Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Road Trip To Northern California

It's been a little while since my last post, here is what I've been up to recently! Last week, I headed down to northern California in order to meet up with my friend Brendan, who is doing field-work near Quincy, Ca.  Here is what happened:

I got a later start than I'd hopped, leaving a cloudy Seattle at 8:30. Oh well, onward!

Rather than take the boring I5 South drive I've done so many times, I headed east on I90, then turned south on Highway 97.  Once you get close to the Columbia River, windmills seem to sprout out of the ground like weeds.

Outside of Goldendale is a replica of Stonehenge, completed in 1930 as a memorial to those killed in WWI.

The Columbia River, boarder between Washington and Oregon.

I continued on 97 South through the whole of Oregon, it is a nice drive through mostly flat open space and agricultural land. 

Route finding.  Once I entered northern California, I was into generally unfamiliar areas and needed to keep an eye on where I was going!  That said, I did end up on a path I'd taken before. In high school I did a two week, 5500 mile solo road trip, and I ended up seeing a lot of the same things, resulting in some interesting flashbacks to that adventure. 

97 takes you to some amazing views of Mt Shasta, at 14,162 feet tall. I wish I had time to run to the top!

Once you hit Weed, Ca, you end up back in I5 South.  I'd avoided I5 until now, but at this point I was in essentially new territory for me, and that section of the freeway is actually very beautiful. After a short stint on I5, darkness came, and I turned onto highway 36 heading east.  36 is a fantastic driving road: in the forest, just two lanes, winding up and down a 5750 foot pass.  I then joined highway 89 which lead me to my final destination.

Just after midnight, 15.5 hours and 815.9 miles after I set off, I arrived to meet my friend Brendan.  What a fantastic drive.  He requested I bring him a case of Rainier Beer, the drink of choice among my friends, and I was happy to comply.

I hadn't realized it, but Brendan mentioned the last time we saw each other was in Pi, Thailand!

After some time chatting by the fire, we called it a night.  This tent was where I slept for the 4 nights in California. 

After sleeping in, it was time for breakfast.  This is one of the two kitchens in the 'duplex' where the researchers (my friend included) have been living all summer.

The camp itself was actually created and run by the Berkley Forestry Department.  While I was visiting, it had a mixture of students, professors, alumni and of course the researchers who are living there as well.

It is in a beautiful forest in the northern Sierra Mountains, just outside the town of Quincy, Ca. 

We had a bit of a lazy day, which naturally involved cooling off by the river.

Hanging out at the campfire in the evening with co-workers.

The next morning was another lazy day, both of us were tired!  We slept in later than we'd planned then went into town for breakfast at Morning Thunder.

In the afternoon, we drove deeper into the woods and did a little plinking with a .22.

Dinner with the group. I have to say Brendan, you have a pretty good group of co-workers.

The next morning, bright and early, it was time to get to work. Or rather, see what my friend does for work.

I tagged along with Brendan and Dave on their regular fieldwork.  Today was part of the vegetation survey.  The short version is that they get GPS points around a forest that had a fire about five years ago, then hike out and measure the trees in the area in order to determine habitat for woodpeckers.  (did I get that roughly right?? haha)


A cool looking moth I found in the bushes.

Science in action!

What can I say, I've got a little hippie in me!

Cool wildflowers.  It's pretty nice to just walk around in the forest with no trails or other people. We saw lots of birds, wild flowers, insects, deer, evidence of bears and more.  Not a bad job!

After a days work trudging around the woods, it was time for another dip in the river. Here I am jumping off a spot the locals call 'lovers leap'.

Brendan told me the camp had lots of big trees and to bring my tree climbing gear, so in the afternoon we went to the top of a 120 foot pine, which was a great climb.

The view from the top of the tree.

The next morning was work again, this time in a different site. 

I felt out of place without a straw hat!  More measuring and recording, same as the day before.

A Washington Lilly popping out of the forest floor.

And a woodpeckers home. While standing here measuring the trees nearby, the parent was flying around squawking at us and we could hear the babies chirping away inside the nest. 

A little slack-lining in the afternoon.

And then taking Dave up the same pine tree.

Dave and I at the top of the tree.  He'd never done this before, and was thrilled as a birder to literally get a 'birds eye view'.

Dinner in town that evening. 

The next morning it was time for me to head towards home.  I took highway 70 through the Feather River Canyon, and like 36, it is an amazing driving road, only this time I was passing through it in the day and could see the wonderful scenery as well!

One of the many power stations along the river. I thought it was pretty cool that this hydro power station actually straddles the road and you drive through it!

Once highway 70 ended (and I was sad to see it end) I entered the flat and open valley into agricultural land.  This is another road-straddling building, this time for processing and loading rice.  I was heading west towards the coast and highway 101, but it was harder than I thought.  My map showed a road (162) that would take me just where I wanted to go, but it turned out to just be a maze of farmland with no signage to speak of. 

