18.04.2012 - 24.04.2012 26 °C
So the Sierra Nevadas are actually quite tall if you were wondering. Mt. Whitney, at 14494 feet is due west of Lone Pine, which is the community you arrive at after exiting Death Valley National Park. The road that runs parallel to the mountains and hugs the Nevada-California border is Route 395. It is a really impressive stretch of black-top, with fantastic vistas of the mountains and lots of scenes that could be taken right from "A River runs through it" or "Legends of the Fall." The motel we stayed at in Bishop had big fish storage freezers, so I would imagine that it is very popular sport fishing country. Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Mountain ski area are both along the way on our northerly voyage.
In mid to late April, pretty much all of the high mountain passes which would allow you to get into central California are still impassable. I found this out somewhat belatedly, when I asked a Park Ranger in passing what my state traversing options were. "Well son (slight cliché), you don't really have any." North on Route 395 it is then. I see, looking at the trusty Rand McNally after the fact that the entire road is designated as a scenic route, so we didn't do too badly in the magnificent views category.
Ultimately, we drove all the way to Reno, Nevada before heading west. A combination of detours and road construction made for a long day, but the early evening drive through the fruit and vegetable heartland of California north of Sacramento was pretty amazing as the size and scope of land under cultivation was impressive. Considering even for a moment the amount of produce that makes it all the way to our home in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, California must grow an absolutely enormous amount of produce for the North American, and other, markets.
We started our final push for the West Coast from Red Bluff. The access road from that town is Route 36. Once again belatedly, we found out that Harley Davidson rates this ride in the top 5 for North America for epic motorcycle rides! It is one of those roads that is relatively fine for the driver, but can cause nausea and general unwellness for the hapless passengers. Lots of hairpin turns and rather narrow stretches hugging mountainsides with no guardrails. You travel across the Coast Mountains through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest to the coast. Max and Angus were troopers, but we were all happy when we had successfully conquered the challenging Route 36 as we rolled into Eureka, California in a steady drizzle.
Welcome to the wet coast!
The Redwood National Park is primarily between Eureka and Crescent City, California, near the border with Oregon. Going to one of the interpretative centres on the coast, it was interesting to find out that the protected area of the old growth redwoods is relatively small, and that, perhaps not unexpectedly, there was not a groundswell of support to protect even the modest area which was ultimately set aside. Understandably, the sheer volume of useable wood that could be harvested from one tree was no doubt mighty enticing to the early non-Aboriginal residents of this area. As an aside, as we know, the vast majority of B.C. old growth has been logged.
Ultimately, various U.S. Presidents and First Ladies got on board, and lands were gradually set aside. The area we visited was the Lady Byrd Johnson Grove. It is a 2.5 km or so loop, and it provides an excellent viewing opportunity of the wooden behemoths. The clichés are accurate, in that it is difficult to gauge the scale of the trees until you have something or someone, usually a human to compare it to. It was a classic moist, yet moderate Pacific Northwest day, so it was possible to understand the optimal growing conditions which have allowed these trees to thrive for 1500 plus years. On the way out, we also saw the aptly named Big Tree, which was slated to be taken down at the turn of the previous century and have its base used a dance floor!
We left the coast suitably impressed with our Redwood experience. Our return to Interstate 5 was more routine than our slightly harried Hog heaven experience on Route 36, as we came into Oregon at Grant's Pass on our way to Eugene.
Eugene, Oregon is known as Track Town, U.S.A., the home of Nike, the University of Oregon, and the late Steve Prefontaine. By happenstance, we were able to see a major West Coast high school and university individual and relay track meet. Our good friends and next door neighbours in Whitehorse had their eldest son Kieran running in both the 1500m and 3000m, so it was great to be able to see him run and to support him. The Hayward track facility at the University is absolutely first rate, the afternoon was perfect, and it was inspiring to see such incredible performances. Janet is the runner of the family, but the Clarke boys could certainly appreciate the calibre of the competition. Max and Angus are good, strong athletes, but it is unlikely either one of them will become track stars - neither has that lithe, slim, whippet-like body type, shall we say...
On a final note, the University of Oregon's Arts Centre, the Matthew Knight Theatre is really quite stunning. We walked passed it at the end of the day, and sun's reflection off of the burnished, curved metal was very impressive. I read that it is one of the many Knight (the co-founder of Nike) family endowments at the University.
And now we are off to Portland to pick up mummy...yeah!!