Seattle, Washington

When I returned from visiting my uncle, Brian came to pick me up from the Seattle airport. I opened the backseat door to the truck to throw in my luggage, and my friend Sarah was sitting there! She had arranged with Brian and flew in the night before to surprise me. It suddenly made more sense that Brian was so annoyed with me when I called and told him that my flight was actually 4 hours later than I originally told him.

Sarah and Brian had a whole day to spend before I got there (oops) and they went to the Ballard Locks to see the boats and ships go up and down. A few years ago I had visited the locks with Brian’s parents, without him, so it was only fair for him to visit.

They saw the Fremont Troll, which Sarah was excited about, since it features in a show she likes, “Once Upon a Time”.

They also visited Locust Ciders, and got flights, and played with their classic Nintendo games. Sarah was crazy about their ciders, and they had fun flavors like Vanilla, Honey Pear, and Watermelon.

The next day we visited Pikes Place Market. We wandered through the vendor’s stalls and bought some handmade items. We gawked at the beautiful flower bouquets and seafood vendors tossing fish. Across the street we visited the first Starbucks and got a couple drinks.

Speaking of drinks, our Seattle Cider Crawl continued with a visit to Citizen 6, where the food was tasty but we were bummed to find out they don’t make their own cider. Then onto Schilling, where they make many of their own ciders and also serve other makers’ ciders. I really liked that they color-coded the menu by the sweetness of the cider, since I like sweet ciders! They also had interesting flavors. We each got our own flight and were able to try most of the flavors. We ended up back at Locust, playing Nintendo and ordering pizza.

For Sarah’s last day in Seattle we ate Liege Waffles at Sweet Iron, and drank more cider at Capitol Cider.

Then we went downtown and toured the Chihuly Museum and went up into the Space Needle. Both of these attractions are pretty pricey, but buying the combo ticket made the price a little easier to swallow.

The Chihuly Museum was so colorful. I especially liked the piece with sea creatures in it, and the full room installation, Mille Fiore.

Outside there is a garden full of more glass art installations, and a big glass room with a huge sculpture inside.

We rode up the elevator about 160 feet to the top of the Space Needle. The Space Needle was built in 1961 for the 1962 World’s Fair. Part of it was under construction, but we walked around the area that was open and saw the views. The glass was angled, and there were angled benches, and sitting on the bench and leaning against the glass was hard for me to do!

We had a great time seeing the tourist sites with Sarah, and her visit was over too soon. After she went home, we moved campgrounds from the KOA to the Tall Chief Thousand Trails Collection RV Park. The KOA is close to the airport and an easy drive to downtown Seattle, but is basically a parking lot. Tall Chief is east of Seattle, and near enough to visit Bellevue or Seattle for errands, and is full of woods. Our site was roomy and nice. The campground has electric and water hookups only, and after 13 nights even trying to conserve water, our tanks were full.

We got together with my friends Christina and Casey and went out to a delicious dinner and then to a show with two folk singers. One played the banjo, and the other played the accordion. Capped off a with a couple beers, it was a really fun night!

We spent the next two weeks getting ready to go to Alaska, including an old favorite pastime, getting the truck repaired. First Brian took the truck to get an Airlift kit installed on the back axle to improve the suspension. While they were installing it, they noticed we had a broken leaf spring, and referred us somewhere else to have that fixed. Then Brian was reinstalling the heat shield (the clips had broken during the thousand oil changes we’ve gotten), and noticed oil leaking from the left turbo. So, he took the truck into a Ford dealership and we needed to have the left turbo replaced. Again. It wasn’t a cheap repair, but Ford worked with us on the cost, since we’ve had so many issues. Brian also got the shock we needed from an Airstream dealer and installed it.

We were hoping to be issue-free after that, but about a week after the Airlift kit was installed, one of the bags stopped holding air. The installation was done wrong, and the airline was melted by our exhaust pipe. So, Brian drove about 5 hours round trip to get them to redo it. It is tricky to get things like this done when we are in a new unfamiliar area each time. We try to read online reviews before picking where to go, but it’s always a gamble.

Brian’s obsession with poke continues, and we found the perfect place for him.

We also had a tasty meal at Taylor Shellfish. Their farm is north of Seattle, and they are the largest shellfish farm in the United States. They grow and sell oysters, clams, and geoducks. Brian really wanted to try geoduck, so we ordered the geoduck sashimi appetizer. Geoducks are the largest burrowing clam and can live up to 140 years. Our server brought out “a small one” that he said was about 6 months old to show us what they look like.

He let us know which part of the appetizer was the body of the geoduck and which was the siphon. It didn’t have a lot of flavor, but the texture was really interesting. It was firm and kind of resembles the texture of a cucumber. Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar was a great place to finish Oysterfest!

Day 647| Mile 66,806

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Oysterfest on the Oregon Coast

Brian has been so eager to explore the Pacific Northwest, but when I asked him what he wanted to see, he only ever said “the coast”, and when I pressed him for more ideas he expanded to “oysters”. So, that’s what we did. We drove to the coast and ate a ridiculous amount of oysters and other seafood.

Once we were in Oregon, we enjoyed slightly lower gas prices than in California, but we couldn’t pump the gas ourselves, which felt strange. We also found it odd that Oregonians drink hot coffee drinks with a straw. Other than these quirks, we really enjoyed visiting Oregon!

