Westbound: Redwood National Park, CA

Redwood National Park entrance

There is something magical about the sea crashing up against the mountains. These two remarkable wonders of the world are so rarely found coexisting together in one place that it creates something truly awe-inspiring. I found such magic when I arrived in the Redwood Forest. But let me start from the beginning.

I was making my way through southern Oregon, heading to California, when I looked over and caught a glimpse of a woodworking shop with a colorful sign displaying “It’s a Burl Gallery” on its face. I hit the brakes after merging to the side of the road and I made a quick u-turn to return to this intriguing place. I’m not sure what exactly caught my eye initially. It could have been the life size wooden unicorn on the front porch, the brightly painted classic car alongside the road, several expertly crafted tree houses, or maybe it was all the intricately detailed wood sculptures scattered throughout the property. Whatever it was, it looked fascinating! I parked my car in a space between some trees and I got out to inspect what they had. There were several different buildings on the premises including two different buildings for working on the wood, two separate buildings that served as an eccentric indoor gallery for various finished pieces, several sheds that contained sectioned wood of all shapes and sizes from an array of different types of trees, and finally the main house which appeared as though it was also crafted out of wood by the same artisan; having a wrap around porch littered with more completed works of wooden art.

I walked around the grounds for at least an hour trying to envision what I could build with the beautiful pieces of rough cut wood. I started off with an interesting slab that I considered transforming into a coffee table. I looked at it several times from every angle before setting it aside and looking for something I could use as a base for the table. I inspected every piece of wood, trying to visualize how I could make the pieces work together. After spending an embarrassing amount of time doing this, I ended up negotiating a price for a small slab of maple that I intend to turn into a side table once I do a little work on the wood and either find or make just the right base for it. I use the term “negotiated” loosely, as my initial offer was twenty-five dollars and my new friend, Lynn, smiled at me and said he would take twenty.

Tons of burl samples at It’s A Burl
Woodshop and gallery

 

Woodshop and gallery

I entered into the Redwood Forest soon after crossing into California. I passed by the heads of several trails where the giant trees dwarfed the cars parked nearby. I did not do any hiking initially because I wanted to drive through the area and get my bearings. I hit U.S. 101 and the network of side roads attached to it and toured the coastline. The lush forested mountains on one side of my car met up with the ocean on the other side. The roads took me high up on cliffs overlooking dramatic drop offs and gave me unparalleled views of the rocky coastline filled with sea lions playing in the gentle breaks that seemed to go on for miles.

Overlooking the Pacific from Redwood National Park
California state line

 

Massive trees
More of the Pacific coast

Around four thirty in the afternoon I found myself high atop one of the many magnificent cliffs and I pulled into a clearing off the roadway. I backed up to the edge in order to create the best panoramic view of the ocean as possible. I decided to set up camp for the day because I had been traveling at a pretty good pace and I needed a little down time. The cliff side was thick with bright flowers and a variety of green plants. Tall trees growing at an extreme angle to keep upright bordered my vision on either side. The drop off ended abruptly at the rocky start of the ocean waters. A pointed rock formation almost qualifying as a mountain in size jutted out of the water at the base of my view. I could see for miles across the vast ocean and would occasionally see something large breach the water in the distance which had to be the whales who were still migrating this time of year. The sound of sea lions barking at each other as they played in the waves below soothed me as I took it all in. As if the moment could not get any better, a bald eagle flew overhead on two separate occasions before the sun began to set, creating an orange glow over the horizon.

Campsite on a cliff

The next morning I made my way to the visitor center in order to pick up a map and plan out the route I would take. I spoke with a young man behind the counter and asked him where he suggested I hike for the day. He took out a large map, unfolded it across the table, and began rattling off information about areas located in every which direction. I had to stop him at one point to regain focus as I explained once more that I was not familiar with the area and was looking for a route to see the best sights in the park. We finally decided on a large loop that promised to take the majority of the day and cover several different trails. The young man then asked me to excuse him so he could grab a marker in the back room in order to mark the map. When he returned he was holding a green highlighter and proceeded to give me more directions. The more he talked the more apparent the volunteer patch affixed to his chest became. He went on saying that I should start at such and such a trail, follow it to the right and then make two lefts, cross by the tree with a notch in it, come to a creek which you make a right turn directly before and not after reaching it, followed by a creek you make a left turn directly after and not before it, reaching a fork in the road named such and such that once had a sign marking it but no longer does, until this trail turns into that trail and that trail turns into this trail. I stared at him with a blank look for what seemed like all morning and watched as he used the green highlighter all over a map of a national forest, which just so happened to be tinted the same shade of green. I am convinced this individual is either color blind or a significant amount of inbreeding is taking place here.

