Fort Bragg – California

I feel like Mario Andretti after the roads we were on today, and I never went over the speed limit. I’ve been known to hustle a car down a back road or two, and even Fritz can outrun some of the so-called boy racers, but not with three thousand pounds of dead weight hanging off of the tailgate.

You probably have seen those yellow advisory signs that suggest the safe cornering speeds so trucks won’t shift their load and fall over. I’ve never seen one before today that had 10 mph signs. On the Pacific Coast Highway (Cal 1), there were at lest a half-dozen curves like that and a matching number of 15 mph. I had the cruise control set for 30, and even that was too fast at times.

The day started off normal when we left Eureka on the 101, which is a freeway sometimes and a two lane road when it’s not. Thirty-five miles out, we got off the freeway to take the Avenue of the Giants, a side road that goes through the groves of large redwood trees in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It’s a twenty-eight mile road that weaves it way through the large trees, and it feels like they didn’t remove any to pave the road.

Avenue of the Giants
The Avenue of the Giants is a side road that weaves its way through groves of old growth redwoods. The road is intimidating because the huge trees are at the edge of the road.

The monster trees stand at the roads edge, and in a couple of places, the roots lift the pavement. The road’s posted speed limit is 55, but even at 40, it feels like you’re driving down the Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight at 235 mph (I honestly don’t know what that feels like either). The trees are so close that they pass by as flickers and the dappled light coming in through the crown exaggerates the sensation. It’s a good thing that you have to stop and take pictures every so often.

Anne Lost in the Redwoods
Anne takes in the grandeur of the ancient trees. Some of the larger specimens life span exceeds a millennia. Contrary to what’s Anne’s baby sister’s birthday card said, Anne did not plant them.

We traveled another thirty miles to Leggett, then turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway. Leggett is the town where you can drive your car through a living redwood tree. Since The Ritz is too tall to fit through the opening, we didn’t bother trying.

It was this section of the PCH that was demanding. The road climbed up a mountain ridge then descended into a small valley, then up a second ridge before it dumped us on the coast. We watched the mirrors constantly, so we could let traffic by, but we only had to pull over once.

Lost Coast South End
From this overlook to just south of Eureka, is the only section of California without highway access.

When we reached the ocean, we stopped to take in the view. This stretch of the California coast between where we stopped and north to Eureka is road-less. It’s called The Lost Coast, and if you want to see it, you have to go by sea or foot. While I’m dealing out trivia, it also has the western most point of land in the lower 48 states.

We’re going to rest here for another day and see what kind of trouble we can cause. After that we’ll head down into Northern California wine country, and pick up a couple of samples for our growing collection. After that, we have to avoid San Francisco. If I thought today’s roads were challenging, I certainly don’t want to drag The Ritz down Lombard Street.


Ferndale Tonight – California

Today, I shot enough gingerbread houses to make my teeth hurt. We spent time walking around Old Town Eureka, which has a good collection of buildings from that period. That wasn’t enough. Fifteen miles down the road is Ferndale, with even more Victorian style buildings. After a half day of ornate buildings, I had to drive out into the countryside to shoot an unpainted barn to balance my senses.

Carson Mansion
If you bought a piece of redwood lumber in the 19th Century, this man cut the timbers.

Today’s weather was cool and overcast, as it is often along the northern coast of California. It’s not cloudy in the normal sense, it’s more of a fog that’s a couple hundred feet in the air. If you drive up any substantial hill, you’ll be in the clouds, and then looking down on them soon after that. It’s all due to the Humboldt Current (which is too long of a story for this blog).

For those of you that are unaware, I confess to being a ‘foodie’. I like to try new foods (to an extent). Since I like to cook, I try to recreate tastes that I like in my kitchen. I’m not a trained chef, but I’m an avid Food Network watcher, and I’ve seen every Dinners Drive Inns and Dives (Triple D) a couple of times. With that in mind, it surprised me to learn that the host, Guy Fieri is from Ferndale and worked at a couple of local restaurants before flying off to Europe for training. I learned all of this by reading an article pasted in the local paper’s window. Wow.

Ferndale Meat Company
This is one of the restaurants that Guy Fieri apprenticed at before running off to Europe for culinary training.

On our trips, we try to look up good places to have dinner. In Eureka, it’s obvious that the younger generation are more adept at online reviewing. The local brew house was the number one choice, while the seafood restaurant we ate at last night was down on the list. I’m sorry to disagree, but burgers and wings in a loud atmosphere don’t trump linen and superior seafood and immaculate service.

