Sunday, August 24, 2014

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

The drive south from Arcata was uneventful, other than the usual inconveniently timed requests from the backseat for pee-pee stops, although I will say that for parents of young children, traveling with your own bathroom 20 feet behind you is pretty nice.


Our brains were full of ideas, a byproduct of spending time with “traveling friends.” I feel weird when I make that distinction, because all of our friends – just about every one of them, really – love to travel. I suppose our “traveling friends” are those we’ve met through travel and developed friendships (whether online or off) based on mutual destinations, communities (again, online of off) or modes of transport.

I used to also sometimes differentiate my “bluegrass friends,” those I knew through jams or attending festivals, but that seems a more valid distinction; In many cases, I don’t know what those people do for a living, where they even live, their spouse’s name, what else they’re “into,” whereas I feel I often know a lot more about the travelers. Perhaps it’s because that group may be more likely to write a blog sharing more about their background, aspirations and fears, or post pictures of their families, hometowns and far-off destinations to Instagram of Facebook, but I feel like I “know” them - or at least a version of themselves they’ve chosen to make public, which can also tell you something – a lot better. Conversations (again, online or off) with “bluegrass friends” typically revolve around recently attended shows, unique instruments or favorite artists,while conversations with travelers usual dive right into “what I want to be doing with my life, how I want to live and interact with the world, how I want to raise my children.” Okay, to be fair, there’s also plenty of talk with travelers about inane or over-techy details of visa regulations or wifi boosters or Airstreams vs. fifth wheels or Landcruisers vs. Landrovers.

We’d spent the evening before over at Luis and Lacey’s apartment (unfortunately, Lacey had other plans which sounded pretty fun) eating a delicious dinner (let’s just say it involved a charcoal grill and a bacon wrapped pork tenderloin very much in keeping with our largely “Porkatarian” diet) and talking about logistics for exploring Europe in the next year or two: Schengen visas, budgets, benefits of having a vehicle vs. backpacking, campgrounds vs. housesitting and hostels. As much as we’d like to try to make our timing work with theirs (as well as a few other, yeah I’ll say it, “traveling friends”) to meet up, we were also struck with a feeling of being really happy with the our plan of heading towards Alaska and then across to the East Coast in the Airstream.

While the last two weeks had primarily consisted of childcare with a little travel thrown in - learning the ins and outs of a newborn and managing the ever-changing routines and preferences of an almost-three-year-old - we’d really been enjoying the comfortable simplicity of the trailer and had been to some beautiful places. So leaving Arcata, rather than set off for something new, we decided to retrace our path and spend more time in the redwoods, remembering a campground the Currens (Currently Wandering) had been recently raving about.


We pulled into Burlington Campground in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park on Sunday afternoon, hoping to find some availability after the weekend crowds had left and before the big Labor Day weekend. The ranger at the kiosk confirmed that there were many sites available and suggested we drive around the loop and find one we liked that didn’t already have a yellow reserved tag. At that point, I mentioned that we’d be interested in staying a few nights and asked if she could tell us which sites were available Monday and Tuesday as well. She explained that she could only assign sites for one night, and while she had a listing of which sites were available the next nights, she couldn’t guarantee it since Reserve America (the contractor for the State Parks who handles reservations) would sometimes surprise her by booking it for someone else even though they only technically accept reservations 48 hours ahead of time. So, we’d have to come back the next morning to check and then possibly move if the site we’d chosen was booked. In fact, she wouldn’t even tell us which sites *were* booked the following nights so we could avoid them, again stating that she never knew what Reserve America might change. Great system, folks.

Fortunately, I had about two bars of AT&T service at the campground, so after finding a nice looking site to pull into, I downloaded the Reserve America app to my iPhone and started looking at availability in the campground for the next couple days. As expected, the app would not let me book a site for the following night -  less than 48 hours in advance - but I could see which ones were available for the next two nights and book for Tuesday. In theory, we’d occupy it Sunday, no one else would be able to book it for Monday and we’d have a reservation for Tuesday. I even called Reserve America attempting to pressure the agent into letting me book for Monday as well, which she said she was unable to do. Not exactly sure what the ranger at the kiosk was talking about, but at that point, I was satisfied that if I couldn’t squeak a last minute reservation in, neither could anyone else. We pulled back around to the kiosk and gave her the site number we wanted for the night. She again warned us that we’d have to come back each morning to check and see if it was available. I didn’t mention that I’d checked it on the app and made the reservation for the following night. Thought I’d surprise her.


The campground is filled with impressive trees, though likely mostly secondary growth. I say that because the other great feature of the campground is seemingly endless “goosepens,” the hollowed out stumps of giant redwoods left behind after fire, old age or – gasp! – the woodsman’s axe. After listening to the two older guys in the site adjacent to us curse and swill 40’s all week, they were almost instantly redeemed when, as we were packing up, they said how nice it was to see a family camping together since they both (brothers, it turned out) remembered coming to this very campground with their grandparents and crawling all over and in and out of each and every goosepen.




Another huge plus is the Gould Grove immediately across the Avenue of the Giants from the campground. We took one morning walk in the grove – perhaps not quite as impressive as Hendy Woods, if only because of the proximity to the Avenue of the Giants road and the sound of the big rigs on 101 less than a mile away – and I took another one afternoon while trying to put Mae to sleep in the Ergo carrier.





