Archive for January, 2009

mountains and rivers – part 2   7 comments

Posted at 2:54 pm in california,history,rivers

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

The next leg of my eastward trek crossed the landscape of cinder cones and volcanic rock debris leading into Lassen National Forest. Under better weather conditions, I would have lingered at Mt. Lassen. Unfortunately, my timing was off as, for the second time in two years, my plans for a visit were scrapped due to somewhat hostile weather. On this occasion, the roadway was lined with low snowbanks and the entire area looked deserted. I made some brief calculations of time and distance and decided that a side trip into the park was probably a nice but bad idea. This day’s plan, hatched the previous evening at my friends’ house, was to travel east to Susanville, then turn south, roughly heading for Carson City while looking for a park or campground along the way. Unfortunately, that turned out to be something of a fool’s errand as the weather was much colder than anticipated – even to this canuck who is known to have little respect for the cold. As I traveled south, the snow-topped peaks of the sierras to the west reminded me that it was getting a little late in the season to consider camping, even in this region.

Eventually, I broke down and decided to find a motel room in Carson City, Nevada. That night, shortly after dark, Sabrina insisted on going out for a walk. Other than the busy boulevard, there was no nearby place to walk other than in a desolate lot — the kind you seem to find next to almost every urban motel across North America. While attempting to avoid countless shards of broken glass and very nasty stickers, I managed to drop one of the two keys to my van which I had, thus far, worn like a sacred talisman on a sturdy cord about my neck. The next morning, after discovering this grave loss (for so it seemed), I spent a good half hour wandering around in the lot trying to find my key before checking out of the motel. Alas, despite searching almost every square foot of that depressing area, during which time I discovered such delightful objects as empty whisky bottles, a number of condom wrappers, and no less than three empty packages of deer urine “guaranteed to attract a big buck”, my key remained MIA. I wondered if there might be some lurid connection between the found objects noted above, but decided that was far too bizarre to contemplate.

Feeling a bit shaken up by my stupidity at having lost one of my precious van keys (for once I had pocketed it rather than putting the cord over my neck), I finished loading the van and stopped by the office to check out. On the off chance that someone might have turned in my key, I asked the clerk if he had seen a key like the one in my hand. He looked puzzled and mumbled something that led me to realize that he couldn’t speak much english. I then pointed to the cord on my travel wallet, and held my hands apart to show how long the cords was, then pointed to my key once more. Comprehending my meaning, he broke into a happy grin and pulled my key on its cord out of a drawer beneath the counter, and cheerfully handed it to me. Although he was unable to tell me the story of how it was found, my best guess is that some fine soul, probably a fellow wayfarer attempting to walk his dog through the broken glass and stickers, must have discovered my key and turned it in at the motel office. As I got into the van, I told Sabrina that maybe, just maybe, our luck was changing — hopefully for the better.

From Carson City, we continued south on 395, crossing back into California by Topaz Lake in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest region. We stopped to stretch our legs at a picnic area along the Walker River (above photo), once a place renowned for its population of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (see top photo of interpretive sign – click on it for a larger view). As on so many occasions along the way, we had the place to ourselves — one of the positive aspects of traveling a little off the beaten path so late in the season.

From the outset of this entire journey, I had it in my mind to try to visit Bodie, a ghost town up in the mountains about 50 miles north of Mammoth Lakes. Passing several signs announcing snow closures of roads through certain mountain passes, I realized that there was a good possibility that the road up to Bodie would also be closed for the winter. In truth, due to the time wasted searching for my lost key, and then the route taking longer than expected — a fact of life that I was now getting used to — stopping to wander around at Bodie was beginning to seem like a side trip that I should probably leave for another time.

However, when we reached the Bodie turn-off, there were no closure signs at the highway and the gates were open a mile or two up the access road. I checked the time and decided to give myself two hours to drive up to and tour the town before resuming our southward trek. Thinking ahead, I had made reservations at a motel in Ridgecrest, which looked to be a comfortable day’s driving distance allowing for the side trip to Bodie (wrong!). A sign on Bodie Road noted that the pavement ended some 9 miles further along, and that it was rough road beyond. Once again, my time calculations went out the window as we hit the dirt section and found that it was like a washboard. Sabrina has a great dislike for those kinds of roads and has a very unique way of letting me know. If I don’t respond to her decidedly sad face, ears held to the sides with tips drooping (how in heck does she do that?!), she resorts to poking her head over the console between the front seats, then repeatedly lifting and dropping my right arm with her long nose. She was doing that steadily up the last 3 or 4 miles of Bodie Road. Somewhere along the way, I stopped to snap a photo of the Bodie Range (see below). At this altitude, somewhere around 8400 feet, there were remnants of a recent snowfall. I wondered if this might be one of the last days before the access road would be closed for the season.

