Newberry National Volcanic Monument

On Monday, July 10, we took a day trip southwest of Prineville to Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

At 1200 square miles, Newberry is the largest volcano in Oregon.  It is unusual in the fact that it sits east of the line of peaks that make up the Cascade Mountains, although it is very much a part of that chain.  Newberry Volcano is considered active, and with its proximity to the growing towns of Central Oregon, it is constantly monitored for geological changes.  Where most of the volcanos in the region are made up of one dominant mountain, this one is unique in the fact that it has over 400 smaller cones scattered around its main crater.  The main peak collapsed into its magma chamber, similar to what Mt Mazama (now Crater Lake) did.  Although both craters now contain bodies of water, they are very different from each other.  Newberry’s lakes are much shallower and are separated by a volcanic cone and rock that completely span the larger crater.  The national monument encompasses 54,000 acres and is administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

Since this was a day trip, it would have been a rush to hit every feature of this park.  We opted to skip Lava Cast Forest and the Lava River Cave on this visit, hoping to catch them later in the summer.  This allowed us to spend quality time at the other points of interest.

Our first stop was at Lava Butte.

This is a photo looking into the crater.  Lava Butte is a fairly symmetrical cinder cone that sits out on somewhat of a flat plain.  It erupted only once around 7000 years ago, spewing lava to the west. 

 That lava field remains free of vegetation, which really gives a clear view of the footprint of this small volcano.  Towards the end of the eruption, cinders built up around the vent and formed the 500 foot tall butte we see today.

The next spot we visited was the Big Obsidian Flow.

Talk about awesome!  This is a giant wall of black glass that oozed from Newberry Volcano just 1300 years ago.  We climbed the trail that ascends to the top of this geological wonder, being careful not to fall…as it would surely result in sliced skin!  

The hillside glistened in the afternoon sun.  Absolutely beautiful!

Here’s my sweetie with her Junior Ranger badge and obsidian ears!

While we were in that area, we checked out the two lakes in the caldera.  They were both very pretty with plenty of trees surrounding them.  Lots of people boating, fishing and swimming.

The last place we visited was Paulina Peak.  Named after Chief Paulina, the fierce Paiute warrior who defended these lands from settler encroachment, the 7940 foot mountain is the highest remaining point of the Newberry Volcano.

From the top, we had a 360 degree view of the area.  To the west, we could see everything in the Cascades from Crater Lake up to Mt. Adams in Washington. To the east, we could see Idaho and Nevada.  Now that’s exploring vistas!

While we were there, we spoke with this elderly gentleman. 

If you ever feel like you might be getting too old to hike, refer back to this post and this photo. The view from the parking lot wasn’t good enough for him…no, he needed to climb the extra 40 feet to the summit.  You just have to love this guy.   He had a sense of humor also, as Diana asked him what the large sandy area was in the woods off to our northwest.  His reply?  “Alien landing site.”  😉

We really enjoyed our day at Newberry National Volcanic Monument.  If you ever are near Bend, Oregon, be sure to check it out!

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Prineville Reservoir State Park

As stated in our previous post, we are currently the interpretive hosts at Prineville Reservoir State Park, 17 miles south of Prineville, Oregon.  This is a high desert climate, with sage and juniper dominating the land.  Afternoons can get blazing hot and nights chilly, and the humidity is next to nothing. The Crooked River was contained by the Bowman Dam in the late 1950’s to create a 3000 acre lake that sits 3200 feet above sea level.  Quite a difference from our last location on the Pacific coast!

Our campsite is one of the nicest host sites we have ever seen.  We sit at the highest point in the tent loop, and we have a view of the lake from our patio.  The juniper trees provide us with plenty of shade most of the day, so the 100+ degree mid-day temperatures are not an issue.  

The Eagle’s Nest Amplitheater and Discovery Center complex is one of the two areas of the park where we help out.

We take care of a few critters in the Discovery Center, including a smallmouth bass, a gopher snake, and two fence lizards…one of which is seen here.

We assist the Interpretive Ranger Mariah with her educational programs.  She is enthusiastic and enjoys sharing her wealth of knowledge about Oregon’s natural resources.  It’s fun to watch her interact with park visitors!

Diana is enjoying helping with the park’s Junior Ranger program.  Here she is administering the oath to a new group of Junior Rangers!

We also run the star gazing programs at the observatory next to the beach.

This is the park’s 16″ deep space telescope.  It resembles a circus cannon!  We can easily see the bands on Jupiter with this.  We had 62 people attend a sky viewing on Saturday night!

We also have a 6″ Orion tracking telescope at our disposal.  We are going to be learning how to use the tracking feature sometime this week.

We’ve also met a lot of new people and learned a lot of new things!

Here we are with a woodland firefighter and Smokey Bear!  We’ve also met a pair of search and rescue specialists and we are going to go on a hike with a geologist this weekend.  

