disappear in our mirrors. A twisty road got us to 93 then to 375, the Extraterrestrial Highway.

This is the more vegetated sign, the other being the more traditional, deserted-highway motif that I also photographed but paid no attention to exposure, blowing it out. Or maybe it was alien interference. Mindy managed to capture an ETesque frame.

I’m thinking recycled satellite dish, but who knows? Someday, I just may have another think coming. (An expression, by the way, I learned from reading To Kill a Mockingbird along this trip. All this time I thought it was “…another thing coming.”)

We pressed on through other less-intresting parts of Nevada with the anticipation of Yosemite National Park in the afternoon. We stopped by Mono Lake, took more blown-out exposures and eventually reached that humanity-stuffed national treasure featured in Ansel Adams’ work, Yosemite. I will never complain again about how many people visit our own Zion Canyon. Yosemite was a zoo. Of people. These two notwithstanding.

Isn’t it funny the indignation we feel when we think too many people are enjoying our park? I didn’t think so at the time. The hope of camping in Yosemite Valley popped, unrealistic on my part, I know, given the season, but my spontaneity would not be overridden by planning.

This view yielded the first artsy shot of the trip, ode to Ansel…

We drove Tioga Road through this incredible area. This is the geology I remembered as a kid spending many of my summers in the Northern Sierras, getting grip on granite instead of Kaibab limestone. And the water so clear to keep you perpetually thirsty.

I had abandoned any thought to enter Yosemite Valley by the time we reached it late afternoon. The traffic was too thick to think it may be enjoyable at all to enter. We turned, instead, right on El Portal Road on a search for a campsite along the Merced just on the other side of the town of El Portal.

The best we could do was an overflow spot in a parking lot by the river. The campground host was both kind enough to accommodate us and bewildered by our roof-top tent to allow us to park. All the other camping was foot-access only. I was hammered and grumpy. I really wanted this first night to be in the valley with views of Half Dome and El Capitan. But I had failed us.

Somehow, though, that was lost on Mindy. We set up a minimal camp and she changed into something she could get soaked in and coaxed me down to the river. The Merced ran just a few yards below our camp. There she lit on a submerged rock and was backlit by the California sun filtered by smoke from some distant fire, surrounded by dark, deep water and the rocks that shore the Merced; the most beautiful picture I never took. I left both DSLR and iPhone back at the camp and was too grumpy and tired to go back for either. That will never happen again, I vowed.

Freeze-dried beef stroganoff and a noisy night’s sleep ended our first day of the trip, the stroganoff being infinitely better than the snooze.

We entered Yosemite Valley the next morning, early enough to avoid the rental-caged touristi.

We stopped along the upper Merced to shoot (unfruitful), and then drove into the valley, stopped by that monolith that is El Capitan, which has to be the most photographed rock in America, of which Mindy got a photo on her iPhone.

From our vantage point we mounted a trail to Bridal Veil Falls.

On a dim hope that perhaps this being Sunday there might be some folks bugging out of their campsites early, we penetrated the camping loops and spent more time wandering around there than we wanted. A campsite attendant said it was possible to get a campsite for that night. All we had to do was get on the waiting list. Nothing squashes spontaneity faster than those two words.

We decided to enjoy the rest of the valley, take a few more photos at the worst time of the day, and then make our way to the coast.

The shot above looks west back to the Cathedral Spires and the one below east to Half Dome.

I’m losing my patience as a photographer. I’m spurned on by that unrelenting temporal context, fanning that fear that we might not end up where we might need to be that night, which, really, was a bunch of crap. I need to work on this, override the angst of the logistics of traveling and revel in the going instead. Fear versus purpose.

We descended what was left of the southern Sierra foothills into the San Joaquin, passing through Oakdale and stopping in Escalon for provisions. Part of which was a fresh loaf of sour dough. Mindy made us sandwiches and we dined behind the wheel on our way through Manteca and Tracy.

The sandwich. The best I’ve had in years.  I wondered where the sandwich would be without internal combustion and recalled the road-trip food my mom would make along the way. This was more than a reminder, it turned into a favorite moment of the trip and it makes my mouth water just writing about it. I’ve been duped and romanced by fast-food for far too many years.

