Northern California


Our time had come in Bandon and it was time to head south while we had a break in the rain. We were tentatively planning a two week stay in Klamath, CA in the redwoods at a small RV park we’d found with great off-season rates ($20/day with full hookups!) called Chinook RV Resort. We got a late start as we decided to do laundry and wash the truck before leaving Bandon. I did the crappiest washing job ever on our truck at one of those wand-wash places and shortly afterwards ordered hand-watching supplies so I could do a proper job at our first opportunity. The drive down was beautiful, but our RV GPS said there was a low clearance ahead at 11’6” and kept wanting to route us 100s of miles out of the way back to I-5. Our rig is 12’6” so I was clearly worried, but everything I’d read online said that the 101 was fine to drive in any size RV, so we cautiously kept going. All-the-while we were seeing trucks and big RVs heading north so clearly they must've navigated the low clearance, right? It was more awe-inspiring scenery all the way down the coast and sure enough, we finally encountered the ‘hazard’. It was a tunnel that was marked as 11’6”on the sides and 13’6” down the middle. I waited for a lull in traffic and went straight down the middle. No problem! The last stretch of road was a bit harrowing, though, as the sun had set and we were going through a state park in the redwoods on the 101 and there were frequent lane closures for construction. At last we arrived at our RV park. The office was closed but when I’d called before they said not to worry and someone would be by in the morning to settle up. In trying to find a site in the dark, we found the ground to be soft from the recent rains and the sites were overgrown with grass and not paved/gravel, so we were truly concerned about sinking in the mud as we turned into a site, but thankfully the ground was firm enough and we were fine. We quickly got set up and called it a night, vowing not to tow the rig in the dark ever again if it could be avoided

Having moved a day early, we had Monday free to explore. finding it wasn't raining that morning, we drove up the coast a bit to a tourist trap called “Trees of Mystery”. They had a nice trail through the trees showing some unusual formations like trees arranged like a cathedral/altar, trees growing on top of the trunks of long felled trees, and the like. The highlight was a gondola ride through the trees up to the top of a ridge with spectacular views of the area and the ocean. We were grateful for the brief gap in the rain to enjoy this. I expected Crayton to be nervous about the gondola ride but he was a champ. Pam, on the other hand… let’s just say heights aren’t her thing.

The Gondola at "Trees of Wonder"

That night we went back up the coast a bit to Crescent City to have a nice Thai dinner and stop by a hardware store to buy a dehumidifier. We had been finding window and wall condensation from the humidity and cold temps and were concerned about mold and mildew. This puppy did the trick, pulling gallons of moisture out of the camper in the first day and then keeping it dry while we stayed in the rainforest that is the redwoods in winter.

The next few days were work days for me and it rained. A lot. Every day. Tuesday, though, there was a break in the rain around my lunch break, so we headed over to the south end of the mouth of the Klamath river. The area is used for ceremonies by the local Yurok tribe and had spiritual significance to them. It was easy to see why, the meeting of surf and river, the expanses of sand and driftwood, the pillars of rock, the haze from the pounding waves, it was a awe-inspiring place, I can see why it figured deeply in their folklore. Too quickly, though, I had to get back to work so back to the camper we went.

Where the Klamath River meets the Ocean

Thursday after work, there was another break in the rain, so we headed south to a scenic drive through Redwood National and State Parks. The trees are really something. I could try to describe their beauty and size, but it wouldn’t do them justice. You have to see them for yourself, We found one, aptly named “The Big Tree” that was 68 feet in circumference and over 300 feet tall. The short walk we took through them was just a teaser. I really wish we had time to backpack here a bit. I can’t imagine what it must be like to sleep among these giants.

The Redwoods

Back in Yellowstone, they had thin poles lining the roads in anticipation of winter snows. They are used to guide the snowplows so they know where the road is when the snow gets deep. One day, while driving around the park, I clipped one of them with the passenger side mirror. I remember thinking ‘oops, I should check for damage sometime’, but for whatever reason I didn’t and we didn’t even realize we’d actually damaged the truck until I noticed when we were at Bullards Beach. The lens on the visibility and turn lights on the end of the mirror was busted pretty thoroughly. Some research determined that Ford won’t just sell you the lens or light assembly, you have to but the ENTIRE SIDEVIEW MIRROR, for a whopping $350+. Some more googling found that you can buy after-market LED light upgrades and I could replace just those lights for $55. Sold!!! I ordered as set in Bandon and had it delivered to Klamath. Took all of 10 minutes to swap them out and another little wound to our home on wheels was bandaged.

Busted light :( Our second battle wound to the rig.

Also on Saturday we drove down the coast a bit and visited another spectacular beach. There are so many here and they're all worth seeing. We also went to the Redwoods National Park visitor center and hung out with these amazing trees.

Yet another amazing beach. So Many!

An older gent in the RV Park was selling redwood "snowmen" so we decided to pick one up to start getting into the holiday spirit. Crayton creatively named him Frosty.

