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Vacation 2004
August 4 - 21, 2004
The lighthouse portion of our trip. Click on any town to go to that portion of the story.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004
A lackadaisical day spent loading the Bounder little by little, deliberately kept at a slow pace to ensure we remembered every little thing. The bills were paid including the Bounder’s $1,200 insurance premium, files were transferred from the main computer to the laptop, saws and hammers were located and stored onboard, and last minute notes were written and left for Angelo who would be house-sitting for us.

It was around 5:00 p.m. when we finally pulled Blueboy out of the driveway and onto the street and another 45 minutes of last minute running around before we were ready to get underway. Last onboard were the ferrets and cats in two separate carriers. Allie and Tasha quickly settled into the summer cottage while Mouse and Sammie yowled in their larger carrier.

Neighbor John Montgomery came over to see us off and I stopped at the door to talk with him about John Thomas’ landscaping project while Pat took the cats in their carrier back to the Bounder’s bedroom. Suddenly a flash of fur flew off the Bounder’s stairwell and disappeared outside before I could turn my head and note the direction. A screaming Pat was in hot pursuit of Mouse. I was convinced Mouse had headed across a lawn and into one of our neighbor’s bushes but Pat and John believed she was somewhere under the motorhome. With rush-hour traffic whizzing up and down Seminary Avenue, I just prayed she didn’t dodge out into the street.

Pat insisted that Sammie was locked into the bedroom at the back of the Bounder and that the loud yowling we were hearing near the front had to be coming from Mouse. He crawled under the carriage and spotted Mouse hunkered down atop the engine. I went inside, opened up the doghouse, grabbed Mouse, and pulled her into the coach. Disaster averted! Hopefully the terrified cat incident wouldn’t be a precursor of what was coming for the next two and a half weeks.

It was six o’clock by the time we started rolling down Seminary Avenue and headed over to Alameda to get gas for the Bounder and cash infusions for our billfolds at an ATM. Across the Bay Bridge, through San Francisco, and over the Golden Gate with a quick stop at the Vista Point on the north side to check tail lights. North on 101 to Mill Valley and the Stinson Beach exit for State Highway 1 where Blueboy started the arduous climb up the winding narrow two-lane road that crosses the coastal range. So close to home and yet a world away, we rarely exceeded 25 mph through the spaghetti factory of hairpin turns.

Destination: Olema Ranch Campground just outside Point Reyes National Seashore. Hugging the coast, the hairpin turns afforded us frequent views of a distant gleaming San Francisco through the darkness. It was 10 p.m. when we finally pulled into the campground, less than 38 miles straight-line distance from our Oakland home.

Thursday, August 5, 2004
Point Reyes Lighthouse

Pat was up by 6 a.m. and when I finally walked out of the bedroom at 7, the coffee was just starting to warm up on the stove. Fed the cats and played with Tasha & Allie until all of our four-leggeds finally settled down for a nap. I headed outside around 9 o’clock to pay the bill at the office where they pointed out nearby bike trails on a Point Reyes brochure they gave us along with a slip of paper containing a user ID and password to access the campground’s wifi network. Back at the Bounder, I fired up the laptop and checked on my email.While Pat was checking his, I headed outside to remove the bikes from the carrier, and added air to their tires with our new portable battery-powered pump (thank you, Walmart!).

It had been two years since the last time we rode the bikes, so we took them for a short spin around the Olema Ranch Campground. Somewhere in the back forty we discovered a car with a New Jersey license plate and stopped to chat with the campers: mom and three kids plus her parents. Grandma & grandpa had a cab-over; mom and the kids had a pop-up. We started trading New Jersey vs California stories and ended up drawing circles around must-see spots on their San Francisco map. After an hour or so, we took our leave and eventually returned to Blueboy.

Next it was time to get brave and tackle one more system on our new acquisition that we had been avoiding: the awning. Somehow we managed to remain civil to each other as we fumbled our way through lowering it from the Bounder’s side. Back inside doing some last minute cleanup before heading over to the Point Reyes Visitors Center on our bikes, we spotted New Jersey mom and grandmom (we never did learn their names) walking out front towards the office and called them over to see our rig.

