Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lost Coast Brewery & Samoa Dunes

Now that we're back in Virginia and reliable internet connections, it's time to catch up with posts from our western swing. As you'll recall, my last post chronicled our day in the redwoods.

What could be better than ending a day among giant trees than enjoying regional microbrews? (he asks rhetorically) So we paid a visit to Lost Coast Brewery, which makes beers that are proudly :"brewed fresh in the Humboldt Nation." They make a great IPA, their Indica IPA (which I've discovered is available here in Blacksburg at Vintage Cellar, our great local purveyor of beer & wine). They also make a very tasty fruit-flavored beer, their Tangerine Wheat, which is an ideal summer beverage. One of the treats of Lost Coast's products is the artwork of Duane Flatmo, who creates all their labels, including the wonderful Indica IPA label at the left, complete with a stylized version of the god Ganesh.

The following day we spent hanging out around Eureka, starting with a trip out to the Samoa Dunes Recreation Area. Somoa Dunes is on the end of a barrier island that protects Humboldt Bay, and its one of those recreation areas includes both a protected ecosystem (dunes, in this case), as well as off-road vehicle access to the beach.

Some photos of the dunes and vegetation:

The dunes were site of defensive fortifications during WWII, when there was a fear of Japanese invasion, so there are concrete bunker/ammunition posts scattered throughout the dunes. Apparently they didn't actually have real canon, but used redwood tree trunks to fool enemy ships into thinking that some really big canon awaited them.

After strolling through the dunes, we went out to the beach and walked out on the breakwater that protects the entrance to Humboldt Bay. Here's a few photos from the end of the breakwater, which appears to be anchored by giant concrete jacks. You can see the beach we walked down, along with the hills just on the other side of Eureka.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"From the Redwood Forests..."

Beaches in northern California are markedly different than the sandy, warm water places I'm accustomed to in North Carolina, those famously washed by the Gulf Stream waters (Woody Guthrie fans please take note to this last allusion). We headed up to Redwoods National Park yesterday, and after yet another beautiful drive, you crest a ridge to find this stretch of beach:

Barrie checking out the shore.

Beach vegetation.

At the end of the beach is the Redwoods National Park visitor center, where we got trail information and did the tourist thing for a while. A bit disconcerting were the warnings for "sneaker waves," large waves that suddenly emerge from deceptively calm surf and roar up on the beach. They've swept four people to their deaths in the area over the last few years. "Don't turn your back on the ocean," the signs warn.

After strolling on the beach for a while, we took a hike on the Trillium Falls Loop Trail, filled with old growth redwood trees. The best word I can muster for a walk among these giants is "humbling." The oldest of these trees are nearly 2000 years old, over 370 feet tall, and up to 22 feet in diameter. Here are some photos from that hike, with more to come when I get back home and have access to better photo editing software.

Barrie walking between two trees. Just for perspective.

This is a temperate rainforest, and the ground is moist and filled with ferns, groundcover, unfamiliar wildflowers, and huge, deep piles of redwood needles.

This tree trunk was head-high, and like nearly everything in the forest, covered with moisture and moss.
Looking uphill. Ferns abound.

Trillium Falls
More groundcover.

Monday, May 18, 2009

North from San Francisco on the California coastline

Cross continental travel is so commonplace that we should, theoretically, just take it matter-of-factly. Hop in a plane one morning in North Carolina, sit down for a while in a few planes, and arrive in San Francisco at the end of the day. Of course it's commonplace, but I'm still reeling in the wonder of it all. We had some unexpected good fortune when we went to pick up our rental car. Our long-reserved car wasn't ready, so we were offered an upgrade to a Toyota Solara convertible with a GPS at no additional charge. We quickly agreed and took off, car top down and grinning.

