I have one picture from today, a live oak tree with trailing Spanish moss. There are so many impressive trees in this area, we decided there could be a calendar “Live Oaks of Ft. Ord.” December weather doesn’t get much better than sunny and 60o.
Three northern counties of California produce more cannabis than anywhere else in the US, gaining the region the name “the Emerald Triangle”. The Wall Street Journal has been covering the cannabis industry here since the 1970s, long before it was legal. We’ve spent the month of October in this gorgeous area. We head south this week, with regret, but it’s time to settle for the winter, and it’s a bit chilly here in the far North.
We’re in Eureka, CA, part of Humboldt County. Often the entire state north of Mendocino is called “Humboldt,” with an inflection and implicit eye roll, like “the back of beyond,” where all the crazy hippie growers live.
It is beautiful here, there are only 14 cases of Covid-19 in the entire county, and when you go for a walk on the beach or on a trail during the week, you are often alone. People are good about wearing masks on the street, at the Arcata Farmers Market, and in stores. The Farmers Market is really good and runs year round. All products come from within 50 miles, and yes, there’s a lot of squash, peppers, and tomatoes right now. (That’s a good thing.) We have not eaten out.
We haven’t visited all the places you can hike or walk along the shore. There are far more than can be covered in a month. However, here are a few highlights.
The best place to hunt for California agates in beach gravel: Big Lagoon County Park, Trinidad CA
My three favorite places for bird watching:
- Arcata Marsh, Arcata, CA–there are thousands of shorebirds that visit this area, and lots of trails.
2. Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, south of Eureka, CA. More trails and lots of birds. We’re still seeing migrating species, especially on the warmer, sunnier days.
3. Mad River County Park, near Loleta, CA includes a trail behind the dunes. Trees have grown into a kind of tunnel, and tiny warblers jump through the branches faster than you can aim your binoculars. The trail comes out on the beach, and we walked back along the shore. Fog had rolled in and we walked through ghostly gray light.
I don’t have a favorite place for walking on the beach–there are miles of beaches, dog-friendly, even horse-friendly. At the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, there are signs saying No Dogs, No Vehicles, No Runners (?). We’ve seen more deer in our yard than at any of the wildlife refuges, however.
We learned a bit about Frisbee Golf when we went for a walk in a park in Manila, CA that turned out to be a popular disc golf course.
I will miss it here. The past two weeks have been without rain and when you stand in the sun it is warm (60s). Nights are cold, but there has been no frost. There was a full moon/blue moon/Halloween moon on Saturday. It’s been perfect for being outdoors.
We took advantage of the drive south to get off Highway 101 and onto the Avenue of the Giants that winds among redwood forest for 31 miles. This was our initial cruise through the forest. On our next visit to Humboldt, we’ll stop at one of the many places where trails thread through the huge trees.
Not far beyond the Avenue of the Giants, we entered the familiar California environment, brown hillsides, patches of trees, and lots of irrigated grape vines.
We decided to avoid the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco, but got a look at the city as we drove by.
By this time, we were ready for a break, so we stopped in to see Lyra at her new apartment in Mountain View, and to meet her puppy, Pandora. Pandora was much smaller than she looked on Skype, and cute as can be. We hadn’t see Lyra since Christmas, and that was a pleasure, and a big relief. How we all want to hug our family members! We visited with Amanda and Jim in Eureka, and we wanted to see Lyra. We don’t know when we will get back to Illinois to see Lillian and Neil, or out to Syracuse, NY to see my mom. Family–in the flesh–is to be treasured these days.
After our break visiting Lyra and Pandora, we went on to our destination in Carmel, a lovely house tucked in on a side street only two blocks from downtown. Driving due south for eight hours had the positive result that it is a bit warmer, as well as less rainy. It should be a good month.
Californians don’t pay much attention to fall as a season of the year. In the south, it’s the time when the heat abates–the palm trees don’t change color. In the Bay Area, a bit more fog comes in, but there’s not a seasonal shift to speak of.
As in many things, northern California is different. The leaves on cottonwoods and aspens turn yellow, pale orange, and silvery beige, blinking in the breeze. At first, while bird watching, we mistook the occasional falling leaf for a bird, starting, and turning our binoculars on the spot. A week later, so many leaves are falling that we aren’t so easily fooled.