Since we were interested in oysters, we stopped at the bays on the Oregon Coast, where oysters are farmed. Our first stop was Coos Bay, Oregon. It didn’t feel like a very touristy place, mostly logging, fishing, crabbing, and oyster farming.

Before we visited the first oyster farm, I gave Brian a pep talk on how it was only our first stop of many during our Oysterfest. We agreed that we wouldn’t go nuts. We walked past mountains of oyster shells into the small store at Qualman Oyster Farm, and Brian asked for three dozen oysters. We were told that we could get 50 oysters of mixed sizes for only a few dollars more, so for $30, we walked out with a big cooler full of small, medium, and large oysters. And the larges were really big! None of them were what I would call small.

We also went to Clausen Oysters and bought another two dozen extra-small and small oysters. So much for not going nuts.

At the marina we bought some crab at Fisherman’s Wharf to make crab cakes. At Chuck’s Seafood Market we bought smoked oysters and oyster sticks and salmon sticks.

Shucking all those oysters took a long time for Brian to do. I think I shucked one oyster. The big ones were so tough to shuck that Brian grilled them for a bit, then opened them, and finished grilling them with butter.

We stayed at the Oregon Dunes KOA, which has dune access for off-roaders. There were a lot of four-wheelers there, which brought Brian back to his four-wheeling days at Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan. We weren’t sure if it would be the best place for oyster shucking and grilling, but our neighbors that pulled in one night were very complimentary of our picnic and we shared some grilled oysters with them. The next night the whole campground was treated to loud music, including dueling banjos.

The KOA is north of Coos Bay, so we crossed the Conde McCollough Memorial Bridge several times to get back into town. Built in the 1930s, it was the longest bridge in Oregon at the time, over a mile long. It was renamed after Conde McCollough, who was the bridge engineer who designed many of the beautiful bridges on Oregon’s coast.

Mingus Park is in the middle of the town and has a nice pond to walk around.

Shore Acres State Park has a formal garden and a rose garden. It was beautiful in the summer, but we heard it’s really nice when it is decorated at Christmastime.

Heading north from Coos Bay, we visited Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes stretch 40 miles along the Oregon coast. At the advice of a ranger, we hiked just a part of the John Dellenback Dunes Trail, and instead of following it out to the ocean across a couple miles of soft sand, we turned to the left and climbed up the tallest dune in the area and enjoyed the view from the top. It was windy!

When we turned off of Highway 101 to see the Umpqua River Lighthouse, we stopped at Umpqua Triangle Oysters for another dozen. Brian wrapped these in bacon and grilled them.

We passed Haceta Head Lighthouse and an area called the Devil’s Churn, which is a narrow inlet that was once a sea cave before the roof caved in. We did the short hike down to it to see the waves crash in.

The next stop on our tour of the Oregon Coast was Newport, on Yaquina Bay. We stayed at the Thousand Trails Whalers Rest RV Park. Newport is the home of Rogue Brewery, which we visited. Brian had an IPA sampler, and I made my own with all the chocolatey and/or dark beers on the menu. The Double Chocolate Stout was my favorite.

Newport has a historic riverfront area with shops and restaurants, and a surimi (imitation crab) plant. We got chowder at Mo’s and walked around.

Oregon Oyster Farm is on Yaquina Bay, and we stopped in for a few dozen oysters.

The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse at the mouth of the Yaquina Bay was built in 1871.

It was only used for a few years before it was replaced by the Yaquina Head Lighthouse just north of Newport, which was our favorite lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. There were hundreds of Cormorants on the rocks near the lighthouse.

The Yaquina Bay Bridge was built in the 1930s and also designed by Conde McCollough.

Our last campground in Oregon was in Seaside, at the Thousand Trails Seaside RV Park. On the way we stopped at Nevor Shellfish Farm in Tillamook. They had beautifully tumbled oysters that were the most delicious ones to eat raw. We also stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, but they had a temporary visitor center open while they are building a new one.

It rained and rained and rained for 3 days straight. Brian took advantage of the rain to wash the truck and trailer, and was out there for most of a day. We didn’t see a whole lot in Seaside, partly because of the rain, but we did go down to Cannon Beach to see the famous Haystack Rock, which is HUGE, it’s 235 feet tall!

We also used it as a base to visit Portland, Oregon, even though it’s about a two hour drive inland. We spent a lot of time in the car on the two days we visited Portland!

We ate delicious biscuit sandwiches at Pine State Biscuit, and shopped at Powell’s Bookstore, which is the largest independent bookstore. I wandered around for ages before deciding on a couple Alaska guide books.

We went to Voodoo Donuts, and bought a few of the most sugary sweet, over the top treats. I loved the VooDoo doll donut, which was stuffed with frosting, and Brian liked the banana fritter with peanut butter and chocolate toppings.

Jamie, my friend since fifth grade, and her husband Adam and their kids live in Portland, so we visited with them and went out for dinner and beers.

Astoria is at the northern border of Oregon. We drove on steep streets up a 600 foot hill to the highest place. On the top of the hill is the Astoria Column, a 125 foot column built in 1926 and decorated with scenes from Astoria history. We climbed the 164 steps on the spiral staircase to the top. Passing people coming down was a tight squeeze.

The Astoria-Megler bridge, built in the 1960s, connects Oregon and Washington, and is 4 miles long!