When mom learned we had internet access, she asked me to look up the location of the nearest Costco (Novato) and after grandma left, the three of us sat in the Bounder yakking for another two hours. It was after one o’clock by the time we mounted the bikes and peddled the mile over to the Bear Valley Visitors Center. After a two-year hiatus, our legs felt strained after a mere mile along a flat road. I was sweating profusely and cursing myself for having forgotten to bring along a towel for drying myself off.

We cooled off inside while looking at the various wildlife displays and chatting with two of the clerks, then headed back out into the heat to find the Bear Valley Trail that heads through the woods and down to the coast. For the most part, the biking, hiking, and horseback riding trail is wide and reasonably smooth, but a few of the grades took their toll on us. Thank God for the trees that shaded us from the majority of the heat as the peddling was generating plenty in our bodies. For me, the forest was dark enough to leave my sunglasses dangling along with my reading glasses from their neckstraps.

Back at the campground around five o’clock, we collapsed into our director’s chairs on the lawn from exhaustion after 8.52 miles of peddling after fetching two cold cans of pop from Blueboy’s refrigerator. In the past we’ve biked as much as twenty miles in a day; clearly, we were out of shape. After recuperating from the ride, Pat went inside to prepare dinner while I wandered over to the campground store, then meandered about the grounds in an effort to stay out of his way.

Dinner was scrambled eggs with ham and cheese, washed down by a bottle of Chardonay. I ran back to the campground store and brought home a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream and a new dishpan for the sink. As dark descended on the campground, with cats fed and ferrets settled down, Pat grabbed his Oscar Wilde and I my Harry Potter for some light reading before bed. It was then I discovered I had lost a lens out of my reading glasses along the biking trail.

Friday, August 6, 2004

It was an absolutely horrible night’s sleep. I kept kicking Mouse off the bed, Pat kept stealing the covers away from me, and Mouse decided that if she couldn’t be on the bed, she’d wile away the night by digging to China in the litter box. I presume it was around 4 a.m. when Pat got up to deal with the cat. Freezing in the bedroom, I got up, turned on the furnace, and went back to bed. Pat never returned and instead spent the rest of the night on the sofa. I was in a foul mood that morning as was Pat and it was difficult to be civil to each other.

Cup of coffee in hand, I fired up the laptop to catch up on email and write the previous day’s blog while Pat washed last night’s dishes in the sink. Fortunately I had brought an older pair of glasses along, but wearing them made all rectangular shapes look like trapezoids. Finally I took my first shower in Blueboy with mostly cold water as the water heater had yet to catch up to the dishwashing use.

Eventually we went about the business of packing up Blueboy for our departure from Olema. Pat had dug out the instructions for the awning’s deployment the previous night and held them firmly in one hand as we struggled to retract the darn thing. Before he could warn me, I loosened a clamp and the awning flew back to the Bounder’s side nearly knocking Pat to the ground. Bikes secure, stabilizers retracted, I started the engine and pulled out of the campground and onto northbound Highway 1.

A few miles up the road we passed through the tiny town of Point Reyes Station, then continued along the eastern shore of Tomales Bay through Marshall, inland through the town of Tomales, and arriving in Bodega Bay after a leisurely 90 minute drive. North of Jenner, the coast road twists and turns as it hugs the cliffsides of the coastal range offering spectacular views of the ocean and beaches down below. We pulled into a vista turnout at Stewarts Point where Pat grabbed the binoculars for spotting sea lions while I fixed myself a sandwich. After an hour-long respite, we resumed our journey northward, frequently pulling into slower traffic turnouts to allow backed up traffic to pass us.
Smoke rises from morning campfires at Anchor Bay Campground on the beach.

A few miles into Mendocino County at Gualala, we turned into Anchor Bay Campground, nestled in a pine forested horseshoe turn of the highway. It was Friday and, without reservations, we would not be surprised to find the campground full, but they managed to have one slot unclaimed and we took it. As another camper told me the next morning, Anchor Bay is the only campground along the northern California coast with beach access. Not exactly true, as we found out later in the trip.

This time we got the awning down in just a few seconds and after hooking up the water and electric, we locked the door and headed down to the beach for a half-mile stroll where we met Jake digging in the sand. At first glance, Jake appeared to have his hand straight down into the sand up past his elbow. As we passed, he looked up, smiled broadly, and said, “I’m in high school, you know!” Jake was fifteen, had no legs, a stub above the elbow for a right arm, and a beautiful shade of red hair. He looked like one of the thalidomide babies of the fifties and early sixties and, despite his physical deformity and mental limitations, seemed eminently happy with life… far more so than most able-bodied folks we’ve met.

