In which we visited Lassen and drove the loneliest highway in America

Remember when I signed off the last post about it being a good night? Bad news: we discovered while rummaging for some lost contact solution (turns out we left it in the hotel in Crescent City) that our boat battery had tipped and spilled all over the back of the Jeep. Good news: baking soda neutralizes the sulfuric acid. Bad news: everything closes after 9pm in Chester, CA so we couldn’t do anything. Good news: The grocery store opens early for the fishermen. We spent the morning scrubbing and neutralizing what we could.

Here’s hoping that the bottom of the Jeep doesn’t fall out anytime soon! Also figured out I’ve developed shingles (am I 80??) – but that is a story for another day. First – on to Lassen!

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National park #2

Lassen Volcanic National Park is like Glacier and Yellowstone had a baby. The peaks reach the sky, but the area is bubbling with geothermal activity. It’s the southern most part of the Cascade Range and its Volcano, Lassen Peak, last erupted 100 years ago. Give that our time was short, we chose to do the Bumpass Hell trail, one because of the name and two, because it gave great views of Lassen’s mountains and showed off the beauty of the Tehama caldera. It’s funny moniker comes from serious incident. Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, a local miner who was exploring the area, broke through the thin mud crust and scalded his leg badly resulting in its eventual amputation. Yikes. thumb_DSC_0695_1024 thumb_DSC_0666_1024

These beautiful purple wildflowers were in bloom along the trail.

These beautiful purple wildflowers were in bloom along the trail.

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I love the color the sulpher, thermophilic algae makes the water.

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Good reason to use the boardwalks (also a federal law).

Good reason to use the boardwalks.

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About 16 acres of hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents) and boiling mud pots

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Beautiful mud and algae above the boiling mud pots. Pictures don’t quite do it justice.

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Our hike didn’t take as long as planned, so we drove around a bit more of the park to take in the scenery:

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View of Brokeoff Mountain

In front of Lassen Peak

In front of Lassen Peak

View to the Cascades beyond

View to the Cascades beyond – this reminds me of the Appalachians outside Asheville.

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The is the highest point on the highest road in the Cascades

We had a long drive before us, so we headed out. I would definitely come back to Lassen again (and hike the Cinder Cone and Lassen Peak!). On the road again:

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Somewhere in California

Crossed the border and drove through Reno - it made me miss all the Burners who would fly in through here to go to Burning Man soon. Our route took us no where near the Black Rock Desert, which was probably for the best. It would make me miss it too much.

Crossed the border and drove through Reno – it made me miss all the Burners who would fly in through here to go to Burning Man soon. Our route took us no where near the Black Rock Desert, which was probably for the best. It would make me miss it too much.

Once through Reno we started driving on Nevada Highway 50. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was named “The Loneliest Road in America” by Life magazine in 1986. I get why: we crossed long stretches of desert valleys punctuated by desolate mountain ranges with little to no sign of civilization for close to sever hours. It was long and hot and I’m very thankful we had a car to do it in (despite its lack of air conditioning) because this is the route the Pony Express took and I can only imagine how hard it was for them.

Beautiful, but lonely.

Beautiful, but lonely.

Desert valley stretch. Note all the bugs we've accumulated.

Desert valley stretch. Note all the bugs we’ve accumulated.

Eventually we pulled into Ely, NV, the biggest settlement we’d seen since leaving Reno. It’s a little modern segment of the Wild West: advertisements for roping lessons, casino-hotels galore with stuffed rattlesnakes decorating the lobby, steakhouses and blackjack dealers smoking cigarettes they bought out of a vending machine.

Downtown Ely, NV

Downtown Ely, NV

We stayed in a hotel-casino that was built on the site of the old jail – so naturally it was called the Jailhouse:

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497 miles

497 miles

Long day, but we survived and we’re getting there – on to Great Basin next!

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In which we visited the Redwoods

Redwood National Park encompasses a narrow band of land along the northern California coastline. The national park (established 1968) is combined with several state parks (Jedediah Smith, Prairie Creek, and Del Norte Coast) and together they protect almost 50% of known redwood trees.thumb_DSC_0584_1024 We started the morning escaping driving out of Crescent City, south along the coast on Highway 101. The 101 hugs the Pacific Ocean from LA to the Olympic Peninsula and has always been something I’ve wanted to drive. Viewpoints like this confirmed my suspicions on how gorgeous it would be: thumb_DSC_0588_1024

Dipping my feet in to say goodbye to the Pacific Ocean.

Dipping my feet in to say goodbye to the Pacific Ocean.

We also had the chance to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams: driving through a redwood. Yes, I know this sounds weird, but in some elementary school textbook there is a picture showing a car driving through a tree (probably this one) to illustrate just how gigantic redwoods are and I had to do it. There are actually three trees near (but not in) the park that you can drive through – we chose the Tour Thru Tree (silly lawyers can’t let them say “drive-thru” for liability reasons) for no other reason other than it was close to our itinerary.

They have quite a nice racket: Entrance is $5 and there is little to no maintenance on the thing.

They have quite a nice racket: Entrance is $5 and there is little to no maintenance on the thing.

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This is an approximately 750 year old living redwood. The tunnel was carved out in 1976, carefully avoiding the critical life sustaining parts.

Jeff drove, I took pictures. You can really get out once you're in it.

Jeff drove, I took pictures (you can’t really get out once you’re in it). So many milestones for the Jeep this week!

