West Coast Report Two: Tuesday

We never made it to the store for warmer clothing, despite the forecast. But we stayed warm enough anyway, except for the time standing in the ocean!

Basic Plan for the Day

We'll drive along the coast, looking at the beautiful shoreline as the ocean waves crash on the rocks and swarm up the beach. What went wrong: The contrast between the California heat (Redding was to be in the 90s today) and the ocean's cool (isn't this the same water that laps the Hawaiian islands?!) created a mantle of mist that rose up hundreds of feet into the air, so that the coastal heights were hooded with fog. What went right: There were holes in the mist periodically, and every one coincided with the beauty we'd hoped for.

We breakfasted in Petaluma with another couple who'd stayed at the hotel. (The free breakfast was fine, but the seating was limited.) That gave us a fun start to the day. Then we drove over the coastal range to the ocean. I rather wondered if California had any zoning regulations. There were little buildings out back behind older houses (I didn't see any half-moons on the doors, but they were the right size for such) and down the street would be a modern apartment complex. There were gated mansions and shops-in-the-front-of-the-house. Even the farms were mismatched: across the road from rows of grapes (they grow on strings tied between metal posts) was a Christmas tree farm. We also saw apple orchards (with Pink Pearls, a strain of which we'd never heard) and even sunflowers. And in the midst of northwestern fir forests, someone would plant an occasional palm tree!

The animals shared the California hodge-podge theme. We saw sheep and goats, sheep and bulls, sheep, goats, horses, cattle, bleached cattle, llamas, and, most surprising of all, longhorn cattle. We're quite used to seeing herds of animals across the fruitless plains, but these were all scattered on hillsides. And when we stopped for lunch, there were some cardinal-shaped royal blue birds with black heads that snatched anything we'd leave for them. (Someone else had left scraps, so we left a little of our own to tempt them.)

One of our correspondents asked about the flowers. Besides the sunflowers, we saw surprisingly pink lilies (that is, the surprise lilies were much too pink for any we'd seen back in KC), very orange poppies (which must have had quite a time opening to the sun, closing in the mist, opening to the sun, closing to the mist, and so on), bright red tufts of grass-like blossoms affixed to deep green leaves, and multi-branched dandelions. Azaleas (or their kin) were scattered around, delicate white and blue flowers lined some roadways, and I have no idea what the other blooms were. But, because Betty asked, I sure noticed them. Everywhere.

California Oddities

Besides the zoning-less buildings and plants and animals, there have been several other striking exhibitions of California's non-Midwestern-ness. The small towns we drove through had folks walking the streets, doing their shopping, just like Wellington or Belle Plaine did in days past. But these people had to walk up and down steep hills, and they were wearing sunglasses and shorts. There are billboards for Al Franken's radio show. I knew he had one, but I had never seen an advertisement for it before.

The "adopt-a-highway" program really highlights the sponsors. Rather than our area's medium-sized white letters on a green background, they put a big white square on the green sign and then put the sponsor's name in large and varied fonts. The first one I saw recognized Robin Williams as the highway sponsor. I suppose that means he sends his staff out to pick up the trash? As we approached Eureka tonight, I considered emptying our trash alongside the road for a mile or so: Humboldt County Pagans. Even if that isn't the name of a local team, I need to treat them respectfully; after all, this is California, where everything is acceptable. (Except for my outlook on life, probably!) But we're under orders to treat everybody well.

We did see one road sign that made no sense to either of us. Well, we saw several that seemed strange: "Narrow winding road, watch for bicycles next 15 miles" came after the "next 22 miles" which came after the "next 6 miles"; why didn't they just say "Bicycles are on these narrow winding roads. Period." But the one that was most perplexing announced "500 Feet Ahead" and showed a picture (honest!) of a stick figure with a hula hoop around its waist. No other explanation. And 500 feet later (and even 5 miles later), we had seen no hula hoops.

