June 24, 2012: For
maybe only the second time, after ten years of writing these
travel reports, I'm starting to write it before my departure. The main reason is to establish some momentum
and maybe make it easier to keep this report up to date as we
travel. It is also an excuse to try out a new text editing app on
the iPad, to see if that device can be used for writing. I've been
playing with it for about two months, and while it's a long ways
from being like a real keyboard, it is 1,000 times better than a
Since we will be at
Bragg on the Mendocino
coast on July 4, I called a few weeks ago to make reservations.
Good thing - they had only two spaces available for that week. I
also made a reservation for our first night at Bodega Bay
- only two spaces there also. And I reserved a rental car for use
while we're at Ft. Bragg. Oh yes, we made reservations for the Skunk
Train, which I will talk about when we get there.
I will be traveling with
my friend Janell Sidney, who was planning to go last year, but had
her plans unilaterally changed by her boss. Ah, the horrors of
And, as has happened a
few times in the past, I had a pre-trip problem with the motor home,
but fortunately it happened when there was still plenty of time to
fix it. I go to the storage place at least every two weeks and
start the engine, run the generator, and turn on the refrigerator
and water heater (propane operation). One day the engine did not
start, but the generator did, so I hooked up my charger and got the
A few weeks later the
same thing happened, so I took the vehicle to a local dealer to get
a new battery. While it was at their lot, they backed it into a
crane truck, causing scrapes and dents. I tried to refrain from
pointing out that I had driven it 18,000 miles without backing into
anything. Of course, they paid for the repairs, but I was without it
for almost a full month.
June 26: I was planning to get the vehicle washed, and talked to
a man who provides mobile wash service. When I first rented my space
at the storage yard I was told that I could wash my motor home
there, but the wash man was told we could not. This is only the
latest of many incidents of being told one thing one day, and
another thing the next day (or year, or whatever). We had an
alternative plan, but I went to the storage place today, and the
vehicle did not look dirty enough for the price being charged. I
think the body repair place may have rinsed it off. So I will wait
till it's good and dirty after I return (or even after our planned
Utah trip this fall).
Janell and I have been
burning up the Internet discussing menus, food shopping lists, where
to go and what to do, etc. We will go to the Farmer's Market in
Clovis Friday for last minute fruit and vegetable purchases. I have
become addicted to blackberries or boysenberries for breakfast (with
whipped cream, chocolate milk and toast). I can only indulge this
habit in the summer, so we will pick up a supply Friday, along with
cherries, tomatoes, bell peppers and whatever else looks good.
June 29: Yesterday when I was putting air in the motor home
tires, a woman walking by told me she had seen several young kids
(Jr. high age) on bikes, riding around the motor home and checking
it out. Her concern was that they might plan to come back later with
bad intent. Since I will invent something to worry about if there
isn't anything real, this caused me to lose sleep, to go out and
look at the vehicle a couple of times when I got up at night, and
even to try sleeping there the first part of the evening (impossible due to
passing traffic and warm weather).
After some thought I
decided the most likely explanation was that they were saying,
"Wow, wouldn't it be cool to have something like this?...fill
it with booze and babes and head out on a road trip!"
I've parked it
there many times with no problems, but as Lincoln said when he was
shot, "no one ever did that before." And as expected,
there were no problems. Of course, I can still worry about tonight.
June 30: The motor
home and I both survived Friday night. I had it parked on my side of
the street, and there's a fairly bright pole light at the end of the
But before that, Janell
and her sister came over and we went to the farmers market in Old
Town Clovis. We got berries and some other fruits and vegetables,
but didn't go on to the bluegrass concert in the park as we usually
We got started early the
next morning, leaving Janell's house on the western side of Fresno at
7:30, and heading north on CA 99, then east on CA 120 and I-280.
When my older grandson was playing hockey, we made many trips to the
Bay Area, and
became fans of Nation's, an excellent hamburger joint. Their burgers
actually look like the pictures in other restaurant's menus. And the
burgers are as good as they are good-looking. So Janell and I
decided to stop at the Nation's in Tracy, where we arrived about
10:30. The place was nearly full, with a lot of people having
breakfast. We had a proper lunch - cheeseburger, fries and Coke,
enjoying it very much.
Once we left Tracy we got
into slower and slower traffic heading into Dublin where I-680
crosses I-580. We went north on 680 through Danville and several
other cities, working our way around San Pablo Bay, north of SF Bay.
