Thursday, September 30, 2010 Alternating sun and fog along the coast, 63 degrees; sunny and 98 degrees inland
We began our day in the Jedediah Smith State Park, home to the largest California coast redwoods in the world. Fog, heavy winter rains, and moderate temperatures allow them to thrive, and trees can grow to 300 feet or more, with a base diameter up to 20 feet. Some of the oldest trees are about 2,000 years old. Those are the facts, but it's something else to see them in person. We stood in the Stout Grove with our necks craned upwards, trying to see their tops. Between the density of the trees and their height, it was rare to see beyond their lower branches. Let's just say they are massive. For our family members who love Star Wars, scenes from the Return of the Jedi were filmed in this park.
We made a wrong turn when we got to US 101 and were headed north into Crescent City instead of south. We saw a sign for the Visitor Center, and we decided to continue on. Soon we were armed with a city map, so we headed out to explore the marked areas. First we went to the Battery Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1856 and is located in the harbor on a small island 100 feet offshore. We were there at low tide when it is possible to walk out to the lighthouse. Phil ventured over a small retaining wall and rocks to explore. With my swollen ankle, I stayed on shore and watched the surf running up on the rocks.
After Phil came back, we walked across the street to the Marine Mammal Rehabilitation Center. Injured animals are brought there to be treated and, when they have recovered, returned to the sea. We walked around the cages where they are kept. As we were too early for feeding, the animals were lethargic, sleeping next to their swimming pools.
Next we drove across town to the Rumiano Cheese Factory, one of California's oldest cheese producers. Through the tasting room window, we watched as large paddles were rotated in the rich Jersey cow milk to separate the whey and the curds. The richest whey is made into butter, and the rest is sprayed on diary pastures to nourish the grass. Once the curds have congealed, they are formed into forty pound blocks, wrapped in plastic, placed in boxes, and refrigerated to be aged from three months to ten years. We sampled a wide array of cheeses, including Phil's favorite Dry Jack (similar to an ungrated Parmesan), but we came out with a block of Habernero Jack cheese with tang that bites the tongue. Yum.
On our way out of town we stopped at the the harbor front. There on a floating dock were huge Stellar seal lions and smaller harbor seals,
barking at each other as the jockeyed for a better position on the dock. Out in the harbor other seals were bobbing their heads up and down in the water as if to see what all of commotion was about. Animals can provide some of the best free entertainment.
Next we headed down the Pacific Coast Highway, driving through the Redwood National and State Parks, lined, as you would guess, with more majestic redwoods. Rocks like we saw yesterday continued offshore, but the surf was much calmer. We took a side road to Klamath Overlook to see where gray whales resided year round. We climbed the 600 feet to the top, but instead of an expansive sea view, we were greeted with fog, climbing the face of the cliff from the chilly waters below. No sea view; no whales. :(
Back on the road we saw a sign that declared that elk grazed there. A quick drive out; no elk. But as soon as we got back on the highway, we saw a small herd elk on the roadside. When Phil climbed out of the car to take a picture, a large male lifted his head and scowled. He was one intimidating dude.
Our sight-seeing for the day had ended. Now we were on CA 299, headed to Redding. This drive was another example of what goes up must come down, and what goes around must come back again. To make the drive more interesting, road repair occurred with annoying frequency. It would be a pleasure to drive in a state where there isn't road construction. Or maybe not. Potholes and decaying bridges aren't enjoyable either.
TODAY'S ROUTE: From Brookings, OR, US 101S to CA 197, back to US 101S to CA 299 to Redding, CA
TRIVIA: Jedediah Smith was the first non-native known to have traveled overland from the Mississippi River, across the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific coast. When he and his two fur-trapping partners crossed into California, Smith was jailed for three months by the Mexican governor, and ordered to leave the territory. But between 1821 and 1831 he returned several times, once being attacked by Indians and being jailed again. In 1831 at the age of 32, he was killed in a Comanche ambush. But his reports of the geology and geography of the western territories appeared in newspapers of the day, and proved that the Sierra Nevada could be safely crossed to California. His travels, observations, and notes filled in many blank spaces on the country's map. The state park honors his courage.