The dawn came on with the same clarity of sky that the previous evening’s dusk had predicted. After a night up late sitting before a fire watching the starlight, I still managed to awake at first light, well before the sun rose, and packed up my gear and then aimed the car through the sparsely occupied campground on a route that would bring me to the Pacific ocean’s edge in the evening.
The clear sky, for me, is always a sign of joy, although it was well below freezing without the insulating layer of moisture to keep in the heat overnight. Before I left the high California desert that makes up most of Lava Beds National Monument, I wanted to make one final stop at Fleener Chimneys. These chimneys are similar to small splatter cones, and hundreds of years later the odd shapes of the ejaculated lava are strewn about the local landscape. I was held in fascination, albeit briefly, by the smallest lava tube I had ever seen. Although about six or seven feet across, the arch of basalt couldn’t have been more than six to eight inches thick and height perhaps only a foot or two. There was no way to explore this tube, but as a miniature of the others that I had seen it was precious in its diminutivness.
The Park Service has a small picnic area here, and this is were I ate a quick, cold breakfast. It was cold in the early sunlight, and it would be another hour or so before the spring warmth caressed the land. The golden shafted light poured across the broad valleys and lit up distant peaks now shining brightly with their fresh coating of snow from two nights previous. The desert landscape holds my grip, and I stare into the distant oblivion of the far horizon, my heart soaring like the raptors above. Soon, though, the chill begins to work its way into my physical body and I make for the comfort of my automobile where the climate controls will restore feeling to my numb fingers.
I drive north, towards the Oregon border. Oregon, a state I haven’t set foot in since the late Nineteen Eighties or perhaps the mid Nineteen Nineties (I don’t recall, exactly), beckons. I plan on deliberately going slightly out of my way just so I can briefly explore the Beaver State. However, before I am a mile down the road I am stopped again. This time it is to explore the Black Crater. Although I am anxious to see the coast and explore highways I haven’t previously driven I cannot resist the siren call that is this desert landscape studded with the geologically dynamic remnants of the cones, buttes and lava flows.
The crater has some evidence of ejecting the blobs of molten rock that are like so many small, lethal projectiles. However, there is more here than at Fleener Chimneys since this crater was also belching forth flows of lava. There are tree molds here and there, marking in time with fair accuracy when the hapless boles where surrounded by searing hot lava. The lava flowed around the trees and when the trunks burned the newly solidified rock left a ghostly impression. The lava, judging by the ripples left in the surface, was perhaps of the type that is referred to by geologists as pahoehoe lava. Pahoehoe is lava that is liquefied and flows easily and quickly, leaving a ropy texture once cooled. The Callahan Flow I had seen two afternoons earlier was made from the other major type of lava, called aa. Aa is chunky and doesn’t flow well, moving slowly although inexorably downhill.
For thirty minutes or so, I bounced around with a juvenile attitude, scrambling from rock to rock, careful not to shred myself on the still sharp edges of the relatively fresh lava rock. At times I am sure that anybody who had happened to come upon my revelry would have thought that it bordered on the puerile but I don’t necessarily believe that that, regressing to a more childlike state of awe, is such a bad thing.
After my brief interlude was completed, I sat down behind the steering wheel of the trusty Outback and drove north towards the Tule Lakes National Wildlife Refuge passing by the Devil’s Homestead Flow and Gillem Bluff. Taking the Hill Road north to California State Highway 161, I drove past the Visitor Center of the wildlife refuge and now wished that I had stopped if for nothing else than to spend a brief amount of time reading whatever interpretive displays might have been available. Directly west is the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and I can only imagine that the two combined are a birder’s paradise at the right time of year.
Reaching State Highway 161 I turned west and traveled over the narrow two-lane blacktop through rolling, open country, green despite the reputed lack of moisture in the region. Sad to leave Lava Beds National Monument, I was nonetheless happy to be moving on, seeking the western horizon and looking forward to seeing country that was new to me. I was enthralled, in my element and cruising along with scant effort beyond that being exerted by my right foot.