On our left side were hills which I am fairly certain are the ones
above and east of downtown Oakland.
We turned northwest onto
I-780, which ended and became a city street. I was not sure if we
were going the right way, but I continued in the most obvious
direction, and when I stopped and turned on the GPS, it sent us in
the direction I was planning to go.
We reached our
RV park in
Bodega Bay, and found that our reserved space was right on the water
(the smooth waters of the bay, not ocean waves). Since we had
nothing planned for this area, and no transportation other than the
motor home, we sat out and enjoyed the scenery, then took a walk up
the road that goes into the RV park. Along this road were many types of
flowers, as well as plenty of poison oak. At the top of the road, we
looked in a couple of shops, and Janell spotted a place to get her
Back at camp, we joined
other people in watching a seal that was rising up and down in the
water, vigorously and enthusiastically eating a salmon.
July 1: With a short drive of about 120 miles ahead of us, we
got a leisurely start, stopping a number of times along the way to
look at the ocean, flowers and cliffs along CA 1.
Fog had come in late the night before, and we had fog along the way
for quite a distance, with occasional sun at the higher points along
A few miles before
our destination of Fort Bragg was Van
Damme State Park, which is notable for the pygmy forest that
grows there. Here mature, cone-bearing cypress and pine trees stand six inches to eight feet tall,
stunted by the poor quality soil in the area. I had been here over
30 years ago with my sister, and like most wild places, it was not
as I remembered it. The path through the forest is now a boardwalk, and
the area is heavily overgrown with brush as well as the trees, so
you are limited to just what you can see walking a narrow path.
However, we were happy to be there, because a few weeks ago this and
a number of other state parks were scheduled to close on July 1. A
combination of volunteer organizations, grants from individuals and
companies, and increased fees has allowed many of the parks on the
closure list to stay open with reduced service.
After our walk we
continued up Highway 1 through Mendocino
and to Fort Bragg, to the Harbor
RV Park, where I had stayed last year. The park is located just
south of the Noyo River, next to Pomo Bluffs
Park, a short distance from the ocean. The park has a
paved walkway that goes out to the edge of the bluffs, and you can
drive there also. Since we would not get our rental car till Monday,
we rode our bikes out to the edge, the first of a number of trips we
would make there. Last year I did a lot of wave-watching there, at Shelter
Cove farther north, and at Mendocino, and I think the wave action at Fort Bragg
is the best.
Of course, there are many
other things to do and see in the area, so we planned to get a
fairly early start the next morning and head for Mendocino, eight
miles south on Highway 1.
July 2: Plans get
changed, however. The rental agency was supposed to pick us up at 9
a.m. After waiting for a half hour, I called, and got someone in the
Ukiah office, 50 miles away. I was told that the Ft. Bragg agent was
out but would be calling soon.
It was around 10:30 when
I called again, and got someone locally, who said he would be by to
pick us up soon, along with another party in the same area. We
finally got to the office and got our car a little after 11. After I
politely mentioned that it was not reasonable that we had to suffer
for the company's failure to have adequate staff, they gave us a
good reduction on our rental charge, so once again I ended up quite
happy with Enterprise Car Rental.
We made a quick stop at
the motor home to get things we needed for our big trip to Mendocino
and headed south. Parking is at a premium during this peak tourist
season, so we found a place and set out for a half day of walking
and shopping, with our first stop at a coffee bar. We went into many
stores, and bought a few things. We both got "Mendocino"
t-shirts, and I found a zip-up hooded sweat shirt that I have wanted
for hockey games. I also bought a very small sweat shirt that is
still going to be too big for a couple of years for a great
grandchild who is coming in December.
In Mendocino we both
enjoyed two of the town's most striking features. Last year I
noticed a number of tall, spiky
plants with tiny flowers, growing to 15 feet or more. My
internet research showed they are called echium,
but I was sure this was a scientific name and there should be a
common name. This year we asked someone in a store and were told
that they are called Pride
of Madeira, being native to that Portuguese
island. They grow in warm areas with poor soil and require little
water or care. There are a lot of them along the coast north of San
Francisco, but they are reported to do well in many other locations.
They are technically considered biennial, but often live many years.
