Ashland to Del Norte
Del Norte to Richardson Grove
Richardson Grove to MacKerricher (Mendocino)
We haven’t had a charged computer or Wi Fi, so there has been a lag in reporting—we need a leisure battery! And I will add pictures to the previous post, too, now that I have access to electricity and the internet again (for one night).
Without a computer I was forced to write the old-fashioned way, paper, and pen, but I still made my notes, getting everything down with the 5-part harmony and so on. Leaving Ashland and Dad, Paula, and Tucker was hard, but there was something nice about being on the road again. There’s this sense whenever we travel of wanting to cut loose no matter how wonderful it is where we are, a kind of wanderlust we spend our ordinary lives suppressing, I suppose.
It wasn’t hot by summer in Oregon standards as we hit the I 5, and before I even realized we were rolling Table Rock was appearing to my right, and then the Rogue Parks I frequented with my father in the Bus in days gone by. We didn’t stop at the Oregon Vortex, a favorite spot to visit with Dad, but we were on our way through Grants Pass, turning to the coast and passing through Selma, Cave Junction, Gasquet. It’s a strange mix of folks out that way: a dirty Prius or three, and then the 3% trucks, and LOTS of American flags, and even a few busses, Grants Pass being something of a minor Mecca for the VW bus crowd.
Highway 199 climbs through the mountains like all coast roads, tracing a river, in this case the Smith, over the mountains and into the redwoods. We emerged in Crescent City, where Robert immediately began planning a move to, and provisioned ourselves with some stellar Death Wish instant coffee.
A local gentleman admired the Bus and told us to check out the overlook at Enderts lane, a road we would never have taken, but I am always mindful to take advice from locals, so we checked it out. We stopped first at the beach so the sea turtle (long story) could visit the ocean, then headed up to the overview with sweeping views of the long circle of Crescent City and wildflowers blooming along the trail.
We made it to Del Norte State Park early, and it was oddly sunny and warm for a camp we have only seen in dense fogs. All of the sites at Del Norte are pretty nice, but it is a bear campground, so my bear-a-noia kicked in and we moved all food and smelly stuff to the bear locker, but the only bear we saw was Ursie the red bear ‘o’ the Bus. I slept better at Del Norte than anywhere so far, and we were on the road early so as to not give the bears more time to attack. We climbed Rattlesnake Mountain, dropping into the Klamath, and stopped for gas in Orick, where the Palms café—a fantastic old diner with great berry pie—had closed, so we had fun imagining reopening it.
We also stopped to see elk, but there were no elk, so we walked the meadow along a stream and Ingram the tortoise who loves elk (another long story) was very sad about the lack of elk. Robert claimed he could hear the elk, and Ing and I looked at him like he was nuts, but lo: they appeared, 8 ladies munching in the wetland meadow near the beaver dam. We watched them for a time but didn’t try to take a picture as we know our own rule: the things you most want to photograph on the trip are impossible to capture on film, so you must use your memory.
In Arcata—thank you Daniel for telling me about Los Bagels—we went to the great Ace Hardware and the market, then Robert called his Dad for father’s day, then we headed south. We had plenty of time from our early start, so we decided to go see Samoa, a place I always remembered from a trip with Dad when he was working on a private job in Arcata. Samoa is on a sort of peninsula between Eureka and Arcata, reached by a narrow road with bridges and wind. In the distance we saw what we thought was a nuclear power plant, but it turned out to be a mill, an operating mill. Samoa actually is a mill town, but we only realized that after we drove into it. There were all these uniform but dilapidated cottages, almost like an abandoned town, but we could see signs that people lived there. This was a company town, we realized, partly from the signs about parking on company land.
The kind of poverty we saw in Samoa surprised me—some houses apparently had no plumbing because there were port-a-potties, and a few locals were out and about, casting a baleful eye as we passed. We also saw lots of “Keep America Great” signs, and Robert wondered about people voting against their own interests, but I felt embarrassed to see the way folks were living, but also confused: I thought the company town was a relic of the past.**Added note: I was wrong about Samoa still being a company town–the story is much stranger! Two people bought the entire town, apparently, and you can buy a house there (But it is in the Cascadia Subduction Zone! I will update this with more information when I get home**
Back on the road we still felt like we had time to burn, and a nasty taste in our mouths, so we headed out to Ferndale, the Victorian Village, or the flip side of Samoa, in a sense. Ferndale is all quaint, restored buildings and artsy shops, but the grand houses that give it fame were built from the lumber money, or on the backs of the folks who lived in Samoa back then. I doubt there is much economic connection today—Ferndale looks to make money from tourists needing cow magnets, curated antiques, or art objects—but for me the connection seemed to be there: one community of people living in mansions, the other ones living in tiny houses.
After Ferndale we climbed, and the temperature rose. We began to follow the Eel River, and we wound our way through forests, valleys, stopping in Miranda (not Garberville, don’t stop in Garberville) for gas and Bus love. We arrived in Richardson Grove around 5, set up the bus, then headed to the river to cool our feet.
The camp folks warned us about a blue green algae bloom, dangerous for dogs, and the river was sluggish and warm. It was one of many signs that the earth is trying to tell us something that we have seen on this trip. But the water was cool enough for our feet, and the little fish were fascinated by the giant pink and white things with the tiny worms (Robert’s leg hairs).
). It was one of those perfect moments you can’t plan, and walking into the cool of the redwood grove after, with trees so high I couldn’t see the tops, made me think of my friend Lollie and The Overstory and how much I have missed being out in the world. We even heard the bats chirping in the Bat Tree, and the birds were singing the sun down as we walked back to sleep in the Bus.
After a restless night—allergies—we got up early, excited to be on the road to Mendocino. We skipped the drive-through tree in Leggett, then crossed the coastal range again, slowly, steadily, safely. At the ridgeline the Pacific fog came up to meet us, and then we followed the creek down to the ocean and the bluffs. I love Mendocino because I spent time there when I lived in San Francisco, and with Robert it has been a refuge since our honeymoon, so it was good to be back. We were early, so we headed to Fort Bragg for capitalism (socks at Pippi Long stockings, more coffee for Robert), then food at Harvest, and gas at Eel River Fuels. We haven’t camped at MacKerricher in a few years, preferring the quiet of Russian Gulch, but this year we had no choice, and it was nice to be back on our old beach, walking by Lake Cleone. Site 51 is fine, just in case you need to stay there. As I wrote this on June 21, it was sunnyish, the sea was calm, and the stove was set up for dinner. Peace, love, hope, joy, thankfulness…and happy solstice as the sun sets.