At the junction with U.S. 97 I turned north and in a few miles I officially crossed over into Oregon, a state whose name is almost as legendary, if not more so, than California. I didn’t remain on U.S. 97 long. Three miles into this state which I hadn’t seen in so many years, I turned onto a country road at Worden to take a short cut to Keno and Oregon State Highway 66. At Keno I stopped to gas up the tank of the car and, remembering days gone by, realized that there would be someone there to fill it up for me, as per state law. I wasn’t sure what to do with the person whose job it is to pump gas, what the social expectations might be. Do you chat? Stay in your car? Well, I got out to stretch my legs and since sirens didn’t wail nor the local militia get called out I suppose everything was all right. I think that the attendant was happy enough that this out-of-state rube at least had the common sense knowledge to not pump his own gas and he could go about his business without having to worry about me violating state law by having the audacity to fuel up my car without assistance.
State Highway 66 is a narrow and winding road that leads up to and over the crest of the Cascade Range, and through thick, dense forest. Part of this forest has been converted into the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument due to the incredible diversity of bird life found here. I didn’t see much of interest for the uneducated iterate tourist so I continued on, happy, at least, that there was a refuge for so many species of life.
Driving into Ashland, I stopped at the Wild Goose Cafe just after passing over Interstate 5. I had some marionberry pancakes that were a welcome pick-me-up after my cold breakfast some hours ago. Of course, I was really happy about the hot coffee that was repeatedly poured into my mug. A nice respite from the road and in no real hurry to zip along on the busy freeway I chose to follow old U.S. 99, most of which has been re-signed as Oregon State Highway 99, up to Grants Pass. I was amazed at the fecundity of the area; something that I had noticed as soon as I drove into Ashland. I have heard people talking about the Rogue River Valley before and why they like it and now I understand. I could live here contentedly and look forward to making another visit whenever the opportunity allows.
At Grants Pass I changed highways again and followed U.S. 199 southwest back into California, the Golden State. The day was starting to slip by, and I had a goal in mind so I didn’t stop and drove on; not particularly fast, but just steady. The scenery on both sides of the border is fine and I regret that I didn’t have more time to make one or two stops either in Oregon or along the Middle Fork of the Smith River in California.
At the terminus of U.S. 199 just north of Crescent City, California I turned south on U.S. 101 to begin the final leg of my journey to my natal home of Santa Rosa. After passing through downtown I stopped on the southern side of Crescent City at Fisherman’s Restaurant. A touristy type of place that I generally avoid, they were still serving breakfast in the middle of the afternoon, so at 3 p.m. I had a wonderful seafood omelet that satisfied a craving that I had had for weeks and could not satiate in Colorado, were I make my home. The waitress was especially pleasant and we talked about the ups and downs of the business and the plus side of shift work, as well as the down sides. All in all, a fine meal, large enough so that I knew I would only need to snack a bit for dinner tonight and that I wouldn’t need to cook.
I made another brief stop in Crescent City at the Information Center in downtown to purchase a map of Redwood National Park and then I was on my way south to my destination for the night at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. The park is actually an amalgamation of state and federal properties and this campground is part of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. That would explain the heavy fees needed to simply enjoy a night of camping. It set me back forty-two dollars, which seems a bit extreme, but given the budget woes that the state faces and the high demand for the campsites I suppose I am not surprised.
Pulling off of U.S. 101, I drove down narrow, unpaved Davison Road to the campground which is adjacent to the beach and under the bluffs of the same name that overlook the ocean. The road was in extremely poor shape and I was hardly the only person who felt that a bit of maintenance needed to be done. On the other hand, the folks that are here, like myself, must really want to be here.
It seemed like a hassle to drive all this way and pay so much for one short night to camp on the beach but ever since I saw this campground’s location months ago when I was planning this trip I knew that I wanted to spend a night here and had my heart set on it. My biggest worry was that it would be full, but that did not materialize and I pulled into a site where the roar of the ocean’s pounding surf in my front was tempered by the quietude of the redwood forest to my back.
I didn’t have much time to spare, now. It was late afternoon, and I still wanted to get a short hike in before the sun set. There is a trailhead by the campground and so I quickly set up camp for the night and immediately set out to explore the redwood forest. Already, it was dark under the canopy of tall, mighty redwood trees. After the last many days spent in and traversing the desert, this jungle, one that soaks up all sound as well as moisture, was a complete change of seasons for me. Not only the magnitude of the awe-inspiring trees but all the life found here was refreshingly damp. I especially enjoyed seeing the large, white trillium growing, a flower that I had not seen in fifteen years since I lived briefly in Idaho.
It didn’t take long for me to get inland enough so that the white noise from the breakers was replaced with a pervading silence. This silence is somehow different from that found in the desert or the Rocky Mountains. There, there is just no noise; here, it is as if the noise might be there but somehow has been muffled or soaked up. I also passed a small sign notifying me that I had just left the tsunami zone, something that I had not previously considered when deciding that I would spend the night near the waves.
I climbed the Miners Ridge Trail and then took the Clintonia Trail over a small summit to pass into Home Creek from the unnamed drainage that I had used to exit the beach. At Home Creek itself, once descended from the dividing ridge, I turned downstream on the James Irvine Trail and made my way back to the beach, where I had a mile plus walk to get back to the campground. The well maintained trails allowed for a freedom of movement that gave me an opportunity to enjoy the pristine nature growing abundantly in all directions. I was, however, in a hurry since I wanted to make it to the beach before the sun set. Hurry or not, I wasn’t hasty to the point of neglecting the splendid beauty all around, including the old, moss covered bridges set across some of the deeper waterways.
I do love my mountain sunsets, but I have to say that watching the sun pass beneath the horizon of the Pacific Ocean is something that I never tire of. As I descended to the outlet of Home Creek, here named Fern Canyon for obvious reasons, I was rewarded with the late evening sun’s light pouring golden shafted rays of illumination through the forest. The trees were back-lit in such a way as to sear the image in my mind, a beauty to be found only in the place at this time.
I crossed out of the forest and my hike back to the campground was spent with my neck craned to the west to watch the setting orb bestir the clouds with radiance. The haze from the ocean was lit up as well and the whole put together was a sublime feast for the senses that can barely be described by my poor use of the English language. Despite the oncoming darkness and my general unfamiliarity of the area, I couldn’t help but stop, bemused and enthralled, to watch the crepuscular spectacle unfold all the while the constant noise from the surf reminding me of the inherent dynamism found at the ocean’s edge.
Reaching the campground, I made my way out onto the beach to catch the last bits of light before night took over completely. The soft, malleable sand made way for my butt and a perfect observation post was instantly created once I sat down. Once night did come to stay for good the sky became illuminated again, but this time with the soft starlight that draws my vision to the heavens as if I were a moth seeking a porch light. While distinctly earthbound in my physical body, my soul soared like the proverbial moth and fluttered about the various constellations, visiting each in their turn and wondering just what the hell it was all about.
There came a point were the demands of my physical body became paramount and the breeze off the ocean was surprisingly chilly, so with one last pass around the heavens, I bid the world, our solar system, the galaxy and the universe in general good tidings and went to find comfort in my shelter, hoping that in the even of a tsunami some good soul would wake me in time so I could make a mad dash to higher ground. There wasn’t any real reason to worry, as I had already used an overabundance of caution and plotted out my escape route. Once again, I found myself mocking myself that I was so important that gigantic waves would sweep across this beach on the night that I happened to be here, just like my worries a couple days ago that I would be the sole victim of one of the lava tubes collapsing. Those thoughts were soon shunted aside and the constant noise from the crashing breakers soon had me sleeping deeply and contentedly, a heavenly repose from the worries that occupy the conscious mind.