On our way back from the south end of the beach, Pat stopped and gave Jake some small seashells he had picked up along the way. Jake counted them out dutifully: “Five! I know what Rule Five is! No violence!” Back in the campground we found the trail leading up the cliff and huffed and puffed our way to the top. One peak through the window of the Mexican restaurant at its folding chairs and oil-clothed tables urged us to walk towards the other end of the small shopping center in hope the town might have a second, more amenable restaurant.

At the far end we found the Redwood Grill and quickly agreed it would be worth the fifteen minute wait for a table out on the deck tucked in the shade of the surrounding forest. I ordered my Corona with lime and Pat his hot tea along with an appetizer plate of deep-fried mozzarella, zucchini, and jalapeños. We struck up a conversation with the other two couples dining out on the deck, a just married couple from Tallahassee, and a teacher and her husband from Alameda. Pat’s shrimp scampi and my New York steak arrived as the six of us chattered away.

The Tallahassee couple left, the staff pushed two of the tables together and four small children, an older lady, and Jake arrived to have dinner. Jake got down from the stroller he was sharing with the three-year-old and pulled himself across the deck and up onto the bench seat by the table with no help from anyone, then cheerfully asked for a root beer and glass of ice water. As fascinated as I was to see how Jake managed to ambulate and eat, so many hyperactive small children ruined the dining experience for me and I called the waitress over to bring us doggy bags and the bill. Back at the Bounder, Pat and I played a game of gin rummy, read our books, and retired for the night by 10:30 with one proviso: no cats!

Saturday, August 7, 2004
A fairly decent night’s sleep for the first time! Well, at least better than the first two nights. The litterbox, the food, and the cats had been moved to the living room and the bedroom door shut to keep them from joining us in bed. But at 5:30 a.m., Mouse started pawing, pucking, and banging on the bedroom door. Pat got up to deal with it and I decided to get dressed. It was 5:53 a.m.
Man walking his dog along Anchor Bay Beach as morning fog retreats to the ocean.

Fresh coffee mug in hand, I grabbed my camera and headed down to the beach to get some photos in the early morning light. Back at Blueboy, I downloaded them to the laptop and produced a quicky slideshow with iPhoto. While sharing them with the neighbors next door, Pat noticed the sunbeams flooding through the redwoods and I went back for my camera. I hurried back outside with camera around my neck and, at full walking speed ahead, hit the brace holding up the awning so hard that I fell back onto the ground. Pat had managed to hit the same awning brace the day before and had warned me then.
The shot that nearly broke my nose.

Pat took a stroll down to the beach while I sat at the laptop catching up on the blog. When he got back, we broke camp and pulled out of Anchor Bay at noon for the short 13 mile hop up to Point Arena. Afraid to take the Bounder down the narrow street to the marina, we parked along the main street, unloaded our bikes, and discovered I had a flat tire on mine. We walked them across the street to the town’s gas station where the owner told us his tire repair guy was out to lunch. An inspection of the inner tube revealed an irrepairable tear at the valve stem; fortunately I had a spare inner tube in my bike’s repair kit and soon we were peddling the one mile down to the marina where we hiked up the hillside to the Wharfmaster’s Inn.

Pat’s niece Kristen, his brother Mike, and Mike’s wife Charlotte had given us a gift certificate for a night’s stay at the hotel, but we had forgotten to bring it along. The hotel clerk found the reservation in the computer and we made a reservation to return the following afternoon along with parking arrangements for the Bounder. That taken care of, we peddled the mile back up to Main Street, loaded up the bikes, and drove the Bounder two miles out of town to Rollerville Junction, the campground we had stayed at with our pop-up back in 1998. After settling into a shaded spot, we headed down to the pool to cool off and relax.

In Point Arena we finally had cell phone service back, so we caught up on voice mail and called several friends while munching on chips and beer (Coke for Pat) at the picnic table under Blueboy’s awning. Dinner was last night’s doggie-bag leftovers from the Redwood Grill back in Anchor Bay. As dusk descended, I bought a bundle of firewood ($6.บบ!) and got some logs burning in the firepit. Another couple stopped by to join us around the campfire and as we walked them back to their own motorhome I looked up into the night sky and clearly saw the Milky Way snaking across the glittering heavens.