All in all, it promises to be a great couple of months here in Central Oregon!  Stay tuned to see what new vistas we find to explore!

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A Memorable Month at Heceta Head

June 29th brought an end to our time on the Oregon coast and Heceta Head Lighthouse.  Never in our wildest dreams did we expect our time there to be as great as it was!  To give our personal history of this lighthouse, we have to go back to 1996. We were camped in Florence at the time, and Diana saw a flyer on a bulliten board in a grocery store for a special night tour of the beacon being offered by a graduate student that same night.  We took the tour, walking up the 1/2 mile path with flashlights in the fog to the building.  We all climbed the tower and when we came back down, the fog had lifted.  We could see the beams pinwheel 21 miles out to the horizon.  Having worked so hard for the previous 4 years to get Old Mackinac Point in Michigan reopened (which was still a long 8 years in the future), the sight of a working first order lens moved me to tears.  Yes, this job this summer meant a lot to us.

Right off the bat after our arrival on May 24, things clicked.  As I was setting up camp, a fellow host named Rick stopped by with his dog.  I caught that his name was Rick and that he was from Wisconsin…and that his dog’s name was Maxine.  I was a tad preoccupied, so it never clicked with me that I had seen his face before.  He thought he recognized me also, but didn’t mention it at the time.  As I tell this, keep in mind that none of us had cell or data signals at the campground.  Our mutual friend Tracy figured it out from her campground in northern Oregon and sent us both texts, but neither of us got them until we were in town the next day!  It turns out that Rick had attended the spring 2014 RV-Dreams rally and we had attended the fall rally later that year.  I had put in a friend request to him on Facebook a month before, as I had seen that we had 11 friends in common.  My first thought upon seeing that was ‘I need to get to know this guy’.  Well, as luck would have it, we now know him very well and are proud to call him a very good friend!

One of the benefits of Rick and us coming in before Memorial Day is that we got to meet the previous month’s hosts.

As you can see, we all hit it off right away.  😊. Thanks to Cary and Rick for this photo!  Five of the people in this image, including us, stayed on through June.  Not all of us were interpretive hosts at the lighthouse; some were campground hosts at Carl Washburne State Park.  Michael (in the blue hat) volunteered for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, using a scope and binoculars at the lighthouse to show visitors the various wildlife along the shore.

Along came June…and with it came several new folks.  Rick, Cary and Michael stayed on, and we added John & Linda as camp hosts, along with Neil, Beverly, and Lisa as lighthouse hosts.  A special shout out to the wonderful rangers at Washburne…especially Ben and Deb, as we worked closest with them. We really had fun with this crew!

We also were visited by our friends Jodee and Bill, who were camped in Florence for a few weeks.

Man, it was good to see them again! Here we are at dinner in Florence with (right to left) Rick, Jodee, Bill and (under the table) Tessa.  We had a couple of meals with them, including a fabulous lunch at a place Jodee suggested, Maple Street Grille in Florence. They also came up to Heceta and took one of my lighthouse tours.  Jodee, Bill and Fluffy Dog are simply wonderful to be with.  😀

We also spent a few days with our friends Tracy and Lee when they came to visit!

Here we are on a visit to the beach at Washburne.

And here is Tracy signing Rick’s copy of her new book, RV Living Cookbook.  We had bought the Kindle version, so we couldn’t get ours signed!

The last evening they were here, we all made the trek up to the lighthouse at night.  It is darn near impossible to photograph the beams of light coming from the sentinel, but it was pure magic to see Heceta’s lens doing its job again.  It took me right back to 1996.  Lee commented that it was one of the coolest thing he had seen since going on the road!  We had such a marvelous time with Tracy and Lee, and we plan on seeing them again this summer!

Beyond our friends and coworkers, we also became familiar with the towns of Yachats and Florence.  Not having phone or Internet at Washburne, we ended up using the libraries in both places….especially Florence.  We purchased a three month pass to their branch of the Siuslaw Library System for $15, which includes access to their online books.  We also were frequent visitors to the local Fred Meyer, to a point that we knew where most things were in the store.  We really enjoy this part of our lifestyle, as we get to experience how others live, whether good or bad.  We would rate life on the Oregon coast as very good, although the dampness and cloudiness would wear on us over a longer period.  Still, we thoroughly enjoyed our time there and we are glad we did it!

On our last day of work, we had one of the visitor’s snap this photo of Lisa, Rick and us.  We sure are going to miss working with them! With June in the books, we have now moved east across the Cascade Mountains to Prineville Reservoir State Park near Prineville, Oregon. As far as climate goes, we’ve done a 180 degree turn.  Temperatures have been near or just over 100 degrees, and it is sunny and dry!  We are working here as interpretive hosts, helping the interpretive ranger with her duties. This includes assisting with the Junior Ranger Program and the observatory.  The park is home to some of Oregon’s darkest skies, and we have a 16″ and 6″ set of telescopes at our disposal.  Talk about exploring vistas!   We will be here through Labor Day, so that puts us here through the total eclipse.  Be sure to stay tuned for more on that…it should be fun!  🌙

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A link to our favorite litter stick from the lighthouse, plus other amazing things on Amazon!
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Crater Lake

It all started with a big bang!

