West Coast Report Three: Wednesday

We learn not to trust all the signs, and certainly not the weather.

Basic Plan for the Day

As we set out, we intended to see the redwoods in all their glory and to start visiting the Oregon beaches. Since we're dawdling up the coast anyway, we can scarcely lament about the "best-laid plans of mice and men," but they still "gang aft a-gley."

Signs of Confusion

How many names can one road have
Before people know what it's called?
The answer, my friend, is along 101
The answer is along 101.
Route 101 is the numeric designation of the major highway we followed today. In Oregon, it's the Scenic Byway, which is so far consistent. In California, it was repeatedly listed as the Redwood Highway. But between those repeats, it was listed as Mal Coombe's Memorial Highway, William H. Zegy's Memorial Highway, and about three other people's Memorial Highway, always interspersed with the Redwood Highway signs. But that fits with all the bridges (and also sections of forest) memorializing all sorts of people.

Other signs include arrows to Dry Lagoon (wouldn't that be called "big beach," then?) and Stone Lagoon (or "rock quarry"?). There's a picnic area that's got to be inviting: Lost Man's Creek. Do you hope to lose another one, or find one? And who wouldn't want to set up camp at Tsunami Sam's? And let's all enjoy the view at Bruce's Bones Creek, eh? For super heroes, there's even a Lois Lane that branches off the highway.

Oregon doesn't waste time fitting "next five miles" or even "crossing" on its road hazard signs. Just DEER or ELK or even TRUCKS seems enough information for your Oregon drivers. In California, a little more is available: "For Elk Information, Tune your radio to 1610." Oregon apparently expects very big-but-lopsided tsunamis as well. The Tsunami warning zone began above the 125-foot level south of town, but ended at the 80-foot level north.

Then there are the people hoping you'll spend money at their places. All Star Liquors offers senior discounts. Or maybe that's for high schoolers, not old folks! Be sure to get your blueberries at Frog Hollow; I know I'll want a big helping of anything raised with a bunch of slimy amphibians. If you want families to bring their kids to America's largest Wild Animal Petting Zoo, would you choose to display a large, vicious tiger face along with the line "Walk Thru Safari"? And I have no idea what amenities Mill Creek Campground is offering since it specifically says "with host." Does that mean my parasites will be treated well overnight?

As we approached Coos Bay, a detour was given for any vehicles over 14 feet high. But some have failed to heed the warnings, we see. The overpass had a big sign pointing to its highest point with a big "14'" plastered in black-on-yellow. But all along the bottom of the overpass were chips in the concrete where some folks didn't quite make it.

The Day's Events

We started out in dreary Eureka. While we didn't actually dine with anyone, the folks across the room were loud enough that we still picked up good information. Eureka already had summer this year; the temperature was above 70 for a couple days in July. Since the prophecy was for the thermometer to reach 61 today, one of the gentlemen intended to go without a sweater today since it was going to be so pleasant out. The temperature itself wasn't so bad. It was the constant fog. I know that I kept calling it "ocean mist" yesterday, but in Eureka it was just plain old gray fog.

Kathy and I actually found a stretch of straight road north of Eureka, on our way to the redwoods. It must have been a real challenge to the road crews, not being able to change direction or elevation for nearly a mile-and-a-half. But they couldn't keep it straight for long. Incidentally, the 1960s hitchhiking craze is still alive on Highway 101. We didn't pick anybody up, but that wasn't for lack of opportunity.

Where do they put the best redwoods, anyway? I'll tell you what. If I were going to point the uncertain traveler to a good redwood sighting, I'd label the sign "Big trees over here." If I had to memorialize someone, I'd probably pick Abraham Lincoln. Thomas Jefferson was tall for his day, or maybe we could even name the place for some basketball player. But who in their right mind would just put up a sign saying, "Lady Bird Johnson Grove"? The National Park Service, that's who! By the way, I'm forming a very deep suspicion that no place can become a national park unless there's a drastic change in elevation required. For Zion National Park, they put the roads at the bottom of the scenery; ever since then, they've picked sites where your car has to struggle to the top and then burn its brakes on the way back down. After we drove back to the Lady Bird cut-off (yes, we even stopped to pick up directions), we climbed over a thousand feet to see the trees.

But the redwoods were impressive, even awe-inspiring. I am not certain I buy all the implications of the signage they put up about the necessity of old-growth forests. (The actual wording was carefully phrased; the unspoken suggestions were problematic to me.) But I do appreciate that some such places are being preserved for future generations to see. The walk was pleasant and the resilience of the trees amazing. The core of the tree can be burned for a hundred feet up, but if the bark structure remains well connected to the branches above, the tree will continue its growth for hundreds more years.

Then we headed up to Oregon. We saw a bit of mist trickling over the western hills, so we knew we were again approaching the ocean. But once we got to Oregon, the mist blew away and we saw the blue Pacific surging over windswept beaches and crashing over rocky islets. Stunning! One of my friends suggested that I shouldn't have worried about walking on the unformed glass, since many people consider sand to be a good exfoliant. Well, it's also a good lens grinder and a super in-your-scalp hider. Kathy was afraid to get some good shots to the north since that would expose her camera to the gritty particles head-on. But she managed to collect a goodly number of the grains in her windswept tresses. (With fewer tresses, I'll still need a good cleaning before laying my head on the pillow; otherwise, I could sandpaper my scalp overnight.)

We got our motel room in plenty of time to get back out and watch the sun set over the Pacific. But on our way to the beaches, we realized that photos of fog would look much the same whether the sun were setting, rising, or dancing on the moon: gray upon gray. That's a shame, because my first memory of the Oregon coast was on my 1971 journey, when I parked at a scenic overlook just before sundown and watched the sun dip into the ocean. Perhaps another night.

Or another trip. Normally, I try to avoid "repeat performances" on my travels. There's so many wonderful things to be seen in this country, and in this world and universe, that I hate to insist on "This one again! One more time!" But Kathy hasn't gotten to see a great Pacific sunset ever, so I'm hoping we can still sneak one in this week or next. If not, there's always a great Atlantic sunrise. (Who am I kidding?! About the only way I'll see a sunrise is to wait up for it!)

Tomorrow is supposed to have dunes and sea lions. We did see some of the ELK promised above, by the way. But the only deer we think we saw might have been a coyote. While watching twisty, turny, hilly roads, one doesn't get the best glimpse of camouflage-colored mammals.

Next day