We drove up to Oysterville in Washington and bought clams at Oysterville Sea Farms. The whole town is historic from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

We didn’t make any plans ahead of time, but we found a lot to see and do on the Oregon and Washington coast. I tried really hard to be spontaneous, but I’m still pretty bad at it. Driving on Highway 101 was really beautiful, on cliffs up above the ocean. By the end of our Oysterfest, we had eaten 12 dozen oysters!

Once we got into Washington, I flew to Tampa to visit my uncle. Brian stayed on the coast and had some fun without me. He bought a tool for clam digging (called a clam gun) and went south back to Oregon to go digging for Pacific razor clams. He drove right onto the beach and joined the other clam diggers, and found several clams two days in a row.

They are a type of burrowing surf clam with a trunk-like siphon on one end and a digger foot on the other. Some were huge, like the size of his hand. They are so big that unlike a lot of other mollusks that are eaten whole, they are shelled and have their guts cleaned out before cooking and eating. There isn’t a large commercial market for them and they are highly perishable so the best way to eat them is to dig them yourself. They look strange to me, but Brian sautéed them in butter and said they were delicious.

Then he moved up the Washington coast and scoped out tide pools in Olympic National Park. The tide was low for a few days, and he planned the stop around the tides. I was sorry to miss this, when we went to Olympic National Park a few years ago it had the best tide pools we’ve seen!

After a week of coastal fun, Brian moved to Seattle to pick me up from the airport.

Day 628 | Mile 65,878

Crater Lake National Park

Mount Mazama was once an 11,000 foot tall volcano in what is now southern Oregon. 7,700 years ago it violently erupted and collapsed into itself, losing about 3,000 feet in height. The remaining caldera eventually filled with water, creating a clear blue lake.

When we arrived there were some clouds, and it got cloudier as the day went on. The lake looked dark blue under the overcast sky.

The next day we went back, and in clear blue skies the lake was a vibrant bright blue. It was really interesting to see the lake under two different conditions.

Crater Lake has been protected as a National Park since 1902, the fifth-oldest. It is one of the snowiest places in America, and the snow that falls into the steep cliffs surrounding the lake provide the water. Since there are no rivers flowing into or out of the lake, and the watershed is small and entirely protected, the water is about as clean as can be.

Crater Lake is surprisingly deep. At 1,949 feet at it’s deepest point, it’s the deepest lake in the United States. The water’s clarity and the lake’s depth both contribute to Crater Lake being a so blue.

There is an island in the lake called Wizard Island, 763 feet above the surface of the lake, made of a cinder cone that has its own crater.

The pinnacles of rock on the cliffs surrounding the lake show some of the plumbing inside the volcano.

When we visited at the end of May, Rim Road that surrounds the lake was still partly closed. Since there is so much snow, and it lingers so long, the road isn’t entirely open until summer.

As we drove around the west side of the lake from south to north, it got snowier. We saw for ourselves why the road opens so late each year.

The temperature was in the 30’s at the rim of the lake. As we drove the road as far as we could, we saw the lake from as many angles as we could.

Every view was beautiful, and we eloquently said “it’s so BLUE!” every time we got out at an overlook.

After gawking at Crater Lake, we drove west toward the Oregon Coast. We discovered an intriguing food at Smokin’ Friday BBQ, the Hot Pork Sundae! Layers of pulled pork and mashed potatoes, with green beans and a cherry tomato on top.

The drive took us through the Umpqua National Forest, and we had to get out of the car to gawk more and explore the rivers and trees in the forest.

Oregon is a stunning state!

Day 610 | Mile 63,461

Lava Beds National Monument

Just north of Lassen Volcanic National Park we stopped at Subway Cave, which is a lava tube about a third of a mile long that’s open on both ends.

It was dark and chilly in there, and the surprising part was how hard it was to walk. The ground was rough and craggy, and it was harder than we expected to move around.

The walls had such interesting colors and patterns. Unfortunately, there was also some graffiti. I don’t know what makes people want to write on nature.

We drove north on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway passed Mount Shasta to Lava Beds National Monument.

A lava tube is formed when lava flows cool from the outside in. The hardened lava insulates the hot lava within, that keeps flowing through. The inside of a lava tube demonstrates pretty well how the lava moved inside. There are lavacicles on the ceiling, and striations on the walls from different levels of lava flow. Lava Beds National Monument has the highest concentration of lava tube caves in the continental United States.

There are 25 developed lava tube caves, which they’ve designated as Least Challenging, Moderately Challenging, and Most Challenging. We avoided the Most Challenging caves, because they involved crawling, helmets, kneepads, and navigation! A few of the caves were closed to protect the bats inside. We explored a couple easy caves and a couple moderate caves.

Golden Dome Cave has a small opening behind the ladder, but it opens up at the bottom. The back of the cave is a figure-8, and the ceiling is covered in hydrophobic bacteria. The water is repelled as droplets on top of the yellow bacteria, so they shine like gold when our flashlights lit it up. I never knew bacteria could be so beautiful! This was our favorite cave we explored.

Skull Cave is a short wide cave, and at the end, there is a stairway down. It’s actually three lava tubes stacked on top of each other. Cold air gets trapped in the bottom level, and it creates an ice floor. It used to be open, but now it’s behind a gate.

Sunshine Cave has a couple of areas where the roof has collapsed and the sunshine comes in and there are plants growing.

Sentinel Cave has two openings (like Subway cave) and some light coming in from openings in the ceiling.

Mammoth Crater created the lava tube caves, when lava flowed out between 30 and 40 thousand years ago. By now it’s full of trees and plants again.