On June 22, we headed east from the coast to visit Crater Lake National Park.  We had visited this beautiful volcano-turned-lake in 1996 and have looked forward to seeing it again ever since.  Our friend Rick from On the Road with Maxine and Me had made the trek from Heceta Head a week before us and reported there was plenty of snow still adorning the park.  With temperatures at lower elevations topping 100 degrees, we knew we had to get over there soon if we wanted to see it dressed in white!

The 12,000 foot volcano that once stood where Crater Lake now is was named Mount Mazama.  Geologists estimate that it most likely had a similar appearance to Mt. Hood, which is further north in the Cascade range.  It took around 400,000 years to reach its full height. Sometime back about 7,700 years ago the volcano came to life, rumbling and releasing steam and ash.  Within a few weeks, the mountain erupted with such force that it emptied the magma chamber below it.  In what was estimated to be over the period of just a few minutes, the roof of the chamber collapsed and the top of the mountain fell into it.  It is thought that the force of the eruption was 42 times more powerful than the one at Mt. St. Helens in 1980.  Subsequent eruptions created small volcanoes within the crater, but nothing like the big bang that caused the mountain to implode.  Over the next several hundred years, rain and snowmelt filled the crater, creating the lake we see today.

Above is Wizard Island, which is actually a volcano within the caldera. There are two of these cones in the lake, but one of them is 500 feet below the surface.  The lake is an incredible 1949 feet deep, the greatest depth of any inland body of water in the United States.  No tributaries feed the lake, and the only outflow occurs through seepage.  This keeps the water quality exceptionally pure.  We were happy to see that there was still quite a bit of snow, despite temperatures in the upper 70’s at the crater rim.  😊. The green streaks on the water are a layer of pollen.

The lake gets its iridescent blue color from its massive depth and pristine water.

The drifts were still piled high against the visitor center, but almost all of the parks buildings were open for business.

This viewpoint was one of the few structures yet to be accessed…

…but the park workers were working hard to remedy that!

Edsel was dwarfed by this snowbank!  When we asked the ranger if there were any picnic tables in the park, she pointed to this massive drift and said “Under there”.  Guess we’ll eat in the Escape. 😉

Crater Lake Lodge was hopping with visitors…

…as were the mounds of snow surrounding the rim of the lake!

We saw several Clark’s Nutcrackers while we were there.  This species of bird was first described by William Clark on the Corps of Discovery expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1805.  They are able to carry hundreds of seeds in a pouch below their tongues, which they bury in small caches to eat at a later time. Since they aren’t able to eat the thousands of seeds they store, many trees take root and thereby renew the birds’ food source.

Until this visit, we thought these little inhabitants of Oregon were chipmunks.  By completing our Junior Ranger books, we found out that they are actually Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels.  Chipmunks have a striped head.  Learn something new every day!

Little did we know back in 1996 that it would be 21 years before we returned.  Even though we are hoping to visit again later in the summer, it was difficult to leave this beautiful place this time around.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit Crater Lake, we highly recommend you do so!
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The Mouth of the Columbia River

It is often said ‘Life is short…eat dessert first’.  

On June 15, we headed up to Astoria, Oregon to take in the western end of the Lewis & Clark voyage to the Pacific Ocean.  For a long time, we’ve had an interest in the route that the Corps of Discovery followed from 1804-1806.  Lewis & Clark and their team went on what could arguably be labeled as the greatest camping trip ever. During our vacation travels in the past through the northern plains, we’ve encountered several references to the expedition. In addition, we’ve seen many historical sites regarding their trip in our visits with our friends Jim and Sue in the area around Alton, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri.  We can even date it back to our 1993 trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis first researched the voyage.  This past March, our friends Fred and Bonnie from HappiLEE RVing urged us to read Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage… a historical biography of Meriwether Lewis…while discussing the subject on the beach in Florida.  They are planning on following the Corps of Discovery route this summer (follow them on their journey!), and it piqued our curiosity.  Having read bits and pieces over the years about the wet and miserable winter the expedition encountered in western Oregon, we had to see the area for ourselves! Our close proximity to the mouth of the Columbia River while we were working at Heceta Head Lighthouse made it possible.  Yes, we were eating dessert first, but we know from experience that life can indeed be short!

The Corps of Discovery sites around the mouth of the Columbia River include locations in Oregon and Washington State Parks, as well as the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park.  The first thing the group encountered was the area along the north shore of the Columbia that William Clark noted as “a dismal little nitch”, as depicted in the drawing above.  