This time the night was cool enough to shut the windows and turn on the furnace before going to bed.

Sunday, August 8, 2004
Our self-appointed alarm clock, Mouse didn’t start pawing and whining at the bedroom door until six o’clock and I finally climbed out of bed at 6:30, dressed, and put on the coffee pot while Pat grabbed some more sleep, now with Mouse joining him under the covers. I watched the sun come up over the hills and turned on the laptop to catch up on the blog. Pat got up at eight o’clock.
Point Arena Lighthouse enshrouded in fog.

I wandered down to the camp store and came home with $150.บบ worth of miniature lighthouse collectibles and Pat cut out rubber pads so they could be displayed on the Bounder's window sills without scurrying about while underway. Late in the morning we had breakfast at the campground cafe, then came back, broke camp, and drove over to the Point Arena Lighthouse enshrouded in fog that never lifted. Around 5 p.m., we checked into the Wharfmaster’s Inn down at the Point Arena Cove.

First thing in our room, we checked the TV for HBO. They had it! We watched for a few minutes and saw a promo for Six Feet Under, on at 9 p.m. Pacific time, our normal viewing time for the show to which we were addicted. Satisfied, we both showered and changed into some fresh clothes and headed down to the Arena Bar & Grill for a seafood platter and beer for me and fish & chips with a bourbon & 7 for Pat. We checked in on the animals in the Bounder, settled them down for the night, then headed back up the hill to the room to watch our show. Nine o’clock came and went with no Six Feet Under. I soon concluded that the hotel’s Direct TV was tuned to HBO’s eastern satellite rather than the western and our show had been broadcast locally at 6 p.m. instead of 9.
Our 4-poster feather bed and balcony overlooking the harbor at the Wharfmaster's Inn.
View of Point Arena Harbor from our balcony. Our Bounder is visible in the parking lot, lower-left corner of photo.

Monday, August 9, 2004
Despite a cozy night’s sleep in a feather bed with down comforter, we were both awake by 6 a.m. even without Mouse’s help. It was 7:30 when we showed up at the guest room serving the continental breakfast, half an hour before it opened. We returned to the room and I photographed its amenities while Pat finished packing the bags. After breakfast, we checked out, pulled our luggage down the hill to the Bounder in the parking lot and started the day with a pot of coffee and feeding the cats who seemed to appreciate the fact that we had finally come back.

Yesterday’s fog was still covering the area when we pulled onto Highway 1 and headed northward on a twenty-five mile jaunt to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. Ten miles up the road I realized I had left my spare pack of cigarettes in the room back at the Wharfmaster’s Inn and pulled off to the side of the road to roll a new pack. Underway again, we arrived at the Point Cabrillo Light Station Reserve in Pine Grove a little after noon and found ample parking in a meadow.

Having learned my lesson at Año Nuevo, I packed the camera equipment onto the little luggage carrier and we hiked the 4/10 mile down to the restored lighthouse, which perched on its grassy bluff, was reminiscent of Little House On The Prairie. Indeed, it looked like a one-room schoolhouse with a light where the bell should be. I was surprised to learn that this lighthouse had been erected in direct response to San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. The sawmills in the area needed to get their lumber down the coast for the city’s reconstruction and wanted a light in the area to guide in the ships that hauled it.

Construction on the light station started in 1908 and it began operation in June of 1909. The light and fog signal were automated in 1973, and although the original dwellings remained occupied by Coast Guard personnel, the lighthouse fell into disrepair. In 1997, the California Coastal Conservancy acquired the grounds and began restoration on the lighthouse and its third order Fresnel lens, finishing the work in 2000. Today restoration continues on the keeper’s dwellings.
Point Cabrillo Light Station in the process of restoration.
Fully restored Point Cabrillo Lighthouse looks like Little House on the Prairie.