We boondocked just south of the monument on forest land, which worked out great because there was no availability at the campground since it was Memorial Day weekend. The spot was surrounded by tall pine trees and smelled great. There was a fire pit and we had campfires. We were planning to stay two nights, but liked the spot so much that we stayed 4 nights.

Day 608 | Mile 63,260

Lassen Volcanic National Park

We left the California coast and started driving inland to Lassen National Park expecting about a four and a half hour drive. We got about 40 miles before the road we were taking (CA-36) was closed with no detour! It was scheduled to open in three hours, but rather than waiting, we doubled back and started from scratch, taking CA-299 instead. The day turned into a long driving day, but we did see our first bald eagle in Shasta-Trinity National Forest! He sat on the cliff overlooking the river for a while before taking off to look for lunch.

The next day we explored Lassen Volcanic National Park, which has all four types of volcano! Plug Dome, Cinder Cone, Shield, and Composite. The types of volcano are differentiated by shape, composition of lava, and type of eruption. There are also geothermic features similar to what we saw in Yellowstone National Park.

The main road through the park takes ages to be cleared of snow, and was set to open May 27, but we were just a few days early. We were able to visit locations in the park from all four corners, so I feel like we were still able to see what we wanted to. It did involve a lot of driving though!

Lassen Peak (a plug dome volcano) erupted multiple times between 1914 and 1921, with the main eruption in 1915. The snow on the mountain liquified and along with cinder and ash caused a huge mudslide clearing trees and earth from an area now known as Devastated Area.

In the Southwest corner we went to the visitors center and the geothermic Sulphur Works area, which was once a Sulphur mine. There are fumaroles (steam vents), mudpots, and hot springs. We were amazed at how colorful it was.

We wanted to see more steaming and roiling, so we dropped the trailer at the visitor center and drove about an hour and a half to the trailhead for Devils Kitchen. It was a long drive, and just as I was starting to wonder if it would be worth it, we drove around a bend and spotted a bear, at the same time that it spotted us. It crossed the road and looked like it would dash off, but it stuck around for a bit. It seemed to forget about us, and went to a tree and casually stripped it of its bark and ate the exposed insects. It was really cool to see it behave like a bear! It was a black bear, even though its fur was brown.

The Devils Kitchen hike was about four and a half miles round trip, mostly through forest and meadow. There were occasionally boardwalks, and parts of the trail were pretty muddy. Along the way there was a small stream that happened to be steaming.

At the end of the hike there is an area of geothermic activity, and we were the only ones there. It was like Yellowstone, without all the people! There were boardwalks in a few places, but most of the trail was thick white mud that caked on our boots. It was amazing to walk through the steaming area, though it was a little stinky.

In the northwest corner is Manzanita Lake. We walked around the lake (about a mile and a half), and Brian looked enviously at the fishermen in float boats. It was a beautiful clear day and Lassen Peak was reflecting on the lake. We saw another bald eagle.

Surprisingly, later that day we got caught in a storm. We drove to the northeast corner of the park to see the Cinder Cone. We set out on the 4 mile round trip hike, though it looked like rain was coming. We stopped to climb on the big volcanic rocks in the Fantastic Lava Beds rubble field.

When we got to the Cinder Cone, we headed up the steep trail. Climbing on the cinders was tough, because they moved under each step.

It took a bit, but we were nearly to the top when the storm rolled in. We really wanted to make it into the crater, but we saw lightning and we didn’t want to be at the top of a bald volcano anymore. We basically ran down the Cinder Cone in the wind and rain. Soon after, it started to hail. Fortunately, we had brought our raincoats and a dry bag for the camera, so it wasn’t so bad.

While we were visiting Lassen, we noticed uneven wear on our trailer tires, and a shock was leaking oil. We took it into a shop that works on trailers, and they told us we needed to get our alignment fixed. They were able to fix the alignment and put on new tires, but they weren’t able to get a new shock in time, so we will need to get that replaced soon. We stayed in Walmart parking lots in Red Bluff and Anderson while we visited the park and got the repair work done.

Day 604| Mile 62,997

Redwoods National Park

Coastal Redwoods are the tallest of all trees. They are even taller than Giant Sequoias, though they aren’t as thick. There are several State Parks and a National Park in California that protect these trees.

Like the Giant Sequoias, Coastal Redwoods are fire-resistant, and can live to be over a thousand years old. Unlike the Giant Sequoias that grow mixed with other types of trees, Coastal Redwoods dominate the forests they form. As a result, there are far more Coastal Redwoods.

Since they grow near the coast, the fog off the ocean brings so much moisture into the forest that it becomes rainforest. Moss hangs off the trees, and there are banana slugs the size of hot dogs, though we unfortunately didn’t see any.

We walked through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, and saw amazing tall trees. They form burls near the base, and if the tree experiences too much stress, new trees will grow from the burl, making tree clones. That’s a pretty cool survival mechanism.

We saw clusters of tree clones growing together. The trail was so nice and soft, and we had it to ourselves.

Behind the Redwood National Park visitors center is a great place to walk on the beach.

We drove north on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through the National Park. The trees were so straight and right on the edge of the road. Whenever one got a little too close to the road, they just put a reflector on it. When we turned onto the Coastal Drive, the road was blocked by a recently fallen tree. Thankfully it wasn’t a redwood! There were a few cars stuck behind it, and people were standing around wondering how to get through, since this was the only route. Brian whipped out his saw and cut the tree right in half, clearing the road. For several cars full of tourists, he was a hero!