Granted, this isn’t something you can do on a motorcycle, especially with a full-face helmet, but lunch behind the wheel turned that stretch into a gustatory memory. More sandwiches would follow, with sandwich over franchise our new traveling mantra.

I toyed with stopping in my old hometown of Livermore at a Togo’s for lunch, but that thought was trumped. A few more miles of freeway and we’d soon be on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the appetizer of the Shoreline Highway.

Through the funky little town of Fairfax meandering among Lagunitas Forest Knolls we came upon the Samuel P. Taylor State Park and Campground. The sign at the entrance declared full, but we thought to try our luck. And it was good.

Number two wasn’t a drive-in spot. Like the sites at El Portal, you had to walk down into it where you could pitch a tent. We pitched ours in the parking area just off the campground road, quickly becoming the center of many camping enthusiasts’ queries. That night after we retired to it, we’d watch it illuminate from the inside with flashlights of passers-by and we’d hear them ask, “Do they sleep up there?”

“Only if you’d shut the hell up.” I wanted to say. But I didn’t.

We made camp at the site complete with raccoon lockers. We had a dinner of grilled sirloins and wild rice, enjoyed a hot shower and began reading, getting introduced to Scout, Jem, Atticus and Calpurnia.

We discovered the next morning that these raccoons were zipper-savvy and invaded one of the pantries under the cooler. They made a meal out of instant oatmeal packets (4), leaving the trash behind, and absconded with four granola bars. Fortunately, we had them to spare.

We packed and mounted SFD Boulevard taking it to our Mecca road, Highway 1, the Shoreline Highway, and soon made a stop in Point Reyes Station.

What’s not to like about a small town that boasts no barking and where for every fossil-fuel burning vehicle there were at least four Priuses? Is that the plural of Prius?

A few more provisions and we were off on the Shoreline, climbing the inland coast of Tomales Bay, our first view of ocean water.

Traveling as much as we have we learned to trust impulses. We zipped past Nick’s Cove, home of BBQed oysters and doubled back. Not so much for the grilled mollusks, not sure how that works anyway, but to sample their clam chowder and crab cakes.

I took a walk while we waited for our order. Nick’s has a gangway that goes out to a dock.

Besides tying off here, you can go into the shack, pick up the phone and order and enjoy it inside or outside. And enjoy it you will if the chowder and crab cakes were anything to go by.

Early, delicious lunch consumed, I had some context for what was coming up next.

Years ago and early into his career my dad delivered potato chips for Granny Goose. His route included Bodega Bay, our next stop. Story goes while making a delivery at Bodega Bay there was a film crew shooting a scene for a movie that involved a gas station and a whole lot of birds.

Mindy is a Hitchcock fan, and one of her favorite films is The Birds. Our first stop in Bodega Bay was the Visitors’ Center where a very helpful docent gave us the scoop on all things The Birds and Tippi Hedron. We doubled back a few miles to Bodega the town to find the house and church used in the film along with the Bodega Country Store-slash-Hitchcok collection.

Turns out Ansel Adams preceded Hitchcock by a decade, shooting this church in 1953. Ergo, ode number two and three to Ansel.

Poor Tippi. She was the first to personify going into places in horror films where you knew darn well that you shouldn’t.

Next to the Country Store is a surf shop steeped in cutting edge marketing approaches.

This placed rocked, despite the free clam chowder samples I declined a taste, else I might suddenly discount how good Nick’s chowder was and ruin my day.

Perhaps another draw for me to Bodega Bay is its stone’s throw from the town where I was born, Santa Rosa.

North of Bodega Bay we were treated to our fist unadulterated view of the Pacific taking these along the way.

You may have noticed our latest piece of kit, the Trasharoo mounted to the spare tire. It’s intended, as the name implies, to stow one’s garbage during a long overland trek. No one wants to ride along with stinky refuse inside the vehicle when you’re packing out what you’re packing in. We used it to stow the two extra sleeping bags and pillows along with our shower/pump system, making more room and outward visibility in the back. It became a lined trash receptacle at campsites. Very handy.

