Week 45.1: North Cascades National Park

As a day trip from our campground north of Seattle, we headed out to North Cascades National Park.  The park is situated northeast of the city, very close to the Canadian border, and all we can say is:  Wow.

North Cascades is a stunner.

North Cascades is somewhat unusual in that there isn’t all that much to do – the park is mostly undeveloped, save for a village servicing the hydroelectric dams and some hiking trails and overlooks.  We were there in early May, and as it happened, that was too early in the season even for most of the hiking trails.  (You’ll see why later.  Foreshadowing!)  So, although we love to hike at national parks, we just drove through and enjoyed the views.

Jack Kerouac once worked as a fire spotter at North Cascades for a few months, at the colorfully-named “Desolation Peak,” and we can see the appeal.  The views here are incredible.  The lakes are bright blue, colored by “rock flour” – stones ground to dust millennia ago by the weight of the glaciers.  Most have since retreated, but the park still holds many of the country’s glaciers.  In fact, in many ways, the park is like a less-developed version of Glacier National Park.

U.S. Route 20 runs through the park, and it had only just opened when we arrived.  We didn’t fully understand why until the road began to climb – and the snow piled up alongside us.  Soon, we were driving past massive snow banks, 10+ feet high, the road cutting sharply through the drifts.  In May.

We were wondering about the mammoth job required to clear the road, which can receive up to 40 feet of snow per year and is prone to massive avalanches.  However, when we reached the pass which marked the unofficial end of our scenic drive, we got to see it in action:  the road crews hadn’t quite finished with their snow removal.  The scenic overlook was completely snowed in, with two gigantic plows waiting to finish the job.

Of course, we had to get a picture.

Luckily, a fellow tourist alerted us to an alternative overlook a mile down the road, where we enjoyed a truly epic view.  North Cascades is definitely a “show, not tell,” kind of park, so we’ll leave the rest up to the pictures.

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Where are you now?  “Chicago,” which really means “an hour away from Chicago in Indiana.”

Next location?  TBD.

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Week 45: Seattle & Vancouver, Eh?

After an impressive showing by Olympic National Park – which earned a gold medal in “wettest national park” and a bronze in “most deserted” – we headed east to Seattle.  With a tour guide assist from a friend, the Emerald City turned out to be a pretty excellent place – as was Vancouver, its friendly neighbor to the north.

Pacific Northwest, you’ve got it going on.

Seattle’s Best

Since we were staying fairly far away from the city center, we decided to tour Seattle in one epic day, just as we did for other favorites like San Francisco and Savannah.  We started out early with some pastries from Pike Place, the famous fish market (it has lots of other types of shops as well), and then wandered around downtown for a bit, enjoying the quiet before the city woke up.  A particular favorite was the Olympic Sculpture Park.

We then tried to stop by the Space Needle, but sweet zombie Jesus it was crowded.  So we bailed, and made up for at an excellent overlook in a tiny city park.  In the background, you can even see the iconic Mt. Rainier.

Soon afterwards, we met up with Eliz, Jake’s old law school classmate, and her husband Rick.  Rick and Eliz graciously volunteered to give us a tour of Seattle, and just like our “local’s tour” in Los Angeles, it was fantastic.  There was some touristy stuff, like the Fremont Troll (located under a bridge, of course), but we also enjoyed just wandering around the neighborhood and a local marina.

The weather was beautiful, so we picnicked on the beach with awesome Cuban sandwiches and freshly shucked oysters.  Later, we headed to a brewery – one of, like, fifty in a four-block radius – and the superb Gas Works Park, created on the site of an old industrial building.  On such a nice weekend, the harbor was busy with boats and kayaks, but we watched in amazement as a Tailspin-style seaplane nonetheless landed on a tiny patch of open water directly in the center of all the activity.

This is apparently pretty common, but, man – gutsy maneuver, for everyone involved.

We finished the day off with some incredible sushi and a drink that was, essentially, alcoholic green tea.  Thanks for showing us an amazing time, guys!

International Suspension

Speaking of day trips to big cities, we decided to hit up Vancouver while we were “in the area,” i.e., about ninety minutes away.  This was actually our first time leaving the country on this road trip, despite being within spitting distance to Mexico in both El Paso and San Diego, but everything went smoothly.