I’ve been enjoying the changing leaves because they remind me of fall colors in the Eastern US where I grew up. Out for a walk on a recent sunny day, the breeze ruffled some leaves while others crunched underfoot releasing their woodsy scent. There are few more pleasurable moments at this time of year. I know the coming months will bring fog and rain, but for now this is an idyllic time of sounds and smells that remind me of autumn days gone by.
The fires have died down in the northern part of California. As soon as the air quality improved, everyone stopped monitoring the fires. There may still be fires, but they are out of sight and out of mind. When there is a sunny day on the weekend, every park fills with cars, as everyone who was cooped up by the pandemic and the smoke emerges to soak up some sun and breeze before winter sets in.
We are in the right place to see fall migrating birds, especially the warblers that are making their way south for the winter. As the leaves fall and the thickets become transparent, we can see tiny birds hopping from branch to branch once again. We spotted warblers in the spring, and all summer we’ve been tantalized by their tiny chirps, though they’ve been impossible to see. It’s fun to have them back.
Northern California has many environments. The famous Redwood National and State Parks harbor what is left of redwood forests. Redwood groves are dark even during the day, the trees so tall that sunlight rarely hits the ground. The trees lend a solemnity to the woods, blanketing everything in broad branches. The immensity of a mature redwood is difficult to appreciate. We’ve seen the stumps of trees cut down in the 1890s that are enormous. Again, it’s difficult to envision how such huge trunks could be hauled from the forest and moved to a sawmill. How could sawmills handle such giant logs?
The primeval-seeming redwood forests are not far from the coast, and make a dramatic contrast with the sandy beaches and rocky headlands. The coast provides wind, sun, and dunes, a sharp counterpoint to the dark green shaded stillness of the redwood forest. Our bird watching thickets are a bit of transition between the two.
There is another surprising environment here, coastal marshland. We are very near the Arcata Marsh. We knew there would be birds from what we read and our experiences in this kind of wetland. We were not prepared for Arcata, where we have seen hundreds and hundreds of shorebirds that normally we see in ones and twos. This has been a wonderful experience, getting to see species that are unusual for us in large numbers, having a chance to look at birds for as long as we want rather than getting a brief glimpse before they fly off. There are long-billed curlews, marbled godwits, long billed dowitchers, sanderlings, and various sandpipers. We took part in October Big Day, a bird counting day, and spent some time counting and recording birds at the marsh. We plan to go back now that it is one of our favorite places.
About halfway down the Oregon coast, the beaches become fewer in number, the headlands become higher, and the offshore rocks more frequent. The highway clings to the headlands and crosses inlets and rivers on a series of bridges built in the 1920s and 30s. Driving along, we’re barely aware of how difficult it was to get this road in place, with its narrow spots, twists, and turns.
Offshore rocks and shoreline phenomena all have names. Otter rock, Seal rocks, Sea lion rocks. We passed rocks that look like whales, or the fin of a monster shark lurking just below the surface. We stopped at the Devil’s Churn, the Spouting Horn, Thor’s Well, and the Devil’s Punchbowl. There are many others.
We began at Smelt Sands, where strong waves and high tide created a huge plume.
The Devil’s Churn was more difficult to see. It’s a narrow inlet where the water swirls and crashes.
The Spouting Horn is a blowhole that puts up a cloud of spray when the tide is coming in. We visited at a good time.
The Devil’s Punchbowl is a collapsed cave. Water rushes in and out, echoing with each rush of the waves.
Last, and possibly most intriguing of the formations we saw was Thor’s Well. This is a hole that fills with the tide, then sinks, making it look like the ocean is draining away. It’s not large, and is unmarked, along the shore near the Spouting Horn. We looked for a while and finally found it, watching the water sink straight down, then fill with the next wave. It’s in the back of the video near the water line, you need to look carefully to see it. Watch the water sink down into the hole, and refill from the next wave. THE VIDEO LOOKS SIDEWAYS BUT PLAYS PROPERLY. Click to have a look.
Last but not least, there’s nothing like a nice, big splash.
We arrived in Oregon in the dry season (summer solstice to fall equinox) and are here for the change to the wet season (the rest of the year). Already, walking in the forest after a few downpours reveals a different kind of forest, full of huge trees, moss-covered branches, sprouting mushrooms, ferns, and vines. The deep greens, the lush growth, and the tall, straight trunks aimed for the sky, are a complete contrast to the arid lands we’ve chosen to live in for the past several years.