I thought there were fewer of them this year, but we didn't get to
all parts of the town. I didn't take any new pictures of them,
year's will have to do.
other feature is the many wooden water tanks and water
towers in town. In the early days residents
built tanks high enough to provide good water pressure, and pumped
water into the tank with windmills. I
don't know if any tanks are still in use for water, but many have
been remodeled with decks on top or converted into rooms. The base
of one of them is now a gift
We had made plans to eat
out this evening, so around 4 p.m. we started looking at
restaurants. We had discovered that the crowd was thinning out and
it was usually possible to park close to where we wanted to go, so
we had driven to a couple of stores we wanted to check out, then
drove around to several restaurants. We didn't find anything we
liked (some were closed, some were noisy, some were just take-out
places), so we decided to go with plans we had discussed earlier, to
go to one of the seafood places by the harbor in Ft. Bragg.
The place we chose,
Fish Grotto, proved to have good food and good service, plus a
unique family atmosphere. That is to say, those working there all
seemed to be part of the same family. While we were eating I heard a
waitress say "meet grandma in the bar," which was
a very strange thing to hear out of context. However, when we were
getting ready to leave, the waitress said, "meet grandma in the
bar, and she'll take your payment." So we did, and she did, and
we chatted briefly and let her know that we had enjoyed the dinner.
If you decide to try this place, be aware that it is fairly pricey,
and grandma doesn't take credit cards.
When we got back to the
RV park we drove out to the bluffs for some wave watching, and made
a discovery which was one of the most interesting and fun of any of
my trips. There are many sections of the headlands that are
completely or partly cut off from land, and on one of these hills,
inaccessible to sensible humans, we saw a pair of seagulls with two
baby chicks. It was getting dark and I only had my small camera with
me, so we vowed to come back the next day with the Canon camera with zoom lens
and try to photograph the fuzzy-looking little birds.
July 3: When I
travel by myself I don't do much cooking, but Janell enjoys it, so I
have been eating better (and more) on this trip than usual. Today
was the day we actually earned the right to eat like lumberjacks, or
at least like people who walked through an area where lumberjacks
Last year I hiked a trail
that goes inland along a creek from the ocean in Russian Gulch State
Park. If I had walked another 3/4 mile I would have come
to a small waterfall, but I was not feeling up to any additional
walking at the time. This year, with Janell along to encourage me, I
knew we could make it all the way to the waterfall. The only problem
- when I looked at the park web site a few weeks ago, it was slated
to close July 1.
Fortunately, like many
other state parks, local volunteers and civic-minded businesses had
come to the rescue, and the park was open, so after a leisurely
breakfast, we drove south on Highway 1 to the park, about a mile
north of Mendocino.
When I took this hike
last year I wore a sweatshirt over my t-shirt, and I recalled being
a little too warm, so I opted for just a long-sleeve t-shirt.
Despite the cool breeze that is nearly always present at the ocean,
you only have to go a few hundred yards inland to encounter much
warmer temperatures. We started off at the slow pace I like to
maintain, stepping aside now and then for more determined hikers,
whose long, purposeful strides reveal that they are oblivious to the fact that getting there is half the fun.
In fact, with a hike like this, once you step on to the trail, you
are already "there" - the rest is just walking around
enjoying the place.
Along this trail there
are many huge old stumps where the redwoods were logged in the 1800s
and 1900s, and many of them exhibit the "family
circle" or "fairy ring" effect, where new trees
sprout up from the roots of a dead tree, forming a circle of young
redwoods. Many of these second generation redwoods are now over 100
feet tall. There is also the usual lush growth of other trees,
shrubs and flowering plants, so that there is probably no place
along the trail where you are not looking at flowers.
We completed the first
1.6 mile of the hike and came to a resting spot with picnic tables,
and a sign declaring that it was only .7 to the waterfall. Just
before arriving here we had seen our first banana
slug, Janell was a bit put off when I mentioned these creatures,
but I explained that they are large, yellow, and not in our yard, so
they are much "better" than the ugly brown ones that we
sometimes step on when going outside barefoot at night. Seeing the
actual thing brought Janell into the camp of banana
slug fans (fans as long as they stay on the coast, that is).
Ultimately we saw a total of eleven slugs.
proved to be small but lovely, and certainly worth the hike. It
drops over a bank about 30 feet, with one main fall, and smaller
cascades to the side. We spent a fair amount of time there, just
resting and enjoying the falls, and building up strength to complete
our nearly 5-mile round trip walk.