Well, mostly smoothly.  We stopped in Vancouver’s Chinatown to eat lunch, but when we went to pay at the parking meter, we suddenly remembered that… Canada has its own currency.  Oh, right.  Coincidentally, all of our debit cards had just expired and we hadn’t yet received the replacements, so an ATM was out, and Heather ended up circling the block while Jake made a quick exchange at a local bank.

After lunch, we toured around downtown before checking out the Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park.  Stanley Park is a gorgeous area with a great view of the downtown skyline – a view that we got to see twice, since we totally missed the exit from the 15-minute, one-way scenic drive on our first attempt.

As we said… mostly smoothly.

Our final stop made up for all the mistakes.  Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is one of the coolest theme parks we’ve ever been to, because the theme is “trees.”  It’s set in an old-growth forest, and numerous elevated walkways stretch between the ancient giants.  It was a very fun place to explore, and we were happy to see that all of the bridges are secured by pressure-fit collars, so nothing harms the trees.

There was also a huge river gorge, crossed by the namesake Capilano Suspension Bridge.  It’s 450 feet long and pretty impressive in person – as well as, umm, bouncy.

Even cooler was the steel-and-glass Cliffwalk, a beautiful architectural marvel that made us gulp just a little bit, despite being hardened by previous cliffside hikes like Camelback Mountain and Pinnacles National Park.  Luckily for us, the bolts held firm, and we have to say: this was one of the coolest things we’ve done on this trip.

Natural Selections

There was plenty more in the Seattle area, including a visit to the spectacular North Cascades National Park – blog post coming next – and a pretty hike to a local waterfall.  (If you’re read our prior blog posts, you may have noticed that the Pacific Northwest is big on waterfalls.)  We’ve collected a few pictures from the hike below.

Before we sign off, we’d like to note for posterity that the drivers we encountered in the Seattle area were exceptionally great – polite, patient, and careful.  In other words, the complete opposite of drivers in NYC, Boston, and Los Angeles.  Thanks for restoring some hope for humanity, Seattlers!

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Where are you now?  Madison, Wisconsin, donating an unhealthy amount of blood to the local mosquito population.

Next location?  Chicago!  And then… somewhere.

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Week 44: Olympic National Park

We left Portland near the end of April, driving sadly away from the land of food trucks and fast Internet to the far northwest. We made slow time along small, curvy, quiet roads, until we reached our destination: Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The region is dominated by Olympic National Park, which fills the center of the broad peninsula with mountains, lakes, and rainforests.

It is stunningly beautiful.

Olympic is a wild place, yet. The forests feel ancient, like remnants of a more primitive time, and the waves crash onto the shore with fury. It won’t last – Seattle is not far, connected by large highways that will, in time, change the park irrevocably, smoothing the raw edges. The transition is inevitable. But right now, it still feels untamed, and we were thrilled to get to peek behind the curtain of civilization at the backdrop of the real, natural world.

It probably helped that it was the off-season.

Hoh Tell

The main draw at Olympic National Park is a scenic drive into the mountains at the heart of the park, particularly Mount Olympus. Unfortunately, because of snow and seasonal closings, that road was closed when were there, so you’ll have to wait until we get to the North Cascades to see some mountains. We did get to see something even cooler, though: the Hoh Rainforest, the wettest place in the continental United States.

Hoh is an epic forest. The trees are covered with moss, huge ropes and blankets of it, and everything is deeply, deeply green – not the bright, kelly green of spring, but something darker and more mysterious. Out of sight of the other visitors, it felt a little spooky.

It was also wet, of course. We spent a lot of time taking off and putting on our raincoats, as rain came in short, steady bursts that always ended just after we got everything out of our packs. We could have left our raincoats on, but it was warm and the humidity was impossibly high, making hiking while covered up very unpleasant.

That said, it was a pretty amazing place to walk around. Like Fern Canyon, it felt positively Jurassic.

As we were leaving, the ranger on duty mentioned we could see Mt. Olympus from the road on the way out. We were a little bummed that the scenic drive was closed, so we followed his directions: drive 17.2 from the visitor center, stand on the painted spot on the asphalt, and look northeast. Well, we dutifully reset out trip odometer, drove 17.2 miles, found the paint spot, and looked northeast, but… no mountain.