From the Coastal Drive we stopped at the overlooks to see the ocean.

We went a little further, and stopped at a World War II radar station, disguised to look like a couple barns. The walls are cement blocks, but from above, they are well disguised. We would’ve spent more time inspecting, but we heard buzzing, and Brian was stung on the lip by a wasp!

There is a platform with a couple bear statues, and we went out to the end, to see that it used to be a bridge over the Klamath River, that was washed out in the Christmas flood of 1964. The city of Klamath and the bridge were actually rebuilt further upriver.

We stayed at Humboldt County Fairgrounds, in Ferndale, California. It isn’t a fancy campground, but it is about halfway between Redwoods National Park and the Lost Coast, so we left the trailer there while we did our backpacking. When we arrived, half of the campground was closed off and sheep were grazing. By the time we returned from backpacking our sheep neighbors had moved and the whole campground was open.

Ferndale is a small town with well-preserved Victorian storefronts on Main Street. We wandered down the street and checked out the shops, including a pretty cool blacksmith shop.

Day 600| Mile 62,166

Backpacking California’s Lost Coast

The King Range Wilderness Area, known as the Lost Coast, is a rugged and unspoiled stretch of Northern California’s coastline.  Too challenging to build here, the Pacific Coast Highway had to turn inland leaving this remote wilderness area as one of the least developed stretches in the pacific northwest.

The few roads in the area are windy and slow. We parked our truck at Black Sands Beach which is the south end of the 25 mile hike, and booked a shuttle to Mattole Beach at the north end. It took about 2 hours in the shuttle to get from one end to the other, using an amazingly indirect route.  It took us three full days and three nights by foot to hike back to our truck.

After meeting our shuttle and making the long drive back north and unloading, we got to the beach and made a quick lunch. We started hiking around 4 pm, and stopped at any tide pools we saw along the way.

A few hours later we arrived at the Punta Gorda Lighthouse, which operated from 1912 to 1951, when it was decommissioned due to its remoteness. It was the “Alcatraz of Lighthouses.”

There is an elephant seal colony camped out on the beach near the lighthouse. Hunted to the brink of extinction, thankfully they are making a comeback.

We walked through the colony, trying not to attract too much attention. They noticed us though, and they all turned to look at us, which was pretty intimidating. They also grunted at us and made it clear we were not to get too close, not that we were planning to!

They lay all together in big blubbery lumps, with big shiny black doll eyes, but I’m sure they could take us, no problem. Elephant seals are big! The males are 3,000 to 5,000 pounds.

The hiking was mostly on the beach, which was slow and challenging because we were walking over soft sand or hard rocks varying in size from pebbles to big boulders.

The worst was football size. The rocks moved and shifted under our feet, so every step involved planning and hope. At least navigation was easy, since we were hiking on the coast. As long as we kept the ocean on our right, we couldn’t get lost.

The rugged mountains and cliffs next to the beach have rivers flowing down valleys every mile or two. This made finding water easy, though we did have to filter it. It tasted great for the most part, but in an area where there was evidence of wildfires, the water tasted smoky.

We saw several river otters swimming in the ocean. Our best sighting was one that just caught a huge fish that was flopping around struggling to escape at the surface. We followed it a little ways until there were some rocks offshore, and the otter brought the fish up on a rock to eat it. We were jealous of his dinner, but he didn’t look like he wanted to share.

We got a later start than expected, and were far too easily distracted from hiking by seals and tide pools and all the pretty, so we didn’t make it as far as we planned on the first day.

Fortunately, we could camp at most of the creeks, and we found a site as the sun was setting. Camping is allowed just about anywhere accessible above the tide line, and it’s recommended to camp in existing campsites if possible to minimize impact. Campsites are recognized by fire pits made from stones.

Our site on Willow Creek was beautiful, and even better because we were the only ones around. We didn’t sleep very well the first night. Our tent and sleeping bags and pads are pretty comfortable, but it was unfamiliar. And even though the actual ocean is the world’s best sound machine, it was pretty loud! Our tent might look small, but it is actually the 3-person tent.  We were glad to have the “extra space,” but highly doubt we could squeeze a friend in the middle.

We woke up early the next day, to time the tides. The early low tides of the day were the lowest of the month, around -1.7 feet, which meant we could explore one of Brian’s top five things, tide pools!

We saw green anemone, ochre sea stars, crabs, gumboot chiton, purple urchins, mussels, and kelp. We explored tide pools each day during low tides, and that made Brian very happy.

We were lucky to have really low tides, but that meant we also had really high tides. There are two four mile stretches and one short stretch that are impassable at high tide, so it was important to time the hiking with the tides. We made it halfway through the first four mile stretch when we decided that we didn’t want to risk making it through the next two miles before the tide got too high, so we tucked in next to Cooksie Creek and set up our tent and took a nap, cooked lunch, and had a driftwood fire. We ended up there for 6 hours before the tide was low enough that we wanted to start again.

lost coast for blog-117

It seemed like an inconvenience but it turned out to be a nice break. When the tide lowered, we finished the two miles of beach, and then were able to hike on flat firm ground for a little while! Less than a third of the trail can be done over land on the cliffs near the beach, which goes through some flat areas between the more mountainous regions. Our feet and legs were thankful for a break from loose sand and rocks.

The wildflowers were blooming in the Spanish Flat area, and we walked through big fields of them so dense we could barely see the trail.