Not A Victorian House
Aackl! I just needed to photographer something that wasn’t painted in six colors.

Tomorrow we’re on the move again, this time to Fort Bragg. Or as I like to call it, the poor man’s Mendocino. It’s not that far of a drive, but we’ll likely spend a lot of time in the giant redwoods we’ll be driving through. Only the Sequoia’s in the Sierra’s are larger. I really want to take some time to capture their grandeur for you.


Eureka – California

What a  difference a day and one hundred sixty-four miles makes. Yesterday we were complaining about the heat in Oregon and this evening, I’m wearing a sweater. That’s because we’re on the northern California coast, where the low clouds have kept the temperature below 70° today. That is, as long as we stay along the shore, if you go a mile inland, the temperature soars.

The drive from Oregon was a bit more challenging than yesterday’s. We were on a twisty two lane road that had several construction zones, so we didn’t make very good time. I told Anne that the drive would be a lot more fun if we had Betty White; our other car.

Once we crossed the state line, we soon picked up US 101, a road that we’ll follow south along the coast until we head east sometime next week. The Redwood Highway is what they call this section of the 101, and for good reason. The road would skirt the beach for a while before having to turn inland to get around a mountain. As the road climbed into the clouds, we would be in dense redwood forests. The trees were beautiful, being both thick and tall. They were so thick, the automatic headlights would turn on.

Fritz in the Redwoods
A couple of times along this section of road, we entered the Redwoods National Park, where the trees were so dense, the lights would automatically come on.

I don’t remember exactly where, but the road dropped into a small town in a glade, and there was one of those signs warning about elk. Only this time, they were there. Fritz tripped the ten-thousand mile mark yesterday and he’s taken us through seven states and four Canadian Provinces. Finally in the last state, in the last week of our travels before returning to Arizona, we got to see a big herd of wild animals along the road.

Elk Along The Highway
After three months on the road, we finally got to see a large herd of wild animals.

Shortly after leaving the elk, the road made its way back to the shore, and I stopped to take a shot of some off-shore rocks. We pulled in behind a parked truck. The woman in the passenger’s seat rolled down the window so that she could tell us about the dolphins. Anne got out of the truck and we watched for a while suspecting that we missed them. After scanning the water, I saw one break the surface for a breath then watched as its dorsal fin went out of sight.  I pointed in its direction and blurted, “There!” It took another minute before she saw one too. Then there were two, three and soon they were everywhere. In all, I think there was a school of a dozen or more working the small bay in front of us. They were too far out and only briefly broke the surface to get a good shot of them, so I didn’t try. We watched as long as we could before having to get back on the road.

Pacific Coast
We stopped to get a shot of the rocks off shore. As we watched, we spotted a school of dolphin swimming in the small bay.

We made Eureka by mid afternoon and set up camp. We needed to make a Costco run for provisions, which was on the other side of town. As we drove along the highway, we got a sneak peek at some Victorian homes, so that’s what’s on our agenda tomorrow. For now, I see the temperature has already dropped below 60°, so we have to put the comforter back on the bed to keep warm tonight.


Grants Pass – Oregon

Our trip today took us up the Willamette Valley into the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon to Grants Pass (how do you have a possessive noun without an apostrophe?). A town in the mountains . . . sounds wonderful doesn’t it? In Silverton yesterday, the highs were in the 80’s and the lows in the 50’s. As we set up camp, I glanced at the thermometer, and the temperature was 104°. Compare that with the high in Congress today, which was 93°. What’s wrong with this picture?

Our drive was pleasant as we  followed the Willamette River to its headwaters. South of Eugene, the rolling farm-land gave way to a low mountain range. We played tag with the trailer trucks, passing them on the up-grades and they’d return the favor on the down-hill runs. We had the cruise set at five miles over their speed limit, so they shouldn’t have been able to do that. For a moment I thought about calling the 800 number posted on the trailers and report their speeding, just for something to do, but that would have spoiled the drive. Besides, I would have had to wake Anne.

I noticed today that the great raptors circling in the sky are no longer eagles. They’re turkey buzzards, just like we have at home. They seem pinned to the sky, never moving their wings. I wonder why their arms don’t get tired.

We made the two hundred mile journey to Grants Pass in less than five hours. As I said, we were poking along, enjoying the ride. Because we got here during the heat of the day, we had to move all the new wine bottles out of Fritz and into The Ritz, where we could keep them air-conditioned. I’m afraid that will become a daily routine until we get home next week.

