Category Archives: landscape

The Oregon Coast – through pandemic and smoke

It’s been a long, difficult and challenging year, but we finally got around to dusting off the trailer for a trip to the Oregon coast. Our spring term at the university was all online during the pandemic, teaching large lecture classes and thesis studios (with up to 30 hours per week on Zoom).  After we revived from our post-spring term collapse, a lot of time this summer was taken up enabling summer living here – this was  our first summer in Eugene in 15 years, after selling the house we built on Whidbey Island last summer.  We built large cedar-framed screened panels and doors, outdoor furniture, caught up on a backlog of yard work, and established a plot at a community garden that fed us all summer.  The outdoor living allowed us to resume some socializing, with our ATTV (all-terrain television) supporting socially-distanced movie nights with friends.But as summer began to wane, we realized it was our first summer ever without being by the ocean.  The reported day-tripping crowds to the Oregon coast had kept us home during the pandemic, but as the forecast for the week after Labor Day was for temperatures reaching 100º for the third time this summer, we made some reservations at Oregon state parks, and took off.  Oregonians are not notably gregarious, and we figured we could stay in our own bubble if we were camping.

We plotted our route north from Eugene on Territorial and other minor roads, tight up against the Coastal Range on the west side of the Willamette Valley.  It was a beautiful drive on a sunny Labor Day, through farmland and small towns until Dallas, where we turned onto Route 22 through the mountains to the coast. Our destination was Cape Lookout, one of a series of rocky capes that project out into the Pacific – this one about 2 miles.  We stayed in a wonderful campground in the trees just behind the dunes, with a beautiful beach right there for walks along the Netarts Spit..This might be a good point to explain the repetitive elements and nomenclature of the Oregon Coast to those who haven’t been there.  There are a few basic classes of things:  cities & towns, rivers, capes, bays, beaches, spits, and rocks.  Each of these is named independently, usually without any reference to adjacent things in other classes, and in keeping with the general Oregon practice of having three different names for any given place, just to confuse things.  For example, if you are going to a popular destination north of Florence, you might say you were going to Heceta Head (cape, lighthouse and scenic viewpoint), or Cape Creek (river, bridge and cove), which constitute the substance of Devil’s Elbow State Park.  No matter what you called it, you would be at exactly the same place.  (And I honestly don’t know what the big rocks just offshore are named.)  To be fair, the bays and spits at the ends of rivers usually have the same name as the rivers, but it is never the same as the city that is situated at the mouth.  A state park in the same locale might allude to any one of these reference points, or something totally different.

What the Oregon Coast might lack in clarity, it makes up for in beauty and access.  Governor Oswald West got the legislature to declare the whole length of state beaches a public highway in 1913, and challenges to this were clarified by Tom McCall and the legislature in the Oregon Beach Bill of 1967, which established the state’s claim to all wet sand within 16 vertical feet of the low water line.  So while you may head to specific, named destinations, you can also just pull off the road wherever you want and walk on the beach.

While sitting outside that night, we suddenly felt a gust of hot wind, something we’d never before experienced on the Oregon coast.  We thought the first was a fluke, but then it was followed by another and another.  The wind picked up dramatically, with gusts up to 57 mph until 10:26, when the power went out and anemometer died.  We lay in the trailer listening to branches and debris bouncing off the roof, once again glad we weren’t in a tent.  In the morning I started Greta off on a solo hike from the beach to the beginning of the Cape Lookout trail, planning to drive to that trailhead and join her if I could (while favoring a bad knee and a sprained ankle).  She had a nice hike for a while through the woods,
with intermittent views back towards the Netarts Spitbut then she ran into so many downed tress that the path was obliterated.  We waited for her at the trailhead (annoying the rangers who had closed the whole area due to the windstorm), and eventually we drove back down the road, finding her hiking up, after bushwhacking off the trail.

Since hiking in the woods was off the agenda, we went back to the beach, where we saw what was following the wind:  a huge cloud of smoke moving in from the east.We knew there had been some fires east of Salem in the Cascades, but being out of cell and radio range, we had no idea that all of these fires had been supercharged by the unusual winds from across the Cascades the night before.  We enjoyed the blue sky, not knowing that it was the last one we would see for weeks.

We turned north to Tillamook, home of the famous dairy whose cheddar cheese we calculated we had eaten at least a half-ton of in the past 20 years.  Outside of the town is the Tillamook Air Museum, housed in the largest wooden building in the world, a former blimp hangar from WWII.The building is spectacular – an arched vault made up of wooden trusses, with a scale comparable to sports arenas.This building had a twin, but it burnt down in 1992;  they were using it to store hay.  But now they are probably more careful, and it contains a variety of military and civilian aircraft.
It’s a pretty eclectic collection, probably largely based on gifts.  What we really enjoyed beyond the aircraft was the random assortment of other items – tractors, cars, train engines, stored RVs, etc.  It reminded me of the Large Object Collection in Liverpool;  Liverpool had saved all this cool stuff, but at some point realized that they were never going to have the money to build a new museum, whereas they had lots of abandoned warehouses.  So they simply put everything in a series of buildings, with minimal attention paid to display and design – just let the objects speak for the themselves.  Tillamook does the same admirably.We emerged into air whose quality had degraded rapidly, and drove south on 101.  Familiar views took on a surreal quality. At Lincoln City the traffic was strangely bad, with the right lane often blocked as cars lined up at gas stations.  We later learned that a fire had ignited outside of town, and people were getting ready to evacuate if necessary.  But we continued on our oblivious way to the Beverly Beach campground, where they were clearing away the downed trees from the night before, and the sky took on what was to become a familiar, apocalyptic glow. The next day dawned even darker, and all the prominent viewpoints were blank.  We spent our time at the points that offered smaller scale, closer-up experiences, such as Otter Rock (also know as Devil’s Punchbowl.  Devil’s ____ is a favored naming convention on the coast). It was surreal, like being trapped in a photo album of 19th century tourist sepias.  Between the demands of social distancing, and the general eeriness of the day, we avoided the inhabited areas as much as possible, sticking to beaches and campgrounds.  Yaquina Head was devoid of other tourists, and we had it all to ourselves (along with the flies).On Wednesday afternoon we first heard of the Holiday Farm fire centered on the McKenzie valley just east of Eugene.  It had grown to over 200 square miles in the two days since it started on Monday evening.  We considered heading home immediately, but realized there was little we could really expect to do, that the heat and smoke would be worse in Eugene, and that we would either be homebound or evacuating in the near future, so we might as well stay one more night.  We walked on Agate Beach, ate clams in Waldport, and spent the night at the Beachside State Recreation area, where we slept 100 feet from the beach, and listened to the surf through the night.

The next day we found Eugene to be a smoky ghost town.  The air quality index was over 500, and no one was outdoors.  With fires sweeping the whole West Coast, there was nowhere near the number of firefighters that would be expected at such a huge fire – just around 200 for the first few days.  Up and down the Willamette Valley over 40,000 refugees from the mountains and small towns have fled into the cities, where a remarkable volunteer effort has sprung up, affording the evacuees (and often their animals) necessary supplies and  places to stay.  The winds have died down and shifted towards the west, rain is expected later in the week, and the immediate threat of the fires (over a million acres just in Oregon) spreading further into the Willamette Valley has abated.  People are staying inside, glued to the news and social media. weathering the latest of what has been an unrelenting string of disasters of all kinds this year.  We’re all saddened by the tremendous losses of our fellow Oregonians, and grateful for the heroic efforts of our firefighters.

As we reflect on our only camping trip of the year – and what may be the last camping trip we take as a family – it seems highly emblematic of 2020 in general – not at all what we expected or hoped it would be, but less bad than any other option.  We’re glad we caught the last days of what has been a beautiful summer, and we’re holding on to these memories to get us through what’s coming this fall.  Stay safe, everyone.

Tuesday

Wednesday

Sunday

Roadside attractions

No road trip can be documented without its requisite amount of roadside attractions, kitsch, and oddities. Although it doesn’t rise to the level of South Dakota, the inland Northwest does have its share.

The first tipoff was the town of Wauconda.  Besides its obvious Black Panther references, the town was mainly interesting for its sole commercial enterprise, the Wauconda Café, which was defunct.  

Glacier did provide some opportunities for selfie documentation, but nothing on the order of Bryce, or Niagara Falls.

Our campground at Fish Creek mainly had Southerners with huge RVs, but there was some attractive retro glamping. 

We came across an interestingly accessorized car at Lake McDonald.  From the bumper stickers we could tell they were National Park aficionados, but their dashboard totems most reminded me of my grandparents’ dashboard, which had an assortment of crucifixes, BVMs, and action figures of the saints.  This dash seemed more attuned to the secularized (perhaps pagan) tendencies of our pantheistic age. 

The rear window revealed these molded constructions., which we guessed were molded clay representations of iconic topographic features that were of special significance to the owners. It was lovely.

We couldn’t discern the cause of this remarkably twisted tree, but we think it might be used by one of our colleagues in a lecture to illustrate the concept of torque.

At a couple of points on our hikes, we came around a curve to encounter a rapt hiker, staring intently into the underbrush, and desperately signaling us to be quiet.  We thought that there must at least be a bear approaching, or a mountain lion, but no, this is what we saw:

We thought, Where the hell do you live, buddy, Brooklyn?  Most of suburban America is under assault from ravaging deer hordes, and you have somehow missed it?  I went for a short walk in Coupeville the other morning, and counted 27 deer, right in town.

One thing that has changed since our major explorations in National Parks two years ago is the whole political context, and the rise of the Alt-National Park Service.  That gave us an interesting lens through which to view this new sign, erected in 2017 outside the Many Glacier Hotel.  Bravo.

We stopped for lunch at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, and saw these excellent annexes to the inn – cabooses that had been converted to guest cabins, mainly used by cross-country skiers. 

On our way to West Glacier, we had passed this “Ten Commandments Park”, which seemed to follow the Stations of the Cross format, but with the Ten Commandments, and on billboards.  Greta was adamant that we had to return to examine it in more detail, as being a secular Eugenean, she doesn’t get to see religious zealotry too often.  Her willingness to explore the venue stopped short of wanting to engage the proprietors in conversation, especially after she spotted the “Make Jesus Legal Again” bumperstickers.

We had been without a cell phone signal for over a week, as T-Mobile doesn’t seem to bother with areas below a certain population density.  But as we pulled in to the Ten Commandments Park, Linda’s phone erupted with a cacophony of pings and beeps, as the flood of pent-up texts and emails was released all at once.  But as we drove away from the Park, all the bars disappeared.  It was a miracle, she said. 

Driving through Plains, Idaho, we came across a whole street with these regularly spaced garbage cans, each enclosed in what we assumed were cages to keep them from blowing away in the winter.  We especially liked the plaque on each one, pointing out that it had been built by Mr. Friesz’s Shop Class. 

Pullman had an okay downtown, where we were desperately looking for a place to have a god meal on Linda’s birthday, as we had just left Montana, where chicken is regarded as a vegetable (not an original joke).  After checking the options on Yelp, we came to this place – a church:

which had a quite good bar in its basement!  The weekend before Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we had seen an Episcopal church dispensing drinks from its basement church hall, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a church with an actual bar.  Who knew that Pullman would be on the cutting edge of such a cool trend?

We spent a little time looking for food in the Palouse – very small towns without many options – and in Colfax we came across Eddy’s Chinese American.  Despite Tom’s assurance that it was quite good (later independently confirmed by Jug when we returned to Coupeville), its Yelp rating of one star gave us pause.  Both Tom and Jug told us that there used to be another Chinese restaurant in Colfax – Pete’s.

The Palouse may be limited n the culinary area, but it has many options for big machinery.  This is the kind of thing we frequently saw driving down the street. 

While not technically a roadside attraction, I knew that there were other aspects to the Palouse that would please my family, besides the remarkable scenery.  Tom’s barn was full of kitties who, being working farm cats in training, rather than pets, had no idea what to do with a jiggling string. By the second day Greta had initiated them into this new mode of entertainment, and I assume that now they are constantly pestering Tom to pull out that ball of yarn.

By far the greatest roadside attraction we came across was the Codger Pole, in Colfax.  It is the tallest chainsaw sculpture in the world (so they say, and I believe them), and it commemorates two important moments in the town’s history. 

In 1938, Colfax was trounced by St. John in a football game, which they hoped to some day avenge. (You can read the details in the sign below.)

Their chance finally came in 1988, when the game was replayed by the surviving players, fifty years after the original game.  The sign doesn’t mention who won this time, but the occasion was of such note that it had to be immortalized.

Sometimes you come across things in small town America that just make you want to live there.

Architecture in the Palouse

In this week’s edition of our normal finding-the-architecture-in-the-landscape, we turn to the architecture in the Palouse.  As I mentioned, the farms are so big that the buildings are few and far between.  Tom showed us a photographer’s map of the Palouse, which actually mapped all the picturesque barns, grain elevators (and even lone trees) for the region, as potential focal points for landscape photographs.  However, whatever the architecture may lack in number, it makes up for in size.  As in other agricultural areas we’ve visited before (such as southern Idaho, or southern Utah), grain elevators are the dominant type.

The town of St. John has a grain elevator that looks not so much like a building as it does a whole city of grain elevators.  In fact, the parallel holds true even at a deeper, structural level:  the elevators were built at different times and by different companies.  Just as in a city, the form is a reflection of the historical process of growth and change over time.

The metal siding develops an interesting character over time.

In Oakesdale, we came across JC Barron’s flour mill, which is apparently being slowly restored. 

Outside the town of Palouse:

In Ewan, on the way to Rock Lake:

In Endicott, where a concrete and a framed elevator coexist.

There are a few built edifices that are not elevators.  Near Pine City, we came across this corral for hay bales.  Our friend Jug tried to explain its function to us, but I’m still not sure I buy it.  It may have to do with moving and storing hay bales, but it seems entirely too elaborate for that.  I think they just wanted to do something that had that machine-in-the-garden look. 

We meandered down to Pullman, and got to see the WSU campus.  This is the only picture I could grab.  As Greta and I discovered three years ago, it is almost impossible to park anywhere within miles of big university campuses.  All parking lots are designated for those with stickers, and the traffic is usually so heavy that you can’t even stop.  So we did a driving tour of the campus (not too bad), and then drove downtown, where visitors could be accommodated.

The architectural highlight of the trip was the Round Barn in Ewan.  It was just superb, and clearly is being well-maintained, with a recently replaced shake roof. 

The owner graciously allowed us to go inside, and we climbed a rickety ladder to the hayloft, where we found this:

It should be known as the Pantheon of the Palouse. 

As always, the strongest impressions came from seeing the contrast between the landscape and the built environment, whether from the top of Steptoe Butte,

or one of those picturesque barns that had been mapped (this one on the road between Endicott and St. John). 

Wind turbines are starting to edge out the elevators as the big things in the landscape. 

And sometimes the effect comes from rhythm rather than form. 

Once in a while, it is not even a building, but the simplest manifestation of human intention that leaves a strong trace upon the land. 

The Palouse

After a week in Glacier, we opted for a change in scenery before heading back to Whidbey Island.  The Palouse is an area about which we had long heard from our Coupeville friend Jug Bernhardt, who grew up on his family’s farm there, and I thought Linda would especially enjoy some quiet pastoral beauty after the rugged alpine sublimity of Glacier.  The landscape couldn’t be more different from the Rockies, but in many ways it is equally beautiful.

Occupying the southeast corner of Washington, the Palouse has one dominant landscape type: rolling hills. But rolling hills on acid.  It is the landscape a five-year-old would draw if you asked for a picture of farmland (but minus the cows).  If you think of any rolling farmland with which you’re familiar, and then compress the horizontal scale by a factor of five, that’s the Palouse. 

As you drive through the landscape, you are enclosed by the topography.  I don’t know why, but the national grid of townships and straight roads was not imposed here, even though it wasn’t heavily settled until the 1870s. Roads curve in and out of the hills, and you are always at the bottom of a trough, with the horizon a half mile away. 

The color palette is also primal and surreal, limited to five tones at this time of year: tan fields of wheat, green fields of alfalfa or other secondary crops, blue sky, white clouds, and black shadows moving across the land. 

It is strangely devoid of people, or much evidence of their presence.  In our era of gigantic agribusiness, a wheat farm in the Palouse has to be around 2000 acres (over three square miles) to be economically viable, so there are few farmsteads to interrupt the landscape.  It feels like a wilderness of wheat, rather than the pastoral ideal of people and nature in a finely-grained net of inhabitation. 

The built elements you do see are seldom quaint farmhouses or curving fences (there is very little livestock, so fences are almost nonexistent), but the large, shiny, cubic geometries of grain elevators.  The contrast between the curvilinear landforms and the rigidly orthogonal elevators is the best illustration I’ve seen of Marc Treib’s ideas in “Traces Upon the Land”, and I’ll certainly be using these photos in my lectures next year. 

A couple of buttes poke up out of the hills, so we drove to the top of Steptoe Butte to see the big picture.  It looked no less weird from there than it did from below. 

We did spot some attempts to make straight lines, but they were foiled by the irregularities of the hills.

The big view confirmed our perception that the built world occupied a small fraction of the land. 

When I expressed some interest in the Palouse a couple of years ago, Jug put me in touch with his boyhood friend Tom Schierman, who lives on land his family has farmed for a few generations outside of St. John.  Tom is an extraordinary photographer, who always has his camera with him as he goes about his normal day, and his photos on Facebook convinced us to visit the area.

Tom and his son James host campers on the back meadow on their property (listed on Airbnb as Schierman Springs).  They have only one party camp there at a time, whether it is one small family such as ours, or a large group.  So we (in the small trailer pictured below) had this secluded field to ourselves, with only the owls and coyotes interrupting the quiet (quite a difference from the campgrounds at Glacier, where we were surrounded by RVs from the South with generators and many children). 

In a dry landscape, the Schiermans have made use of the springs on the property – building a pond, and cultivating a wider range of plants.  Tom has been planting trees and shaping this landscape for decades, until it feels like an oasis in the high, open, wheat desert of the surroundings.  There is an interconnectedness among the buildings, gardens, ponds, fields, paths, woods, orchards and clearings,

that contrasts strongly with the simpler abstract environment that lies outside. 

In an essay on the world as chronicled and evaluated by Baedeker, Roland Barthes remarked on how the only landscape type deemed worthy of notice by the 19th century tourist guidebooks was the precipitously steep;  flat landscapes were somehow never beautiful enough.  But somehow after a week in the most astonishing alpine scenery on this continent, we found a few days in the Palouse to be equally engaging.

Alpine lakes

Early on in our big trip three years ago, we learned how both Greta and I relate to landscapes:  she gets bored with stopping intermittently while driving to look at the scenery or big views.  She has to be moving – hiking, biking or rowing – and then she can appreciate the surroundings.  On the other hand, I look for constantly shifting views and a variety of spatial experiences: both unrelieved short views (like hiking in the woods), or unrelieved long views (like hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon), bore me.  So satisfying these two criteria became our modus operandi for the rest of the trip, and the character of the hikes often determined how much we liked a place.  Then on this trip, we added one more variable, with Linda’s preferences: she will often focus on the small scale – plants and flowers – that Greta and I barely register.  Luckily for us, there were hikes in Glacier that were spectacular in all these different ways simultaneously, and we all agreed that these were some of the most beautiful places we’d ever seen.

The first was along St. Mary Lake, starting from Sun Point, where there had been a chalet, which fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished. The view from this spot looked west towards Logan Pass, and I can imagine sitting on a porch at that chalet, looking at the light change on this view (while sipping a Huckleberry Smash).

We hiked along the north side of the Lake, which had been swept by the Reynolds Burn in 2015.  As the climate changes and droughts intensify, Glacier has been hit by a series of big fires in recent years; we had in fact planned our trip for early July, knowing that much of the area has been engulfed in forest fire smoke in mid-to late summer in recent years.

But our reaction to the burn areas was not what we expected – they didn’t seem devastated, and we didn’t spend the day bemoaning the loss of habitat and natural beauty.  It was astounding to see how much new growth had appeared in just three years.  The scorched trees were surrounded by undergrowth, and new trees were already springing up. 

It had a strange beauty, in the contrast between the scorched trees and the abundant, bright green growth.  (As we always said to Greta when she was confronted with death or destruction as a small child – it’s the Circle of Life).  The landscape resonated with meaning, and I wondered if this was the same appeal that we architects find in what’s been called Ruin Porn – those stunning photos of major buildings from the not-so-distant past, falling into decay.

We came across information from the Park Service which emphasized to visitors how different familiar trails would now be after forest fires.  Just three years ago, this hike would have been almost completely in the shade, only emerging at a few points to access longer views.  Now the sun shone everywhere, and the mountains were always visible in the background. 

There are series of waterfalls feeding into St. Mary Lake, most of which are accessible on shorter hikes off the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Here Greta has been applying her newly-learned rock-climbing skills to scramble up the Baring Falls (and to make her mother nervous).

St. Mary Falls was pretty crowded, and we began to understand the demographic of summer visitors to Glacier.  On our trip three years ago, we learned that when you’re camping in the South in the winter, you’re surrounded by retired Northerners.  This time we found that when you’re camping in the North in the summer, you’re surrounded by extended families of Southerners (and some Midwesterners).  In the Fish Creek campground, there were many multiple-RV encampments of connected households, who had travelled in convoys from their hot, humid homes.  They all seemed to have at least four kids, and the womenfolk tended to domestic tasks, while the guys messed with their RVs and giant pickups, and the kids rode their bikes in circles and ran amuck with sticks. Then they would all organize themselves, and head off on a short group hike to a noted destination. 

The crowds thinned out dramatically at Virginia Falls – the Southerners wearing flip-flops and dragging little kids along looked at the rocky climb and turned back to their vehicles. But for those less-encumbered, it was well-worth the climb.

On the return hike, we noticed a change in the view.  Hiking west, all of the trees we saw were scorched black.  Now as we headed back east, they were all silver. We realized that the fire has swept up the valley from east to west, so the east-facing sides of the trees had been scorched, and the west sides had been protected.  The fire must have burned off all available fuel quickly enough that most trees were not consumed, but left standing in this strange, two-toned manner.

 

When I briefly visited Glacier 22 years ago, during a one-week cross-country drive with my brother, I had stood at this point behind the Many Glacier Hotel, thinking it was the most perfect alpine view I’d ever seen (I described it to Greta as reminiscent of a Palladian villa, with its symmetry and hierarchy of flanking elements), and wanting to hike up one of those valleys which flanked the ridge of Mt. Grinnell in the center.  I finally got my chance, as we hiked around the south side of Swiftcurrent Lake, and then up the valley on the left, past Josephine Lake and arriving at Grinnell Lake. 

But before starting this hike, we stopped along Lake Sherburne, to see the huge meadows of wildflowers.  Even I, who has what we have come to term FPD (floral perception disorder) noticed these, and Linda was in heaven. 

Swiftcurrent Lake is circled by an easy trail, on which we kept our eyes open, as we had seen two moose there a few days before, and passing hikers told us of spotting bears. 

At the head of the lake there is short stream which connects it to the higher Josephine Lake.

Both lakes have excursion boats – if you don’t want to do the longer hike, you can take the boat to the head of Swiftcurrent, hike half a mile to Josephine, where you can catch this boat, which takes you to the head of Josephine, and closer to Grinnell. 

The water was much warmer in the lake than in the streams which drained the glacier fields directly. We did some wading, and wished we’d brought bathing suits. 

The hike from Josephine to Grinnell is through the woods and longer, and has some interesting aspects, such as this bridge, and a nice side climb to another waterfall. 

The path opens up, and Grinnell Lake comes in to view. 

It’s an amazing spot, with rugged peaks on every side, and a very cold stream to ford.

The waterfalls across the lake drain the Grinnell Glacier above.  It was hard to believe this place was real – it looked more like a CGI landscape from a movie about Shangri-La. 

Overall, it was about an 8 mile hike, with 800 feet of elevation gain.  Minimal effort, for a series of spots and views that are extraordinary.

 

Our final alpine lake hike was from the Logan Pass visitors’ center to Hidden Lake.  We took a shuttle bus to the top, which is much easier to do from the east side than the west. The hike starts at 6646 feet, and climbs another 600 feet, before dropping 900 feet to the lake.  It is incredibly busy – lots of visitors get to the pass and decide they can do the first section to an overlook, so the wetter areas have boardwalks to accommodate the crowds. 

We’d been heating stories all week about bear sightings (including someone who said that a grizzly cub snuck up behind him and nuzzled his side), but we hadn’t seen any at all. Finally, we spotted a grizzly sitting on the snow a few miles away (circled below).  Linda thought that was the right distance from which to view a grizzly. 

The path then climbed through a snowfield (which was definitely a slushfield by the time we returned), and where we were able to once again marvel at how tourists will just take off on a hike that seems reasonable, no matter how unprepared they are for it.  We saw many people in tee shirts, gym shorts and flip-flops (and no other gear) heading across the snow, dragging tiny children, some wearing tutus and carrying stuffed animals.  I actually had some initial problems with the altitude, having just taken a bus up the 3000 foot elevation change on the road, but I acclimated after about half an hour.  But we saw many people much older and in worse shape than us, who seemed undaunted.

This recalled an observation Greta and I had made while climbing through a cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde – you can probably complete a somewhat demanding excursion if you are old, or out of shape, or ill-prepared, but if two of those three conditions apply to you, you might be in trouble.  But we’ve found that with little oversight from rangers or officials, people seem to make reasonable decisions about their capabilities.  The one exception we came across was a young family that was about to head onto the pretty demanding hike to Avalanche Lake with three kids under seven, and no lunch (the shuttle from the west side was really busy, and they’d arrived at the trailhead later than expected).  We gave them our energy bars, and when we ran into them at the end of the day, they said they never would have made it otherwise. 

We arrived at this saddle 600 feet above the pass,

and hiked past the overlook to this view of Hidden Lake below.  If you look at the bottom of that notch to the right, you can also see the end of Lake McDonald, 4000 feet below.

The big panorama is breathtaking, but there were other attractions.  We took a break and watched a marmot (between Linda and Greta) licking a big rock. There were many other marmots around, a few different species of chipmunks,

and lots of mountain goats, who seemed quite used to the crowds, and who were willing to pose photogenically in the foreground. 

We left the crowds behind for more slush-climbing and scree fields,

and arrived at this spot by the lake for lunch.  We cooled our waterbottles in the snow, and watched the reflections in the lake while chatting with some other hikers. 

They pointed out that at the mouth of the lake, there was an osprey catching fish, while two rainbow trout were somewhere in the middle of their extended spawning activity.  The female (on the left), was swimming in place in the current, and every few minutes would writhe around, digging a trench in the gravel for her eggs.  The male was waiting to fertilize them, but would shoot off every minute or so, to chase off other males who were trying to horn in on the action.  I’m pretty much a city guy, and I couldn’t believe we were seeing this – it struck me as entirely too much like a staged nature video for it to be real. 

The reflections on the still lake were dazzling. 

We climbed back up to the saddle, and crossed over to the east side again, where the mishaps of the late-day crowds were intensifying as the melting snow got slipperier and slipperier. 

As I’ve mentioned, most of the day hikes in Glacier were either too easy, or a bit beyond our capabilities (that might change if we were there for more than a week).  But these three hikes had everything we were looking for – awesome views of the mountains, beautiful blue lakes, constantly shifting perspectives, a level of exertion that was enough to guarantee we’d sleep well, and the small-scale attractions of plants and wildlife.  At some point on each of these hikes I’d pause, and remark that this was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.  `

Lake McDonald and Going-to-the-Sun Road

Glacier Park can best be visualized as a node in the Rockies, where the Livingston Range and the Lewis Range come together.  There are four deep valleys which cut into these ranges – Lake McDonald from the west, Two Medicine from the southeast, Saint Mary Lake and Many Glacier from the east – and where most of the national park facilities and development are located. The astonishing bit of engineering that connects Lake McDonald and St. Mary across the middle is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which climbs 3500 feet from Lake McDonald to Logan Pass, the literal highpoint of the experience for most visitors.

We learned in advance that large vehicles and trailers aren’t allowed on this road, so we decided to split our time between four nights on the west side at the Fish Creek campground, and four nights on the east side, at the St. Mary campground. You can drive your own car on this road, although it is almost impossible to find parking at any of the popular trailheads.  A shuttle service began a few years ago, similar to those in place at the Grand Canyon and Zion, and you can take this from either the west or east sides.

The west side of Glacier is the more peaceful, less rugged part.  The ten-mile-long lake is surrounded by wooded mountains, some of which have burned in recent years. 

The higher elevations to the east are glimpsed through the gap where McDonald Creek and Going-to the-Sun Road climb up to the Continental Divide.

Hanging out by the lake is quiet and serene – the light is beautiful, and the colors of the water and the mountains change throughout the day.

The west side doesn’t have the spectacular alpine scenery, breathtaking climbs, and higher-altitude views of the east side.  And being 1500 feet lower and on the west side of the ridge, it is the wetter, more temperate, more heavily forested part.  (Whereas the east side is usually colder, dryer, and much windier.)  We also found that the dayhikes were mostly of two types – very short and flat (under 2 miles and 500 feet elevation change), or pretty long and steep (over 8 miles and 2000 feet).  Given our general out-of-shapeness, Linda’s complete inexperience with mountain climbing, and our prior incidents with altitude sickness in the Southwest, we were looking for moderate dayhikes, which were hard to find. By the end of the trip, we had done every hike with which we felt comfortable.

The one moderate hike on the west side was to Avalanche Lake.  It was a cool and damp day (so it felt like home), and we ascended along a creek, which had made some spectacular cuts through the rock.

There were lots of trees down in the forest, and a ranger informed us that there had been a big avalanche a few years ago on the opposite slope; when the snow hit the bottom of the slope, all the air pockets blew out and created a 100 mph wind up the slope, which had blown these trees uphill.

When we reached the lake, there was this view of waterfalls running down out of the sky, as if the clouds were being drained.

After a while the overcast lifted, and we could see that the mountains did indeed have peaks.

The weather turned sunny and warm, and we decided to drive up the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  It climbs the slopes in a series of moderate traverses, with only one hairpin-switchback.  There’s a huge drop below you on one side, and a sheer cliff above you on the other.  Pullouts allow you to stop and gawk at the awesome scenery.

Back when Glacier first opened (in 1910), most visitors arrived by train, as the roadway system developed, they were ferried around by these “Jammer” cars, which have removable tops so you can enjoy the scenery above.  These historic vehicles were all recently renovated, and are still used by those who don’t want to drive themselves.

On the right you can see the Weeping Wall, where a rock face is always disgorging groundwater onto the road. 

We crossed Logan Pass at 6646 feet, but weren’t able to stop, as the parking lot is always full by 8:00 am.  Descending down the east side, we could look back towards the pass and Clements Mountain,

and then see the sweeping panorama above the St. Mary valley. 

The Jackson Glacier overlook affords a good view of one of the remaining high altitude glaciers. 

Overall, it is one of the most amazing drives in the country.  The views are spectacular in every direction, and although the parking lots are almost always full, there are enough pullouts where one can stop for a while.  But the roadway is very narrow, and somewhat scary;  Linda moved to the middle seat in the truck, as she really didn’t enjoy sitting out there on the edge.

To move the trailer from west to east we had circle around the south side of the park, but due to road construction and more unexpected vehicle restrictions on Route 49, we had to drive all the way east to Browning, which is the center of the Blackfeet reservation (and their bison reserve). 

Overall, this added up to 140 miles and took most of the day, but it did allow us to have a superb lunch at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex (to which we were tipped off by some fellow visitors who heard us discussing how there wouldn’t be any good food out there in Montana), an afternoon hike at Two Medicine (which used to be an important node of tourist activity when almost all visitors arrived by train at this point),

and a glimpse of life on the reservation (we hadn’t been on a reservation in two years, after a lot of time spent with the Navajo, Hopi and others in the Southwest).

We finally arrived at St. Mary, the jumping-off site for the east side of Glacier. 

On the road again

After a two year hiatus, we have hit the road in Peregrine once again, this time travelling across the great Northwest, with Glacier National Park as our prime destination. I’ll put up a few posts about our trip, but it’s unlikely Greta will follow suit – we probably won’t run into any food worth writing about, and at 16-years-old, she’s getting a little too cool for blogging (preferring Snapchatting with her friends).

We came home from our big trip with the best of intentions to keep the travel momentum going, similar to those intentions we formulate at the end of every summer – we need to get out of town more, we should not let work take over all of our attention, we should do more family adventures while Greta is still at home, etc.

But normal life intervened, with all of its preoccupations and distractions.  We returned from the trip, I turned 60, and every aspect of life beyond our immediate family took a nose dive into a level of chaos and disarray that has constantly yanked our attention away from our personal concerns. The national and international issues are obvious to all, but at the same time, our jobs have involved a high level of chaos, conflict and turmoil for the past two years, as a new regime at the UO has done away with many of the givens of the past 25 years, leading me to question why we have dedicated our lives to this place, and whether the path forward is viable.  One of the drivers of our trip three years ago was my discontent with how the university was going, but in retrospect, that period looks like the golden age.

So rather than spending our free time travelling the Northwest, each weekend we have more or less collapsed, regrouped, and prepared for the coming week. Other circumstances have also kept our roadtripping in check:  I had knee surgery last summer, which knocked me out for months, a spring break trip to eastern Oregon was kaboshed by the weather, and much of Greta’s life has been taken over by her robotics team, which occupies all of her spare time for at least 3 or 4 months per year.  So Peregrine has sat in our carport for two years, an incongruous reminder that we once managed to leave it all behind.  Every once in a while I stick my head in the door, trying to get a whiff of that experience, but it always seems unreal, like a disconnected remnant from a forgotten civilization.  A memory will come up, and Greta and I will look at each other and say, Did we really do that trip?

But last winter I realized that we had to make a commitment to get away – if we just made decisions day by day, we’d never get out of the reactive mode.  This might also allow us to correct one of the problems with our trip – on such a long trip, it was impossible to make commitments far in advance, as we wanted to respond to the vagaries of weather and unanticipated opportunities;  mapping out nine months of travel in detail just isn’t feasible, nor desirable.  But that meant that certain destinations, such as popular National Parks, couldn’t be visited.  We had both wanted to go to Yosemite, but all campgrounds within striking distance had been booked six months in advance.  So making a plan in the depths of winter would give us access to a place which you can’t visit on the spur of the moment, as well providing a light at the end of the tunnel.

One of the themes of our trip had been Climate Change Farewell Tour, as I had realized that much of the world was going to change drastically in Greta’s lifetime, and I thought she should see the state of the current world as a baseline before that happened. The coming change was most evident along the southern coastline (as we visited many places that will probably be under water in 50 years), and in the Southwest, much of which might become uninhabitable for most of the year. The biggest missing piece was Glacier National Park.  I had briefly driven through 22 years ago, and thought it was the most extraordinary mountain landscape I’d ever seen.  Then recently I read that it was down to 28 glaciers remaining from the probable 150 in the 19th century.  It seemed that it was time to go.

So I made campground reservations in January (15 minutes after they were available online), we dusted off the trailer (literally), and tried to remember all the gear, protocols and approaches we’d taken two years ago.  We made one big change this year:  Linda was coming along.  She’s never been a big fan of camping (thinking that it is sort of like normal life, but less convenient or pleasant), but Peregrine was a nice enough little substitute home that maybe she could take a flyer.  Our big worry was that while 85 square feet might be adequate living space for two, it might be too tight for three.  So we hedged our bets by packing up a big tent we’d bought at Walmart five years ago for $40 (to use as a spray tent in our shop when we painted cabinetwork and trim), so anyone who felt the need for more personal space could bail out into the annex.

We left from our summer place on Whidbey Island, turning the corner onto Route 20, which took us all the way across Washington.  After crossing the Skagit Valley, we entered North Cascades National Park – a place we’d never visited, even though it’s only about an hour and a half away.  We stopped at the park headquarters, where I formalized a milestone in my life – for $80 I purchased my lifetime Senior Pass to the National Parks, which gives me and my companions free admission, and half-price campsites, forever!  I had previously tallied up our total costs for our big trip, and realized that my Social Security alone at this point would be enough to support me driving around the country and camping in National Parks;  if this trip goes well, I might not come back in the fall.

Our visit to North Cascades was brief – just a scoping trip, to see if we’d like to return in the future.  The west side of the park is what we are used to in Oregon – fir and hemlock forests, everything muddy and mossy.

Washington Pass was a change – giant craggy peaks rising up into the clouds.

And North Cascades was also where I was able to achieve a milestone I had not been able to in nine months on the road – documentation of a Triple Selfie!

We left the Cascades into the Methow Valley, a beautiful region about which we had only heard.

We drove down the valley to Winthrop, and stayed with our friends Lisa Spitzmiller and Hanz Scholz, whom we had met 16 years ago, when we were in the same Birth to Three group. Our daughter Greta and their daughter Gretta (whom we called Gretta-Two-Ts just to be clear) were friends for years, until they moved (along with their second daughter Stella) about nine years ago.  Lisa has continued her work as a counselor in Winthrop, while Hanz has had a major career change.  Along with his brother, Hanz was the founder of Bike Friday, the maker of superb folding bikes (Greta and I used one of their tandems for years, and Linda still rides a Tikit.)  But Hanz tired of big-city life, so they moved to Winthrop, where Hanz worked at various jobs, and recently bought a yurt manufacturing company in the Valley, which he is moving to Winthrop now.

They live on this beautiful farm (seen above), where Lisa can keep her horses.  We arrived in the middle of a ground floor gut remodel and addition to their house, and so we undertook our first driveway camping experience in years, as they were mostly living in a neighbor’s house.

Greta and Gretta were both the tiniest kids we knew a decade ago, so it was a surprise to see how Gretta had grown into a serious athlete, excelling at state and even international competition in cross country running and telemark skiing.  Stella has followed suit, winning the state mountain biking championship in her age group.  The girls seem much changed, but Hanz and Lisa haven’t, and it was good to see such good friends again after too long.

The next day was a pleasant drive down the rest of the Methow Valley, and a bit up the Okanogan (where we stocked up on cherries for the week).  Afterwards Route 20 was rather boring, through mid-sized, tree-covered mountains.  But then we came to a surprising place:

In the Black Panther movie, much had been made of how Wauconda was hidden away, out of the sight of western society.  We hadn’t realized that their strategy was to situate an African country in the Northwest, surrounded by hundreds of miles of the whitest people we’ve ever seen.

The end of the day was at Sandpoint, on Lake Pend Oreille (which seems to be just the dammed part of the Pend Oreille River).  Sandpoint is a surprisingly nice town (to those of used to the usual northwestern towns, with their sad, decrepit cores surrounded by dismal sprawl).  The historic downtown is in great shape, surrounded by beautiful residential neighborhoods, all of it quite compact, as it is hemmed in by the river and topography.

The next day we continued through northern Idaho, and stopped for a hike at Kootenai Falls, in a narrow valley where the Great Northern Railroad tracks ran right along the river.

By the end of the day, we reached our destination – Lake McDonald, on the west side of Glacier.  The 700 mile drive immediately seemed worth it.

Cascadia

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We had entered the gravitational field of home two weeks earlier, as soon as we left the Mojave. We had hoped for a last week of dislocation, travelling along the Sierras and hiking in Yosemite, but given the weather and pre-registered crowds, that was not to be. So we travelled up the North Coast, with an ever-deepening sense of familiarity, as the landscape, buildings, vegetation, and weather made it clear that the alien environments of the past year were behind us.

We wound our way through the last miles of Highway 1 to Leggett, where we joined Route 101, and were suddenly in the redwoods. Most of the land through which you travel is private timberland, but there are big stretches of state and local parks and reserves. 101 runs about 75 miles along the Eel River, all the way to Humboldt Bay. Near Phillipsville we abandoned 101 for the Avenue of the Giants. This was the original alignment of Route 101 until 1960, when the newer and straighter highway was built, usually on the other bank of the river; the two routes intertwine and switch sides a few times. It is a great road, with many quiet waysides and short hikes, away from the speeding trucks and heavier traffic of the highway. But we would have taken it anyway, just for the name – after a year on the road, we are suckers for all such grandiose touristic nomenclature (although we did manage to avoid the Trees of Mystery further north).

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We bypassed the fabulous town of Ferndale, and quickly cruised through Eureka and Arcata, all of which we had explored in greater detail a few years ago. We knew we would probably visit this area soon again, and the gravitational attraction of home was increasing exponentially. Humboldt County is a funny in-between place for us – travelling through the last time, I realized it is not so much Northern California as it is Baja Oregon. It is certainly part of Cascadia, the rainy, temperate region where the salmon spawn. Coming from Oregon it feels different, but coming from the south at the end of a long trip, it felt so much like home that we thought we might as well just go home.

We drove into Redwood National and State Parks, a unusual designation I’d never understood, but we learned that there had been state parks here originally, which had then been encapsulated inside the National Park, which increased their area and gave them a higher degree of protection. Our campground was at Elk Prairie, where we had selected a site in the redwoods rather than on the prairie, as Greta did not want to mess with elk while heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It was a chilly and misty evening, especially compared to the sunny days of central California, and we ate our last trailer-cooked dinner, left over from the Mendocino Cafe.

Greta and I are not normally early risers, but we both awoke at first light around 6:00. We stared across the trailer at each other, with looks that clearly said, Wow, this is it, the last day. We wolfed down some breakfast and went out for our last hike in a National Park, before anyone else was about. First we went to the prairie, where there indeed was a small herd of elk, moseying along while eating, and then heading into the forest.

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We found a beautiful trail from our campground, which wound along a creek and through the redwoods, with many close-up views of nursery logs, and closed-in vistas, rather than big landscape perspectives.

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In some ways it felt familiar – a dense, enclosing, coniferous forest, with ferns and a low understory, much like the park at the end of our block. But we then we realized that things felt familiar, except for the gnawing sense that something was slightly off, in one important way. The trees were enormous compared to ours, maybe twice as tall, but many times bigger in girth. To a Northwesterner, the redwoods are dreamlike, trees out of myths. Our second night out on this trip, we had made it to Craters of the Moon National Monument, which Greta had likened to Camping in Mordor. So it seemed appropriate that we spent our last night in Lothlorien.

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We packed up the trailer, and once again were able to avoid 101, driving on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Highway, most of the way to Klamath. There were many waysides and areas of interest, but one in particular grabbed our attention – a trail to the Big Tree. We wondered, what would it take to be called The Big Tree in this forest? Hiking along, we kept wondering, Is that the Big Tree? That one? Then up ahead of us, we glimpsed something strange through the brush.

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It was clearly The Big….Tree. We had never seen anything quite like it, although Sleeping Ute Mountain, and Face Rock at Canyon de Chelly came to mind. We marvelled at the Park Service’s circumspection.p1100105

No matter what it was called, Greta had no interest in getting any closer, so we continued on with our intermittent hiking and driving.dscf1880

We reached Crescent City in time for a Second Breakfast, and decided to explore. No one ever goes to Crescent City, as it is one of those in-between places, which you pass when you’re always in a hurry to get somewhere else. After a closer examination, we can state that there really is nothing to see there. It is a bedraggled place, which reminded me of Aberdeen, Washington – another depressed coastal town showing the changes in the timber industry in the past decades. It seems that now the major industry in town is the Pelican Bay State Prison, the only super-maximum security facility in California.

However, I have since learned that there is a more immediate explanation for its bereft appearance – it was hit hard by the tsunami from the 1964 Alaska earthquake, which wiped out 300 buildings. Apparently the configuration of the shoreline and the ocean floor focusses tsunamis here, and it has felt lesser effects from more recent earthquakes across the Pacific. It’s a treacherous coastline, but also a vivid one: 115-north-coast014dscf1884

At Crescent City we turned inland onto Highway 199, heading towards Cave Junction, Oregon. It’s a beautiful road in the Smith River valley through the mountains.115-north-coast015dscf1890

We crossed the border, and took the obligatory shot:115-north-coast016dscf1893

We noticed the stickers attached to the bottom of the sign, which seemed to reflect the major pre-occupations of the local populace: the secessionist State of Jefferson movement, and the marijuana culture which had sprung up in our absence, as recreational use was legalized on October 1, 2015.dscf1891

We drove a few miles more into the town of O’Brien, where we passed, in rapid succession, a white guy with dreadlocks and a tie-dye t-shirt riding a too-small mountain bike, an alternative medicine clinic, a Frisbee golf course and a cannabis store. Greta looked at me and said, Dad, I think we’re home.

On to Grant’s Pass, with a large amount of traffic confusion for a small city . We ditched our small-road predilection and joined the great river of I-5, for the first time on our trip, anxious to move on. We had forgotten the propensity of Oregonians for staying in the left-hand lane at all times, even when driving a tractor-trailer up a hill at 25 mph, and we longed for the speed we had left behind in the south. But as we left the mountains and neared the Willamette Valley, the speed picked up, and the afternoon rushed by.

About 40 miles south of Eugene I said to Greta, I think this is the point where we’re supposed to have a heart-to-heart conversation about the trip, what it’s meant to us, and how we feel about it now that it’s coming to an end. There was a long silence as she stared at me.

Or, I said, we could just put on the Clash.

Definitely the Clash, she replied.

So we put in London Calling, which had become our go-to album for the whole trip. Everything around us became very familiar, as we glimpsed our hill from I-5 as we came around the big bend in Glenwood, got off the highway onto Franklin Boulevard, went past our grocery store and turned up the hill to our house. We pulled into the driveway just as the last chords of Death or Glory crashed down.

I had warned Greta over the past weeks  that I thought we should disrupt her no-displays-of-affection protocol, and that one hug at the end of the trip would not be too much for her to handle.  So I stood by the front door, and said, Hug.  Greta walked over and hugged me, then we went inside.

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He drew a deep breath.  ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.

Glass Beach

P1100066 We discovered by the end of our trip that sometimes the really cool stuff is badly advertised, or hard to find information on. Glass Beach is a prime example of this. If I hadn’t heard about it in a National Geographic Kids magazine several years previously, we would have driven right by on our way north from Mendicino. Fort Bragg, CA used the beach, at that time as plain and ordinary as beaches come, as a dump from the forties all the way until 1967 when the state water control board closed the it for this purpose. Several cleanup efforts were made, removing the largest pieces of garbage, like broken-down cars and kitchen appliances, but they couldn’t get everything. The tides eventually broke down what was left, until the beach itself was made up of weathered glass and tumbled scraps of metal.