It’s now a tight little bend in US-101 between the Astoria Bridge and a rest area.  Still, it’s easy to envision the expidition being holed up for several stormy days between the rocky shore and the mountainside.

The Corps moved from there to Middle Village.  There is a nice display of the canoes the Clatsop Indians used back then.  It’s not far down the river from Dismal Nitch, still on the Washington side of the Columbia.  It was from that base camp that they first ventured out to the shore of the Pacific.

This is the current view at Cape Disappointment, Washington, which is where Lewis & Clark first saw the mighty ocean’s surf.  Even with the jetties, it is easy to imagine the scene as they viewed it over 200 years ago.

Back at Middle Village, the Corps voted to cross the river into present day Oregon to find a suitable place to spend the winter of 1805-1806.  It was there on a small tributary that they built Fort Clatsop.

This building is a re-creation of the original fort.  The property includes a very nice visitor center that features a couple of movies on the expedition, along with several exhibits that detail the voyage.

There is also a trail from the fort to the canoe landing.  This was a protected area off of the Columbia tributary, now known as the Lewis & Clark River.  From there, the fort was just a few hundred yards away.

After seeing the fort, we drove down to Seaside, Oregon and found the location of the Salt Works.

Situated in the middle of a present-day neighborhood, the Salt Works was identified by a Clatsop Indian woman in the early 1900’s.  Her grandfather had told her of the site when she was a child.  This is where the Corps boiled seawater to get salt to preserve meat for their trip back east in the spring.

Just south of that was Haystack Rock.

Named for its resemblance to a farm haystack, this beach is where the dead whale washed ashore that Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea and several others came to get blubber and oil.  It is located at present day Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Even though the surrounding area was developed with modern buildings and roads, just being able to see the actual locations of the Lewis & Clark sites helps paint a visual image in our minds as to what they endured that winter.  Lewis was very descriptive in his journals and we had a good idea of what we were going to be seeing.  But no matter how good the description, there really is no substitute for putting ourselves on the same soil the Corps of Discovery occupied.  It has given us a desire to check out more of the Lewis & Clark Trail, and we hope to do so in the future!

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Heceta Head Lighthouse

As stated in our last post, we are spending the month of June volunteering for Oregon State Parks as interpretive hosts at Heceta Head Lighthouse.  Located between Florence and Yachats, this sentinel has been guiding mariners since it was first lit on March 30, 1894. 

 

Standing at just 56 feet high, the building’s stature could be considered somewhat short. 

It is the commanding position on the headland that gives the lighthouse the height it needs to send its beam out 21 miles to sea.  The curvature of the earth is the only thing that limits it from projecting further. The focal plane of the bullseye on the lens above mean (average) sea level is a whopping 210 feet!

Back in 1775, a Portuguese explorer named Don Bruno de Heceta was sent by Spain on a mission to chart the waters from San Diego north to the Arctic Circle.  When he reached the waters off of the headland where the lighthouse sits today, he noticed that there was a large shallow area several miles from the shore.  That ridge of seabed became known over time as Heceta Bank, and is actually a raised area on the edge of the North American Plate.  Subsequently, the headland itself became known as Heceta Head.

Fast forward 75 years to the Westward Expansion and the California Gold Rush.  With the surge in ship traffic up and down the coast, there was a need for reliable navigational aids.  The U.S. Lighthouse Service received congressional appropriations for lighthouses in California and Washington, but it took longer to fill in the dark voids along the Oregon shore.  The last area to be lit was from present day Newport down to Winchester Bay.  Three locations were chosen:  Yaquina Head Light at Newport, Umpqua River Light at Winchester Bay and Heceta Head Light, halfway between the other two. Construction on Heceta Head began in 1892.  Considering the rocky coast and the fact there was only a rough wagon road over the headlands to the site, the project was a formidable challenge.  Some of the materials were brought in by ship and unloaded into smaller surf boats and rowed ashore.  Others were brought around the headlands to the south at low tide on calm days.  Still others were brought over the wagon road. Considering those challenges, it is quite amazing to note that the lighthouse, the two oil houses, the keepers house and the assistant keepers duplex were all completed by 1894.  On March 30 of that year, the first keeper lit the kerosene lamp in the first order Fresnel lens and Heceta Head Lighthouse was officially in service.

The Fresnel lens that was used at the lighthouse was made by Chance Brothers in England.  Most lighthouse lenses in the United States came from France and were made out of silica based glass, which had a greenish tint to it.  Chance used a sulpher based glass which gave the optic a slight yellowish hue.  It was found that the Chance Brothers lenses actually had a higher candlepower, due to that color difference. At the time that Heceta Head used a kerosene lamp, the output of the lens was rated at 80,000 candlepower.  

The current 1000 watt bulb increases the output to 2.5 million candlepower, a full 500,000 units brighter than a comparable silica glass lens!  As a result, Heceta’s light is the brightest on the west coast.