After the heat broke, we searched for a place to have dinner. We found a nice one called River’s Edge. It’s an upscale restaurant perched above a riffle on the Rouge River. The first thing you see in the entrance is a ginormous painting of a fly fisherman making an impossible cast. Still it was romantic in a River Runs Through It sort of way.

From the Deck at the River's Edge
I found it impossible to concentrate on dinner, when the river called to me.

We had a very good meal, but while we sat there, I wanted to go get my fly rod out of the truck. That river called to me. “Fish me! Fish me!” It was the haunting voice of the Goddess of Fly Fishing (maybe we should have a contest to give her a pseudo mythological name). Anne kept gushing on about how romantic it was, and I kept looking for steel-head in the riffle.

We left just after the bus came in. Two large tables were reserved for a group of octogenarian on the lowest deck. They walked through the door with canes and walkers. The restaurant didn’t have access ramps, so they struggled down the stairs clutching at the railing and each other. They certainly had the best seat in the house, and undoubtedly an excellent dinner, still . . .

Blue Bear in Grants Pass
A sculptor of a blue bear reading a fairy tale to its cub. Is that a Goldilocks tattoo on her chest? “Eat my porridge will you?”

On the way back to camp, we stopped in downtown so I could take some snaps. Bear sculptures decorate downtown Grants Pass. That surprised me, because after Alaska, how could there be any bears around this much civilization. All of California’s grizzlies were wiped out by 1855. The statues are artists interpretations as each was different. There weren’t any plaques explaining their existence or meaning, just the artist’s name.

Hotel Josephine
The Redwoods Hotel with a mural of the original Hotel Josephine painted on its wall. The five-story structure was an addition to the original which suffered a fire and was torn down. Now the original hotel lives on as a mural on the side of the addition.

Tomorrow we’ll take the Redwood Highway to Eureka, where we will spend a couple of days. We read that there is a walking tour of the Victorian Era homes available, so that has Anne excited. As you already know, I love to shoot old buildings, so I’m looking forward to it too. Maybe it will be cooler down by the Pacific.

Rogue Theater
The Rogue theater was converted from a movie theater to live performances. In addition to the bill on the marquee, Iris DeMent is coming in October.


Willamette Valley – Oregon

I want a job where my sole responsibility is visiting wineries and tasting the varietals they offer. I think I’d be good at it, and I promise I wouldn’t spit anything out. Who am I kidding? Like any job, it would be a drag after a while, but it would be fun until my liver gave out.

That’s how Queen Anne and I spent the afternoon, and ‘they learned us’ a thing or two about Oregon wines. Most of the wineries in the state are in the Willamette Valley, a broad river valley that stretches from Eugene to Portland. The west flank has a low coastal range of mountains and the Cascades separate the valley from the high deserts to the east.

View From Erath Vinyards
The four tasting rooms we visited were an area known as the Dundee Hills. Although we stuck to four, we could have easily worked the area for a week.

What grows well here is the Pinot Noir grape, because of the weather and the soils. When you visit a tasting room, you may sample one of these or one of those, but a half-dozen Pinots. Two of the four places we visited had two bottles of the same wine, but only the vine location or the year set them apart. Although they had the same general taste, their personalities were distinct. Choosing which to buy was a matter of personal preference, both were excellent bottles of wine.

Willamette Farm House
There are gobs of photogenic things to shoot in the Willamette Valley. In this case it was an abandoned farm-house along the back-road.

Another fun thing about visiting tasting rooms is the presentations. The large vintners have lavish gardens and a showroom full of ancillary things for sale. The smaller growers may only have a room at the back of the farm-house. Production size is not a good indicator of the quality. The better known labels do offer bottles not available in . . . say, Costco. They have labels marked ‘Reserve’ or ‘Private Reserve’ which are low volume hand crafted wines. Our experience has been that these bottles are substantially better than what you would buy off the shelf.

Pine Grove
Only in New Zealand have I seen crop forests planted as dense as here. It’s so dark inside the grove, I wouldn’t be able to shoot without a tripod.

So much for the fun part . . . back to work. Tomorrow we will be on the move again. This time to Grant’s Pass in southern Oregon. We’re only going to stop for a night and the next day we will head to the coast and Eureka, California. Anne and I never actually visited the town, although we stayed nearby. We’re excited to check it out.


Silverton – Oregon

Capital Theater
Sunday evening, we went to Yakima’s old town to find a place for dinner. As we sat at our table, I noticed this theater across the street and went outside to shoot it and particularly, the restored painted sign on its side. Since it was cloudy out, the shot came out OK, but bland. When we finished dinner, the sun dropped below the cloud’s edge and lit the place up, so I decided to re-shoot the scene. However this time there was a group of young women doing a photo shoot of their own, so I included them into my composition.