We’ve found a few sections of old growth forest. In these places, there are a few huge trees and some spectacular trunks of trees cut down long ago. These forests remind me of a book I read a long time ago, Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey.
The forests are cool and damp, with a special smell that combines pine needles, wet sand, mud, and freshly washed air. The atmosphere is peaceful, the paths are springy underfoot. It’s a wonderful place to spend some time.
Wednesday Sept. 9, I first noted smoke as part of our day. We continued to spend time outdoors as we learned about the AQI (air quality index) and began following it as closely as we do Covid-19 stats. We tried to go out at first, but the air was yellowish with smoke. Oregon’s terribly destructive forest fires are not near us, but the smoke cast a pall over the entire west coast from San Diego to Seattle.
Two days later, we knew we had to stay indoors all day. I had an eye appointment in Portland, but that involved ducking out of the car and into the office, then reversing the process. The days were still and smog-filled. If the sun was visible, it was a pale yellow circle, flat and distant. There was almost no wind at all, when normally the wind always blows, everyone setting up their windbreaks on the beach. The smog hung all around us. After five straight days spent indoors or in the car, we were pretty tired of the inside of our (cute, but small) house, reading books, cooking, cleaning, doing crosswords, and looking at each other. Daily fluctuations in the AQI only go so far in the world of entertainment. Finally, it began to rain and the air became breathable.
More than a week later, it was finally safe to go out, and we celebrated with a trip to Hug Point, where I found a piece of beach glass (surely a good omen), and we saw mussels of a good size for eating. Only Oregon residents can get a permit to collect these treasures of the sea, so I advised my sister Paula to get a permit before she arrived. We collected mussels, Jonathan cleaned them, then they steamed in white wine and garlic. We added salad and french bread, accompanied by more wine, and imagined ourselves in Brussels or Paris.
While we were sheltering from the smoke, the dry season in Oregon appears to have ended, and today there are strong winds and lots of rain. If it lets up we’ll go out, but if not we’ll be indoors once more, this time prisoners of the pelting rain and wind.
When it’s good, it’s really, really good, and the days we’ve been able to get outdoors have been priceless. Haystack Rock is the landmark of Cannon Beach, OR, but as we walk or drive south, we’ve visited Silver Point, Humbug Point, Hug Point, and we’re still going. There are beautiful offshore rocks and long beaches.
One day, we skipped over a long stretch of coast to visit Tillamook, famous for dairy products. The line to get into the factory store proved to be too long for us, and we continued out to the coast to visit Short Beach, a wonderful beach full of driftwood and waterfalls. It is also a beach that people visit with buckets. When we inquired from the third group that passed us, we found that Short Beach is a place that is popular for hunting agates.
We have made the best of our outdoor days. With luck, the rain will let up and we’ll get back outside before the month ends and it’s time to move on.
Postcard views. Need I say more? Before our visit, I didn’t know that Glacier is one of the most popular, most heavily visited US National Parks, despite its remote location in northwest Montana. The peak season is barely three months, and some years less.
Visitors are down 58% this year. BUT, visitor levels in August (right now) are just about back to last year’s levels, and only the western half of the park is open. As the result, the open portion of the park is more crowded than ever. We were hoping to visit during a slightly less crowded time (Nope). August is a fabulous time to be in Montana, probably the best month of the year. Visitors seem to be aware of this fact, and put up with the crowds.
We left home at 7:30 am, and arrived at the park at 8:45 am. Purchasing our America the Beautiful Lifetime Senior Pass ($80) went very quickly. The park attendant was behind a plastic shield, and no signature was required when using a card for payment. We drove to the Apgar Visitors Center, where there is a coffee shop and a park ranger answering questions. I was hoping for a wonderful gift shop in this popular park, but Covid 19 has ruined the shopping experience. There are a limited number of items sold, and only at an outdoor table. I think a much wider variety of Glacier Park souvenirs can be had online (bummer).
Traffic was light at first along Lake McDonald. On Going-to-the-Sun Road, it was not difficult to pull over to look at the lake, read informational signs, and see trailheads. As we went along, we passed more and more parked cars, and it became clear that hikers who want to spend the day on a specific trail really do need to be in the park around 7 a.m. (as guidebooks suggest) if they want their choice of parking spots. By 8:45 a.m., most parking spots at trailheads were full.