Past Fort Ross, which was unfortunately closed after a celebration the day before of its anniversary we made it up to the confluence of the Gualala River where we found the Gualala Point Camp Ground tucked away out of sight from just about anything in a thick melange of Redwoods and Elms. We decided to stop for the night.

A canopy of thick elms keep these sites shaded throughout the day. With all these vertical vectors we couldn’t help but feel uplifted, our heads nodding to take it all in. Relaxing was the order of the afternoon, purpose found.

After setting up camp and answering questions about the RTT, we walked a two-mile trail to the ocean.

The sand is dark and large-grained. Calling it coarse would discount how smooth it is.

The Gualala River making its confluence to the ocean.

Back at camp we cooked up a dinner of chicken and wild rice. Camping strips away the insulation that separates us. Camp cooking is a community effort, even with just two people, and it brings us to that basic need of the evening meal, pushing Maslow ahead of Jobs. Besides sex, the evening meal was at one time one of the first and main reasons people came together in the quotidian. Camping brings us back to that.

Day four had some miles to go due to our leisurely pace the days before. It was also the mark of the first two failures of the trip, our Garmin Navigation and my iPhone. Neither of which resurrected. I’ve become suspicious of the 12 volt outlet that charged these devices.

Breakfast, breaking camp, packing up was all becoming routine, if not a bit tiresome. We began talking about alternatives, but couldn’t come to any conclusions about what would be better. No RV that we could afford could go where we want to go. What we have provided the greatest flexibility and options for the varied terrain and styles of camping we adventure on. The Montero and how it’s been outfitted worked.

On School Street at Point Arena.

And the Point Arena Light House and Museum.

Fort Bragg by lunchtime was a perfect place for the sandwich mantra.

Yes. Bologna. It’s become a traditional road food. We balanced that out with organic ham and turkey.

Besides the Trasharoo, the Coleman Steel Belted 54 quart cooler is another addition to our gear. Kept ice-cold without replenishing for three days, and we could’ve gone four, easy. Helps that it was pre-cooled before adding food and beverages, and that all our fish, chicken and beef was frozen in repacked zip-locked bags, along with half-gallon containers of water.

Second row seating became our rolling kitchen.

What trip to the Redwoods would be complete without the obligatory drive-thru tree tourist trap? Certainly not ours. Near the junction of Highway One and the 101 is Leggett, home of the only surviving navigable Redwood. We pulled up to the pay booth and after we plunked down our five bucks, the woman, reminiscent of Ayer’s wife in Men in Black said, “You’ll never get through that tree with that stuff up there,” in reference to the RTT. “What if we let some air out of the tires?” She didn’t appreciate that.

Getting on the 101 gave us a bit of hope of making up some ground at speeds in excess of 65 mph. And we did, off and on, until we took the Avenue of the Giants. It was pretty and scenic but nothing that we hadn’t seen before so we got back on the 101 and made our way to Humboldt and the Redwood National Park. Three nights of little sleep was catching up to both of us so we looked for a spot for the night. Since camp the previous night was among the redwoods and elms of Gualala, we wanted something close to the water.

The best we could do for the evening was the Big Lagoon County Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Trinidad, with a site right on the water.

There were cormorants nesting above us. The sounds they made surpassed any assessment of size of these birds, often sounding more like gorillas in the mist than fish eating fowl.

It was here where we experienced the third failure of the trip, the Montero’s sunroof. And of course, it stuck in the open position.

I got it closed shy of about a foot. As sunroofs go this one is massive, about 40 inches long, which makes for a big gaping hole in in-climate weather, the likes of which we wouldn’t see this trip. But we didn’t know that. We were heading to Oregon for crying out loud.

I abandoned my attempts to get it closed for a nice walk to the ocean side of the lagoon sans any kind of camera device. We sat in the sand, laid back into a vertebrae-cracking cradle and let the breeze blow over us and into us.