I should point out that some of the signs were accurate. Not all of them, since we saw no deer nor fire engines. But when they put up a sign with a cow on it, we did indeed find some. Not along the road, but on the road. And on one of the winding corners, too. About 200 feet above the ocean. And some signs are not unique to California, but because of the terrain I've seen a lot more of them: When telling you to slow down for corners, they add a picture of a tipping-over truck. Pretty effective, I think.

In Guerneville, just past Sebastapol (undoubtedly named for the Russian seaport because it is located in the hills and has palm trees), there was a theater promising the "Madonna Drag Show." I enjoy music and a good comedy as well as the next person, but I've not seen such signs in my part of Kansas City. Along the coastline, a hundred miles or more from any city above 50,000 people (or even five thousand), mountain mansions are going up. They must have spectacular views when the mist isn't there, but how many people can afford million-dollar vacation homes at the edge of nowhere? The owners wouldn't have any place to work, and it had to have cost a very pretty penny to design the slope-walled homes to have ocean views from all three floors and apparently every closet as well.

And the freeway was choked down to two lanes (one each way) through one of the state parks. I compliment the state on the excellent condition of its roads, but this was a little strange. Apparently, once the road was made these many years ago, the trees along the sides of the road have continued to grow. Rather than trim them back, they have put up little reflectors in front of the trees that are now right against the road (and the reflectors obviously don't do a lot of good, since there are scrapes along the road-side of each trunk). So the road will not be widened in the foreseeable future, and I expect it to become another "narrow, winding road" within a few years as the pavement has to dodge the ever-widening redwoods.

A couple place names: A florist shop is called "Fuschiarama." A lodging house is "Fools Rush Inn." One side street was called "Hidden Lake Road." Honestly, if you want it hidden, shouldn't you call the street "No Water Avenue" instead? But one road sign was even more oxymoronic: "Nameless Lane." Reminds me of the question that won't be honestly answered yes: Are you asleep yet?

The flashing lights for "narrow bridge ahead" (a natural accompaniment to "next 22 miles") or "turn on your lights because it's always foggy here" are solar-powered. And here's a fad that parents can't be pleased with: We've seen three pairs of tennis shoes (both before we got to the coast and afterwards) tied together and tossed over power lines. And finally, every bridge we crossed was a memorial bridge. I don't know what you have to do in California to get a bridge named after you, but a lot of people have done it.

The Day's Events

We saw seals along one beach. It was a great distance, and the still picture makes them look exhausted (or even like dead fish!), but in real life they were pretty neat.

We stopped at several scenic vista overlooks, and I considered walking down a hillside or two to get to the water itself. Fortunately, I remembered each time that what walks down must walk up. And most of those hillsides were not only steep, but several hundred feet high. We could see the waves crashing on the rocks, just the way we'd hoped. And at one site, we even heard the hammering of the surf. Only it turned out to be the hammering of the carpenters across the road, putting up another mountain mansion!

With all the winding roads at high altitudes (we sometimes went as high as 700 feet in order to get from one cove to another), the only accident we saw (we think) involved someone only going over about a 20-foot embankment. We didn't see the accident, but there were several folks parked along the road, blocking the other lane of traffic and getting out and looking down. We couldn't see from our side of the road, but that was our best guess after we thought about it. About twenty miles up the road, we met a couple ambulances heading south. That seems about right; Fort Bragg was the only major city (seven thousand people) along the coast, so we decided we'd guessed right and hoped that the EMTs would provide all needed help.

We finally got to a cove where the road was at beach level, so we went out and played. When I was a boy, the snow may have been waist high as I walked to school across the fields, but the beaches were not all that wide. This one went out for a good piece, and dry sand does not a good walking surface make. I finally gave up the sandals and went barefoot. Then, I kept thinking that I'm walking across un-formed glass; won't it cut my feet with tiny abrasions? (It didn't.) I walked into the shallow wavelets and discovered that the Pacific is barely thawed ice. I know the Gulf is warm, and I remember the Atlantic being okay; but the American Northwest has melted icebergs for an ocean.

Tomorrow, we hope to see the California redwoods and the Oregon beaches.

Next day