28 Sep Great Honeymoon Destinations: California Part III
Posted at 17:54h
Just to recap, this past August I drove around to some of the lesser-known destinations in California, avoiding Disneyland, Fisherman’s Wharf, even Yosemite, in favor of some of the geological and other natural wonders such as Point Lobos, Sequoia National Park, Salt Point State Park and Lava Beds National Monument. I stayed in Airbnb’s and with Couchsurfing hosts (I was traveling alone), but I managed to visit some old friends, as well as making some marvelous new ones.
Here is the last installment in the account of my journey, in which I logged 2340 miles on my rented car out of San Francisco.
Not far up the road from Mendocino Headlands State Park is Jughandle State Reserve. In addition to dramatic cliffs and ragged coastline making a beautiful headland, Jughandle boasts three significant forest environments along an “ecological staircase,” each on a terrace of land that rose out of the sea at 100,000-year intervals. All the descriptions of the park mention this marvel, yet the different levels are not easy to see when you’re in them, other than the very clear differences in the plant environments. The first terrace above the beach is a meadow-transition habitat, featuring a tangle of sitka spruce and culminating in a high patch of bracken ferns. The second one, even more dramatic, is the conifer mixed forest. Finally, at 1.5 miles in from the coast, the third and last terrace begins, the redwood-Douglas fir complex that terminates in a patch of depleted soil that gives rise to a curious pygmy forest, which one traverses on a boardwalk loop.
Sitka Spruce tangle of trunks and branches
Bracken Ferns signal transition to 2nd terrace
Mixed conifer forest of the second terrace
Pygmy forest of the third terrace
The trail is 5 miles round trip, and I kept thinking I was going to turn back before the end, but it stayed interesting, and I was at the end, 2.5 miles in, before I knew it—in about 2.5 hours. I was back at my car in less than an hour, since I wasn’t photographing as much.
Heading up the coast, it wasn’t yet dark, but I couldn’t resist a visit to the Sea Glass Museum in Fort Bragg, the next town up. A great deal of care had been spent on categories these fragmentary curiosities by color and size. After all, this is an example of nature improving on man-made products, instead of the other way around, as in stone-cutting. The one photo I took, however, was of the bottles that had acquired new patterns on them by remaining in the salt water for decades.
I drove up the foggy coast, along an often circuitous highway…
… and then stayed over night in the charming town of Arcata, on the other side of a large bay from Eureka, which has a charming old town. My host was the Redwoods Lily Guest House, a friendly Airbnb and hostel, where I found comfortable lodging, information on how to see my next state park most effectively, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. They do have private rooms, but also lots of space for the budget-minded.
Redwoods Lily Guest House, Airbnb & Hostel
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, high up on the California coast, is quite large with many trails. It features a broad beach between headlands, with lots of driftwood, some of which has been used to make teepees.
When I got there, after a short visit to the beach (no swimming of course), I first decided to pay a visit to the Ladybird Johnson Grove (of Redwoods). It was different from Sequoia National Park, less wild, a lot smaller, and showing fewer damaged and dead trees. There was one tree that was hollow all the way up, however, and I got someone to photograph me inside it. The photos from
inside, however, were the most fun I had in the Grove.
The one trail everyone at the Redwoods Lily Guest House agreed on was Fern Canyon. So after my brief visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove I found my way to the 7-mile dirt road that led to the Fern Canyon trail. It took about 20 minutes to negotiate that road, where I noticed the ferns on either side had been covered with a layer of dust, turning them into “ghost” ferns—possibly the most unique sight in the park.
Fern Canyon trail was a little paradise. A very shallow creek runs between two canyon walls maybe 30 feet high (10 meters), completely covered with ferns. It’s like having natural cushioning where one would expect hard rock. Planks made the creek walkable, and large fallen logs added another layer to the challenge.
After about a mile you climb up the canyon and walk back through a redwood forest, looking down into the canyon. Here, though, I was attracted to the moss-covered lower cut-off branches of many of the trees, which came alive when back-lit.
Returning to the beach on the way to my car, I found the misty surf, shrouding the not-too-distant headlands alluring.
You dared not go into the water, but some people still enjoyed being close to it.
Then I was off to my next overnight station, an Airbnb in Klamath Falls, Oregon, 232 miles away. The drive took me into Oregon rather quickly, where gas was right at $3, so I tanked up at a gas station that had a definite nostalgic tinge—and a sense of humor. The rest room cabin had a huge fly on the roof, and the rest room keys were both attached to fly swatters.
In addition they had a 60s era police car parked out front. It was also the local post office. I had definitely left California.