When the lighthouse was first opened, the 4000 pound lens rotated one revolution every 8 minutes.  There are 8 separate panels of prisms, each radiating from a bullseye in the center of each panel.  As each bullseye would align between the light source and the mariner’s eyes, the entire panel would flash.  As a result, Heceta’s signature was one white flash every minute.  Each lighthouse has its own unique signature, so mariners are able to tell where they are at by timing the flashes.  When Heceta changed from a hand wound clockwork mechanism to an electric motor, the lens speed was increased to one flash every 10 seconds.

Touching on the original clockwork at the lighthouse, it was powered by a 200 pound weight that would descend from the lens to the watchroom floor.  That took 39 minutes to go that distance, and resulted in the keepers having to constantly climb the steps and rewind the mechanism.  A request was made to the Lighthouse Service for permission to cut holes in the watchroom, service room and first landing floors, so the weight could descend to the base of the tower.  Permission was granted and the modification was completed, which increased the winding interval to 4 hours. 

There were three keepers that worked rotating shifts to maintain the light at Heceta Head.  Their responsibilities included filling the lantern with kerosene oil, winding the mechanism, polishing the lens, painting and whitewashing the buildings and general cleaning and upkeep of the lightstation. Things began to change in 1932 when the Oregon Coast Highway was built, which passed within yards of the station.  Electricity came on the heels of the road in 1934, and the oil-fired lantern was replaced by an electric light bulb.  That eliminated the soot on the lens from the kerosene, which resulted in less cleaning. Following that, the clockwork was removed and replaced with an electric motor.  With the decreased workload, the Lighthouse Service eventually reduced the quantity of keepers from three to two.  The head keeper was moved into one half of the assistant keepers duplex. The main keepers home was sold for $10 with the stipulation that the buyer must dismantle and remove it.

With the onset of World War II, there were heightened concerns of Japanese attacks along the west coast.  Defenses were built all along the shore from Southern California to the Canadian border. Heceta Head became host to a bevy of Coast Guard personnel, along with what was described as several vicious guard dogs. Patrols originated from the station to the north and south.  A couple of barracks buildings had to be built where the former head keepers house was, and it was noted that perhaps they had removed the first structure a little too soon.  Once the war was over, the barracks were removed.

In 1963, the lighthouse was fully automated.  All of the windows below the lantern room were sealed over to prevent vandalism. Occasional maintenance was undertaken by the Coast Guard to change the light bulb, grease the rollers the lens rotates on and clean the windows.  In the 1960’s, the Coast Guard turned over the lighthouse to Oregon Parks and Recreation, except for the lens and one oil house.  Those were deeded to the state park at a later date.  The assistant keepers house is owned by the U.S. Forest Service and is leased as a bed and breakfast.

In 2012, a major restoration was undertaken to restore the lighthouse.  Today it stands proud on the headland shining its beam through the same lens it did 123 years ago.  Diana and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to showcase the beautiful sentinel this month, and to foster interest in the history of the location.  We have met people from all around the globe who have come to visit the beacon.  It’s that sort of curiosity and interest that ensures Heceta Head Lighthouse will still be shining brightly 123 years from now!

Redwoods and Rocky Shores 

Heading into Northern California on US-101, we were really impressed with how beautiful the region was.  The hills along the winding road soon were filled with progressively taller forests, eventually transitioning into groves of coastal redwoods.   We spent a night in Myers Flat to quickly explore the Avenue of the Giants, knowing we were going to be spending a full day at our next stop in Redwood National Park.  While checking out the visitor center at Humboldt State Park, we noticed the campground next door. 

When we walked in to take a look, we realized that it was the same place that our friends Lee and Tracy had hosted at back in 2015.

The next day, we drove up to Klamath and set up on a riverfront site at Klamath River RV Park.  We decided to do a little exploring, so we drove down towards the ocean.  One of the first things we saw was the entrance to the old US-101 bridge over the Klamath, which was washed out in 1964.  

The span featured these concrete grizzly bears on the railings, similar to the gold bears on the new span farther upriver.  Why are the bears on the new span gold?  Well it seems that back in the 1950’s, several friends were at a local bar discussing how the town needed to be spruced up.  They set out that night sweeping up the streets and washing windows on the businesses.  To top it all off, someone suggested they coat the bears on what is now the old bridge with some gold paint that he had in his shed.  When the California Department of Transportation saw them the next day, they sent workers with turpentine to remove the golden hue.  This went on back and forth several times until the state finally gave in and left the grizzlies as the townsfolk wanted them to be. 


 
When the new bridge was built, the highway department adorned the approaches with these bedazzled bruins as a tribute to the Golden Bear Club of Klamath.  😊

The other point of interest on our drive that afternoon was the old World War II era early warning radar station along the coast.

