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Wandering Through the Redwoods

After camping for three nights at the beautiful but often-windswept Cape Blanco State Park on the Oregon coast, I packed up the truck on a drizzly morning and continued my southward voyage down U.S. 101.  


As I drove through the small town of Port Orford, I decided to see Port Orford State Park, which is actually an old lifeboat station that was manned up until the 1970s by the U.S. Coast Guard.  Although it's been a State Park for several decades and although I've driven by it on Highway 101 at least 30 times, I've never visited it for some reason.  As I discovered, however, it's a great park with lots of trails, overlooks, and interesting old buildings.


Above:  Driving through a grove of redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in northern California.

I thought the best part of Port Orford State Park, though, was the old dog tag machine that sits in the corner of the the headquarters building.  The machine still operates and, for a few dollars, the friendly caretaker will punch out a four-line dog tag for you.  I got one for myself and one for my dad, who probably hadn't seen a real dog tag since his World War II days in the Navy.  If you get a chance, be sure to visit this out-of-the-way park and get a dog tag (maybe even one for your dog).  The park is a little hard to find but it's well worth it.


The closer I got to California that afternoon, the worse the weather got.  By the time I reached Brookings, Oregon, just a few miles from the state border, it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs (though without dog tags, I'm sure).  I pulled into the very soggy Harris Beach State Park that afternoon and, after securing a campsite in the crowded campground there, I drove into nearby Brookings with the windshield wipers slapping back and forth.  Being in Oregon's so-called "Banana Belt," Brookings has attracted a lot of retirees from California and Oregon over the past few decades which is why I'd never want to retire there.


Brookings is a nice town, though, and I spent much of the rainy afternoon wandering around the Fred Meyer store there to get resupplied (and to stay dry).  I had stopped in several "Freddies" on my trip down the coast and, interestingly, the farther south I got, the more geriatric the clientele in the Fred Meyer store was, from Astoria on the north coast to Florence on the central coast and now Brookings on the south coast.  That reflected, I surmised, the increasingly-aged demographics as you travel south on the Oregon coast.


Freddies, by the way, is my favorite store.  It's a Northwest institution that sells groceries, shoes, small appliances, plungers and just about anything else you might need, all under one roof.  There are certain places I really like to shop at:

  • For outdoor gear, it's REI

  • For computers, it's Dell

  • And for just about everything else, it's Fred Meyer.

Above:  Keeping the stump off the road.  I'm so helpful.

The sun came out the next morning and, after getting some more groceries (yes, at Fred Meyer), I continued south on Highway 101.  As I crossed the California border and entered the Redwood Country, I thought about where to spend that night.  There are a lot of great redwood campgrounds in Northern California, and on this trip, I stayed at my two favorites:  Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte State Park, near Crescent City, and Hidden Springs Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, near Eureka.  There really aren't many things better, I decided, than camping in a quiet campground surrounded by lofty and majestic redwood trees.


If you visit the Redwood Country of northern California, be sure to get off Highway 101 and take one of my favorite roads in America:  the Avenue of the Giants.  The Avenue is a 20-mile stretch of road that meanders through the redwoods.  It's actually the old Highway 101 and, although I've driven it a dozen times, I never get tired of it.  And it was where, on this trip, my truck proudly turned over 250,000 miles.



Above left:  Camping at Hidden Springs Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, one of my favorite campgrounds in the U.S.

Above right:  This used to be downtown Weott, California before it was wiped out by a mammoth flood of the Eel River in 1964.  This high-water mark is just about all that's left of poor Weott.



Above left:  My 17-year old truck hit exactly 250,000 miles here amidst the redwoods.

Above right:  My odometer at a quarter-million miles, on the Avenue of the Giants.

Lassen National Park:  An Undiscovered Jewel

As I've stated many times, I'm a big fan of national parks.  I've visited them ever since I was in diapers, I studied them in college, and I even once applied to be a park ranger (but, like 98% of applicants, I was turned down).  There are currently 394 national park "units" in the U.S., including national parks (e.g., Yellowstone), national monuments (e.g., the Statue of Liberty), national military parks (e.g., Gettysburg), and such, and I've been to over 200 of them.  In fact, I have a National Parks Passport book filled with stamps to prove it.  I especially enjoy visiting parks during the off-season, when park rangers have more time to chat.


However, I've never understood the popularity of certain parks.  And conversely, I've never understood why certain gem-like parks aren't more visited.  Some of the "overrated" national parks, in my opinion, include Mt. Rushmore, Great Smoky Mountains, and Crater Lake.  I've written a page called My 10 Favorite National Park "Hidden Jewels", in which I've listed what I believe are the most underrated national parks in the country.


Here's Jimmy Buffett singing Volcano.


One of the most underrated parks in the U.S. is Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California.  I've been visiting Lassen for over 30 years and during that time, I've backpacked all over the park from one beautiful side to the other, and yet I still haven't figured out why more people haven't discovered this place.  Like Yellowstone National Park, Lassen has geysers, mud pots, fumaroles, and all kinds of other nasty-yet-fascinating geothermal stuff.  Like Glacier or Rocky Mountain National Parks, Lassen has meadows, alpine forests, and dozens of sparkling lakes.  And best of all, it has Lassen Peak, which last erupted in 1915 and was the last volcano in the lower 48 states to erupt before Mt. St. Helens blew its top in 1980.  Lassen is like the "combo platter" of national parks because it has a little of everything, including lots of neat things to see and do.  If you go in the early summer, though, make sure the cross-park road is open and free of snow; it's usually clear by mid-June.


Above:  Entering Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California, one of my favorite national parks in America.

I was really looking forward to seeing my old friend, Lassen, again, so after leaving the redwoods, I headed straight east through Redding and made the gradual ascent up Highway 44 to Lassen Park, finally reaching one of my very favorite campgrounds, Manzanita Lake, that evening at sunset.  Lassen has several campgrounds and I've stayed at most of them, but none beats Manzanita Lake.  Best of all, it has coin-operated showers and a little gift shop where I always buy Lassen t-shirts.


One morning at Lassen I drove over the summit to the south side of the park and hiked a few miles into a geothermal area called "Devil's Kitchen."  I love "Devils" names in parks and have started a collection of Devil's photos.  Let's see, there's 

  • Devil's Punchbowl State Park on the Oregon coast

  • Devil's Golf Course in Death Valley National Park

  • Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming

  • Devil's Postpile National Monument in California, and

  • Devil's Orchard (at Craters of the Moon National Monument, in Idaho).

I'll post photos of all those devilish places one of these days.


I spent about a week exploring Lassen while camping at Manzanita Lake and loved every minute of it.  The most unforgettable event of the week happened one afternoon on the south side of the park.  On my way back from a nice hike up to Devil's Garden, I stopped in the town of Chester and went into the busy grocery store to get restocked.  After about 20 minutes, and just as I was putting a cantaloupe in my shopping basket, all of the lights in the store went off.  No kidding.  Everybody stopped what they were doing, mainly because they couldn't see their hand in front of their face (or their cucumber in front of their nose).


Ever the Boy Scout, though, and always prepared, I whipped out my key chain with its handy mini-flashlight.  As I walked around with my flashlight that afternoon, going up one aisle and then down another, I was the most popular guy in the store.



Above left:  Lassen Peak's "Devastated Area" was wiped out during the 1914 eruption.

Above center:  The eruption in 1914.  Before the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980, Lassen was that last volcano to erupt in the U.S. and the first one in the U.S. seen by whites.

Above right:  Snow plants.  Like mushrooms, snow plants are "saprophytes" meaning they live off of decayed plant matter and thus don't have any chlorophyll.



Left:  Hiking up to the 10,500' summit of Lassen Peak.




Above left:  View from the summit of Lassen Peak.

Above right:  And the view looking north.



Above left:  The winding Lassen Park road carries visitors from the north side of the park to the south and vice-versa.

Above right:  Lake Helen, still frozen in late June, with Lassen Peak in the background.



Above left:  Manzanita Lake, with its spectacular view of Lassen Peak, is one of my favorite places in California.

Above right:  I've been going to evening campfire shows at this amphitheatre in the Manzanita Lake campground in Lassen since I was a little kid.  Everybody sing:  "She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes..."



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