The drive was glorious and the day was perfect. We had cold weather all week, and the forecast was for hot weather (90s!) for the following week. We visited on the perfect day, clear skies and a high of 78o. The mountains appear to be much higher in the park than along the road to our house and in the Kootenai National Forest around us, I’m not sure why. The jagged gray teeth of young mountain peaks at Glacier are impressively threatening.
Heaven’s Peak is the first of the mountains that the road passes, followed by many others, each with its own name. Every inch of the park has been hiked and climbed by visitors since the days when only the Blackfoot lived here.
We intended to stop at the Logan Pass Visitor Center and take a walk on the Hidden Lake Nature Trail. The parking lot was a shifting scrum of SUVs jockeying for spaces that weren’t available. Some vehicles stopped mid-lane and put on their flashers to wait for a spot. We didn’t stay, deciding to push on until we found a less mobbed area. We saw our only wildlife by the Logan Pass Visitors Center, a mountain goat. (The photo is a mountain goat at Glacier National Park from the internet.)
We stopped to look at the Jackson Glacier. Statistics indicate that the park’s glaciers are disappearing, making it a pleasure to see one that is still present. Around every turn, a new vista of trees and mountains opened up.
At Sun Point we found our spot. There is a large parking area and plenty of spaces were available. The trail to Baring Falls gave us a short hike to a beautiful spot, just what we were looking for. We took our masks along, just in case, and it was a good thing. There were people all along the trail. After a few hundred yards of mask-on-mask-off-mask-on, I left my mask on. The path paralleled the shore of Lake St. Mary with views over the lake and the mountains. I would have liked to go down to the shore, but it was a steep scramble, and I stayed on the trail. We arrived at Baring Falls, a cascade that drains into Lake St. Mary. Visitors lounged on the shore, youngsters climbed on logs that crossed the stream, and others waded in the shallow, icy water.
Back at Sun Point after our walk to Baring Falls, we found a picnic table in the shade and ate our lunch. From there we continued to the end of the road at Rising Sun. There are signs and cones the direct cars to turn around here and head back. In other years, Going-to-the-Sun Road is open all the way across the park to the St. Mary Visitor Center. From there, visitors can make the return drive around the outside of the park. Though the return route is much longer, the time is about the same, as 2/3 of the trip is on Rte. 2, the major highway. You trickle along Going-to-the-Sun Road, come out of the park in the town of St. Mary, and drive another 1-1/2 to 2 hours around the perimeter of the park to get back to West Glacier. Some visitors choose to base themselves in East Glacier to hike the popular trails on that side of the park. Not this year.
The eastern portion of Glacier National Park is controlled by the Blackfoot Tribe. This year, the tribe decided that they did not want the risk that tribal members would contract the virus from visitors, and the east side of the park and that portion of the road are closed. They may reopen next year, based on the tribe’s decision next winter. When you consider that Native Americans have been badly affected by the Covid virus, the Blackfoot decision is understandable. In previous years, more than one million people visited Glacier Park. That’s a lot of potential virus-carriers.
The portion of Glacier National Park that is open is filled with spectacular views and lots of places to visit. Despite the ups and downs of the Year of the Pandemic (What animal should represent this year? A poisonous snake?), it’s a great place to visit. So many gorgeous vistas!
Post Script: I thought about finding a less visited area for a second visit to Glacier National Park, and Polebridge, MT looked like just the place. It’s a sort of side entrance, and there are several lakes to visit. I read about it online and found that I am not the first person to think of this. In 2020, entries to the park through Polebridge are up 40%. Instead, we are hiking on the trails around lakes near our house where we are usually the only ones out.
“You couldn’t take a bad picture here,” Jonathan said, looking out the car window.
He was right. Everywhere you look driving into the mountains around us are stands of lodgepole pine, narrow avalanche chutes blanketed in grass, and bare faces of stone bordered by undulating piles of scree.
The day was overcast and cool, quite a change from recent 90o days. Only a mile or two down the road, we pulled over, put on the turn signal and got out to stare overhead at a big hawk. A truck passed us, the passenger giving a “What the heck?” gesture.