Oh well. At least we got to see a lot of moss.

Twilight Beach

On the way back from Hoh, we stopped at a “beach” on the Pacific coast. The scare quotes are because the waves are wicked and wild here, and instead of sand, the beach is littered with giant logs.

How do the logs get there? So glad you asked! They fall over somewhere, get swept down a river to the ocean, then the waves launch them onto shore during storms.  Like the equally wild Cape Perpetua in Oregon, it’s certainly striking, and hey – if you like to tan dangerously, this is the beach for you.

By the way, to get to the coast, we passed through the town of Forks, Washington.  The name sounded familiar, but we couldn’t quite put our finger on it. Then… we saw the sign, and it opened up our eyes.

Yes, Forks and nearby Three Rivers are the setting for the Twilight books and movies. In real life, there isn’t a lot going on – this is pretty remote country, almost as far north and west as you can possibly go in the continental United States. However, we did find the vampire / werewolf “treaty line,” along with a few scattered signs and banners that looked like they had seen better days.

Someday, when today’s tweens are older, this will be a nostalgic vacation getaway spot. For now, we’re sticking with Cabo – the vampire threat level is “high,” after all.


There was lots more to see at Olympic National Park, including the comely Crescent Lake. (Our thesaurus is running low on synonyms for “beautiful,” and we haven’t even hit Utah!) We passed by it every day on our drive, and every time, we just had to stop and take pictures.

We also hiked to Sol Duc Falls, a… pulchritudonous… waterfall with an unusual three-fall design. Looks man-made, but it isn’t (we hope!).

And speaking of threes, we actually thought we found Sol Duc about three times before we go to the real falls – there are a lot of waterfalls here!

Our final visit was to Port Angeles, the big city in this area. We got some great burritos from Little Devil’s Lunchbox (great name) and watched unimaginably giant barges float into the harbor, bound eventually for Seattle or Alaska or Japan or who knows where. The Pacific Northwest is pretty cool like that.  Then, it was on to Seattle.

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Where are you now?  Fargo, ND, home of… something, probably.  We’re just happy our Sprint hotspot works again.

Next location?  Bemidji, Minnesota, and the headwaters of the Mississippi.

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Week 43: Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is a pretty magical place, and the City of Roses immediately became one of our favorite cities. We had high expectations to start with, and it exceeded them all – at least, until it started raining.

PNW Fever

Hang on, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. We stayed in Portland for a while, by our standards (10 days), in no little part due to the fact that the RV park we stayed at had amazingly fast internet. For your wilderness-living correspondents, this was as exciting as having a chocolate fountain right outside our door.

Well, maybe not that exciting. But still, pretty exciting.

On top of the fast internet, the weather when we arrived in Portland was unusually beautiful – sunny, dry, mid-70 degree temperatures. The city itself is also very pretty – lots of trees, everywhere – so the whole experience was outrageously pleasant. In fact, on our first day in Portland, we saw a double rainbow in the grocery store parking lot.

We took advantage of the beautiful weather to scope out the city, and our love kept growing. There were delicious Voodoo Doughnuts, a waterfront market, food trucks as far as the eye could see, and the International Rose Test Garden – a testbed for experimental roses, free to stroll.  We were a little early for the roses, but the rhododendrons were in full bloom.

On top of the great weather, everyone in Portland is friendly and laid-back. It must be mentioned that they’re also a bit eccentric – along with Brooklyn, Portland is ground zero for modern hipsterism – but we got along well with everyone we met. As far as we’re concerned, the more handlebar mustaches in this world, the better.

We finally got our Honda Fit fixed, for real (previous issues chronicled here and here), and the friendly mechanic mentioned that the pervading worry in the town was about rising rent prices and the influx of professionals. “They’re trying to turn us into a real city,” he said, sadly.

Real city or not, there is an abundance of fun stuff to do in Portland. Our friends Autumn and Aaron happened to be visiting, along with their cute baby and Autumn’s parents, so we met up with them for lunch at the Deschutes brewery (yum).