After leaving the visitor center slightly more confused then when I arrived, I found a trailhead nearby and began my hike. The forest surrounded me with enormous redwood trees growing well over three hundred feet tall. These giants appear as if they have been growing for hundreds of years, having weathered the unforgiving forces of both time and elements, they stand tall as patriarchs of the forest. The mind simply cannot process the sheer size of these trees when first coming into contact with them. You have to walk up to them, touch them, and sit starring at them before you can start to comprehend just how big they are. After spending hours walking among them, you adjust. These trees become the new norm and it starts to feel as if all trees should be this big.

Standing in a tree
Towering bark

 

Forest giants

Flying insects constantly made their presence known by buzzing around me. Sweat dripped from my forehead as the backpack I was carrying became increasingly heavy. It suddenly dawned on me why the price of backpacking gear sharply increases as the weight minimally decreases. When you are in the wilderness, dollars don’t mean anything, ounces do.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”                                                          – John Muir

Once I completed the long loop I made it back to my car and headed towards Fern Canyon. The poorly maintained dirt road leading to the trail hugged the coast and had several areas where rising water levels had created deep creeks across the roadway. Between crossing over water, trying to miss large potholes, and avoiding elk crossing the roadway, I wasn’t sure if my vehicle was going to get me where I wanted to go. The SUV begrudgingly chugged along and I made it to the entrance of the trail. I followed a swiftly flowing creek back into the forest where it opened up into fifty foot canyon walls on either side. Water trickled down from the top feeding thousands of green ferns and mosses which blanketed the walls. Branches and stones were scattered in the cold clear water to provide a crude pathway through the valley. Large trees had fallen into the canyon, over the creek, adding obstacles to the hike. The area was absolutely beautiful and the challenging drive in was well worth the effort.

Elk crossing

 

Elk herd

 

Fern Canyon

 

Fern Canyon

 

Fern Canyon

I returned to the cliffside I had camped at the night before and settled in for one more breathtaking sunset. After another good nights sleep on what felt like the top of the world, I made my way back down through the forest to U.S. 101 and headed south for San Francisco. About an hour in to this extremely pleasant drive along the coast I saw signs for Avenue of the Giants and I swerved over the empty highway to make the exit, as it sounded like somewhere I needed to be. I checked my GPS and confirmed that this road headed south, parallel with U.S. 101. The drive was spectacular with the giant timbers lining the narrow two lane asphalt. It was not long into the detour that I suddenly saw basketball sized boulders rolling across the road in front of me. I looked out my passenger window and watched in disbelief as a rock slide was coming down the bare cliff face beside me. This was something I had heard of and seen pictures of but never thought that I would find myself in the middle of such an unlikely timed event. Without having enough time to stop before reaching the falling rocks, I swerved around the reasonably spaced balls of rolling destruction and came out the other end surprisingly unscathed. It was one of those rare special moments that gets you firing on all cylinders and delicately teeters on incredible and incredibly bad.

Last night at my cliffside campsite

 

Avenue of the Giants

It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon

Westbound: Olympic National Park, WA

If your undecided on where you want to travel or what you want to see, Olympic National Park may just be the spot for you. This diverse park covers a large area and includes mountain drives leading from green forests up into thick blankets of snow, coastal beaches, waterfalls, lakes, and even rain forests.

My journey this morning had me departing from Seattle, Washington and driving west to Olympic National Park. I entered in the name of the park on my trusty GPS and off I went. Aside from looking down at my screen to see where the next turn off is, I rarely ever check to see what route I’m taking or what I may be coming up on. After driving out of Seattle I found myself at a booth with an attendant asking for payment in order to drive my car on the next ferry that would soon be arriving. I was a little concerned that my GPS had finally misguided me because I did not start the morning off thinking I was going to be driving onto a ferry in order to get to my destination. I politely explained to the woman in the booth that I was blindly following my GPS and I was not sure if this was were I needed to be to get to Olympic National Park. She assured me this was the best route to take, so I went along with it.