Looking south to SF from Muir Beach

So here we are, 48 hours after landing in northern California, and we've traveled from San Francisco up to Eureka. Our first night was spent at Half Moon Bay, a tourist town on the coast south of San Francisco that was made famous, at least to me, by the fact that a Bill Evans album was recorded there in 1973 (sponsored by the curiously named Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which still hosts live jazz on Sundays) . Being mostly exhausted after sitting down all day, yet miraculously traveling 2500 miles, we opted for a quick beer and a meal at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, a great seaside bar with a live blues band, some very fine salads and microbrews, and decor that included fire pits on the patio, a stained-glass Steal Your Face Dead sign hanging over the mantle, and surfboards on the wall. Our hotel was beside a run-down little house with wetsuits hanging outside and surfboards in the yard.

Looking north on Hwy 1
The next day we drove up Hwy 1 through Pacifica, into San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then into Sausalito. Needing some provisions, we were seeking a Target, and decided to try out our GPS system. Being total novices to these gizmos (but outfitted some a handful of amusing anecdotes about their idiosyncratic natures from some GPS equipped friends), we asked for directions to the nearest Target. We were sent 16 miles to a Target that was long abandoned. We regrouped, asked again, cross-referenced against one of those antiquated print items called a "map," and were successfully sent to a Target that was actually open for business.

Provisions in hand, we decided to head over to Hwy 1 to Stinson Beach and catch lunch at the Parkside Cafe, which was highly lauded in the California Lonely Planet guidebook. It was such a great idea that it seems like a hefty hunk of San Fanciscans had also thought of it, and we found ourselves in a mile-long traffic jam on Hwy 1, with everybody slowly heading to Stinson Beach to discover that there wasn't any parking in the entire town. So we turned around and heading to the Green Gulch Farm, where we had a room for the night. We stopped a few times on the way to take a few photos and enjoy the view.

Traffic jam on Hwy 1 heading to Stinson Beach on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Actually, as traffic jams go, this one wasn't too shabby thanks to this view.

Green Gulch Farm
is a working organic farm and Buddhist retreat center run by the San Francisco Zen Center, and provided a beautiful, restful respite after our day of driving around the Bay area. We had a room in their guest house, a Japanese-influenced building, and our stay included an amazing vegetarian dinner with the students and residents at the Zen center. (The Zen Center publishes the Tassajara cookbooks and runs the famous Greens restaurant in SF, so they know a bit about veggie cooking. After dinner we walked down Green Gulch through ornamental gardens and acres of organic lettuce and other vegetables down to Muir Beach, encountering quail, a snake, deer, many other birds, and a fox along the way. Somehow, it didn't seem quite right to take photos during our stay, so you'll have to follow the links above to see this wonderful place.

We headed north the next morning, finally making it to Parkside Cafe for breakfast, then heading north on Hwy 1 through misty fog. We stopped at the Point Reyes National Seashore visitor center to stretch our legs, which happens to be on the San Andreas fault line. We took a stroll on the Earthquake Trail, which straddle the fault. The picture below shows a fence that was split during the 1906 earthquake - moving about 20 feet or so. The blue pole behind Barrie is on the fault line itself.

Barrie standing on the Pacific plate. These fences were joined prior to the 1906 quake.

We encountered this shy prairie dog on the Earthquake Trail, who kept poking his head out to see what we were doing near his lair.
We continued north on Hwy 1 to Bodega and Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock shot a few scenes from The Birds. Here's a few photos from our Hwy 1 expedition:

View of Tomales Bay. Note the lack of an automobile roof!

Pastoral setting near Bodega.

The church in Bodega where a scene from The Birds was shot. We encountered other Hitchcock fans here and talked about scenes from the film.
After visiting Bodega we left the coastal highway and went inland to Hwy 101, the Redwood Highway, then drove another 200 miles north through miles of vineyards, beautiful hills, and redwood trees. We reached Eureka in the early evening, very happy and ready to relax for the evening. A foggy day is predicted for tomorrow. Fun will ensue. Stay posted.