Later, we headed to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (“OMSI”), an awesome museum featuring an exhibit on video games (!) with dozens and dozens of playable games (!!). Pretty sweet, but the permanent exhibit was equally cool, with “hands-on” science toys like a Van de Graaf machine, water-pressurized soda bottle rockets (Heather was good at those), a chemistry lab, a vertical wind tunnel for paper airplanes, a crazy kinetic sculpture, and much more.

Science is just the best, isn’t it?  The friendly and knowledgeable volunteers were even kind enough not to mention the fact that we were adults playing with exhibits clearly intended for children.

Oregon is Gorges

While staying in Portland, we explored the nearby Columbia River Gorge. A crucial but treacherous path to settlers on the Oregon Trail, the gorge cuts through a lush and mountainous region just north of Mount Hood. Years later, an excellent-but-narrow scenic drive was created that follows the river past numerous waterfalls. (Seriously, there are an unreasonable number of waterfalls here.)  Want to see some pictures? Of course you do.

At the end of our drive we hiked up the hill behind Multnomah Falls. It was a tough climb, but the half-dozen beautiful waterfalls and striking views of the gorge were well worth it. Jake was particularly enchanted with a section of trail that passed through a high forest, lit by late afternoon sunbeams filtering through the canopy overhead. It remains one of our favorite hikes.

The icing on the nature-cake was Multnomah Falls itself, a towering waterfall with a picturesque viewing bridge installed in front of it. After the quiet of the woods, it was tough to deal with the crowds at the base of the falls, but we can’t really blame them – this is one of the most scenic waterfalls in the country.  Selfie away!

The Hood

Our final visit in the Portland area was to Hood River, a small town to the east situated on the Columbia River gorge. It’s a town known for two things: its extreme sports activities, and its beer. We killed two birds with one stone by eating lunch on the patio at Full Sail Brewing, which overlooks the river.   While we feasted, we watched dozens of windsurfers swoop, glide, and even flip across the water, an intricate and endlessly fascinating dance.

Pretty amazing. We have to say, based on our visit, the Portland area truly seems like a great place. After three days of sunshine, we were ready to live there forever… and then there were about six straight days of cold, constant rain. It was a chilling reminder that Portland’s mild winters can still be, well, chilling.

So Portland might not be perfect – but it’s still on our post-trip shortlist.

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Where are you now?  The great and empty state of North Dakota, exploring some cool badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Next location?  Fargo, then Minneapolis, as we head east towards Chicago!

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Week 42: The Wild Oregon Coast

We left California for good in mid-April, headed towards Oregon, after having spent just shy of three months in the Golden State. We had a lot of great adventures in California, and we were pretty sad to leave.

That said, the gas in Oregon is extraordinarily cheaper than in California, which made things a little more palatable.  (Unsurprisingly, the RV uses a lot of gas.)  Speaking of palatable, our next stop was a quick 2 nights along the Oregon coast. After our last, redwoods-sized redwoods post, a bite-sized blog sounds just right.


The drive up the Oregon coast on Highway 101 was spectacular, winding along the Pacific Ocean. The area is definitely hilly, and we feared a white-knuckle drive, but Oregon turned out to be a very RV-friendly state. The grades and curves were relatively gentle, and there were plenty of pull-offs, offering scenic views and a respite from angry tailgaters. We probably saw more RVs per mile on this stretch than anywhere else in the country (except Quartzsite!).

We stopped along the way to our destination to visit the Prehistoric Gardens, a quirky roadside attraction of local fame. The turn into the Gardens was pretty white-knuckle, due to… let’s call it, “user error regarding the amount of braking required,” but it was all worth since we got to take selfies with 23 life-size dinosaurs.

At the time they were built, the displays and the statues were all scientifically accurate, which we appreciate.  Of course, since the oldest statues here were almost sixty years old, you won’t find anything about feathers or avian evolution here. Nonetheless, the whimsical coloring and beautiful foliage more than made up for it, and overall, it was an A+ roadside stop.

Quick Sand

After our visit to the Jurassic, we pulled into our campground at the awesome Jessie M. Honeyman State Park. This was about the sixth state park with RV spots we passed in 50 miles; as we said, it’s a very RV-friendly state. The next day, we started out by exploring a very surprising Oregon find: sand dunes!

