After leaving Orr, we prepared ourselves for another stint with nature and the National Parks. This time we were heading up to the Pacific Northwest to see the Redwood Forest. More passport stamps!
This also marked a bit of a transition in our road tripping style. Until now, everything was very tightly planned. We knew where we were going to sleep months in advance for 90% of the nights. We had people we wanted to meet up with and places we had to be. Suddenly we were looking at two nights without a sleeping place booked and had plans to visit two national parks without knowing what we wanted to see or do there. I spent so much time knowing every detail of the first month and a half that it was a bit strange to look in the roadtrip binder and not have several options for activities listed along with their prices and estimated times. The page on May 14 just listed the drive time and destination with a suggestion for where to camp. My type A planning skills had petered out a bit and rather than feel increasingly concerned, I was feeling open and relaxed. Maybe it was the spring water?
We left the springs a little later than we should have with our sights set on a campground in the Redwood State and National forests. We drove through increasingly scenic stretches of the 101 (we didn't have time to take route 1) in hopes of making it to the campground before sunset. The redwoods were soon looming above us and the need to stop for photos increased. I knew we were racing the sun, but I also realized that we were supposed to spend the day enjoying the redwoods. What good would it be if we drove past them without Sam getting even one (hundred) picture(s)? We may never be there again. We needed to find a balance between soaking in the nature and taking care of business.
This, of course was only the beginning. Around 4 PM or so I saw a highway sign for the Drive-Thru Tree Park (tripadvisor!) and told Sam we had to hop off the highway and go. He had no idea why or what the drive-thru tree was, but I sure did. It was a classic roadtrip pit stop, like the giant ball of twine. If you're on a roadtrip and drive by a sign for it, it's kind of a crime not to stop. We had already driven past tons of signs for The Thing (cue wavy, creepy lettering here) in Arizona and we had opted out of a visit to Rock City. The Drive-Thru Tree was a chance for roadtrip redemption. $5 later, here we were.
So now Omi can proudly tell people that car has driven through a tree!
The people we meet at this pit stop were by far the friendliest people we have chatted up so far on the trip. There was the biker who was showing his girlfriend around the redwoods and then taking her to Yosemite; the lady from Utah who had just visited Yosemite with her family (sitting quietly next to her) and felt strongly that it was far prettier than Yellowstone; and the woman from Vancouver, Washington who had done a cross country roadtrip with her husband and serval children in an RV from craigslist (I would have loved to get tips from her, but she was headed out, as were we). I got back in the car smiling even though I knew we would be pitching the tent as the sun went down.
We started discussing an alternate camping place once we saw signs for the Avenue of the Giants scenic byway. The biker had mentioned that he planned to take his girlfriend on that route, so we figured it would be good. And as it was a byway, it wouldn't take toooo much longer.
By the time we were back on the 101 we knew where we were going to try to camp and hoped the pricetag would be lower than the $35 fee being charged in the National Forest campground. We gassed up and soon saw Trees of Mystery -- another roadtrip hot spot that we had heard about from an episode of This American Life (#506). The kitsch of an enormous Paul Bunyan was more than I could bear. You know I love kitsch! We had to stop! We popped out of the car just long enough to snag some pictures of the great American lumberjack, Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe.
When we got to the park we planned to camp in we saw they would also charge $35 to camp for one night. Sunset wasn't far off now and we realized if we were willing to pay $35 to sleep somewhere that wasn't a part of the plan then we would be much better off paying $15 more for a room with electricity and WiFi in the next town. This decision sounds like it was made because we didn't want to deal with camping or wanted a fancy bed. You're only a little right. The idea of having WiFi and a night to dedicate to catching up on the blog and watching the German national soccer team play a friendly match against Poland was really what sold us. It turned out to be a very productive night in that regard.
Now knowing that we had a little more time, we drove up the coast, stopping at the first beach we saw to watch the sun sink below the horizon and get our feet a little sandy and wet. I had never seen the Pacific before so I had to touch it! Besides, there was no reason to rush anymore.
We arrived in Crescent City, California after dark and after splitting dinner at Denny's, we tucked into the Front Street Inn (tripadvisor!). The next morning we ate breakfast and sat by the Pacific to get a few more blog posts going and for Sam to call El Paso about his ticket and to write a letter to extend the court date (of course they told him to send it to the city prosecutor instead of the magistrate, so it wasn't the best use of his time).
Feeling very accomplished, we made a beeline for the forest. The first few visitor and information centers were closed, so we were grateful to finally find an open office to get some ideas for activities, campgrounds, and to get the coveted stamp. The ranger also showed us what Poison Oak looks like since we don't have that back east. We came away with big plans that worked out wonderfully.
First, we backtracked a ways and hopped down a trail to see the forks of the Smith River. The spot the ranger described was beautiful with the deep blue river that was cold and crystal clear.
The next stop was up to Stout Grove (tripadvisor!), where we knew we would see some hulking redwoods. We took our drawing supplies because it had been a really long time since we had done any art. What could be more inspiring?
We studied these ancient, enormous trees that seemed to survive so much and Sam explained that trying to understand the enormity of those trees was like trying to understand the structure of the universe. On paper you can write it down and have a rough idea, but when you really take it in, it's overwhelming because you can't see everything at once, only parts at a time. I hope I paraphrased that correctly.
We finally headed to Panther Flat campground for a lovely night of camping for only $15! So even though we spent a night in a hotel, we basically came out even on our sleeping costs in the Redwoods. Not shabby, eh?
Leaving the plan up to chance wasn't as stressful as I had imagined! We slept fairly well and the next day we were going to drive up to Oregon to see Crater Lake.
For a change, here's a Sam fun fact:
This has been the longest title of our roadtrip blog, weighing in at an astounding 64 characters! Way to go, girl!