Crayton with "Frosty"

Looking at the weather, we could see it was seemingly drier further down the coast, so we decided to cut our stay here short at one week and halve our distance to San Francisco. We also decided that staying somewhere more kid friendly for the coming Thanksgiving holiday would be nice. So we booked a 6 night stay at the KOA in Willits, CA. and on Sunday we were off again down the 101.

Willits turned out to be a really nice town. The perfect size. Just big enough to have a variety of restaurants, a large grocery store, movie theater and varied shopping, but small enough to have not attracted the big-box stores, traffic and other hassles of bigger cities. The KOA was really quite nice. It was the off season so much of the cool stuff they had for kids was either closed or too muddy to enjoy, but we still got to enjoy their animal rescue operation with rabbits, a donkey, pony, emus, pigs, tortoises, etc as well as their multiple playgrounds, arcade, wild-west themed mini-golf and lots of other stuff. They even had a disc golf course, which I sadly didn't have time to play. As we hoped, there were a lot of other families vacationing here for the Thanksgiving holiday so Crayton found some new best friends. As nice as the park was, it was odd that our site was really unlevel and the sites didn’t have sewer, so we wound up paying for a honey-wagon to pump us out a couple of times. Crayton thought the term honey-wagon as pretty odd for what amounts to a poo-pumping truck, and I heartily agreed. Those were really the only downsides to our stay, though, other than the rain which decided to follow us down the coast despite our best efforts to outrun it. The damp, though, seems to suit these banana slugs just fine.

Yuck!

Our first night in town, we drove over to Fort Bragg on the coast on what was possibly the windiest, twistiest road we've encountered yet. We went to the "Glass Beach" there which has tons of beach glass from where the town used to dump their garbage right into the ocean. The now polished glass still washes ashore decades later. It was a busy beach, but beautiful and it was a glorious day out. We treated ourselves, afterwards, to dinner at North Coast Brewing and enjoyed some very fancy food (for a brewery) and some amazing beers. They make a mammoth collection of big beers including Old Rasputin and their Old Stock Ale. Yum.

Hunting for beach glass in Ft Bragg

We were greeted our second night there by a couple staying in a travel trailer down the way. They saw our Wisconsin plates and wanted to say hi. They’re local, from Olema (oddly the next town on our itinerary, small world). He’s originally from the area, but she is from the Chicago area so they often visit Wisconsin when they fly back to Chicago to visit family. They love the state and were curious to meet some folks from there. I wish I’d remembered their names, but the guy reminded me of a friend back home (hey Josh P!) and they were super friendly.

I only had to work a couple of days this week, with the holiday, so we quickly got down to family time. The town is known for it’s tourist train, called the Skunk Train, which winds through the local redwood forests. The name is odd, but makes sense. The story is that the gas-powered passenger cars that would work this line had oil-burning heaters on board and the combination of fumes meant that the train could be smelled long before it was seen, much like a skunk. The train goes right by the campground, which even has it’s own train platform that the train will stop at in-season. Watching the train go by twice a day and seeing Crayton light up every time, there was no way we could deny him a ride, so on Wed, we bought our tickets and boarded for a four hour tour of the redwoods. While the locomotive was a diesel (we’re kind of steam fans, dontcha know...) it turned out to be a great ride! It was an entirely new perspective for seeing these amazing forests. It was pretty neat to see our camper from the train as we rolled by, too. While the trees weren’t as big as the ones we saw further north, they were still plenty big. The tracks were used for lumber back in the day and wound their way up and down through the hills often covering just a short distance as the crow flies over many switchbacks. The end of the line had a camp set up with great food and drink and more trees to explore. On the train both ways and at the camp, there was a guitar playing conductor singing train songs and entertaining everyone. They had an open air car, too which I always enjoy, no matter the weather. It was kind of expensive, but if you’re a rail-fan and in the area, it’s a must-do attraction.

Aboard the "Skunk Train"

Thanksgiving day morning was spent cooking my holiday stuffing and a field-roast veggie roast with potatoes and yams while Pam made her green bean casserole That afternoon the campground was having a Thanksgiving social and we’d signed up to attend and bring a dish. The social itself was great. A good chance to meet some more folks including the owners of the campground (excuse me, that’s "Kampground") and share a holiday meal with the other families there. Thanksgiving has always been a favorite for me as it’s a great opportunity to be with friends and family without all the hassle and consumerism of Christmas. I was worried that spending it far from ‘home’ would be hard, but our camper now feels to me like ‘home’ and the people we meet along the road are a good substitute for the familiar. It was a really nice day.

Our first Thanksgiving on the road

The day after Thanksgiving the rain started again, but we still got to enjoy the campground and Crayton got to run around with his new friends most of the day. That night we went to the movie theater in town and saw Moana, the new Disney animated flick and it was really great! Good on Disney for making a more culturally sensitive movie with great themes, characters and action. I really loved it. Crayton loved it too, but the ‘hot lava monster’ kind of frightened him a bit.

Saturday arrived too quickly and our time in Willis was at an end. We packed up and headed down the 101 to our next stop outside of San Francisco, Olema CA.

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We went from 3700 square feet in the suburbs to 370 on wheels. We work and travel fulltime with our son and kitty.

 

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