We had no idea until we got there, but it turned out the whole southern Oregon coast features massive sand dunes, 80+ feet high! It seemed like every other place we passed offered dune buggy rentals or tours, but we kept things simple and just walked around the dunes behind our campsite. This pedestrian approach turned out to be rather exhausting, as the shifting sand made every climb three times harder than necessary, but we ended up with some awesome photos.

Guess all our practice in White Sands and Death Valley paid off.  Or did it…

Making Waves

The real reason we came to the Oregon coast was to visit Cape Perpetua, a narrow bit of coast with some unusual properties. The waves here crash hard, and they have eaten away at the rocky shore with spectacular results. There’s the Spouting Horn, a narrow crevice which launches water into the air with each wave:

Here’s a video of the Spouting Horn in action.  A few feet away is Thor’s Well, a literal hole in the ocean that fills and empties with the pounding surf.

Just a few hundred yards further is the Devil’s Churn, a long, narrow crack in the coastal rock.   Water enters and drains from the crack with each wave, as at Thor’s Well, but the result is far more explosive.

Pictures can’t possibly do it justice, so we took a video.  Unfortunately, the video doesn’t really do it justice either, so just imagine the world shaking with each wave!

If you’re curious, we visited Cape Perpetua just before high tide, as is recommended.  It was during a lull in a pretty fierce thunderstorm, so the waves were powerful. However, as we were photographing Thor’s Well, the wind started gusting, first lightly, then with increasing power. The lull was over, and the wind quickly ramped up towards gale-force.  In seconds, the entire place cleared out of people.

We wisely – and quickly – retreated to a nearby pub to watch the storm howl over the ocean.  Cape Perpetua is definitely an exciting place to visit, but we wouldn’t recommend going swimming.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  A little coffee shop in Rapid City, South Dakota.  The Black Hills are beautiful, but a little light on the Internet…

Next location?  Heading up north to Devil’s Tower, then Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota!

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Weeks 41-42: The Redwoods

After leaving behind beautiful Napa, we embarked on a two-week tour of the redwoods of Northern California.  During those two weeks we stayed in three different towns, visited 5 state and national parks, and had our minds blown too many times to count.  But rather than try to break it all down into a bunch of little blog posts (and because we’re hopelessly behind), we decided to just compile the whole thing here.

To put it another way that could not possibly be taken out of context, if you’re looking for pictures of big wood, you’ve come to the right place.

Obligatory Redwood Facts

Before we begin, we have to make clear:  redwoods are pretty much the coolest trees ever. We didn’t know that much about them before we went, but here’s what we learned.

1. “Coastal” redwoods are one of the two main types of redwoods (a third type was recently discovered in China). Compared to giant sequoias, their cousins from the Sierra Nevada mountains (we saw some at Yosemite), coastal redwoods are taller but thinner, their bark is a deeper red/brown, and they look more like normal, but huge, trees.  To make things a bit easier, if we say “redwoods” in this post, we are referring to coastal redwoods.

2. The oldest known redwood is about 2,200 years old, which means it was born before Julius Caesar.

3. Redwoods can grow to be nearly 400 feet tall and 30 feet wide! It takes centuries to grow so large.  The location and size of the largest trees ever found are intentionally kept hidden to prevent visitor damage.

4. Redwood bark contains chemicals which repels insects, including mosquitoes (!!). They are also incredibly resistant to fire and decay, and due to these properties and their immense size, it can take over 500 years for a fallen redwood to decompose.

5. Because they require very specific conditions, including huge amounts of water, coastal redwoods grow only in a thin strip along coastal California and southwest Oregon. They typically grow near rivers in areas that receive regular fog; these trees grow so tall that it is difficult to move water all the way up the trunk, which means starting the water halfway up (via fog condensation) is helpful.

