Pacific Coast

For Danielle’s fall break we wanted to explore the northwest. After a little research we found out that plane tickets to Seattle are expensive. But we could drive. But if we’re driving anyway, we might as well go slow and enjoy it. So we decided upon a leisurely road trip up the Pacific Coast, going north from San Francisco. On Saturday August 9, 2003 we set off.

We were pretty lazy in the morning so didn’t leave until 10 or so. We stopped by an REI in the bay area where Danielle bought a sleeping bag, and we spent the usual unnecessary amount of money on neat things. Next we decided to drive through San Francisco to the 1, instead of around it, mostly because it seemed obvious on the map and it’d be neat to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. This involved driving across the Bay Bridge where we enjoyed a lot of traffic and not a lot of view. In the city itself we got lost, but managed to find our way to the Golden Gate Bridge eventually. At the turn off to route 1 we stopped for some groceries and bought dinner. We drove up route 1 somewhat further along to get further away from the city. It was dark at this point, and at 7:30 we started looking for a camp site. We took a side road to Samuel P. Taylor State Park which was full, and we were told that most sites in the area would be full. At Olema Ranch in Olema we were offered an overflow camping spot for \$25. The overflow was a piece of grass and a shuffleboard. This actually worked out well since it was more isolated than the regular camping spots, and the concrete shuffleboard made a nice flat surface to cook on. There was a local band playing, but by the time we’d filled our stomachs that was over, so we just went to bed.

The next day we got up and visited Point Reyes. We went for a short hike that took us by a marsh, and then up on some cliffs overlooking the water. The trail ended by a large inlet where we took a break. We went back to the car the same way and then stopped at the famous lighthouse. The drive there was pretty, and the cliffs were quite impressive. The fact that some people went out of their way to build a lighthouse as far out to sea as they could was even more impressive. In the afternoon we started driving north. We decided to stay at Manchester State Park, where we had a nice quiet spot a short ways from the beach. It looked like the trash hadn’t been picked up in a while due to budget shortages, but we were far enough away that it wasn’t a problem. The pit toilets were still clean. We made a fire and dinner, but went to sleep pretty quick.

On Monday we started the day off by walking to the beach. It wasn’t far, but we did have to make our way through some dunes. The beach itself was deserted. Walking along the beach we also came upon several forts that people had built out of drift wood. After enjoying the ocean for a short while we walked back to our campsite, broke camp, and drove north. The 1 left the ocean and joined up with the 101 in Leggett. We stopped off at the Standish-Hickey SRA for lunch. We hiked a short way down to the river, looking for a quiet shady spot to have lunch. We weren’t entirely successful, but we did manage to surprise a small snake which was exciting. After this break we drove onwards to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. At least I think that’s where we camped that night. I’m writing this many months after it happened and my memory for names isn’t so good. At any rate we camped in a huge campsite among redwoods and pine trees. We also took our first shower of the trip here.

After our usual morning routine we kept on driving north on the 101 to the Avenue of the Giants. We got out in a number of places to admire the vastness of the redwood trees there. In Eureka we stopped to get the pictures we’d taken so far transferred from compact flash to CD. We found a nice Internet cafe where the owner was glad to help us out and we checked our e-mail too. We also got to listen to the owner’s story of how living in a small town is way better than the bay area, where he used to live. Unfortunately the name of the place escapes me. We drove around Eureka for a little while looking for a place to eat, but didn’t find anything that looked very interesting. We settled on a Chinese restaurant where we caught the tail end of the lunch buffet. We drove some more until a part where the 101 ran right between the beach and a lagoon. At the ranger station at the end of the stretch we were told that all campsites in the area were full but that we could camp on the beach if we liked. Since we were too late to grab one of the fire pits instead we pitched our tent closer to the ocean than anybody else, ensuring an unspoilt view. While we were cooking we watched pelicans float by, whales blowing water in the distance, and seals playing in the surf. After a pretty sunset we went to bed.

Wednesday morning we walked along the beach to the ranger station where we discovered many swallows nesting. On the road again, we finally made it to Oregon. We got out to take the obligatory shot of the sign. While I fiddled with my camera, Danielle tried different poses which caused a bypassing truck to honk his horn. We drove on, and in the afternoon pulled into Cape Blanco. The sign said the campground was full, but we hoped it might be wrong. The campground was full, but the hostess offered us the group site as overflow camping, since it wasn’t reserved that night. We stayed in the group site with 4 other parties but since the group site was so large it was more private than a regular spot would have been. It also had the first handicap-enabled port-a-pottie I’ve seen. Since it was still kind of early Danielle and I made our way down to the rocky beach to see what low tide had left for us to see. We saw the usual collection of anemones, hermit crabs, and chitans. The coolest thing we saw was a sunflower starfish. Because it was very windy, we left pretty soon to cook dinner and sleep.

The next morning we drove north again. After an hour or so I took a quick left by a sign that advertised berry picking. About a mile from the road was a dusty parking lot by a blueberry field. Danielle and I each got a coffee can on a waist belt and headed into the field. Sampling all the time, we meandered through the orchard picking berries in the sun. When we called it a day we had accumulated one full coffee can of blueberries.

Eating berries, we drove on to Coos Bay where we stopped, looking for a place to eat. Specifically I was looking for fish and chips. After talking to the tourist information we drove to nearby Charleston where we had lunch at a diner on the harbor. Afterwards we took a walk through the South Slough Reserve. The trail had quite a bit of elevation gain and took us through quite a variety of ecosystems, from pine forest at the top to wetlands at the bottom. After our hike it was getting late so we started looking for a place to camp. Neither of the two sites by Charleston had any space, so we headed further north. Just outside of Charleston we saw a handmade sign advertising the sale of firewood.