After spending the night in Klamath Falls, OR, I drove an hour south to Lava Beds National Monument. It was established by Pres. Coolidge in 1925, responding to the enthusiasm of one local man to protect this geologically as well as historically significant place. It had been home to the Modoc Indians until 1872 when by one of the longest, costliest and bloodiest of the Indian Wars, the US Army wrested the area from its native inhabitants. It’s a tragic and convoluted story. These native people were extremely attached to their cool lava tubescaves, some of them containing ice throughout the summer. They lived near Tule lake, their source of water. Game was abundant, and they roamed over a large territory. Their wily leader was dubbed Captain Jack by the whites. With a band of 55 warriors, hiding in his lava cave complex redoubt, he held off an army detachment of many times that number, mostly of raw recruits, and killed at least 160 of them, including their general, by a premeditated murder (the only general killed in the Indian wars), which was a mistake, since he would have negotiated with them. The Army finally cut off their access to Tule Lake, and rather than die of thirst, they surrendered. Captain Jack was executed.
Captain Jack, chief of the Modocs during the Indian war of 1872.
The main attraction of Lava Beds National Monument is the lave tubes. There are over 700 in the area, but only 22 may be visited—I managed to see seven in my day there, which was plenty. The lava tubes were produced by the eruption of a shield volcano 36,000 years ago. This is a very flat form of volcano, not the cinder cone or upright kind we’re more familiar with. A shield volcano produces many fast flowing rivers of lava. These rivers cool rapidly on the outside, and the molten lava passes through the willy-nilly formed tubes, and passes out of them, leaving them empty. Then the soil accumulates around the tubes and buries them, leaving them as caves–their present state. There are no stalactites or stalagmites in these caves; those are formed from water dripping through limestone, accreting the limestone dissolved in the acidic water. Here the ceiling and wall textures look like myriads of hanging nipples, with all kinds of variations. One cave has gold sparkles—really water extruded by hydrophobic bacterial. There are many lichens, especially where the rock is exposed to sunlight at the entrances.
Mushpot Cave, the only one lit throughout. It’s close to the visitor center and permits orientation to visiting the caves on your own—with flashlights.
A typical wall texture.
Mushpot Cave. Notice how bare the walls are. Molten lava zipped through these tubes, hardening on the outside, but continuing to flow through them, until they were empty.
Another cave entrace. You have to bring your own illumination. I had my headlamp.
A crack in the ceiling worth of Andy Goldsworthy
Golden flecks, which turn out to be water drops diffusing through from the ground above.
There are also some interesting pictographs, suggesting their use as a holy place by the natives.
It was also a pleasure to be in the desert. I find it more inspiring and delightful than the forest, and I’ve been in some wonderful forests on this trip. Walking through the desert you’re surrounded by fragrant sage, beautiful flowers, aromatic juniper and and other bizarre fascinating plants that I don’t know. There were no cacti in this desert, perhaps because of the elevation: 4700 feet. You see lizards every so often and lots of animal burrows in the ground.
Vast fields are covered with lava, which contrasts with the spaces between the flows, where plants flourish.
A vast lava field from an observation point on the side of the road.
The lava kills everything in its path, but leaves the trees along the side. Eventually plants take root in the lava as random sprigs.
The adjacent lava and light green sage can be very beautiful together.
In addition to the seven lava tubes, I visited Mammoth Crater, the source of the main volcano, Black Crater, and Captain Jack’s Stronghold, the series of caves and natural barricades where he and his people (including women and children) held off the US Army from.
A lava stack on the side of Black Crater, a short hike from the roadway.
Frozen lava swirl.
Captain Jack’s redoubt, small section.
Memorial to the Modoc fighters. Their descendants still live nearby and retain certain privileges in Lava Beds National Monument.
I saw one plant whose every small branch terminated in what looked like a spiderweb, but it was really the plant’s silky seed distribution system (see also above: Captain Jack’s redoubt photo).
The next day I hit the highway for a 6-hour drive back to San Francisco mostly through the central valley. The most impressive sight was the looming of Mount Shasta in the distance. First it was a mere suggestion of a mountain peeking through the blue haze. Was there really one there? Then it was unmistakable; then there was a turn-off with explanatory plaques.
Was I really seeing a snow-capped mountain, or was it a cloud illusion?
Definitely a snow-capped mountain, and it could only be Mt. Shasta
Mt. Shasta from the turnoff.
Explanatory plaque at the Mt. Shasta turnoff.
Over 14,000 feet high, it’s an active volcano along with the other mountains around it, a stratovolcano (the word I couldn’t think of last night), part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Its last eruption was probably in 1786 (according to the account of a sailor from sea), so it’s due for one any day now.
It’s always a pleasure to be in San Francisco. I managed to visit the Asian Art Museum and the deYoung Art Museum on one day. In front of the deYoung museum is a hardly noticeable work by Andy Goldsworthy, since it’s just a crack in the sidewalk. But upon closer examination, it could not be a crack made by nature or erosion.
But the best photo I took that day was of a koi in the adjoining Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park, where the deYoung museum is located.
San Francisco is a well-known tourist destination, and information on visit it is quite easy to come by. I hope my account of my exploration of lesser known destinations of great natural beauty in this amazing state have given you some ideas. And using Airbnb can make your trip quite economical.