After this detour we zipped back into the park and drove through majestic groves of redwoods. It’s easy to spot which ones they are – their ashy grey trunks draw your eye upwards and they tower over every other tree; they are the tallest on Earth. Sequoias may have more volume and be more round, but they don’t scrap the sky like these giants:

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They won’t fit completely in my camera frame – I took this picture lying on the ground.

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Meandering through the giants

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We had most of the drive to ourselves which was nice so I could go slow and crane my head through the window to look up.

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There was a sign that said this was Big Tree – so we pulled off to see it. She seems just as large as a lot of other ones, but with a sign she must be special. Estimated age: 1500 years. Height: 304 feet. Diameter: 21.6 feet. Circumference: 66 feet.

thumb_DSC_0635_1024 Our itinerary did not leave much time for lingering, though this is a national park I’d love to revisit. We continued on to Fern Canyon in the southern (and Prairie Creek controlled) section or the park. Since it’s not technically part of the National Parks System we had to pay an $8 day use fee, and although it was a quick jaunt, it was worth it.

Our little trek took us about three-quaters of a mile.

Our little trek took us about three-quaters of a mile.

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Possibly my favorite picture from today.

Possibly my favorite picture from today.

After that we headed out, we made a brief stop in Arcata, CA for a delicious lunch at the Kebab Cafe (get the gyro itself or gyro burger – so good!!). If you didn’t know, California is in the midst of a terrible drought and I felt like were were driving through kindling as we drove Hwy 299 through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. It’s less a “forest” and more a lot of dried trees, cracking brush and dirt that look ready to ignite any second. It was also hot as blazes out there:

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We haven’t seen 100 degrees since before we moved to Seattle.

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OMG and then it got even hotter! We eventually reached 112 before the sun went down and gave us some sweet, sweet relief. Between us we have two bachelor’s (from a top ten university), a law degree, a dental degree and two master’s degrees- why again are we driving an unairconditioned Jeep across the US in July?!?

When we were in Arcata we called ahead to Chester, CA and got the last room at the Cedar Lodge Motel. We’re planning on camping at some point, but Jeff needed the internet for work this evening. The folks who run this Motel and RV Park are so nice, our room is clean and we’re very close to Lassen for our second national park of the trip. We were also given a complimentary newspaper detailing the local fishing report – adorable. Fun fact about Chester: Chuck Norris’s wife is from here and they have a house nearby. Tonight is good: Lake Almanor is steps away with a refreshing breeze, we have sandwiches from the local hippy market packed for tomorrow’s hike and I’m just really thankful there’s no foghorn.

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Today’s trek encompassed almost the entire width of California – 314 miles

We’re off to hike in Lassen tomorrow and then if we stick to the itinerary will be in Ely, NV tomorrow evening. Having internet each night has been nice, but not sure if we’ll get as lucky from here on out.

In which we’ve left Seattle

Well this is it – we’ve finally left Seattle.

I’ve written many draft posts about my feelings in anticipation of today and as of yet, have trashed them all. Mourning change does not stop the inertia that is pushing us towards Minnesota. Mourning can also cloud too many things: both new opportunities and a deep gratefulness for something so special to mourn. Goodbye Seattle friends, for now. Thank you for so many sweet memories and for loving us so well.

Our last stop was by our neighborhood Dick’s on our way to I-5. One, because they are delicious and so quintessentially Seattle. Two, because there is nothing like having a cheeseburger for breakfast to cheer you up.

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We meandered south down the interstate all morning and into late afternoon, stopping just for gas. Our goal over the next week is to see eight National Parks, eight states in eight days.

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First stop: Crescent City, CA (so just go ahead and knock three states off that list – I like to get ahead early).

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507 miles – a good first day.

On our way, our little family experienced an important milestone:

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I have driven this Jeep from North Carolina to Quebec to Florida and back again, between New Jersey and Pennsylvania and countless trips between school and Tennessee. She has made a true cross country road trip and survived two back to back trips to Burning Man. I have driven this Jeep since high school and she is one of the few things that I've had since before I met Jeff.

I have driven this Jeep from North Carolina to Quebec to Florida and back again, between New Jersey and Pennsylvania and countless trips between school and Tennessee. She has made a true cross country road trip and survived two back to back trips to Burning Man. I have driven this Jeep since high school and she is one of the few things that I’ve had since before I met Jeff.

It’s easy driving on an Interstate, so we made good time through southern Washington, Portland, the Willamette Valley and down into southern Oregon:

We crossed into California around 6:30pm.

We crossed into California around 6:30pm.

First glimpse of redwood trees

First glimpse of redwood trees

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After our cheeseburger breakfast neither of us felt like lunch, but hunger returned around supper, just in time to settle into our hotel. After feasting on Mexican at Perlita’s, a strange sound pierced our sunset walk back to the hotel. It sounds like a cross between a whale dying and a angry sigh. I walked to the park next to the ocean to check it out (and because I wanted to see the Pacific again) and discovered that it was the foghorn at the lighthouse blasting it’s warning to incoming ships. We’ve found a white noise app to help us sleep.

Crescent City, CA bay

Moonrise over Crescent City, CA bay

Noisy lighthouses should be seen and not heard.

Noisy lighthouses should be seen and not heard.

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Morning update: Read last night that Crescent City is the tsunami capital of the United States and learned from experience that it’s populace must be crazy from listening to that damn foghorn all. the. time. Time to get out of here! On to Lassen.