Eventually I reached I5 again and was told by the locals my intended route through the southern part of the Mendocino National Forest was not advisable (because I'd likely get lost) and I decided to take their advice. 

Instead I headed up I5 again, an awfully flat and boring section I might add, until I reached highway 36 again.  This time I took it west and was rewarded with 3 hours of the best driving I've ever experienced.  Zero traffic, wonderful views, great roads, and blasting through mile after mile of tight turns.  The speed limit here is 55, but you don't need to exceed it at all to have fun, just carry some speed through the endless corners and you are likely to have the drive of your life.

Towards the end of 36 near where it meets the 101, you get into the redwoods for the first time and it is truly stunning.  I wanted to stop and spend more time in this area, but alas, I had to keep moving.

Shortly after, I reached the famous Route 101, the 1,540 mile stretch of highway that reaches all the way from Olympia, WA in the north to Los Angeles in the south. It is a drive I think everyone should do some day, an American classic.  An hour up the famous road, I stopped at the coast to breathe the fresh ocean air and dip my feet in the water.

Elk along the road.

After a mediocre burrito at a Mexican restaurant I knew wouldn't be any good, I looked for a place to stop for the night. I didn't want to waste the drive by doing it at night since it was such a beautiful area, so it was time to call it a day. 

Not wanting to pay for a place to sleep, I found a spot down a nearly abandon road to stop for the night (I didn't see a single car in the 11 hours I stopped there). I'd wanted to sleep outside of course, but it began to rain and I didn't feel like dealing with a wet tent early in the morning since I wanted to get up early to get going, so I slept in the car. It was not comfortable.

Classic road-side Americana, a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox. I love American road-trip culture, especially out west. 

As a tree guy, the next part of the 101 was something I was really looking forward to: the giant redwoods.  I'd seen them before years ago but this time would be seeing them with new eyes.  I left the 101 behind for a short bit and took 199 into Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.  I was in search of some dirt road my friend had mentioned to me that took you right through the forest, and I think I found what he was talking about.

While I had no plans to climb one of these beasts on the trip, I saw this tree and I guess it was calling me.  I happened to have my gear from climbing with my friend earlier and decided to give it a try.

Looking down from around 150 feet up.

I reached the top of the tree at roughly 240 feet up and it was a truly exhilarating feeling.  I called my parents, took some pictures and marveled at these amazing trees.  Climbing one of these is has been a life goal of mine, and I was truly thrilled to have achieved it.

The view from the top, looking across at other giants.

When I returned to the ground, a Park Ranger was waiting for me.  He wrote me a ticket for 'climbing a tree' (yes, I climbed the tree) and 'destroying plants' (which I will contest, I didn't destroy anything...).  The fine? $918, oops...

Anyways! Back on the road!  I rejoined the 101 and in shorter order was in southern Oregon, stopping here at Morris Beach State Park.

Naturally it was time to cool off, so I took a quick dip in the ocean.

Just a short ways up the road is this natural arch.  The problem with the 101 is there are so many cool things to stop at and enjoy, you could probably spend days in this 50 mile section alone! Alas, I had to be home that evening, so off I went.

Road construction was all over the place.  Nearly a dozen times on the drive I was stopped at sections that were one way at a time, slowing down progress significantly.  Oh well, the roads have to be fixed some time.

A lumber yard in southern Oregon.  Here they were loading up massive cargo ships with logs to go over seas presumably.

Just a cool bridge.

By about 4pm, the weather started to come in and the wonderful views the 101 is famous for quickly faded into the fog.  Not only that, but I began to get stuck behind RVs and slow drivers dropping the pace down to just 35mph in places and got sick of it.  I'm here to enjoy the drive, but I also have to get home!

I left the 101 behind and turned onto route 34 east, to get back to I5.  Again, I was rewarded with a fantastic driving road: traffic free, twisty and fairly scenic.

Once I reached I5 again, the fun part was over and it was just a boring drive up the interstate home.  This is passing through Portland, Oregon just before entering Washington again.  Back into civilization.

The sun going down as I got closer to home.

I returned home just after 10:30pm, racking up 1,877 miles in three days of driving, not bad eh?

As you can probably tell, this was another wonderful trip.  Short, just 6 days in total, but I think I accomplished a lot in that time.  It was great to visit my friend where he's working, it was great to see so much of the beautiful West, and despite the hefty fine, climbing that redwood was a incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.  What else can I say? Life is good.

Up next? I'm here in Seattle for the next two weeks, hopefully with a a few cool outings, then on August 8th  I fly to Hawaii to visit my friends Nick and Ellen, who I traveled with in Cambodia and Thailand. Looking forward to it! Until next time folks.