We read more about Boo Radley, Scout’s disdain for school, and more on the Finch family after dinner, and when my eyes gave out we crawled up into the RTT and fell fast asleep. Finally. While our roof top nest is cozy and comfortable, it isn’t soundproof, obviously. I’m a hyper-vigilant light sleeper, making it a somewhat unfavorable combination. On the Merced I listened to a drunken conversation between two men in a pissing contest. At Samuel P. Taylor number two there was a scream fest and what sounded like a gunshot. Gualala was quiet save for the endearing game of Spanish Bingo. So by Big Lagoon, not even a wildlife refuge full of gorilla-imitating cormorants could keep me awake.

We camped light there, meaning we didn’t do the full kitchen and shower set-up, giving us a quick start the next morning. We skipped breakfast hoping to find a good one on the road. Breakfast is a favorite meal on the road for some reason.

Before finding breakfast we found the Newton B. Drury Parkway that took us deep into the Redwoods, and then the Cal-Barrel Road that took us even deeper, and was the only dirt double track we’d navigate this trip.

I’ve written before that there are two places that give me needed perspective. One is on the ocean on my kayak and the other is on my Blackbird at speeds too incriminating to admit. Now I’ve found a third place.

There’s a cycle that moves here, but it’s slower than you or I will ever be able to witness. Things happen here in terms of centuries instead of hours and you can feel that when you walk among these ancient giants.

Those that fall start their next cycle, to be consumed by the forest floor, broken down to earth again in a process no intervalometer could capture. Makes our living fleeting by comparison. That’s what I mean by perspective. A purpose to this trip.

The trail has a pad to it like high-end wall-to-wall. Had I a watch with a second hand, I believe it would have started to sweep a little slower.

We could have, should have spent much more time there, but my own clock moved us along, back to the 101.

And breakfast. Our sandwich mantra was only for lunch, so we were looking forward to something good. We found it at a the Great Harvest Cafe in Crescent City. Great buttermilk pancakes and a line cook who knows what over medium means.

We pressed on into Oregon and the Oregon Coast Highway to Sixes and the Cape Blanco Lighthouse. This earned the windiest-spot-of-the-trip badge if we had our own social media check-in app.

One advantage of having an RTT is it’s always easy to pick out your rig in a crowded parking lot.

A friend and fellow photographer recommended two places for us to visit on this trip. One being the seastacks at Bandon Beach in Oregon, and the other some water falls outside of Eugene.

Again, midday, lousy light for such a beautiful setting, but this outcropping caught my attention as we trudged the fine sand. If felt to me that if you rounded these rocks to the other side you might find Charlton Heston pounding the sand with his fists in the shadow of the remnants of Lady Liberty.

We touled around Bandon, thought about spending the night there in a motel with a real shower, but thought better of that upon finding out the rates.

And I’m glad we did. Just a few more miles up the road is Bullard’s Campground. Sixteen bucks and free showers. Free, hot showers. Unlimted. Just hit the button as many times as you like.

We got camp set up in minutes with the promise of free, unlimited hot showers. I made fish tacos while Mindy tended to writing her senior capstone for some unrelenting jackass of a professor.

As the evening progressed I started to feel as if the Montero and its loft were a parade float. People were amazed. We got the hearty and sincere congratulations of a die-hard RV camper, proclaiming this is how it should be done.

After dinner we took our evening walk to the beach at a quick clip to beat the sunset. The entire trail, save for a few yards of swamp, was ankle-deep sand, making haste wasteful. We did come across this little arc of illumination in a meadow off the sandy trial.

Coastal clouds obscured the sunset, and I didn’t take any photos having left the tripod back at camp.

Sleeping well, Thursday morning would launch us just as well along our way on this last leg of our coastal route. We hit Florence, a place we explored on our trip last October, and made the turn inland to Eugene, anxious to see Katie, Shane and their dog, Breeze, and to check-in to our EconoLodge room downtown.

We picked up Katie and made our way to Fifth Street where we had remarkable NY style pizza for lunch. Topping that though was dinner at the Sixth Street Grill. I can’t turn down the promise of a good stroganoff, especially at a steak joint, and 6th Street didn’t disappoint. Mindy had halibut, equally as satisfying. Eugene has its share of reasonable dining, but if you visit and miss this place, your palate will loiter in mediocrity.

Friday morning the four of us set out to see the second recommended photo-op for this trip, Proxy Falls off the McKenzie Highway. Along the way is this structure in Lane County, the Goodpasture Bridge, built in 1938 and still in use.

And then, Proxy Falls, a 226 foot veil that graces moss-covered columnar basalt.

Where at one long time in my life I sought spiritual calm and inspiration in temples, I now find that resonance outside on the bluff pews of high deserts and rocky shorelines, redwood cathedrals and baptized in the mists of rivers and waterfalls.

We didn’t want to leave, but Saturday morning was edging closer.

Trips like this have that arc, that point where you turn around and approach where your journey originated; home. I wrote about the tip of this arc in a post about our PCH motorcycle trip.

For this trip, for me, Proxy Falls is the tip of that arc. Saturday morning, o’dark-thirty early, we turn the Montero south and make the two-day trek home.

Some other advice from a member and traveler on Expedition Portal was to be certain to hit Crater Lake and Klamath Falls on the way back.

Good advice, and thanks.

The drive there was beautiful; sunrise through the trees of the Willamette National Forest along Lookout Point Lake. In a couple of hours we reached the crest of the crater.

This caldera is formed from the collapse of Mount Mazama, a large volcano. There are no rivers flowing in to or out of the lake; it’s water level maintained by rain and snowfall. The water has a record clarity to 142 feet.

Mindy’s walking one of our three new passengers, Breeze, the other two having already been walked.

One feature of Crater Lake is the Phantom Ship, an illusion formed by the remnants of a volcanic ridge.


We made our way back to Oregon 97 and down to Klamath where we stopped for provisions for the night’s camping and to make sandwiches. Along the way I developed what I call my Blind Spot.

This is Breeze’s natural perch with her owner and she found the same with me, riding for miles like this.

My intent was to reach the Truckee River, a place where I camped as a kid, but I was at a point in this trip where exhaustion was taking a toll on my endurance, encouraging me to stop a bit earlier than planned at Cave Campground in Lassen National Park near the junction of CA 98 and 44 to Susanville. Hat Creek, known for its fly fishing flows past this park.

We established camp and walked to the campsite’s namesake, the Subway Cave.

It’s a lava flow flute, something we’re familiar with from our home-town geology, a third mile long.

Here you can see Breeze with his human companions, Saints fans.

I must have run out of photographic gumption. I fully intended to take a shot of our camp, but after reading more about Atticus’ hidden talent as a sharp shooter and his philosophy about killing mockingbirds, I got caught up in its impact and forgot all about chronicling this camp.

Scout gets this in regards to Boo Radley; a moral obligation to protect what’s vulnerable. I’ve never been much of a tree-hugger. I don’t recycle, at least didn’t until this trip, and probably leave much more than my share of a carbon footprint. But I couldn’t help but make the connection to the vulnerability of the incredible places we visited, from redwoods to seastacks.

I’ll go on record that I believe Mother Nature can well take care of herself. Yosemite’s granite is impervious to whatever we may soil it with. That said, we’re sure messing things up. There’s no joy in finding a cigarette butt at the base of Bridal Veil Falls.

We broke camp that night as much as possible, easing the morning’s task of packing up. We got another early start, the day holding about a twelve hours’ drive home, skipping breakfast for the promise of something better in Susanville.

Our previous Oregon trip got us familiar with the Susanville Supermarket, an IGA store that boasts the greatest donuts in the world. Such hyperbole demands investigation and while our collective experience couldn’t rank their donuts among others contesting the same credential, they were damn good donuts.

Susanville to Reno, Fallon to the Loneliest Highway in America, skirting The Great Basin to Panaca, Nevada was knocked out in good time. While stretching legs and filling up at Panaca’s only station, a 1967 Buick Skylark GS pulled up to a pump. A deep growl formed within my soul, squelching for a moment at least, the new-found conservationist within. This was my first car, except mine was a rag top. I was alone in my enthusiasm, but seeing this Skylark in its pristine condition, a GS no less, restored a little hope that maybe we are capable of taking care of a few things. What a car. Talk about California Dreaming.

We got home before sundown, after the traditional trip-ending stop at Cafe Rio, purpose fulfilled. Fear abated.

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