The trail down to the facility was not maintained, so we couldn’t get any closer. Disguised to look like a farmhouse and barn, the structures actually housed radar equipment, a generator, and two 50 caliber anti-aircraft guns.  This particular station is the last of 65 such stations that once were located up and down the entire coast.  If they detected any military boats or aircraft that didn’t belong, they sent out a warning. Having not heard of these defenses before, we wondered aloud, ” What sort of things like this exist today that we don’t know about?”

We drove to the national park visitor center in Crescent City the next day to get our bearings.  We had business to take care of that required good wifi, so we knew our time would be limited in the park. We made good use of the local library’s wifi, and checked out town before heading out to see the big trees.

Battery Point lighthouse sits just off the mainland.  There is a trail out to it that is accessible only at low tide.

From there, we drove up into a grove of trees northeast of town.

The height on the coastal redwoods can get quite a bit taller than sequoias, even though they aren’t as old or as big around.

Even after they’ve fallen, they are gigantic!

They are so rot resistant, large trees take root in them and grow to impressive heights before the nurse log has a chance to decay.  

After spending nearly a month exploring California, we arrived in Oregon on Tuesday, May 23rd. Our first stop was in Port Orford.  We drove out to Cape Blanco to check out the lighthouse and the westernmost point in the contiguous United States.

The wind was blowing so hard, we had trouble holding our footing!  It was incredible!

On Wednesday, we arrived at Carl G. Washburne State Park north of Florence, Oregon.

This is our campsite for the month of June, as we will be interpretive hosts just south of here at…

…Heceta Head Lighthouse!  This sentinel has held a special place in our hearts since we visited it during a special nighttime tour back in 1996. We will be giving tours until the end of June, when we will be moving on to a different adventure. Our internet is non-existent at our campsite, but we do get service in the day use and at the lighthouse. If we are slow to respond to comments, that’s why.   Please stay tuned as we explore the central Oregon coast over the next month!

Rendezvous in Napa

Back when we were planning our trip west, Diana asked her cousin Nancy if she and her husband David would be interested in meeting us in either Napa, Yosemite, or Oregon.  The former worked out better (lodging-wise) for them, so our rendezvous dates of May 15th through the 19th were set!

On our way north to Napa from Three Rivers, we spent the night at a Harvest Hosts location in Lodi; Jessie’s Grove Winery.  Home to the oldest Zinfandel vines in the Lodi area, the land this winery is located on is a fifth generation ranch.  We purchased a bottle of one of their old-vine Zinfandel wines, which was excellent.

Here we are with current owners Wanda and her son Greg.  We enjoyed listening to Wanda tell the story of how her great grandparents met.  Joseph Spenker first saw Anna at a wedding and told her he would pick her up the next day, as he was going to marry her.  True to his word, he came with his wagon while she was in the middle of doing laundry and off they went…tossing her wet clothes in the back.  They were married before the sun set and raised two children on this farm, Jessie and Otto.  Jessie was the glue that held the business together through Prohibition and The Great Depression; hence the name on the winery is hers.  A delightful story from a charming woman that made for another wonderful Harvest Hosts stop…a ‘must’ if you are ever in Lodi.

We arrived in Napa on Monday, May 15.  After setting up, we spent the evening with Nancy and David.  Over dinner and a bottle of wine, we plotted our next four days.  We decided that we would alternate days of driving and planning, which ended up working out tremendously well!

Tuesday was theirs to plan.  We started out in downtown Napa at Capp Heritage Vineyards’ tasting room.

We spent darned near an hour with Gary going over some of their offerings.  He was extremely entertaining!

After lunch, we headed to  The Hess Collection.

Situated high on Mt. Veeder, this winery occupies the land and a wonderful old 1903 building that is leased from the Christian Brothers.  Several of the buildings on the property were damaged in a 2014 earthquake, along with thousands of gallons of wine being spilled into the courtyard.  Renovations are still underway.

We were part of a semi-private chocolate and wine pairing, which was coupled with a tour of Donald Hess’ collection of contemporary art.  Our tour mates were Mike and Jenna from Boston.  Jenna writes an excellent lifestyle blog called Boston Chic Party.  We toured some of the old Christian Brothers vines, the barrel cellar, and then the art collection.

These two large images appeared to be photos, but are actually paintings!

In this piece, the artist left off the heads… as she felt that when people are in a group, they don’t use them.  

The tasting itself consisted of these handmade chocolate truffles that were paired with four wines.  

It was definitely first class!

Wednesday, Diana and I took our turn and we all headed over to Santa Rosa. Our destinantion was the Charles Schultz Museum.

This giant mural is actually made up of hundreds of four panel Peanuts comic strips.

David…an excellent cartoonist himself…couldn’t resist having at Snoopy’s typewriter.  😊

This is the studio where Charles Schultz composed his Charlie Brown cartoons we all loved so much.

They also had this large sculpture showing the progression from young Charles’ actual dog Spike into the final version of Snoopy.