(coming up next — photos of Bodie).

Written by bev on January 25th, 2009

mountains and rivers – part 1   4 comments

Posted at 12:34 pm in california,rivers

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

Leaving the redwoods behind, my journey turned east on a path that would eventually lead to Arizona. It was now the ninth of November, and I was becoming increasingly concerned about possible encounters with bad weather on the route that I would follow for the next few days. Although there were quicker and less risky ways to reach my destination, on most of these days, I chose solitude over speed and convenience.

In my last post, I mentioned retracing a little of the previous day’s route in order to cross the Shasta Trinity National Forest region. After leaving Scotia and Rio Dell, I headed north and then pulled off the highway at the junction with Hwy 36. A couple of friends who are familiar with the region had emailed me the night before and both wrote something to the effect of “whatever you do, *don’t* take 36 east through the mountains.” No explanation, just a cryptic warning. Under other circumstances, I probably would have taken those warnings as challenges, but the weather was looking pretty iffy. I knew that there was always the possibility of encountering snow at elevation. Although the first stretch of visible highway looked innocuous, I noticed a warning sign stating that trucks with tandem axles and anything over a certain (very short) length should not use that route. With some regrets, I drove back through Eureka and Arcata to catch 299 heading east along the Trinity River.

In retrospect, I probably made the right decision. Although the higway was winding with occasional changes in elevation, it was a good drive. But on the westward end , as we ascended into the mountains, we passed through heavy mist and light rain — the kind that makes you wonder if you’re actually driving up into the clouds. If the temperature had been a few degrees lower, that mist and rain would have been snow and ice, making the drive treacherous. For once, we were in luck as the weather remained above freezing. As we continued eastward, the sun broke through, leaving only the highest mountaintops shrouded in mist. To the north, the Trinity Alps dominated the landscape. I would have loved to take more photos, but there were precious few safe turn-outs along the route, so I restrained myself from taking any chances for the sake of a few pictures.

At one look-off, there was a terrific view of the Trinity River far below (see photo above – click on all images for larger views). I was tempted to drive down one of the steep river access roads, but decided to save that for another time. I will return. Of that I am sure. But next time, it will be earlier in the season when camping would be a little less dodgy.

On the eastern side of the range, the change in climate soon became apparent. The air was much drier and warmer. The conifers of the western side gave way to live oak, madrone and manzanita. As we descended the countless curving switchbacks above Whiskeytown Lake, the sun broke through and a certain gloominess in my spirit began to lift. I’d been avoiding thinking about my state of mind for several days, but now that I was in the warmth and sunlight, I realized just how much the rain and cold had been weighing me down. Another hour of driving and we arrived at the house of friends, one of whom is another brave C-warrior (you know who you are). After an evening walk, dinner and catching up on the latest news, Sabrina and I caught a few hours of sleep before continuing on our way…

Written by bev on January 25th, 2009

return to the redwoods – part 3   11 comments

Posted at 4:33 pm in california,history,loss,sabrina,trees

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

In the last post, I wrote about my thoughts on traveling alone. Of course, I was never truly alone, as Sabrina has been with me on every step of a journey that began long before we left our home in Ontario. I haven’t said much about all that took place during the previous year of Don’s illness, but it was a very difficult time for all of us, including Sabrina. Being a smart and sensitive dog, she quickly intuited changes in Don’s health status, particularly during the final weeks of his life. As his health deteriorated, Sabrina spent an increasing part of her day lying next to him. Eventually, she became so worried that it was difficult to get her to eat, so her health gradually began to fail too. Two days after Don’s death, she was so weak and unsteady that I had to help her get up onto her feet. Over the next six weeks, I tried to get her eating and up moving around to rebuild her strength. However, it was clear that she was grieving in her own way and resisted most of my efforts.