Our destination was Big Therriault Lake, 28 miles to the east of our current home in Fortine. We stopped to take photos of deer, ducks, and the beautiful water of the lake.
The rain began just as we were ready to picnic, and ended not long after. We set out around the lake, a beautiful walk with the sun coming out, the lake turquoise and absolutely still. There were no other people on the trail. Nearly back to where we started, a woman glided by on a paddleboard, two people in kayaks not far away. Their bicycles leaned against the picnic table, pickup truck parked nearby. They had everything you could want for a Montana day at the lake.
What makes Ohio different from other places we’ve visited? There are a few things that have impressed and surprised us. One is grass–there are huge lawns around many houses, and tracts of open land covered by grass without a house nearby. These are often lovely, but who mows all that acreage? True, there are lots of gray-haired guys on riding mowers–is it really that much fun?
We were impressed by another natural feature, rhododendrons! Huge, enormous rhododendrons, as big as, no, bigger, than the side of a house.
Quirky places are everywhere, including here. We liked the roof without a house:
Our current home is just a couple of miles from the Pennsylvania border. In the town of Meadville is the amazing PennDOT Crawford County office. There’s a garden of oversized Seussian flowers and plants on the corner by the stoplight. Along the side of the depot is a remarkable mural panorama of Pennsylvania icons. The mural is bolted to chain-link fencing extending down the road for hundreds of yards. A steady trickle of people visit. No one was there when we arrived, then a couple stopped, took a photo and left. We walked down the edge of the highway looking at the mural, and when we returned to the parking lot, a family was exploring the sculptures.
Knock-your-socks-off effort went into making the mural, yet there is no onsite information about this extensive installation. Fortunately, the Uncovering PA website tells the story. Led by a professor from Allegheny College, the sculptures and mural were designed in 2000 and built over ten years, with lots of inspiration and suggestions from students and local residents. So many signs, so many bolts! The material, old road signs, means this is a heck of a durable piece.
The sections show local landmarks, the changing weather, trucks on the highway, and even Lake Erie.
The ferris wheel was missing a few of its seats from wear and tear, but the hot air balloons still looked pretty sturdy. I wanted to go for a ride but I didn’t quite fit into the basket.
Meanwhile, Jonathan hid behind a turkey so that he didn’t have to help with the raking.
This was one of our favorite field trips so far. We even saw some of the animals from the mural. On our route going to Meadville, a fox crossed the road in front of us, while a fawn leaped into the road in front of us on the way home. It was never in danger from the car, and it’s always fun to see the resident wildlife.
We’re looking for more distinguishing characteristics–they don’t seem hard to find.
Symbols on a local tourist map turned out to be covered bridges, and on a perfect sunny afternoon we set out to see three that are all very near Conneaut.
Whizzing by on the highway, Ohio is flat and featureless. The creeks that wind their way into Lake Erie are invisible. In contrast, covered bridges predate the interstate, along roads that follow the contours of the land, skirting fields that alternate with stands of woodland, gently curving around low hills. The road dips down toward the creek, turns to cross perpendicular to the stream, then straightens out again and climbs up to the level of the fields.
Farmland now competes with housing, creating a suburban/rural combination that is new to us. Our speed dropped as we navigated the country roads and took time to pull over and admire the sights. We were never more than a few miles from the center of Conneaut, yet the landscape was entirely different. Adjacent to Conneaut Creek are vineyards, part of the local wine industry. With everything closed, we have not been able to taste Ohio wine yet.
Between stops on the covered bridge trail, we passed a huge octagonal barn, a wonderful structure that isn’t built any more. Beyond the next bridge, the map on my phone showed Bear Creek Waterfall, so we stopped. A broad sheet of water runs across the rock, pooling part way down before flowing into the creek. Imagine this as the centerpiece of a vast Japanese garden, water flowing across the rock, serene and constant. We watched the flow of the water for a few minutes before continuing on to the next bridge. At the end of our tour, we were at the opposite end of town, still only a few miles from home. All this in one afternoon!
The more we explore, the more we find. Along our route among the covered bridges, we found the Clara D. Peet Preserve, a grassy trail into the woods that we plan to walk another day. Online, I discovered a map of Ashtabula County parks, including at least two others we’ll enjoy exploring during the remainder of our month here.