From Santa Rosa, we headed to Sonoma Valley and toured Benziger Family Winery.  

Diana and I actually took this tour back in 2005 and loved it.  It was still as good as we remembered it to be.

Thursday, David and Nancy took us on a cave tour at Failla Vineyards in Napa Valley.

Their wines were elegant…which we translated to having a lighter taste to them.  Definitely a nice tour!  

Our second and final wine tour of the week was a curvy trip to the top of Spring Mountain to Pride Mountain Vineyards.

Their winery is housed in this picturesque timber frame structure.

That brick inlay in the concrete is the Napa/Sonoma county line.  It bisects their cave and creates an extra layer to their business, as the tax accountant has to figure what percentage of the product came from each county.

We explored the many arms of their cave, tasting different varietals along the way.  Jay was our outstanding tour guide, who was a fountain of knowledge.  We were surprised to learn that Napa and Sonoma’s total production only accounts for 4% of all of California’s wine!  Pride’s offerings were more robust.  Definitely worth the winding trip up Spring Mountain!

On Friday, we capped off our week with a trip to Muir Woods and Sausalito.

The trees in Muir Woods were amazing, but we came away with the feeling that the place was being loved to death.  The crush of tourists (including us) really distracted from the natural setting.  There were upwards of six tour busses in the parking lot at any given time.  We did get out to the Muir Beach Overlook, which had a fantastic view over the Pacific Ocean.

After lunch in Sausalito, we walked the docks.

This funky town is known for its crazy houseboats.  Yep…that’s a floating Taj Mahal.

And with a cloudless sky, we couldn’t resist taking a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge!  It was a fun way to cap off a really great week with Nancy and David!

Next up, a trip up the coast to see the coastal redwoods!  In addition, we will reveal the first of our two gigs we have planned for the summer.  We are extremely excited to be able to share this with you!  Take note that our internet connection and cell service will be spotty at best, so bear with us.  Be sure to stay tuned!

Kings Canyon National Park

We almost didn’t go….

After a very full day on Wednesday, May 10 at Sequoia, we planned to spend Thursday getting caught up on chores and such.  We planned our visit to Kings Canyon for Friday, still not totally sure what we were going to find there.  We seriously considered skipping it all together, as a quick check of Google Street View wasn’t revealing much more than a tree-lined road.  Well, something stirred in us that Thursday morning and before we knew it, we were in Edsel and headed for Sequoia’s brother to the north!

Rather than take the same road we took the day before, we decided to try the road that ran west of Sequoia through the foothills. What started out as a two lane road with painted lines quickly turned into a narrow country lane, somewhat reminiscent of the roads we experienced in Kentucky.  I had to tame my inner Formula One driver, so as to not go over the side. 😉. The road gained elevation as we went, eventually leading us to the entrance to Kings Canyon.

Looking at this photo and the previous one, it’s hard to believe they were taken an hour apart!  Our fears of a cloudy day soon dissipated as we drove further into the park.  We stopped at the Grant Grove Visitor Center to gather more information about Kings Canyon and ended up speaking to Ranger Meredith, a seasoned dynamo full of enthusiasm for her beloved workplace.  That stop paid off in gold as the day progressed. As we headed to the heart of the canyon, the road actually leaves the park for a stretch and enters Giant Sequoia National Monument.

This outstanding area was elevated to monument status in 2000.  The road through it is the only way to get into the main portion of Kings Canyon. With most of the turnouts on the opposite side of the road, we opted to catch them on our way back home.  Seeing what we had to look forward to was like knowing we were going to have a great dessert after our meal.  😃

One thing Ranger Meredith asked us was “Any geologists here?”  We expressed our interest, so she told us to go exactly 1/2 mile past Boyden Cave and look at the rock wall on the driver’s side.  She said that even though there isn’t a pulloff, stop in the road and take a photo…and if the cars behind us didn’t like it, too bad.  😉

Wow!  I guess this says a lot about the makeup of subterranean California!

From there, we headed upriver to Grizzly Falls.

This powerful torrent was the culmination of Grizzly Creek just prior to it entering the Kings River.

From there, the road re-entered the national park.  Our next stop was Roaring River Falls.

It definitely was roaring!  Diana asked a NPS trail worker what we could expect to see in July, if we had come then instead.  He said that the river would actually be higher in July, as the warm temperatures would be melting the mountain snowpack more quickly than it currently was.  

From there we went to Zumwalt Meadow.

We crossed this suspension bridge along the way.

We also had to cross over this flooded pathway, as a small creek was over its banks in this section of the trail.

This was the payoff at the end of the trail!  It was a very peaceful place to be.  From this point, the road went just a little farther to a place called Road’s End.  Diana spoke with three hikers there who had crossed the Sierras from the east.  It took them six days.  They had snowshoes as part of their gear, and they mentioned that there still is a lot of snow at the higher elevations.  There are several trails that leave from Road’s End that are more our speed, and we definitely want to return to try them in the future.