When I first contemplated leaving for the west, I was concerned about Sabrina’s condition. Would she be able to cope with long days of traveling in the van? Could I provide the kind of food she was accustomed to at home? I was a little worried about the logistics of preparing the fresh food she was used to receiving. As the day for our departure drew near, I was still feeling uncertain about how we would manage once on the road. What would I do if Sabrina grew weaker after we were a few thousand kilometers from home? The morning of our departure, as I finished packing, she lay on the ground in front of the sliding side door of the van, refusing to move. Clearly, she was worried about being left behind. I took that as a sign that she too was anxious to be “on the road”. For both of us, I believe that our journey to the west turned out to be the right thing to do as it forced us to move, at least marginally, beyond the sad events of the previous year.

Once on the road, it was interesting to see how Sabrina reacted to each new place or situation. I felt a little bad for her each time we checked into a motel along our route. In the past, Sabrina and I would wait in the van while Don picked up our key at the front desk, then opened the room for us. As I assumed that part of the process, I noticed how Sabrina would rush into each new motel room, quickly searching every corner including looking up on top of the bed. After discovering that it was “just us”, she would flop down, stretch out her neck with her head on the carpet as she gave me the longest of long faces as only a collie can do. I would comment, “Yes, I know.” Those motel room check-ins were among the most difficult moments of our journey and one of the reasons that, whenever possible, I preferred to stay at campsites.

When we reached the redwoods, I was very curious to see how Sabrina would react to what must have seemed a very odd landscape. Along our entire trip, I noticed how carefully she inspected earth and plants. No doubt, her olfactory senses were sending her odd messages about these strange new places. After spending the night at the Burlington campsite in the Humboldt Redwoods, we visited the California Federation of Women’s Club grove before continuing on with our journey. Some of you may remember me writing about The Hearthstone designed by the architect, Julia Morgan, during my autumn 2007 trip through the west. I decided to return to the site in the hope of shooting better photos than on my previous visit. As we walked along the trails of that grove, Sabrina seemed eager to explore and, in her own canine way, expressed awe at the surroundings. Several times, I caught her inspecting a gargantuan mushroom, or gazing up and then back at me as if to see whether I’d taken note of the trees towering above. For both of us, this “new territory” was a good place to explore, far distant from home trails now strewn with countless memory land mines.

After leaving the redwood groves, we stopped at the historic lumber mill town of Scotia. During last year’s trip, I had taken only a few pathetic photos due to rain and a camera malfunction. This time, weather and cameras cooperated well enough to capture a few photos of the unique architecture along the main street. The Scotia museum (above), with its redwood interpretation of the columns and portico of a Greek temple, and the all-redwood Winema Theatre (below) are reminders of those bygone days when it seemed that logging of the redwoods could go on forever. Of course, that notion proved to be false, as evidenced by the many decommissioned mills and abandoned wigwam burners throughout the Pacific northwest.

Under gray skies, we left Scotia, retracing our trail northwards a little before turning east, now bound for Arizona. There will be more about that leg of our journey coming up very soon.

Written by bev on January 18th, 2009

return to the redwoods – part 2   14 comments

Posted at 4:01 pm in birds,california,memory,trees

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

It’s a fact. Traveling alone can be quite stressful. When driving in unfamiliar territory, you struggle to read maps and navigate through traffic. In the past, Don did much of the driving while I read maps and charted our course. Luckily, I’m a good navigator. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be sitting here in Arizona writing about my travels of the past few months.

There are other stresses as well. What if I get lost? What if the van breaks down? What if I get sick — who will take care of Sabrina? What if I lose my car keys, wallet, money, or passport? Luckily, none of those things happened, although I did, in fact, lose one of my car keys (we’ll get to that story sometime soon). When there are two of you on the road together, none of these things seems quite so problematic. You’re both carrying keys, wallets, and money. You never feel truly “lost” — instead, you’re just taking the scenic route and can laugh about the “very long detour” at a later date. If you get sick, there’s someone to look after everything until you’re feeling better. Also, there are two of you to discuss and decide on a route, or one to take over as the “relief driver” when the other begins to feel fatigued. Together, you can figure out how late you should travel before getting a campsite or looking for a motel. Alone, such considerations become more critical. All of the above niggling fears were never far from my mind as I made my way from Oregon to Arizona. Add the constant stress to that which I’d experienced over the past year, and sometimes it was hard to avoid feeling too overwhelmed to push on, but at this point in the journey, I didn’t have a choice. To cope with these feelings, I pretended that each morning was the beginning of a fresh, new adventure, while days that ended badly due to difficulties or mistakes were regarded as “interesting experiments” that didn’t turn out quite as planned. Most times, that form of mental trickery seemed to work — more or less.