The second night we camped at Oat Creek, and again we were the only people around. We slept better that night, and slept in a bit in the morning, and then went out to see the tide pools at low tide. Each day low tide was a little later than the day before.

The next day we hiked through a bit more flat inland trail, and sand and rocks on the beach. The nice things about the beach hiking was that the terrain changed frequently, so when sand or small rocks or big rocks got annoying, it would change to something else. I thought the sand would be bad, but after the rocks I was always happy to see sand.

The last mile of the day’s hiking was pretty hard, over the worst size of rocks, and we were tired when we made it to Shipman Creek around sunset to camp for the night. There were four other couples there, but there were enough campsites for us to stay, which was great because I don’t think I could’ve gone another mile to the next creek at that point!

It was the clearest night of the trip, and all the stars were out.

On the last day we had about 7 miles to go. The first three were hiking out of the area that was impassable at high tide, and the last four we were told by a ranger would be difficult beach hiking. The first two of the last four were very difficult, with some of the most annoying rocky sections.

Our feet were dying and this part felt long in the hot sun. We took a nice break after and took off our boots and stretched out our feet, and started the last two miles all hopped up on Snickers that we were saving for the last day. The last two miles were pleasant (but still challenging) sandy beach walking, over the black sand on the appropriately named Black Sands Beach.

There was so much to see walking on the coast. There were urchins, huge mussels, abalone shells, crabs, and kelp, and other sea stuff washed up on the beach. Beach combing is not allowed, so everything was in much greater numbers than we had ever seen.  We saw whale bones and a seabird snacking on a dead octopus. As we were finishing the trail we saw a pair of whales swimming along the coast.

Brian tested the Bullwhip kelp to see if it lived up to its name, and it did.

We started our hike on May 15, which is the first day of the high season (May 15 – September 15), where they issue 60 permits a day instead of 30. Which is probably why we were able to get a permit about 3 weeks ahead of time. We lucked out on the weather, it was cool and cloudy for the first two days and sunny for the third and fourth days. The cool weather was better for hiking, we got a tad sunburned the last day. It only rained a little bit during the third night when we were in our tent so we didn’t feel it.

Brian spent time in advance preparing meals for us to eat on the trail. All our food had to fit in a bear can (along with toiletries), so we had to be careful about what we brought. Brian wanted to have three hot meals a day, and I thought that was overkill and that we should bring more snacks and meals that didn’t need cooking.

It turned out that we were both right. It was really nice to have hot food and coffee throughout the day, but it took a fair amount of time and effort to unpack the cooking stuff and food and make and eat a meal and wash up and repack.

But, when I think back to making camp at sunset and setting up the tent, and going down to the beach and cooking dinner and eating in the dark, exhausted, I think maybe I was a little more right.  Brian and I agree to disagree.

Our packs felt heavy, Brian’s was about 40 pounds and mine was about 30 pounds. We were aiming for less, but we didn’t bring that much that we wouldn’t bring if we did it again. This included over 8 pounds of camera stuff, and we were glad to have that because, damn, it was pretty.

We didn’t use rain jackets or very much first aid stuff, but that stuff we would definitely bring again. As inexperienced backpackers, we’d rather be prepared. The only thing we wouldn’t have brought would be water shoes/hiking sandals. We weren’t sure what the level of the creeks would be like and whether we would need to wade through them. We were able to rock hop across (a few had a log across that we could use as a balance beam). With our waterproof hiking boots, we stayed dry. I was really glad to have high-topped waterproof hiking boots (especially over the rocks and in the creeks), and trekking poles. We would both probably bring less clothes next time, but we might have wanted them if we got wet.

The main challenges we were warned of ahead of time were ticks, poison oak, bears, and rattlesnakes. We didn’t encounter any ticks or rattlesnakes. The black bears were definitely around, fresh tracks the third morning next to camp were evidence of that.  The bear did not mess with any of our gear, and the other campers nearby did not have any problems either. The poison oak warning was no joke, it is absolutely everywhere other than the beach. Sometimes the poison oak was a huge bush, other times it was mixed in with the grass. We were able to avoid touching it for the most part, but sometimes we had to hike right through it.  Brian picked up a little rash after the trip, but it could have been worse.

There was only one brief time that it got a little dicey. We were told if there is an overland trail, we should take it, to save our feet and strength for the beach sections (which was at least two thirds of the trail), only, it wasn’t always obvious when there was an overland trail we should be taking.

So, after a long stretch of overland trail, we continued on when I think we were supposed to go down to the beach. Eventually it appeared that the trail had collapsed in a land slide, but there was a small trail going up and over the washed out part, so we took that.

The trail got a bit sketchy, and crumbly right on the edge of the cliff. Even Brian got nervous, and when he gets nervous, I know we are doing something dumb. When the trail ended, there was no way down to the beach! At least, no safe way and no way I was willing to try. So we turned around, and I thought we might have to backtrack nearly a mile to the last creek, but after just a bit we saw that where it looked like it washed out and we originally went up, we we able to get down to the beach.

Backpacking was a bit uncomfortable, but I think that’s part of the fun, and it helps me appreciate the comforts of normal life. Before we left, if I had been asked what I would miss most out of the following things: a) my cell phone, b) toilets, c) going inside, or d) running water, I wouldn’t have guessed it would be e) chairs! That wasn’t even on my list of concerns. (Ok, that’s not totally true, it was probably actually b) toilets.) Fortunately, there were often driftwood logs to sit on, and when there wasn’t, I (unsuccessfully) tried to pull up the comfiest rock I could find.