After completing the thirty minute ferry ride, I drove off the boat and traveled another hour or so into Port Angeles. I was expecting a cool little pacific northwest town that I would enjoy exploring, but all I found was a somewhat depressing area that was arguably rundown. I was getting hungry for lunch at this point, and due to a little run in with a certain field mouse in Seattle, I no longer had any food on me. I checked the local Yelp reviews for a highly rated lunch spot and came across New Day Eatery. To make a long story short, the salad I ordered off the menu stated it was topped with salmon and it arrived topped with canned salmon, which doesn’t quite qualify as salmon to me. It was a very disappointing meal and I didn’t bother mentioning anything to the unfriendly waitress because I realized this may just be the best Port Angeles has to offer. It wasn’t until the next day when I was at a nearby river that a gentleman came walking up and asked if the salmon were jumping today. He went on to explain further that he was at this very spot the day before and large groups of salmon were making their trip up the falls, landing on the rocks, and flopping around until they landed back in the water. My mind brought me back to what I was doing the day before- choking down a painful meal of canned salmon. I could have literally drove down the road, picked up a salmon flopping around on the rocks, went back to the restaurant and delivered my very own locally caught salmon to the chef. Get it together New Day Eatery! I’m sure I’ll get over this disappointment with time.

After I ate lunch I walked over to the nearby bike store to look around and continue convincing myself that I need a new mountain bike. I talked bikes with the clerk for a few minutes and confirmed with him that there was in fact nothing of significance in town I was missing out on and I should continue on into nearby Olympic National Park. I left there and drove over to the park’s visitor center to pick up a map and plan out my day.

I decided to drive up to Hurricane Ridge which promised an abundance of snow; a stark contrast to the lush green forest I was surrounded by. The two lane road twisted and turned up the mountain and provided constantly changing scenery. The trees started off extremely green with mosses delicately draped over their branches. It seemed like in the blink of an eye a thick fog appeared and hovered over the tree line. As I continued to climb in altitude the fog dropped below me and deep snow covered the ground.

    

  

  

I returned back down the mountain and drove thirty minutes to Madison Falls. The road leading to the trail head ran parallel to a stream flowing with turquoise water. I unloaded my bike and began the ride to the waterfall. It was only a short distance up before I ran into the falls. What these falls lacked in size they more than made up for in brilliant colors and features. The water shot off the cliff above in a narrow stream, bordered by vibrant lime green moss growing off the rock face on either side. The clear water thundered as it landed harshly in the rocky pool at the base of the falls. Tall trees surrounded this little piece of paradise, creating a moment I never wanted to leave.

  

It was getting late and I decided to stay the night at a campground inside the park. After getting a restful nights sleep I woke up with purpose, knowing I had a lot of ground left to cover. I started off by locating the trail heads of Marymere Falls and Sol Duc Falls and hiking through the forest to see them. Each of the falls had their own unique beauty and the trek to find them was certainly worth it.

          

After seeing the falls, I drove west through the park towards the coast. My first stop was Second Beach, not to be confused with First Beach and Third Beach. This was officially my first time being on the actual pacific coast, and it was spectacular. I hiked through a rain forest-like area, past two hundred foot tall trees lining the sandy beaches before getting a glimpse of the ocean and the craggily peaks shooting out of the water. My expectations were immediately exceeded and I spent a couple hours exploring the coastline. The sun bleached remains of the fallen timber that once created a barrier between forest and surf lay mangled at the entrance to the sand. The huge tree trunks created a series of obstacles that only those answering the call of the crashing waves would cross. The huge cliffs rising out of the water provided a glimpse of the marvels hidden below. I continued my drive down the coast to Ruby Beach which provided even more of this dramatic landscape.

      

    
After I left the ocean behind, I made my way inland and visited the Hoh Rain Forest and the Quinault Rain Forest. Both areas provided a unique landscape I had never experienced before. The areas were lush with mosses, ferns, flowers, and trees growing on every square inch of the forest floor. Creeks slowly flowed by, feeding this delicate network with water so clear you could only tell from the reflection of the sun that it was even there. Greens of every shade overwhelmed the senses. Elk foraged nearby, disregarding me as I walked past them. There was so much life all around me that it suddenly became clear I am a very small member of a much larger, complex system.