Heading back out the same road, we had a little surprise along the way.

Three wide load trucks with what appeared to be some sort of temporary housing units on the back came by!  I was over as far as I could possibly get, and had a few thousand foot drop off to my right.  Yikes!

The difference in height between the river and the mountaintops is around 8200 feet, making Kings Canyon one of the deepest canyons in the United States!  

As I stated earlier, we almost didn’t make the trip that day.  The next morning, the clouds hung at 2000 feet, so we wouldn’t have seen much of anything.  We were glad we made the effort when we did, so we were able to see the spectacular scenery that Kings Canyon has to offer.

Though it is a bit of a challenge to get to, take the time to experience it.  You won’t be disappointed!

Next up, we head towards Napa Valley!  Be sure to stay tuned!

Sequoia National Park

At a coffee shop in Kentucky last November, we scheduled a five day stay at Yosemite National Park as part of our trip to Oregon from Florida.  Record rainfall this winter took out a couple of key bridges between the campground we had reserved and Yosemite, and it would have increased the trip into the park to 2-1/2 hours.  While considering our options, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks showed up on our radar.  A few phone calls later, our new destinations were set!

These two parks are operated as one administrative unit, but are vastly different.  With that in mind, we will give Kings Canyon its own post following this one. We arrived on Tuesday, May 9 and set up base camp at Kaweah Resort in Three Rivers, just outside of Sequoia’s southwest gate. We drove up to the visitor’s center and picked up our maps, information, and our Junior Ranger book.

The next day we set off to discover Sequoia National Park!

As we entered the foothills, it quickly became evident that the roads were full of curves and hairpin turns.  It was seldom that we cleared 30 miles an hour, which was just fine with us.  There were plenty of turnouts to allow us to get over and let those with a tighter schedule to pass.  It was in these foothills that Moro Rock first came into view.  Knowing there was a pathway to the top, we headed that way.

Our first stop was at Hospital Rock.

This gigantic boulder was the winter home for up to 500 Potwisha Indians, and features several petroglyphs.  Hale Tharp, a settler originally from Michigan by way of Placerville California, gave the rock its name after two acquaintances of his were treated by the natives there for injuries they had sustained elsewhere in the mountains.

Just before Moro Rock is a trail leading to Hanging Rock.

Not exactly a place a person would want to be in a rain, ice or snow storm.  😉 The view from there was outstanding!

The trail does offer one of the better vantages of our next destination.

After the Hanging Rock Trail, we then began our ascent up the spine of Moro Rock.  The 350 rock stairs were fashioned in the 1930’s by the CCC and provide a fairly (but not totally) safe route to the top.

This is definitely one place where you want to heed the Stay on the Traîl signs!

Looking back, Hanging Rock can be seen in the center of the photo.  That’s quite a drop off.

The view from the top is breathtaking!  We want to note that this is not a place to be if there is a threat of bad weather.  Lightning can be an issue up here.  We also saw one woman scooting back down on her bottom, so a fear of heights comes into play on this climb.

From the vistas of Moro Rock, we descended into the forest that this park is so famous for.  Actually, the word descended  is a misnomer.  We gained a fair amount of elevation before we reached the taller sequoia trees.  That boggled our minds as typically the higher the elevation, the shorter the trees. That’s not the case here!

Words can not describe how impressive these trees are.  That tree is most likely well over 1000 years old.  The small tree to the left is also a Sequoia.  The bark on these trees is soft and squishy, about the consistency of a ripe avocado.  As you can see on the smaller tree, the needles are similar to a cedar or arborvitae.

They actually grow in a mixed forest.  There are several groves of them scattered around the park.

And there’s Diana waving from Edsel in the Tunnel Log!  

We traded photography duties with a couple at these twin sequoias.  One of the trunks showed a large forest fire scar.  These giants rarely succumb to fire, as the bark is flame resistant.  The trees have a surprisingly shallow root system, considering their size. The usual cause of death is that they simply lose their balance and fall over.



Which is exactly what happened with the Buttress Tree.   This giant actually toppled over in 1959 on a clear day with no wind.  It’s remarkable how little it has decayed since then.

And here’s two sequoia wannabes with the real deal!  I guess this could be called a shameless sequoia selfie. 😉

Of all the mammoths in Sequoia National Park, one stands larger than the rest.  In fact, it is the largest tree by volume on the face of the earth!

The General Sherman Tree!

This coniferous colossus is estimated to be 2200 years old!  To give visitor’s an idea how tall it is, the trail from the parking lot 1/2 mile away begins at treetop height (275 feet).  Walking back up the trail afterwards…at an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level…really drives the point home.  This tree is simply magnificent.

Next up is Sequoia’s neighbor to the north, Kings Canyon National Park!  Be sure to stay tuned!

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