On my second day in California, I found myself struggling to make some decisions. I’d been hoping for decent weather so that I could spend a few hours along two rivers which Don and I had visited in 2006. However, a large and very unfriendly weather system moved in during the night after my arrival at the Smith River. Sabrina and I awoke to the sound of a steady rain beating down on the van roof. I soon made an executive decision to move on and look elsewhere for the coming evening’s campsite. Regrettably, that entailed abandoning my plan to linger along those rivers that meant so much to me. However, I decided to at least drive to the coast to revisit a few of our favourite spots around Crescent City. It was stormy and cold at the look-off for the Battery Point lighthouse (see above – click on all photos for larger view). Sabrina and I found ourselves alone gazing down at the swelling seas breaking on the rocks far below.

I drove over to the breakwater pier, hoping to see Brown Pelicans — I’d harbored a wish to see flocks of them as Don and I had so enjoyed watching them fly overhead at so many points along the California coast in 2006. At first, it seemed that there were none around. Sabrina and I stood searching the sky while getting well and truly soaked by the frigid rain. At last, I called it quits and walked back to the van. As I stood by the van’s sliding door, drying Sabrina with a towel, I caught sight of a long line of Pelicans struggling southwards into the wind. They were having a difficult time making headway, but on they went. I shot a couple of photos, shut the van doors, and drove southward, in the wake of the wind-battered Pelicans.

As I’ve written elsewhere, many points of this journey intersect with those of my past travels in the west – some with Don, and others with a close friend. My “trip map” resides in my thoughts — a palimpsest of routes interwoven through time and space. One of the intersections is the redwoods of Prairie Creek – and more specifically, the Corkscrew Tree. In my personal mythology, it figures like some form of energy vortex, binding several pathways into one. With a light rain falling, Sabrina and I made our way to the tree where I put my hands onto its thick, twisting bark, roughly where I remembered Don having placed his hands just two years before. Perhaps, subconsciously, I hoped to connect to that time, and in some ways that was true. It felt as though very little time had passed — much like when you run into an old friend and ten years feels more like ten minutes. However, in the end, it was just Sabrina and I standing in the rain, with her looking soggy, bewildered and even a little sad.

We returned to the van. I took a photo of Sabrina walking ahead of me. Oddly, the camera seemed to capture just how that scene looked through my eyes as my tears mixed with the now rapidly falling rain.

I now had to make a decision about which route to take and where to stay for the night. I had briefly considered turning inland at Arcata to take Hwy 299 through the Trinity Alps Wilderness region, but the sight of an upside down pick-up truck that had spun out during a few minutes of freezing sleet about an hour back along the road made me reconsider. That turned out to be a wiser choice than I had imagined as the 299 route takes longer than I had calculated (more on this in “part 3”). Instead, I chose to continue southwards, wondering if the weather would improve by the time I got to Patrick’s Point (it didn’t). The only plan I could come up with was to either look for a motel around Eureka, or find a campsite at an inland park. I quickly discounted the motel idea as I was feeling the need to be in the redwoods — as alone in the forest as is possible at a campground. I decided on trying to make it down to Burlington Grove in the Humboldt Redwoods, so drove on through the rain, hoping that I might leave it behind as I moved inland. Taking a rest from driving, I stopped at the rock shop along the highway near Rio Dell, and ended up buying a slice of green rock that the owner of the shop said was Mariposite, from Mariposa, California. That got us talking about places and travels. When he heard I was from Canada, he said he’d never been “up there” and that I’d come an awfully long way from home. He was quite right, in more ways that one.

It was still raining when I got to Burlington Grove, but lightly enough that I was able to cook us a hot meal over the little propane stove. I chose a campsite in the shelter of a burned out redwood stump – the same one in which I camped in 2007 while traveling with a friend. Thankfully, the campgrounds were almost empty as it was inclement and so late in the season. It felt peaceful and safe. With raindrops pattering onto the van roof, Sabrina and I soon fell asleep and restored a little of the precious energy we’d been expending all too quickly for the past few weeks.

Written by bev on January 6th, 2009