Our first backpacking experience was amazing, and Brian picked a great trail when he picked the Lost Coast. It was so nice to unplug for a few days and spend so much time outdoors. The hiking was challenging, but so rewarding. It was hard not to be in good spirits the whole time!

Day 596| Mile 61,891

Santa Rosa, California

Santa Rosa is about an hour north of San Francisco. We stayed there because it has a good selection of stores, including an REI, and we needed to prepare for a 4 day/3 night backpacking trip. We’ve done a lot of hiking on this trip, but to start backpacking we needed to get pretty much everything, including a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a pack for Brian (I had a pack that my sister gave me a couple years ago), a cookstove, and backpacking food. We went to REI and grocery stores about a dozen times, considering and reconsidering items. We are really excited to go backpacking, but it is a lot of effort! Next time it will be easier to prepare.

On a sunny day, we drove to the coast to visit Point Reyes National Seashore. When we started to get close, the fog got thicker and thicker. The ocean has a big impact on the weather at the coast!

We walked out to the point, where there are stairs leading to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, but they are closed on weekdays. It seems to be the mascot of the park, since everything in the gift shop features the lighthouse. I’m skeptical that it exists, because I saw no evidence of it.

We did see some beautiful windswept cypress trees, and whale bones near the lighthouse visitors center. The fog condensed in the trees and fell on us like rain as we walked through them.

There’s a spot where trees were planted in 1930, and now form a tunnel over the road. There are no other trees in this area but these, so they really stand out.

On the inland side of the point the fog wasn’t as thick, and we could see a colony of elephant seals. We watched them for awhile, and they were making so much noise!

On the north side is a Tule Elk preserve. We saw a few elk when we drove up there and walked down to the beach. All different kinds of wildflowers were blooming.

In spite of the missing lighthouse, there was still a lot to see at Point Reyes.

Russian River Brewery is a popular brewery in Santa Rosa. They are famous for their Double IPA Pliny the Elder, which isn’t distributed outside of the west coast. It is famous because it was the first really good beer of its kind, and was rated the number one beer in America for years. We went there on a Wednesday during Happy Hour and ordered the full sampler of all the 20 beers they had on tap.

We were excited to try Pliny the Elder, and it was good. We enjoyed tasting all the different beers (and stuck around for a few more pints and a pizza), but they focus on bitter IPAs and sour beers, which aren’t my favorite. We liked Pliny the Elder, Hop Queen, and Tempo Change the best.

We stayed at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for a week and a half. Fairgrounds RV Parks are pretty much parking lots, but they tend to be cheap and can be convenient. There were bad fires in this area about 6 months ago, and the fairgrounds RV Park was mostly full of FEMA trailers housing people displaced by the fires.

While we were in Santa Rosa we spent some time relaxing too, and resting up for the next bunch of traveling, including our first backpacking trip!

Day 589 | Mile 61,391

San Francisco, California

We went to San Francisco mainly to see friends, but did some sightseeing while we were there. It is a really beautiful city with a lot of park space and gorgeous cliffs. The Golden Gate Bridge looks great from every angle and put the Full House theme song in my head all week.

We first stayed at Anthony Chabot Regional Park on the east side of the bay. It was a little out of the way, but was full of eucalyptus trees and wild turkeys. We visited our friends Jeff and Sarah and their son in Concord, California. After enjoying their hospitality for a few days, we had them over to the campsite for dinner and a campfire.

Then we moved to San Francisco RV Park (a Thousand Trails Collection campground), which is on the coast south of the city, in Pacifica. There was a short trail near the campground with a great view, but there was a fence up on the coast at the campground because the cliff is eroding.

We visited parts of the Golden Gate Recreation Area, which is made up of dispersed sites throughout the San Francisco area. We started at the Sutro Baths ruins. The Sutro Baths were saltwater swimming pools built in an inlet in 1896, that burned down in 1966. Only a few walls and foundations remain.

Nearby, outside of the Cliff House, we visited the Camera Obscura. It’s a funny little building that was built in 1946, though there were prior versions there before. It projects the world outside the building onto a large bowl using a lens and mirror and natural light. It rotates around and the projection rotates on the bowl. After we went inside and saw it through a few rotations, Brian went outside so I could see him reflected by the camera obscura.

We hiked on the coastal trail in Land’s End park to the hidden labyrinth and a beautiful view of the Golden Gate bridge.

Another day we went downtown to Pier 39 and ate seafood and saw the sea lions just off the pier.

We walked along the coast to Fisherman’s Wharf, and stumbled upon the Musee Mechanique. It is an arcade full of vintage games. We played pinball, did love tests, arm wrestled, sat in the magic fingers chair, and watched weird little shows put on by mechanical figures. One machine had a sign on it saying “If you are easily offended, do not play this machine”. Of course we fed it our quarters, and it was just fart noises.

We visited Ghirardelli Square and ordered an ice cream sundae.

We experienced the hills in San Francisco walking to the crookedest street, and then ate in Chinatown.

We got there too late for Dim Sum, fortunately we had already had a dumpling-fest earlier in the week. The Peking duck was crispy and delicious, and the won ton soup was ridiculous, it could’ve been our whole meal.

We also went into the Mission district and walked down Castro street.

There is so much to do in San Francisco. We thought about visiting Alcatraz, but Brian had already been and we decided we didn’t have time during this visit.