It was around 4 p.m. when we pulled back onto Highway 1 and drove the three miles into Fort Bragg where we filled up with gas for the first time since leaving home: 30 gallons for an astounding 6.9 miles per gallon in light of the nearly constant mountain climbing throughout the 209 miles we had traveled since leaving home. While filling up with gas I discovered that the front tire of my bicycle was flat again. Rush hour traffic in Fort Bragg made it difficult to pull into a bike shop for another inner tube, so we continued north out of town to MacKerricher State Park which was full.
Pat spots a sea lion at Point Cabrillo.

We sauntered northward fourteen miles to Westport where we pulled into the Westport Beach RV Park, nestled in another coastal horseshoe where the Wages Creek meets the ocean. After checking in and setting up, Pat boiled some hot dogs for dinner and afterwards I took a stroll down to the beach. We finished the evening off with a campfire made from leftover firewood we had brought along from Rollerville Junction. By 10:15 we were in bed for the night.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Mouse mildly mewed at the bedroom door at 6:00 a.m., but it was actually my bladder that forced me to get up. Wide awake, I dressed, closed the door behind me so Pat could get some undisturbed sleep (though I was sure he was likely as awake as I) and headed into the kitchen to start what had become my daily routine: light the stove under the coffee pot, put away last night’s dinner dishes, open the curtains and windows, and sit down at the computer to catch up on the blog. Pat was up by seven. Today was laundry day and after easing into the morning, we gathered up the dirty clothes and lugged them up the hill to the laundry facilities next to the campground’s office.

While we waited the few minutes until the laundry room’s 10 o’clock opening, we made friends with a pen full of goats. After the clothes started rolling in the dryer, we hiked back down to valley floor, broke camp, and drove Blueboy back up the hill. With laundry folded, hung, and stowed aboard, we pulled out of the campground onto Highway 1 at noon and headed northbound once again.

I had programmed our Magellan GPS navigation unit, which we not-so-affectionately named Helga for its female voice instructions, to get us to Petrolia, closest town to the Punta Gorda Lighthouse. GPS is a wonderful tool, but the units tend to loose the satellite signal in forests. Fog and cloud cover, no problem; but trees wipe out the signal and the northern California coast is heavily forested.

Ten miles up the road from Westport Beach, Highway 1 leaves the coast and heads inland to where it ends at U.S. 101 in Leggett. However, Usal Road cuts off and continues to follow the coastline and after a few name changes, passes through Petrolia, 76 miles away. Unfortunately, once we made the turn away from the coast, Helga became hopelessly lost among the trees. And when we found the turnoff for Usal Road, a two-foot-square signed advised “RVs not recommended.” We continued on Highway 1, lumbering up the southern end of the King Mountain Range through forests so dense we rarely saw the sky, climbing from sea level to 1,640 feet before reaching Leggett.

U.S. 101, following the valley carved by the South Fork of the Eel River, was wider and though it wound through the redwoods, many areas were open enough for Helga to get a satellite fix and come up with an alternate route to Petrolia. 23 miles up the road from Leggett, Helga had us get off 101 in Garberville onto an unnumbered narrow road that led to Redway, Briceland, Ettersburg, Honeydew, and finally Petrolia.

Though paved, the narrow winding road which took us up over Wilder Ridge at 1,968 feet in the King Mountain Range, was little more than a glorified jeep trail. Our average speed through this wilderness was 15 mph and at one switchback, the driver of a parked beat-up black pickup truck facing the opposite direction warned us by hand signal to turn around and go back. Helga was sporadic at best, but when we could get her to find our location she would report the distance to our destination steadily decreasing. At another switchback the pavement ended altogether and we stopped in the road to talk with another parked pickup driver to inquire what was ahead. He told us this was the only unpaved switchback along the road and that pavement would resume shortly. As we started to pull away, I noticed the smoke pouring out of our wheels from the constant brake use. The brakes felt okay and the road leveled off for awhile, so I continued.

It was six o’clock when we crossed the Mattole River bridge into Petrolia and passed what appeared to be the only commercial business in the tiny town, a saloon. Helga was working fine now and showed us that a quarter mile up the road we could turn onto a street that would double back along the highway and put us right back onto it. The dirt street was slightly wider than our driveway. What Helga didn’t know was that it dead-ended at a gate to private property 100 feet short of its reintegration with Mattole Road.