After a wonderful day of sampling Washington wines yesterday, we continued on our journey south this morning. Our route took us down the east side of the Cascades till we reached the Columbia River. After crossing the bridge into Oregon, we drove through the ever windy Columbia Gorge, where even on a Monday, there were plenty of wind surfers skimming the white-capped river. Then, just short of Portland we turned south through the Willamette Valley.

Hydro-Electrical Dam on the Columbia River.
There are several dams along the Columbia River that produce gobs of electricity. Although they cause their fair share of ecological problems, it was the power these dams generated that made it possible to produce aluminum on an industrial scale. Aircraft industry used that aluminum to build the planes that helped the allies win WWII.

We’ve stopped in Silverton, a place we’ve visited before more than a fifteen years ago. It’s a couple of miles north of the 45th Parallel; the halfway line between the north pole and the equator. When we were last here, Silverton’s downtown was a cluster of empty historic buildings waiting for re-purposing. Now, they’re filled with boutiques, restaurants, and antique shops. It was fun to walk the couple of blocks trying to find someplace for dinner, but it was Monday, and most of the businesses were closed.

Downtown Silverton
An example of the carefully restored buildings in Silverton.

We chose Silverton because it’s a convenient base for exploring the vineyards of the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s wine country. It’s going to be a rough day tomorrow, because we have to sit down and whittle the list of stops down to six. That seems a good number for us to taste without getting our taste buds confused.

Sllverton Mural
A new mural is being painted on a blank wall of a Silverton Building.

After we leave here on Wednesday, we’ll head toward south Oregon then make our way over to the Pacific Coast. We want to spend some time along the coast before we go through the Sonoma/Napa Valleys. As much as we’d like to add some of those bottles to our collection, they may be out of our budget. There’s no harm in finding out, is there?


Yakima – Washington

It felt good to leave the Seattle noise and traffic behind today. The weather was sunny and dry with highs near 90, but the evenings cooled down enough to sleep with the windows open. If you like to have background noise while falling asleep, the Seattle freeways do a great job of providing that.

This morning we climbed over the Cascades to get to Yakima. This section of road kept confusing my senses. It never felt like we were going up a steep grade. Several times, I thought we were going downhill, but the big trucks were lumbering in the slow lane and my mileage gauge kept going down.

The west side has dense forest with lots of lakes and streams. The tall trees on either side of the highway acted like horse blinders hiding everything behind them. The only clue that we were in the mountains was what little we could see of them through the front window.

Finally we reached the pass at West Summit, and began descending into the Columbia Basin and the northern reaches of the Great Basin Desert. Instead of dark green conifer trees, tawny low sage brush the terrain cover the terrain, and the views open in all directions.

As we drove through one curve, a great snow-capped volcano crowning the Cascades appeared in front of us. “Is that Rainier?” “No it can’t be, because it should be to the east of us.” Then a second one came into view to the right, “Which is that one?” “Don’t know!” Just then we passed a sign with two arrows and mountain names. It was like they knew what we were talking about. Rainier was on the right and Mount Adams was in front of us.

We left Interstate 90 at Ellensburg and picked up 82 south. We crossed another range of low hills that would make any Nevadan or Arizonan feel at home. After reaching the top, the road dropped into the Columbia Basin and Yakima. I wondered how they could grow crops here until we crossed the Yakima River. Duh! Apple orchards, hop vines and row after row of grape vines lined each side of the road.

Yakima Barn
An old barn along the Yakima Highway

The agriculture corridor runs along the Yakima River for about sixty miles and there are maybe a hundred wineries we could try if we wanted to go blind. We got into camp early enough that we had time to stop at a couple of nearby tasting rooms. I’m pleasantly surprised at how nice their red wines taste. We picked up a couple of bottles and got some recommendations for tomorrow. It’s been our experience that stopping at each vineyard along the road isn’t productive, because our taste buds get confused.

Yakima BBQ
A historic downtown Yakima building is a place for local BBQ.

On the way back to camp, we drove through old town. As you know, I love to shoot historic old buildings and I suspected that I might find some here. I was right, and I may have to get out early to shoot more in the morning. Some of the buildings have trendy restaurants, so it looks like coming here was a good choice all around.

Commercial Saloon
I love finding old painted signs on brick buildings and I think they should be preserved.