Never had it made more sense to me, the idea that we may have responsibilities to our children to keep them fed, well-rested and comfortable, but that there was no reason we couldn’t do all that while enjoying beautiful, natural places, not to mention the benefits to them, though not easily quantified, of experiencing these places even at a young age.



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Back at the campground, we spent a lot of time just wandering the loop through the sites, pausing to let Wynne hop off her tricycle and explore a hollowed out stump, or just hanging out in the hammock watching the light change as it passed through the trees.





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What’s brown and sticky? No, not a stick, this little inch worm that basically looked like a crawling pine needle who decided to help me finally replace my rear derailleur on my bike so I don’t have to keep explaining to Wynne why we can’t take a ride.


We usually make a pizza once a week. This trip I’ve been experimenting with making them in the oven in the cast iron skillet. After rolling out a little too much of the dough I’d made that afternoon, I kinda went for a deep dish kinda thing.



While it was good, honestly, I think next time I’ll try to roll out just enough for a regular pizza with a little thicker crust on the edges and then make another one on the cookie sheet for lunch the next day.

And yes, of course, if you read my Hendy Woods post, you know that I was also watching that beautiful changing light for its solar charging potential. While our spot did allow for some exposure on the roof panels, I think we did most of our collection (enough to stretch from three days to four) from the portable 120W panel we were able to position out near the road.

And one of the reasons we’d decided to stay for a fourth night was to try to cross paths with Todd, Amber and Aria from Campy Trails. They’ve been restoring an old Airstream for a few years in the hopes of getting on the road for what could either be a long trip or a new lifestyle. I came across their Instagram feed while doing our Airstream renovation, and it was pretty neat to see elements like the hand-assembled walnut butcher block countertop and the full-size double door fridge in person.

When they pulled into the Burlington Campground, they’d only been on the road for a matter of days and had already had a near head-on collision and a blow out on the trailer that caused significant damage to the lower side pane, not to mention going through it all with a two year old, something we can certainly sympathize with. Still, they arrived in good spirits, and we all chatted outside their trailer as the girls ran around, eventually settling down in the full-size room in their 31’ trailer that houses a new batch of Aria’s toys compliments of a recent visit with grandparents unfamiliar with the concept of downsizing.

Amidst the chaos of chasing children, we somehow neglected to take a group shot, but parted ways confident that we’d meet up some other time on the road. Wynne still talks about how her “friends had mirrors on their wheels.”


One day, we walked from the campground down to the Eel River, and another afternoon, we took a dirt road at the Gould Bar where you can actually drive right down onto the river bank. Despite a super low water level – this time of year and in a drought – it was a pretty nice place to hang out for an hour and discover the simple joy of playing with rocks.


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We took another longer drive to the other Eel River, the Eel River Brewing Company, for an early dinner after walking the main street of the “Victorian Village of Ferndale.” Honestly, neither stop was particularly impressive but Wynne played on an awesome play structure in Ferndale, and I washed a pulled pork sandwich down with two IPA’s. Mission accomplished!



We made two more outings to redwood groves along the Avenue of the Giants. The first was the California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove where I think we somehow missed the path we were supposed to take through the grove and ended up back in the parking lot after about 5 minutes, but it was a pretty parking lot and was also home to the Hearthstone, a four sided fireplace designed by a famous female San Francisco architect to commemorate the involvement of women’s groups in the establishment and growth of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.


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But our favorite grove of them all was the Rockefeller loop. Like most of the walks through the groves in the park, it’s all of something like 1/2 mile – perfect for those of us who will either be walking at the easily distracted and tiny-footed pace of a two year old or will be having to carry said two year old in a backpack – but seemed to contain much more old growth than the others. Huge trees were twisting and leaning around each other, jockeying for precious sunlight in ultra slow motion.



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In fact, according to this cross-section at the visitors center, some of these trees were already in the the ground and growing when the Vikings discovered North America in the year 1000, were 200 years old when Genghis Khan conquered Persia in 1218, were 500 years old when Cortez was running the Aztecs out of the ruins we’d visited at Teotihuacan in Mexico, and were already 5 or 6 feet in diameter when pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Kinda insane to imagine this place while all that was happening.


Another cool display at the visitor center – just a short tricycle ride away from the Burlington Campground! – was this restored truck carved from a fallen log. Pretty nice interior! #airstreamrenovation


And this truck outside the visitor center wasn’t bad either. Reminded us of our time at Overland Expo last Spring where we crawled all around these EarthRoamers and several other similar trucks while dreaming about our ideal ‘round the world expedition vehicle.


Eventually, after four days spent Humboldt Redwoods with little to no solar collection, the remote monitor told the story – down 127 amp hours or half of our capacity. While it’s possible to run these deep cycle batteries down lower than 50%, the common wisdom is that it will shorten their lives. We’d installed the 260 ah capacity, planning on only being able to us 130, and this time, we hit the mark pretty closely.


Plus, we were ready for some time on the coast and wanted to get down to snag a first come first served campsite before the Labor Day weekend rush. So long (for now) Redwoods!