We tried to turn around to no avail and ultimately, with the help of the property owner and a few other local denizens, backed Blueboy the quarter mile back to where we had first turned in, then past the saloon and river bridge to a right turn onto Lighthouse Road. The woman back in town had been right: it was a washboard and any speed over 10 mph shook, rattled, and rolled every object stowed in Blueboy’s cabinets. Six miles down Lighthouse Road, we arrived at the Mattole Beach Campground in the King Range National Conservation Area run by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, at the mouth of the Mattole River. The difficulty in getting to this remote 100-mile stretch of California shoreline left no doubt as to why it is called the Lost Coast.
Blueboy, parked at Mattole Beach Campground in the King Range of California's Lost Coast.

It was 7:30 p.m. by the time we backed the Bounder into an open camping slot and got her setup, a shorter process this time given the fact that the campground had no hookups. Pat set about baking a meat loaf in the oven while I went out to explore the vast beach with its clear view of Cape Mendocino to the north, California’s western most point, and our next lighthouse destination after our stay here to photograph Punta Gorda Lighthouse.

Pat had been looking forward to cooking in Blueboy’s oven for the first time and the result was the best meat loaf he had ever cooked, along with sweet corn mixed with mushrooms. It was 9:15 by the time we finished dinner and by 10 o’clock we were in bed for the night, quickly asleep to the sound of the nearby pounding surf. Having seen the other campers’ tents swaying back and forth in the constant onshore winds, we were glad to have a warm, secure “cabin” out of the elements that would also provide us greater protection against any visiting bears.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Sammie managed to slip into the bedroom during a middle of the night potty call for me. Too tired to put her back out, I let her spend the night between us on the bed. The previous day’s travels over old stagecoach roads must have tired me more than I realized as it was 7:30 when I finally awoke and got dressed. It was 10 o’clock by the time I finished the blog for Tuesday, having used up the laptop’s battery and necessitating the starting of our generator to recharge it.
My favorite sign of the trip!

The campground’s sign at the trailhead to the lighthouse advised hikers to allow half a day for the seven-mile roundtrip to the abandoned lighthouse. We’d be carrying along our camera equipment, so it looked like we might be spending a second night at Mattole Beach given it was 10:40 by the time we started down the sandy trail. My lesson at Año Nuevo still fresh in my mind, the camera bag, tripod, and the 500 mm lens were all strapped onto the luggage carrier which I pulled behind me. Big mistake! Two thirds of the “trail” was along the beach in soft gravelly sand that left footprints two inches deep and acted like bubblegum on our hiking boots. I became a mule, the luggage carrier a plow, leaving behind a deep furrow in my wake. Occasionally a footpath would follow along the edge of the dunes allowing us to get out of the sand, but it was so narrow that the luggage carrier’s wheels kept veering off the sides and tipping the beast over.
Backpackers hike down the beach towards Punta Gorda through soft sand, wind, and fog.

If yesterday’s driving was hard and slow, this was much worse. Every time we rounded a point on the beach hoping to see the lighthouse, only three and a half miles from the campground, we’d see yet another beach and point to be rounded ahead. The hike was grueling and by two-thirds of the way there, I was exhausted and irritable. Make that IRRITABLE. But, after three hours and fifteen minutes of running Lawrence of Arabia and Planet of the Apes in my head, we arrived.
Start of trail from Mattole Beach to Punta Gorda Lighthouse.
Pat scouts ahead for trail away from beach.

Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses by Sharleen & Ted Nelson says it better than I can: “So remote is the Punta Gorda Lighthouse that the Coast Guard officer who closed it in 1951 arrived on horseback carrying a briefcase.” Well, at least he had a horse! But the remoteness had one major advantage: this was the first lighthouse that we had entirely to ourselves to explore and the arduous hike in gave us a sense of the life led by those who manned it during its days of operation. Only the oil house and light tower remain but both were wide open and free to explore, including the circular staircase leading to the lens room.
Sand dunes make drudgery of hike to lighthouse.
Rounding the point to find yet another beach and point.
Luggage carrier packed with camera equipment leaves furrow in soft sand.
Finally, Punta Gorda Lighthouse comes into view.