            

It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon

Westbound: Yellowstone National Park, WY


I arrived at Yellowstone National Park as the sun was beginning to go down. I passed through the town of Cody, the eastern gateway to the park, and entered the thick of the mountains. The park covers a vast area and I knew by looking at the icon on the map indicating my campsite location, I had a long way to go. I drove for several miles as dusk began to approach. I was trying to match the speed limit in the area in order to cover some ground before it got too dark but I kept coming across groups of deer along the roadway. I would have to slow down as I passed them because I was afraid a deer through my windshield may put a damper on my trip. They would look at me as I passed, unsure whether to stay put or bolt across the roadway in front of my car. The species began to alternate from groups of deer to groups of elk. The packs quickly grew from the tens to what appeared to be hundreds. It seemed like every few feet I was having to slow to a crawl because the animals were either in the roadway or directly beside it, looking undecided on whether or not they wanted to walk across at the last minute. This went on mile after mile and what was an enjoyable experience at first quickly became a nuisance. Traveling across Yellowstone at a snails pace, the constant threat of an elk destroying your car, and visibility dropping as the sun disappeared was exhausting for the initial twenty miles. It was at this time I realized I had not plugged in the actual GPS coordinates for my campsite, I just had a general interior location of the park guiding me along. I pulled over and entered the new location. A map popped up with an icon placed over what appeared to be the middle of nowhere and the option to route. After opting to route the location, my GPS alerted me that no route to this location could be detected. I was surprised because this was the first time the GPS failed to provide a route for me. I have previously camped at sites where the patch of dirt barely qualifying as an access road disappeared into fields where the unmarked campsite promised to lay just beyond. Even in these circumstances my GPS never wavered. Regardless of the reason, my lifeline had failed and I was forced to make the slow journey back into town to regroup. I weaved through the same groups of wild animals as I did on the way in. I honked my horn, flashed my lights, anything to clear the road to where I didn’t have to stop every few minutes. This just seemed to make things worse because they would stop their leisurely stroll, raise their heads up, and stair at me with a confused look.

I eventually made it back to Cody and was able to secure a reliable signal on my phone. I looked up another campsite nearby, just bordering Cody and the east entrance of the park. I made my way there, turning off the main road onto a dirt path. At this point the sun was gone and it was completely dark. The path was roughly the same width as my car, give or take a foot, with the mountain on one side and a sheer drop off on the other. I immediately began a steep ascent along the mountain side and I could hear my engine straining against the climb. Even in low gear my tires would spin every so often. Several areas had large rocks along the path that I would have to strategically maneuver across in order to avoid bottoming out. My car moaned at the abuse I was putting it through, but the front wheel drive kept pulling me forward. A long drive up this mountain pass rewarded me with a turn off that flattened out into a rocky field with an unbeatable view of the surrounding mountains.


The next day I attempted to survive the descent on the grueling path I tackled the night before. Although I could see the path much better in the light, I could also see the unnerving view of the cliffside hugging my tires. After making it down safely I began the trip back into the park. The deer and elk had disappeared off the roadway leaving only a few herds farther out in the fields. Being able to do the speed limit made for a much more efficient trip. I passed alongside mountains and through long tunnels carved through the huge rock formations. Stunning views of lakes with tall mountains shooting up from their shorelines and reflections of their peaks in the water greeted me as I traveled deeper into the park. The park was unique with constantly changing scenery. You would go from an area of mountains filled with green pine trees, to beautiful lakes, to desert looking areas with large red rock formations and colorless shrubs, to snow covered fields with streams running through them. As I got deeper and deeper into the park, I eventually came up to a large road sign strategically placed across the majority of the two lane road. The sign read, “Road Closed”, so naturally I thought this must be a mistake and I went around it. I traveled several more miles up the road before coming to a gated area providing access to the interior of the park. The gates were closed, the booths were deserted, and large snow banks loomed in the distance. I stared at the obstacles, trying to calculate any options for continuing. Finally realizing I was defeated I turned around and began the scenic drive out of the park. Once in town I called the park service and they informed me the interior was closed due to snow accumulation. Although it was disappointing to not see some of the more iconic sights in the region, it allows me an excuse to come back in the future with my wife.


   


 


It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon