Sunday, July 8, 2012

Holy crap, America is big

America is big.  California is big.  These are two things that I knew before I took this trip, but have been reiterated over the past few days.  When we left San Francisco, I expected we'd be in Oregon in just a few hours.  San Francisco, after all, is in northern California.  Then, I looked at the map - I mean really looked at the map and realized that San Francisco is basically in central California.  To make things worse, Highway 1 north of the bay is super curvy.  I mean four hours to go 40 miles curvy.  Combined with our late start in leaving San Francisco, we detoured to highway 101 to save a few hours.

By late afternoon, we were entering the redwood forests area.  Seeing the huge redwoods was one of the things on my life-long bucket list.  They did not disappoint.  Soon, we saw a sign for a drive-thru tree and immediately got off the highway to go through.  (In my mind, these trees were in the path of a road and rather than cut down the tree, the built the road through the tree.  In reality, smart entrepreneurs went looking for big trees to build roads through them so they could charge tourists for pleasure.)  As horribly kitschy as it was, it was so awesome.  That particular tree was twenty-four feet wide and 200+ feet tall.  The road through the tree was barely wide enough for "Scratchy" (the nickname of our little Nissan Versa after it was keyed in San Diego) and several large vehicles could not actually drive through.

Further north, we drove through the "Avenue of the Giants."  This scenic bypass took us through some of the tallest redwood forests.  These trees are absolutely astounding and confounding in their size.  There are three types of redwoods - the coast redwood, the giant sequoia (actually smaller than the coast redwood), and some rare kind that grows only in China.  They are so tall because (a) they grow about 3-4 feet per year when they are "young" and (b) they are fairly impervious to fire, rot, and disease, so they live to be really old.  An average redwood was in the 150-200 foot range, a large one between 200 and 300 feet, and a few mammoth trees over 300 feet.

The highlight of the redwood forests was the "Trees of Mystery" north of Eureka.  This dose of American features a 45 foot tall Paul Bunyan greeting guests (he really talked to guests).  The park had a number of unique redwoods - trees growing sideways, a grove of trees in the shape of a wedding chapel, one tree that had twelve other trees living on it.  At the end of the trail, there was a sky tram that took you through the canopy to a lookout hill.  Traveling through the canopy of the redwoods - over a hundred feet off the ground was spectacular.  We could even see the Pacific ocean from the top of the hill.

We also stopped yesterday at a small safari zoo park just across the Oregon line.  The zoo featured dozens of large animals - jungle cats, lions, monkeys, chimps, zebra, etc. - in small cages.  While this may not be good for the animals, it is fantastic viewing for the guests.  (All the animals have adequate space, but none of the luxury of the San Diego Zoo).  There were also dozens of less dangerous animals wandering around the ground with the guests.  These included pygmy goats, deer, peacock, and llamas among others.  The zoo also had a great nursery which allowed guests to hold a baby raccoon, baby skunk, baby ferrets, and we even got to play with a baby bobcat.

We've had a couple other awesome animal encounters.  We've seen a deer frolicking down the highway, a bay full of seals, and a domestic herd of elk.  We spotted two grey whales feeding off the coast (thanks to John, the old local happily helping tourists spot the whales and even loaning his binoculars for a better look). The highlight of our animal adventures so far were two wild bears on the highway in Northern California.  They were playing on the local scenic detour when we came around a curve.  One fled immediately for the woods to the right of the road, but the other crossed the road to flee on the left.  Sam and I were both too stunned and the bears left too quick to get a picture, but it has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of the trip.

The other main attraction of the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Seattle (besides the Redwoods) was the town of Astoria, Oregon.  One of my favorite childhood movies, The Goonies was set in Astoria and many outdoor scenes were filmed there as well.  From the moment I found out it was a real place, I knew I wanted to spend an afternoon in Astoria scouring Goonies sights.  The highlight, of course, is Mikey and Bran's house in the Goondocks (that's where the name of the movie comes from) where much of the early action takes place.  After seeing their view of the Columbia river, I understand why they didn't want to move.  There is also the "museum" where their dad works and the jail the Fratelli's escaped from at the beginning of the movie.  The jail housed the Oregon Film Museum, which had some cool Goonies memorabilia and some exhibits about other films filmed in Oregon (such as Kindergarten Cop).  Not great, but worth the price.

Impossibly, the drive has been better than the stops.  Every turn or hill portends new breathtaking vistas.  The landscape of America has changed so dramatically from the desert mountains of Arizona, Nevada, and southern California.  As I moved up the coast, flat sandy beaches and rolling hills covered in grass took over the landscape.  The redwoods of northern California were followed by the jaw dropping cliffs of Oregon and now the evergreen forests of Washington.  Throughout the trip, the Pacific Ocean has faithfully rumbled to my left, never venturing more than a dozen miles or so from the road.  In fact, the views have been so great that I have not been able to read or sleep or play on my iPad when Sam drives for fear of missing the gorgeous views.

Tomorrow, I will leave the Pacific Ocean as we make our way to Seattle.  If the route south is anywhere as good as the route north, then I will have a fantastic trip.

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