There are two beaches open to the public, on state park property. One is labeled easy to get to, the other difficult. It isn’t so hard really, if you can manage a flight of stairs without a handrail you should be fine. The harder to acsess beach is much more isolated from people and the full force of the Pacific Ocean, and so is much more impressive. Mostly made up of white, brown, and green glass, scattered with the occasional blue, the rare red, pieces of pottery, and scraps of metal, it’s best visited when the tide is low. Though its shine is somewhat muted by the milky exterior and sanded texture, the glass within a few inches of the shore that is wetted by each small wave will glitter in the sun. They tell you not to take any glass, for fear of depleting the beach, but I wasn’t arrested for keeping a small handful. P1100057

The North Coast

The last days of our trip were spent on the California North Coast. We’d hoped to cruise through Sacramento and up into the Sierras, but given the lingering snow in May and the impossibility of a campground in Yosemite, we were forced to once again drive up the coast – which may be our favorite landscape in the world. Before we reached the Bay Area we had covered a bit of the coast we’d never actually done before – the 40 miles or so from Santa Cruz to San Gregorio, from where we took 84 through La Honda and in to Palo Alto. This is a breathtaking stretch, with gentle river valleys coming out to the coast – which reminded us of the Olympic Peninsula – and some big headlands. It is astounding how few people there are here, right over the mountains from the Bay Area.dscf0963

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A week later we began our final leg, crossing the Golden Gate and following Highway 1. The variety of landscapes on this section is unlike other parts of the coast. In Big Sur you are always on the side of the mountains, looking down into the ocean, and it is unrelievedly spectacular. But here the highway weaves in and out, with beautiful farmland near Pt. Reyes Station,115-north-coast002dscf1703

just before you run along Tomales Bay, which is essentially a fjord, with the ocean hidden just over the hills to the west.dscf1707

At the north end of the bay we cut inland again, driving along Keyes Creek,115-north-coast003dscf1711

where you can see how the California Coastal Commission regulations require that even the cattle must be picturesque.dscf1714

On this inland jog we entered Sonoma County, and then back to the sea, where a wider plain appears between the mountains and the ocean.dscf1716

All of this variation – farmland, fjord, estuary, coastal plain, ocean – occurs within one hour of driving. We were overwhelmed with the density of beauty, how every minute there was some new and different prospect. It was similar to the experiences we had in some parts of the Southwest – Zion, Canyon de Chelly – but with more water.

We entered the part of the drive that does more cliff-hugging, and I stopped taking photos – too many sharp switchbacks with steep elevation changes for someone driving a truck with a trailer to ever have enough warning to contemplate pulling over onto a tiny gravel shoulder – but the scenery continued to amaze us. We had driven this stretch six years ago, and we wondered why we didn’t have a stronger memory of it – perhaps that had been on an overcast day, when the stupendously elemental qualities of ocean, sun, sky and cliff were just not as vivid. The Sonoma coast was one of the most arresting landscapes we saw on this whole trip.

We drove past Sea Ranch, the famous Halprin/MLTW/etc. resort development, but didn’t stop. I’ve learned from prior trips that visiting Sea Ranch without an in or connection is a frustrating experience, as you really can’t see the buildings and views you want. Perhaps we’ll catch it on the next trip, renting a place to stay..

At the end of the day we made it to Mendocino, the 19th-century New England whaling village perched on a bluff sticking out into the ocean. It can be a little too quaint and precious (and expensive), and as Isadore once said, Mendocino seems to be the Spanish word for gift shop. But every time I’ve been here I’ve been blown away, for many reasons. There are very few places in this country that have a setting anything like this – a headland with steep cliffs on three sides,115-north-coast005dscf1754

where the view down every street ends in the ocean.dscf1729

Some of the houses have been spiffed up pretty extensively, such as this one, which was used as the stand-in for Maine in the Murder She Wrote TV series,dscf1788

but much of the town retains its vernacular character, with old houses and water towers.dscf1721

There is a range of styles, from the simple cottages to the more elaborate Queen Anne, Italianate, etc.dscf1768

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I think I spent a night sleeping in this house over 20 years ago, when it was owned by the family of one of our students. I was awakened the next morning by the sound of sea lions barking at the base of the cliff.dscf1732

About half of the headland is preserved open space, with walks through fields of wildflowers to the ocean views.dscf1764

Greta and I walked out onto the bluff trail, where we saw the first weasel we had ever seen in the wild, and which was too fast to be photographed.dscf1740

Then there is the light, which changes rapidly and dramatically, as clouds break and fog rolls in. We have been there on sunny days and rainy days, and it is notable how your impression of such a small, simple place can also change so drastically.dscf1719

Mendocino was like many historic towns we visited on the East Coast, where it is obvious that the seeming simplicity and casual quality is maintained by unrelenting diligence and at great expense. But I can’t help being bowled over by these places, even if they represent Disneyfication by the Upper Classes. There are so few corners of this country that have not been overwhelmed by the crap of the past 60 years, that I’m completely able to suspend disbelief, and just enjoy the care and art that has gone into the creation of this environment. My appreciation for Mendocino is probably heightened by our experience in the past decade in the town of Coupeville, on Whidbey Island, which has both a historical building stock and amazing landscape that rival Mendocino’s. However, over the years Coupeville has made some astoundingly bad decisions about zoning and development, which have rendered much of the town indistinguishable from any other postwar suburb. Mendocino happens to be situated in a region that attracted a wealthy and sophisticated populace, which seems to be the solution nationwide for preserving this type of coastal town with any degree of integrity.115-north-coast006dscf1775

North of Mendocino we stayed in Ft. Bragg, a more normal small city which had a fishing and lumber-based economy. It could adopt the informal motto of Astoria – We Ain’t Quaint – but some of the remnants of that period are remarkable. There is the Glass Beach, which Greta has blogged about,dscf1816

the views of the coastline,115-north-coast008dscf1817

and the fabulous Pudding Creek Trestle, where a railroad spur ran right along the ocean.115-north-coast010dscf1826

A day out from Oregon, we were feeling the loom of home, and while the landscape felt increasingly familiar, there were still signs that California is different. In the town of Inglenook we came across this allee of trees, but they were eucalyptus, not the firs or madrones which would have been normal for us.115-north-coast011dscf1831

The highway continued this weaving in and out of farmland, forests, hills and coastal plain. The jogs in the road when we came to a creek were always amusing. We’d be driving along with a panoramic view of the ocean, then there would be a sharp right turn,dscf1834

and we’d be heading up the creek into the hills.dscf1835

A hairpin turn at the head of the creek, and we’d head back out to the ocean view. This shift in perspective repeated often, and each cycle took just a minute or two.dscf1836

Finally, Highway 1 leaves the Pacific for good at Hardy. The Lost Coast, 100 miles of fairly inaccessible coastline, lay between us and Eureka. We followed the last 15 miles of Highway 1, which after many trips I’m convinced is the twistiest highway in the country. The trees closed in around us, and our weeks in the sunny Promised Land of California came to an end.dscf1837