Once we got back to the
parking lot, we drove to the place where the creek runs into the
ocean, under the Highway 1 bridge, a classic arch
design probably built in the 1930s. After a rest and snack here,
we drove to the western part of the park, which features narrow dirt
trails out through the grass to the bluffs, where we walked around
for a while before heading back to Ft. Bragg. This area provides
great views of the bridge.
We had made plans to get
a pre-cooked chicken at a local grocery store, to be eaten with corn
on the cob, potatoes and salad. As we walked into Safeway I noticed
that the store was packed, and realized it was 4th of July Eve.
However, with our single item purchase, we found a self-checkout
station, and were on our way back to the RV park in short order.
With it staying light
till after 9 at this northern latitude, we drove out to the bluff
again, with the Canon camera and its long zoom lens ready. We had
tried for photos in the morning, but the baby gulls were not in
sight. Tonight they cooperated, posing
for a number of shots. As I remarked to Janell that I wished I could
get a shot of the baby and parents close together, one baby
obediently waddled over to the adult and I caught several good shots
of them together.
July 4: If you tell people you are going to Ft. Bragg, many
of them will say "be sure to ride the Skunk Train." If you
tell them you have been to Ft. Bragg, they will ask, "Did you
ride the Skunk Train?"
Yes, we rode the Skunk Train.
The railroad, which got
its start during logging days, offers several different rides. There
are trains pulled by diesel engines, and there is the "motorcar,"
which is a long, bus-like single car that operates on either gas or
diesel. However, the whole purpose of riding an old-time railroad is
to see and hear a steam engine. Last year I considered a ride, but
there was no steam trip during my stay. This year I went on line to
check the schedule several weeks in advance. There was just one
steam trip during our time here, on the 4th of July, so I
immediately ordered tickets, and at 9:30 this morning we were at the
station near downtown Ft. Bragg, ready to board for the 4-hour trip
that would start at 10.
train consisted of the engine and tender, an open air
observation car, and about four enclosed cars, one of which is
"parlour class," providing wine and cheese for an extra
fee. We started out in one of the enclosed cars, which still
provided a fairly good view as we left town and headed into the
woods. The route follows the Noyo River much of the way, and passes
through large redwoods and lush vegetation, much like our hike up
We spent most of the ride
out in the open air car, getting a good look at the many stream
crossings; as well as cabins and some ranches along the way. The
train will drop you off at any of various locations along the way,
and pick you up later. The final stop is at Northspur, about half
way between Ft. Bragg and Willits
on US 101. Here there are restrooms, food concessions, and plenty of
room to have a picnic or just relax while the engine is switched to
the opposite end of the train for the return trip. Rides are also
available from Willits to Northspur, and on selected days, you can
travel the entire route.
We watched the coupling
of the engine to the western end of the train, and soon it was time
to get on board for the return trip. We relaxed inside most of the
way, moving out to the open car after the train had gone through a
tunnel. Everyone is required to move inside during passage through
the tunnel, since fumes can't disperse and constitute a danger.
Needless to say, there is
a gift shop in connection with the train, and we spent some time
there before and after the trip. I bought some magnets, and Janell
found a jacket she liked.
That evening we made
another trip out to the bluffs, taking our lawn chairs, so we could
watch the ocean and the birds in comfort. That day and several other
times we saw flocks of a dozen or so pelicans
We also saw a number of
deer, most notably in the large yards and fields along the road to
the bluffs. These were obviously deer that are used to being around
people, some of them lying right in the front yards of the houses.
On the return train trip, we saw two deer in the creek, and we would
see more the next day.
Last year I was also here
on the 4th of July, and enjoyed watching the fireworks display. They
were launched from river level, and rose up just above the level of
the bluffs, for an interesting perspective. We were ready to take
our chairs out to the nearby bluff and watch the show this year, but
darkness fell, and there were no fireworks, and no sign of activity
on the beach, where last year dozens of campfires were built. I
checked on line and discovered that this year's display would be
held on July 7, after we were back home. So much for tradition.
While our time in Ft.
Bragg was hardly regimented, we had our activities pretty well
planned in advance. During "down time" we discussed where to go
and what to do after we left there. We finally ended up reserving a
space at Hendy Woods
State Park, off state highway 128, which runs southeast from
Highway 1 inland to US 101. The map program on my iPad said it was
41 miles - and a 13-hour trip! This seemed unlikely, and Google Maps
gave a more sensible driving time of one hour.
July 5: We needed
to check out and return the car by noon or so, but could not check
in to the camp at Hendy Woods till 2 p.m., so we goofed around this
morning, fixing bacon for breakfast, and slowly getting ready to
leave. Our RV park has very few sewer hookups, and no dump station,
but the Chevron station just across the bridge in town had dumping
facilities, so we stopped there, then got gas and returned the
The first few miles of
our trip retraced our path down Highway 1, but we soon reached the
junction of CA 128
and headed inland along the Navarro River. Within a short distance,
this road goes through a virtual tunnel of redwood trees, which
eventually give way to grape vineyards in Anderson
Valley. A short drive of less than two miles off the highway
brought us to Hendy Woods, a tract containing two virgin redwood
groves that Joshua P. Hendy designated for preservation in his will.
After we got set up (a
simple task since there were no hookups), we decided to hike the
shorter loop trail that went through one of the redwood groves. This
was a beautiful and peaceful walk among large redwoods, madrones,
Douglas firs and California laurel (bayleaf). During this walk we
saw a mother deer and two fawns. We also were reminded that this was
a preserve within a major agricultural area, when we nearly wandered
out of the grove into an apple orchard.
Since we had no hookups,
and generator hours ended at 8 p.m., we fixed dinner and watched a
few TV shows, then went back outside after 8 to enjoy the evening,
and our last night of the trip.
July 6: We needed
to get home by Sunday, July 8, since Janell had to return to work
the next day. However, having done everything we set out to
accomplish, we were ready to return to Fresno today. A few miles
past the state park, Highway 128 runs through the town of Boonville,
where we stopped for coffee. Not long after this, the vineyards gave
way to grass, brush and oaks, similar to driving through the Sierra
foothills. There was a bit of a climb over a pass, then we dropped
down to Cloverdale, where we got on Highway 101 heading south.
Most of my trips through
Oakland have been on I-880, since it goes near the hockey rink, but
we stayed on I-580, which splits off from US 101 just north of the
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. This road then goes south through
Oakland, paralleling 880 but a mile or two to the east. At Castro
Valley it turns east through Dublin and Livermoore, and provides
connections to I-5 north or south. We continued east into Tracy
where we once again enjoyed a Nation's cheeseburger, then continued
on a few more miles to Manteca and south on Highway 99 south to
Post Script: We
drove a total of 710 miles in the motor home, and enough miles in
the small rental car to use less than a quarter tank of gas. (I
don't want to add up how much gas the motor home went through, but
in a word, LOTS.) We were very lucky in that gas prices took a
significant drop just before our departure, although we were in
areas where prices are higher than average. The highest we paid was
around $4.05 at Bodega Bay, and we saw signs for even higher prices
as we drove up Highway 1. However, at Ft. Bragg most stations were
under $4, and we paid $3.87.
Starting the report early
did not create momentum. I wrote a few paragraphs the first night
out, one or two the second, a few notes the third, and nothing after
that till I got home. Writing something this long on the iPad is
possible, but not probable, as long as I have some other tool
available. I can type fairly fast, with moderate accuracy, but
fixing mistakes after the fact is a lot more hassle than on a PC. It
performed well for the purposes I got it - checking Email and
accessing the Internet. All of this could theoretically have been
done with the laptop, but I could never get a connection with it at
Ft. Bragg, while the iPad connected fairly quickly.
We saw a lot of animals I
didn't mention above, including a gray squirrel at the redwood
grove, a pair of birds (not seagulls) with three babies on the rocks
below the gull's perch, and a lot of buzzards, crows and ravens.
Despite all time we spent near water, the only fish we saw was on
our plates at Carine's.
We got out of the fog
about half way between Bodega and Ft. Bragg, and had sunny weather
the rest of the week. Temperatures were supposed to be in the mid
60s, but we were too busy to actually check. There was a strong
breeze a lot of the time, but in general, it was quite comfortable.
We're expecting highs of 105 and up for the coming week in Fresno,
which makes us want to go back north.
You'd think we could now
relax - but we have to get busy planning a trip to the national
parks of Utah this fall, meaning you have to be ready for another of
these seemingly endless missives. (For reasons now forgotten, the
Utah trip did not materialize.)
Estel, July 2012