As we drove across the state line into California (after being stopped to make sure we weren’t bringing any banned produce in), I rolled down my window and shouted “Woo hoo!!” into the wind. I felt the same way as I did when we drove into Vancouver – excitement and disbelief at having driven so far – but this time we were in CALIFORNIA! It had felt like such a faraway place when I had dreamed of visiting San Francisco, and yet here we were, blowing into this famous state, rather casually in fact after weeks and weeks of travel.
The first city we stayed in was Crescent City, near the long-anticipated Redwoods. We had a ridiculously large motel room with four double beds and a super high ceiling (at a fairly low rate), and could hear the sea lions barking in the harbour across the road.
Of course we got to the Redwood forest as soon as we could, and I’ll never forget that first sighting of the trees as we drove along the uneven, narrow dirt road into Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The trees were so magnificent, and I could not believe how stately and impenetrable they looked. Tears ran down my face, and several “oh my god”s came out of my mouth. We pulled over at one point to take a photo, and Fisher, uncomfortable with my repeatedly expressed awe, asked me to keep my enthusiasm to myself. I empathized with the kid’s discomfort, because I was being pretty annoying. But I declined.
We visited the Redwoods again the next day, on our way to Fortuna (outside of Eureka), at the Trees of Mystery attraction. There were a number of things to see there, including the Cathedral Tree (nine trees growing from the same root structure, in a semi circle, reaching for the sky) and carvings from Paul Bunyan stories.
There was also the SkyTrail gondola that took us through the trees up to a lookout. Milo absolutely did not want to go on it (he got scared after the one in Banff), but I made him go on it anyway. Unfortunately this one stopped every couple of minutes to let people on and off at each end, which didn’t help. In hindsight, I regret not respecting Milo’s fear, and promised that we would not go on a gondola again unless he wanted to.
During our stay in Fortuna we went to a small town north of Eureka called Arcata, to check out jewellery manufacturer Holly Yashi, which gives factory tours. I had seen the jewellery, made of colourful metal (niobium) and beads, in a few places along the coast, including the National Parks Visitors’ Centre in Crescent City, and was told about the factory by one of the employees there. I wasn’t sure if kids would be welcome, but Fisher and Milo very much were, and they enjoyed seeing some of the process of designing, processing, and cutting the metal that went into the pieces, and the unique method used to permanently colour it (using different electrical frequencies depending on the desired colour). The town of Arcata itself was quite nice, too, with a bit of a hippie feel and a lot of arts culture, especially around the main square.
Our next stop was Fort Bragg, and getting there was… dizzying. The first two thirds of the trip wasn’t too bad, but then we got off the 101 and onto Highway 1, which was the most winding road we’ve ever been on (even after some pretty serpentine journeys through northern Ontario, over the Rockies, and on Vancouver Island). Some curves on Highway 1 were posted at 10 miles an hour! And watching the little car (representative of our own) on the GPS was funny, because the curves were so frequent and tight that it looked like we were off-roading.
Fort Bragg was a foggy city on the coast, with its biggest attraction being the Skunk Train (named for the combined odours of the gasoline and crude oil burned on board when the train was put into use in 1925, which residents could smell well before the train passed). We took the one-hour Pudding Creek Express ride on the refurbished train, which ventured into a redwood forest, along the Pudding Creek Estuary. It was a bit of a slow run, but we got some popcorn and were able to walk around inside the train. Afterwards, Eric and the boys visited a small model railroad museum that had some “Minions” figures in one part of it (Milo’s favourite characters at the time).
Another place in Fort Bragg worth mentioning was Eggheads Restaurant, a breakfast place with a Wizard of Oz theme. The food was good, but the real fun was finding the washroom, which required us to follow the “yellow brick road”, key in hand, through the kitchen, around the parking space in the back and into the little washroom shed. We all got a kick out of that (and of course sang, “Follow the yellow brick road!”) on our way there and back.
From the yellow brick road in Fort Bragg to the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is where we were headed next…
*Overheard at the the lookout at the top of the SkyTrail, spoken by a guy on his cell phone.