6. Like giant sequoias, redwoods used to be found throughout the Pacific Northwest, but due to extensive logging, old-growth redwoods (the really big ones) can now be found only in state and national parks. Only 5% of the original trees remain.  We owe the fact that any redwoods exist at all primarily to dedicated conservationists, most notably the Save-The-Redwoods-League, founded in 1917.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park & the Avenue of the Giants

Chances are that if you’ve been to a redwood park, you’ve either been to Muir Woods near San Francisco – where the trees top out at “only” 260 feet – or you’ve driven the Avenue of the Giants.  The Avenue of the Giants is a 30 mile long scenic road that cuts directly through a huge, old-growth forest.  We stayed overnight in Stafford, at the northern end of the park, and only drove the last 10 miles – but it was spectacular.  In our opinion, this might be the best redwood park.

This was our campsite in Stafford, where we parked by the stump of an old growth redwood (with some new redwoods growing out of it). The stump dwarfed our RV.

After settling into our campsite, we headed to the Avenue of the Giants, and saw our first old-growth redwoods. We were blown away by their size and beauty.  Sadly, no picture can ever do them justice.  The groves we saw along the Avenue of the Giants were peaceful, quiet, and perfect – there is something indescribably serene about walking beneath the redwoods with nobody around.  The short hike we took through Rockefeller Grove was one of our favorites of all time, as was a random grove we visited along the side of the road.

There are some true skyscrapers to see.  Founders’ Grove contained some truly massive trees, including Founders’ Tree, at 346 feet high, and a fallen tree that was even larger.

Semi-fun fact! Humboldt Redwoods State Park was preserved when the Save-The-Redwoods League convinced John Rockefeller to donate two million dollars with a picnic in an old-growth grove in the park.  That grove is now known as Rockefeller Forest.

We drove out to the descriptive Big Tree Area, but it was located across the river from the parking lot, and the bridge had not yet been put up for the season.  Luckily, a fallen redwood provided a natural – and highly scenic – alternate crossing.

After hamming it up, we made our way across to Giant Tree, an incredible 363 feet high with a 53 feet circumference.

Giant Tree is most likely the biggest redwood we encountered on our travels, and it was extra-sweet because absolutely nobody else was around (or dared to walk the bridge).  The driving through Avenue of the Giants is also spectacular, not just on the main road, but especially on the Bull Creek Flats side road we took.  The road weaves carefully between giant trees, in places wide enough for just one car, while the branches form a vaulted cathedral ceiling overhead.  It’s pretty magical.

A Brief Civilization Interlude

After the Avenue of the Giants, we headed to the tiny town of Trinidad, California, just north of the larger towns of Eureka and Arcata.  Since it was the “shoulder season,” a term we recently learned, RV camping was wide-open, and we scored our cheapest spot ever… in a redwood forest! The extremely chill young woman at the RV park stacked some discounts for us, and our stay worked out to about $13 per night for a week.  (We later added one additional night, and a different, extremely un-chill woman yelled at us for having so many discounts and made us pay $40.  Boo!)

Speaking of chill, Arcata is probably the most hippified town we’ve ever been to.  We enjoy that sort of thing, but it does take a while to accomplish errands when every person in town appears to be stoned.  There was a lot of patchouli and slow-motion cashiering, which for these former NYC residents can be a little frustrating.  One fun anecdote: while we were waiting for our groceries to be bagged, a former employee of the grocery store was behind us in line, and the manager came over to say hi.  She then told him that he had left his watch at the store, and she had it in her office, where the watch alarm goes off at 2 p.m. every single day.  “I haven’t worked here for two years!” he said.

Yes, things move a little differently in northern California.  Unfortunately, it’s not always hella good.  We had high hopes for the town of Eureka, known for its Victorian architecture, but didn’t do much sightseeing since it was totally overrun by sketchy drifters.  We’ve noticed a lot of drifter-types on the West Coast in general (mild climate), but Eureka was in a class of its own.  We did get a few things fixed on our RV by an awesome service technician, but otherwise, we mostly stuck to the trees.

Prairie Creek State Park & Redwood National Park

Speaking of the trees, we visited Prairie Creek State Park and Redwood National Park, which are adjacent.  There’s tons to do, but but we focused on two hikes.  The first, within Redwood National Park, was a loop through some dense, green woods to a rare find: a waterfall within a redwood grove!  It was all quite pretty, although the moss-covered trees here were less memorable than elsewhere.