It was so nice to catch up with old friends, most of whom I’ve only seen a handful of times in the last decade. We had some nice dinners, and really enjoyed catching up, eating, and drinking with Aaron and Sammi, Scott and Bonnie, and Colleen and Joey.

Grace and Julie gave us a great tour of Presidio Park. We ate lunch together at the food truck picnic, and saw Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire sculpture, a 100 foot sculpture made from cypress tree trunks.

There are quick stop restaurants in the bay area serving poke bowls, where we get to customize the bowl with the ingredients we like. It’s like a Subway, only with sushi ingredients like rice, raw fish, seaweed salad, and sauces.Brian immediately became obsessed. We ate at these places at least a half a dozen times in a couple weeks.

On our way north out of town we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped just after at the viewpoint, and decided to walk over the bridge. I’m not exactly sure why, but this was so fun. The weather was beautiful and views were amazing, and we saw sea lions, dolphins, Alcatraz, and the city skyline. The only irritating part was the bikes on the bridge. Bikers are supposed to stay on one side and the walkers on the other side, but this didn’t always happen.

When we got to the other side, we went to the cafe and ate clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl with an up close view of the bridge. It felt very San Francisco-y.

Day 579 | Mile 61,031

Pinnacles National Park and Monterey Bay Aquarium

About 80 miles southeast of San Francisco is Pinnacles National Park. It has only been a National Park since 2013, though it became a National Monument way back in 1908. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we visited because it is a National Park. We learned that the name “Pinnacles” refers to the rock formations leftover from a dormant, eroded volcano.

Aside from these formations we also saw wildlife, wildflowers, and Talus caves, which are caves made by giant boulders falling onto narrow gorges. It’s a small park, less than 42 square miles, so we planned to spend three days there. It gets hot in the summer, but the temperature was in the 60s while we were there, and it felt great.

The first hike we took was the High Peaks Trail/Condor Gulch Trail loop. We added on the Moses Spring/Bear Gulch Cave/Rim Trails which made it about a 6 mile hike. The extra trails took us through the Bear Gulch Cave, which involved going up a steep staircase and under huge boulders.

The cave was pretty modified with stairs and handrails to make it easy to get through. It was dark, so we put on headlamps.

When we got out of the cave there was a reservoir, where we stopped to have a snack. The squirrels were aggressively eyeing our food, so we aggressively told them to beat it.

After the Talus Cave, the trail climbs 1,300 feet up into the pinnacles. We were amazed at the colorful lichen covering the rocks; brown, yellow, many shades of green, and even orange.

Most of the elevation gain was hiking switchbacks, but there were areas where the trail helped us out, with railings and footholds.

When we got up high, the views were incredible.

We were in the area where the California Condors nest. We saw huge black birds flying, but couldn’t really pick out the condors, since there are other vultures and ravens, too. One flew overhead and landed near us, and we could see that it was a condor. They are pretty funny looking birds, they look like they are wearing feathery turtlenecks.

The California Condor was nearly extinct in the 1980’s. A captive breeding program was put in place and they have been reintroduced to some areas of California, as well as Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. Conservation efforts have been successful, but they are still critically endangered, their biggest obstacles are habitat destruction, power lines, and lead poisoning from eating animals shot with lead bullets.

The next day we went for a much flatter hike, about five miles round-trip on the Old Pinnacles Trail to the Balconies Cave. There were many types of tiny colorful wildflowers blooming.

Brian loved the pine cones from the Coulter pine trees, also known by their more descriptive name, Big-cone pine. They look like spikey footballs, and can be 10 pounds when fresh, so we didn’t spend too much time under Coulter pines!

When we got to the cave, it wasn’t immediately clear where the trail was, and we had to climb over rocks and a stream to get into the cave.

Once we were inside (and it was dark), we might not have known the trail continued past the first “room” if not for a little arrow pointing to a passage. This cave was a little more interesting to navigate than the Bear Gulch Cave and we were also the only ones in it.

After the cave, the Balconies Cliffs Trail climbed a bit to show off some nice views while we made it back to the Old Pinnacles Trail for a flat walk back.

Both trails were really interesting and beautiful, and Pinnacles National Park exceeded our nearly nonexistent expectations! We stayed in the campground in the park (on the east side, the east and west sides of the park actually don’t connect by a road). They offered RV sites with electric hookups, and we booked the last available one. There was a lot of wildlife to be seen. Acorn woodpeckers were flying to a granary tree. In the campground we saw many quail, vultures in a tree nearby, and raccoon paw prints all over our truck!

On a rainy day, we drove west to the coast to visit Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was busy, even on a Monday! We spent all day at the aquarium, seeing their large variety of animals.

Brian loved that they didn’t just have “flashy” and “glamorous” species like penguins, and sea otters, but also weird and interesting species.

They had a special exhibit on Tentacles, which had octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus. It was mesmerizing to see them change colors before our eyes.

There is a large tank that is kelp forest habitat, which is native to the Pacific Ocean. The leopard sharks and school of sardines were fun to watch. We also loved the jellyfish and large colorful anemone.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium emphasizes the environmental impact of fishing, the importance of eating seafood that is sustainably harvested, and the negative impact of human behavior and plastic in the ocean. They have a program called Seafood Watch that makes recommendations for which types of seafood are most ocean-friendly. It isn’t always fun to hear about, but it’s important, and they do a good job of educating and increasing awareness.

Day 567 | Mile 60,581