Since we are almost out of firewood we turn onto the driveway. Between two grass fields we drive up to a large house. Behind the house a dog is barking loudly but there are no people to be seen. There is a big pile of wood though. After a minute an obviously drunk man emerges from behind the house, where we can see part of a trailer in its own little yard. The man looks pretty much like you’d expect a drunk guy who lives in a trailer with his dog to look. He’s in a good mood and asks if I speak English, referring to our California plates. The sign outside said \$4 for 10 sticks of wood, but he walks over to one of the piles and says it’s hard wood. He can’t just give that away. It takes me a minute to realize that he means he wants more. So I ask him how much he does want for it, and he says \$6 for 10 sticks which is still a good deal. A stick of wood is about 2 feet long and 5 inches in diameter. After he learns that we’re camping, he repeatedly offers to give us an all-nighter, but we decline. Somehow we manage to squeeze the pile of wood we just bought behind the passenger seat in the car. We say our goodbyes, but don’t get to leave before the guy tells shows us the scars his dog has given him.

With enough wood for the rest of the trip and then some, we headed north out of Coos Bay looking for a place to camp. We stopped by Driftwood campground but it was filled with RVs and OHVs and I decided we weren’t that desperate yet. A short way down the road we stopped (I think) Lagoon Campground. They had much more private sites, and we found a spot fairly easily. Over our hardwood fire we cooked salmon in tinfoil, which we’d bought at a coastal village earlier in the day, with berries for dessert. I suppose this is the modern equivalent of living off the land.

In the morning we walked to the beach. It was only a few miles, but most of the way was across massive sand dunes. Walking along the ridge of the dunes, some of which were over 100 feet high, we could see how to our left and right there was nothing but sand for miles. Far in the distance we saw the occasional OHV, but aside from that it was peaceful. After trudging through the sand for a while we made it to a small fir forest and eventually the beach. While resting on some driftwood we saw a bird of prey that we couldn’t identify, but enjoyed watching as it hovered and periodically swooped down to the water. It didn’t appear to catch anything. We trudged back through the sand and starting driving once again.

After yesterday’s success “living off the land” we decided to buy some fish from a boat in Florence. There were several boats at the dock with big hand-written signs saying “TUNA.” We stopped at the one closest to land, where a big guy with a stud under his lower lip was sitting on a boat. Whereas the firewood man was everything the stereotype made him out to be, this guy was the opposite. He looked the part (sun-burned, beard, piercings, big, sturdy clothes) but was very well-spoken. He explained that because of some laws involving fish markets he wasn’t allowed to sell us just a part of the fish, so we’d have to buy a whole fish. He was, however, allowed to filet it for us. The smallest he had was a 12 pound fish, which would yield about 6 pounds of filet. That sounded like a lot of tuna fish but when I asked for the price he said it’d only be \$20 for the fish, plus \$4 for the fileting, which would make the whole thing the cheapest tuna I’d every bought. So we said “yes,” and took 6 pounds of tuna back to our ice chest.

At a diner we had lunch, and the waitress was so nice to plug in the battery charger for my camera while we ate. Back on the road again, we saw signs for Sea Lion Caves: the world’s largest sea cave. It sounded interesting so we stopped. There they have a large sea cave populated by Steller Sea Lions. On the other side they had some impressive cliffs populated by birds. It was a sight that would have been amazing to see if there hadn’t been a gift shop and lots of people, but with all that was a lot less impressive. We were about at the turning point of our trip, so instead of continuing on north, we drove east along route 34. We passed an uninspiring campground, but pressed on towards Corvalis. I believe we took a turn there and camped at a fairly remote but nonetheless full campsite close by a river. Inland there were large trees, and it had a very different feel from the places we’d camped so far. Dinner that night was a lot of tuna fish in aluminum foil. It’s probably the best fish I ever had. And we still had a lot left over after that meal.

In the morning we went for a quick stroll towards the waterfall by the campground, and packed up. This was going to be a driving day going a long way south on the 5. We stopped in Eugene where I attempted to get another CD of pictures burned. The internet cafe we stopped at didn’t provide the service, so we went to Kinko’s. There they had a kiosk that advertised to do exactly what we wanted. However, after I inserted the first flash card in the machine and it told me it didn’t work, that card never worked again. I didn’t trust the machine and used the more expensive “service” where a real person does the copying work. (Crucial replaced the broken flash card free of charge. They rock.)

We drove south through hilly Oregon, which was still pretty but not as nice as the ocean vistas we’d become accustomed to. A little south of Eugene around lunch time we got off the road at a sign for Heaven on Earth restaurant. This is a great restaurant that specializes in dessert and other rich foods. I forget what I had, but it was good. We took home a cinnamon roll that was the size of a regular cake. We’d actually made reservations for our campsite that night since it was Saturday again. It turned out to be unnecessary. We arrived at Woodson Bridge SRA a little bit before dark. We burned some more of our wood, ate some more of our fish, and crashed.

Sunday night we would meet Danielle’s sister Andrea and her boyfriend Ron. Since we got to the bay area pretty early we killed time by walking across the Golden Gate bridge. Driving through San Francisco was about as frustrating as on the way there, but our walk across the bridge was quite enjoyable. At the end of the afternoon we arrived at Andrea’s apartment where we took a much-needed shower. We cooked up some more of our fish (which we didn’t feel as comfortable eating raw anymore but still excellent) for dinner, and then went to watch Andrea’s Middle Eastern dance performance.

On Monday we drove home in the morning, avoiding the nastiest of Bay Area traffic.

Lessons Learned: Fresh fish from a boat is really, really good. Buying local stuff is fun, and it tends to be good.

About the author

Living the good life in Seattle, occasionally sharing something interesting with the Internet.