Prairie Creek was a little cooler.  We did a very long hike – around 12 miles – through the forest, stopping for a picnic at a beach on the Pacific Ocean.  Then, we hiked into Fern Canyon, a long, steep-sided canyon absolutely covered with ferns and moss.  It feels very prehistoric, and indeed, a scene from Jurassic Park II was filmed here!

But it was also extremely wet, and with the bridges not yet up for the season – a running theme – we had to step carefully as we crossed back and forth over the stream that runs through the canyon.  Jake’s hiking stick was invaluable for balance as we jumped between fallen branches and slippery rocks, and we made it in and almost all the way out – until a rock turned over on Jake, and he had to walk five miles back with soaking wet socks.

Semi-Fun Fact! Unusually, the 6 main redwood parks are operated jointly between the federal government and the state of California, which is why they’re called the “Redwood National and State Parks.” The only exception is Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which is run by California alone. The sixth park is Del Norte, which we never visited; it’s close to Jedidiah Smith State Park.

Soggy hosiery aside, this was a long but beautiful stroll through the redwoods.  Except for the areas right next to parking lots, we were all alone.  On the way back, we went more than four miles without seeing another soul.

The drive to and from the park is spectacular, although a little sad, as Highway 101 cuts a four-lane swath directly through pristine forests.  (While building it, they even tried to route the highway through the middle of several old-growth redwood groves – why??!)  In places, Highway 101 runs alongside the Pacific Ocean, as well as grassy green meadows full of wandering elk herds.  If you can overlook the wanton obliteration of nature required to create it, it’s definitely a drive worth doing.

Jedidiah Smith State Park

Our final redwoods trip was to Jedidiah Smith State Park, which sounds suspiciously like a place from the Simpsons.  We stayed in tiny Crescent City, California, right next to the ocean.  It was great, except for the nearby lighthouse, which made a loud “boop” every six seconds or so, all day, all night.



The redwoods themselves were great.  Jedidiah Smith is the least-developed of all the parks, requiring a bumpy drive along a dirt road through the forest to reach the biggest trees.  After seeing so many beautiful groves, it is easy to feel jaded, but the Endor-like forest and the mammoth Boy Scout Tree (5th picture in slideshow) amazed us anyway.

It’s really a bummer that redwoods grow in such a small part of the world, because they’re pretty awesome. The redwoods were #1 on Jake’s pre-roadtrip list of things to see, and they didn’t disappoint. It was a rare privilege to do so many redwood hikes, and not an experience we’ll forget.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Longmont, Colorado, beating the heat currently enveloping the Dakotas.

Next location?  The Badlands in southwestern South Dakota, and the numerous associated parks (including Mt. Rushmore!).

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Week 40: Ye Olde Napa

After exploring the breathtaking Yosemite National Park, we drove back northwest to Napa, California, and its famous wine country.  We’re not the biggest wine people, but we definitely enjoyed the beautiful countryside, and we had a few unexpected adventures along the way.

Bay Area Redux

Napa sits just north of San Francisco, and we realized once we got to Napa that we were as close to the Bay Area as we had been at our previous campground.  So, we made another trip into the city, where Jake had lunch with some former co-workers, and Heather ate by herself (her choice) at the amusingly-named “Breaking Bread.”  Afterwards, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, and tried to visit the Muir Woods redwood grove – but even on a random weekday afternoon, it was too full for us to park or enter.

Bummer!  You’ll have to wait until our next blog post for redwoods, but we did film a hyperlapse video of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. As nifty as it is black-barred!

Muir Woods was a bust, but we had better luck visiting Berkeley, California, where we wandered around the downtown area and grabbed some pizza from the locally-famous Cheese Board Collective.  We really enjoyed Berkeley – we’re suckers for hippie college towns – and the University of California-Berkeley campus was even prettier than we’d hoped it would be.

The Gothic Castle

As we mentioned, we aren’t particularly savvy wine-drinkers – our analysis is usually something along the lines of “hmm, tastes like wine” – but considering we were in Napa, we had to check out a winery.  Jake’s former co-worker Liz drove up from San Francisco to hang out, and we headed to Castello di Amorosa, an insanely authentic medieval castle that doubles as a winery.

