Spring 2012 #16 Unto The Hills

Although the coastline north of Santa Cruz is scenic and has some great views, it is not as dramatic as that further south.  Indeed, when they complete tunnels they are working on, the road will take one inland past some of the highest and sharpest drop-offs.

Nonetheless, there were many pretty viewpoints, and we were interested in the many small organic farms along the way.  We saw some more harbor seals including a young one whose mottled fur blended in so well with the background that we at first thought he was just another rock.

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse was built in 1872 using the latest technology, a huge Fresnel lens.  Its light shows seventeen miles out to sea.  Pigeon Point got its name after a ship, the Carrier Pigeon, struck the rocks near the coast on its maiden voyage from Boston to San Francisco and sank in 1853.

Today the old Coast Guard buildings have been converted into a youth hostel.  Unfortunately, the lighthouse itself is in sad repair.  We bought a trinket from volunteers seeking to raise preservation money.

We visited San Francisco together when I returned from Viet Nam, and I was there and toured a bit while on business in the 1980s, but we still chose to drive directly through continuing to follow route one.  We will come back to pick up Alie’s sister Michelle at the airport, but will save a more extended visit for some future trip.

Route 1 passes along the southwest of San Francisco, and when we looked back across the harbor at the downtown area, I realized it were as though one had been driving through the Bronx or Brooklyn and only knew about Manhattan.  San Francisco is much bigger in area than I realized.

One reason we could see all this was it was a beautiful clear day.  I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge in 1964, but I the fog was so thick, I never saw it.

Wine Country

We have wakened to fog ever since we reached the coast and on some days it did not burn off until late.  Furthermore, I like the sun and neither of us likes crowds.  As we had a few days, we decided to head back inland to the mountains.


We spent the first night at Calistoga, home to the Napa County Fair.  It is also home to many hot springs, and spas and hot mud baths were advertised everywhere.  There were many restaurants and the street was crowded even on a mid-week evening (empty in the morning).  The town of Napa was over the hill, but small vineyards lined the valley.  I speculated on trying some of the wines but knew if I bought any to take home they were unlikely to travel well up and down the hills through heat and cold.

Sacramento River

We then wound our way over a hill and through the broad Sacramento River Valley.  There were groves and groves of trees that we did not recognize, but we saw no one to ask about them.  Then we came to broad flooded fields and correctly guessed they were rice fields.  Huge grain elevators like those used in the Midwest for wheat belonged to various rice cooperatives.

Not Florida

Florida has many advantages, and that is why we choose to live there.  But we really miss the mountains, so we were happy to once again climb into the Sierras along the deep but gradually sloping Feather River Canyon to the small resort town of Chester.

The next day we drove into Lassen Volcano National Park.  As it was still early in the season, we were able to walk up the road from the “Sulphur Works” near the southwest entrance visitors center and see only two other couples.  Later, we walked down the road from the “Devastated Area” ten miles from the northern entrance and had the road all to ourselves.  Unfortunately, the road between these two walks was still closed by snow.  Indeed, when we talked to some road workers, they said their blower was still working on a snow bank just four miles up the road.  Unfortunately, they were not subject to bribes (or at least what we could afford) and would not open the road for us to go see it.

The Sulphur Works is in what remains of the crater of a huge “mixed type” volcano that existed in the area eleven miles wide and over eleven thousand feet high six hundred thousand years ago.  Lassen is the only place to have all four types of volcanoes.  In addition to the mixed type, Lassen Peak is one of several “plugged domes” in the park.  There are also the familiar “cinder cones” and “shield” volcanoes.  The latter occurs when the lava flows slowly and spreads out to form a flatter broader mountain.

Walking at The Sulphur Works, we passed a spot next to the road where a hot mud puddle boiled up.  There are many hot springs, but most are further from the road.

“New” rocks

Lassen blew its top in 1915.  A photo of an eruption taken from fifty miles away shows a huge column of ash and smoke thirty thousand feet in the sky.  And thanks to a local businessman who narrowly escaped with his life shortly before one of the eruptions, they have wonderful before and after photographs.  A short walk around the Devastated Area trail shows the recovery nearly one hundred years later as well as example of different types of volcanic rock.  As most geology seems to be in terms of millions of years, we were particularly interested to see rocks less than one hundred years old.

Lassen Peak

The Oregon and California trails that brought emigrant pioneers across the country actually split into several trails once they got to the Rockies.  Peter Lassen developed one using the peak as a reference point.  In 1850, William Nobel developed the more successful Nobles Trail that skirted Lassen Peak to the north.  It was to walk on a bit of this trail that took us down the road past the point where it was closed to cars.  Perhaps the gene that caused pioneers to always look over the next hill still resides in us.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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