Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Our Vacation in The Twilight Zone

About 8 years ago, my husband and took a driving vacation around the northern section of California. We drove north up the east side of the Cascades. We went through Lassen National Park on a rainy day. That was...interesting. The road through Lassen, while completely paved, is none too well provided with shoulders. There are spots where the white line is inches from 3000 foot dropoffs. On the passenger side. "Could you drive a little farther from the edge, dear?"  "I would, dear, but the oncoming traffic might object."

I can't imagine why there aren't dozens of cars piled up in those valleys below the danger spots. Nobody drives fast through Lassen.

In other spots, there are large fields of smoking earth and fumaroles putting out steam, or bubbling mud, clearly visible from the road. Cool place, Lassen. Chock full of Scenery with a capital S. 

At one point near the summit of the road, we passed a woman sitting in her car. She had pulled onto the quite narrow verge, and appeared to have just stopped, hands on the wheel. She wasn't enjoying the view at all, and since we were driving slowly and carefully, we could see that she wasn't moving.

On our exit from the park, we asked the ranger in the booth about her. "Oh," he said, "they freeze up there and can't go on. We have to go up and drive two or three cars a day down. More in summer."  Lassen is a place of adventure and beauty. And driving through it can make perfectly normal people who have driven for decades unable to go on.  But it's not the Twilight Zone. I promised the Twilight Zone.

A day later, we explored around Mt Shasta, stayed overnight, and then headed west. 

Around the midpoint of the day, we arrived in a tiny burg called "Happy Camp." It's in the middle of the Klamath National Forest. We had an entirely inadequate map, which seemed to indicate we could take a small road somewhat northwest from there, and get to Crescent City. Please note that the road marked on the map appeared not too wind-y, and seemed to go pretty much directly where we wanted it to. 

And we wanted to drive south on the coast from Crescent City. If we didn't hit the coast there, we'd miss a lot of ocean scenery.  So, we embarked on the tiny road out of Happy Camp, first making time to visit a park with a really unpleasant outhouse. The first mile was through a canyon, with houses on each side, and steep mountains going way up there.  Then there were only a few isolated houses. Then there were...trees. Hills. More trees. The road began to wind, and climb, and fall, and wind some more. Did I mention the trees? More trees than you can imagine.

In places the road had no guard rails, and no shoulder, and quite large drops. It reminded me of Lassen, with less geothermal activity and more trees.  Then we realized there were no more cars. We hadn't seen another car for 40 minutes. Driving well over the middle line wasn't a problem, as there was no oncoming traffic. 

We stopped a few times at scenic pullouts to enjoy the view and chase a few diabolical ground squirrels, which seemed to try to tempt us to chase them right over the cliff edge. We fooled them by not plummeting to our doom, and drove on. I started to wonder if I was going to have to use a bush, as that nasty outhouse was beginning to seem a long time ago. 

The road seemed to stretch out endlessly. Look at the picture. It may be 50 miles as the crow flies, but it's about 400 on the road. Or at least it seemed that way. For most of those miles there were no signs, either. We weren't sure where we were, until....

Finally, up ahead, we spotted a sign. It got closer, and closer, and then, both of us exclaimed together...
"Welcome to CALIFORNIA???!!!??"  We looked at each other and asked "When did we leave?"

Apparently we'd been in Oregon for the last 40 miles or so, and nobody, least of all the state of Oregon, had bothered to tell us. Either that or the Twilight Zone, which seemed entirely possible. Not knowing we'd been in an entirely different state was somehow disorienting, even more than wandering along unknown roads in the lonely wilderness of the Klamath National Forest. 

The rest of the trip was uneventful, if enjoyable. I think that was the first trip we made where we stopped in Mendocino. We go back to Mendocino frequently. 

Happy Camp we leave strictly alone.

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