We’re not kidding when we say “authentic.”  This castle is the real deal.  The details are pretty mind-blowing – here’s Wikipedia:

“Key details and building techniques are architecturally faithful to the 12th and 13th century time period. Among many other features it has: a moat; a drawbridge; defensive towers; an interior courtyard; a torture chamber; a chapel/church; a knights’ chamber; and a 72 by 30 feet (9.1 m) great hall with a 22-foot (6.7 m)-high coffered ceiling.

The torture chamber has an authentic 300-year-old iron maiden which Sattui states he bought for $13,000 in Pienza, Italy, a replica rack, prison chambers and other torture devices. The great hall features frescoes painted by two Italian artists who took about a year and a half to complete and showcases a 500-year-old fireplace.

The masonry, ironwork and woodwork was fashioned by hand using old world crafting techniques. Building materials included 8,000 tons of locally quarried stone, in addition to paving stones, terra cotta roofing tiles and some 850,000 bricks imported from Europe. Extending into the hillside adjacent to the castle lies a labyrinth of caves some 900 feet (270 m) in length. Beneath the castle are a 2-acre (8,100 m2) barrel cellar and tasting rooms where visitors can sample the wines-all sold only at the Castle.”

OK, it might be a tourist trap, but who cares?  It’s awesome and preposterous, the wine tasted like wine, and our server hooked us up with a free tasting of their expensive reserves.

Which also tasted like wine.

Blows, Goats

Speaking of tourist traps, after visiting the castle we stopped at the “Old Faithful Geyser of California.”  The name is a little aspirational – it does indeed have a geyser that blows regularly, but the volume can’t compare to the real Old Faithful.  Can’t blame them for trying, though, and the high-class cabanas they scattered around the geyser were a nice attempt.  That said, we don’t foresee “bottles, models, and blow” becoming a popular combination anytime soon.

Wait a second…

If we’re being honest, we only really stopped at the geyser because they also have a petting zoo with fainting goats, which freeze up and fall over when scared.  But it was pretty anticlimactic in person – we’ve seen videos that make them look adorable and easy-to-seize, but these goats definitely weren’t like that.  The adults mostly ignored our attempts to startle them; the babies would freeze, but mostly at random, and it was more disturbing than cute.  At least there were also some crazy rams, and we did enjoy the “guard llama” keeping watch over its flock.

Medieval Napa

The town of Napa is charming, with lots of classy shops and good food, although it’s extremely upscale.  We first visited the Oxbow Public Market for some beer, tacos, and fancy-people-watching.  The number of polo shirts was out of control.  Next, we headed to the nearby town of Yountville, which is even fancier.  Our destination was Addendum, the “cheap” fried chicken stand attached to Ad Hoc, a restaurant operated by the famed Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se).  Boxed fried chicken lunches were a mere $16.50 apiece, and we want to be angry about that, but we can’t because they were SO FREAKING AMAZINGLY GOOD.

We also spent a lot of time in our campground, Skyline Wilderness Park, which used to be a mental health asylum but has now been converted into a lovely park.  It’s huge and has an impressive collection of hiking trails, along with a beautiful native plant garden.  Astonishingly, the entire park has been run by volunteers since the 1970s.  It’s genuinely cool to see people so dedicated to nature and their community.

While we were staying at Skyline in their little RV park, we noticed a huge festival in the grassy field next door.  Turned out that the “March Crown” festival was being held at Skyline.  It’s basically a giant medieval style tournament, complete with swords, bows, armor, and a royal court – just like in the movie Role Models.

We walked over, expecting a Medieval Times-style festival, but this was a gathering of people deep into the life – there were no turkey legs to be had, unless you brought your own.  We were too late for the fighting, so there wasn’t much to do, and we felt a little uncomfortable just walking around and gawking at everyone in their medieval getups.  It might not be our thing, but it’s hard not to respect the level of effort people put in, and besides, who are we to judge someone else’s hobby when we live in a big metal box?

So we quietly left, and felt thankful we weren’t camping out in plate mail.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Near Bozeman, Montana, waiting on some RV repair work (boo).

Next location?  We’ll be spending a week at Glacier National Park with Jake’s family, in a rented house with real plumbing and no wheels!  Crazy.

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