The lens had long since been removed of course and the protective window panes were completely gone, allowing the constant winds to blow through the light tower. Pat managed to find shards of broken glass down on the ground having a thickness consistent with the missing window panes. From inside the tower I couldn’t figure out how any glass panes could have been secured to the iron window framing. A step outside onto the circular walk provided the answer with indentations in the iron and screw holes at the cross-sections.
Looking north from inside the light tower.
Punta Gorda, California's "Lonliest lighthouse."
Looking south from inside the light tower.
Pat squeezes into light room from circular staircase leading up from ground floor.
Kerosene oil house for location that, to this day, never had electricity.
Seals oblivious to wind and pounding surf relax on rocks in front of Punta Gorda Lighthouse.
Outside of iron crossbeams show how glass was secured to beacon housing.
Keeper's dwellings once stood on this swale next to the lighthouse. BLM razed them years ago.

It was 3:00 p.m. when we started our trek back, this time with me carrying the camera bag and Pat towing the much lighter luggage carrier with tripod and 500 mm lens. Even so, it was still an arduous hike into the wind that, while rounding Windy Point, approached gale force at an estimated 60 to 80 mph (more?) that nearly knocked us over. We stopped frequently along the way to rest and regain our strength arriving back at Mattole Beach at 5:30. Dinner was last night’s meatloaf reheated in the microwave and Pat was in bed by nine. I followed at ten and promptly fell asleep.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Flagpole rises on Beach Rock at Cape Mendocino… not the western most point in California, but Sugarloaf Island which is, is not visible from the road that turns away from the beach at this point.
With one of the cats already in bed with Pat, I was too tired to put her out and close the bedroom door the previous night. Instead I just poured myself into the bed and hoped they didn’t become too annoying. I needn’t have worried; it was 7:40 a.m. when I finally woke up and started the coffee pot. Pat got up about 40 minutes later, fed the cats and started reading his book while I caught up on the travel blog.

We broke camp and pulled out of Mattole Beach at 10:00 a.m. and trundled back down the six-mile washboard road to Petrolia at ten to fifteen mph which seemed much easier on the Bounder’s contents. Pat needed cigarettes, so we stopped at the only grocery store where the woman clerk warned Pat of the treacherous road ahead. Winding? Yes. Pretty bumpy? In most places. But much easier to motor on than the one we had taken Tuesday to get to Petrolia.
Cape Mendocino's north face.

We were looking for the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse which the guide book indicated was on Coast Guard property and not open to the public. somewhere along 1,000 foot high Cape Ridge on Cape Mendocino. The switch-backs took us from the beach to the cape’s summit where we found a locked gate blocking a two-rut trail into the Coast Guard property that disappeared into the fog. With nowhere to safely park Blueboy on the narrow Mattole Road we gave up and motored on towards Ferndale.
Bear River meanders to the sea on the north side of foggy Cape Mendocino.
Gate to Coast Guard road into abandoned site of Cape Mendocino Lighthouse.

About ten miles further up the road that took us down into a valley containing the hamlet of Capetown and back up to the summit of Bunker Hill at 2,500 feet, a white pickup truck passed us, then pulled into a turnout and motioned for us to stop. Bill Branstetter introduced himself as a Capetown resident who had passed us several times during our journey through the cape and wondered if we were lost or were having any trouble.
Coast Guard road to Cape Mendocino Lighthouse disappears into the fog.
Church in Ferndale

No, we were just out chasing lighthouses, we told him and added that we were disappointed that we couldn’t get access to the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse. Our guidebook, California Lighthouses, indicated that the lens had been removed to Ferndale when the station became automated in 1951, but that “the empty tower still hangs precariously to the bluff, its two iron doors pulled off by vandals.”

Bill told us that we could park the Bounder safely in the road, jump the fence, and hike down the Coast Guard two-rut road if we wanted, but that the only thing that remained at the site was the concrete slap on which the light tower had been perched. The tower itself had been removed and taken down to Shelter Cove. So, we hadn’t missed anything after all and we continued on to Ferndale to see the lens, reported to be housed at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds.

We arrived in Ferndale in mid-afternoon and parked the Bounder in a city park before taking a stroll through the Victorian town, stopping at a small deli-cafe for sandwiches. I took some photos of a few of the more interesting structures in town before we popped into a grocery store to restock our lauder. We got out to the fairgrounds around 4:30 where the Humboldt County Fair was in full swing with horse races, 4-H livestock judgings, and, of course, the carnival rides filled with screaming teenagers and young couples enjoying a rare entertainment event in rural America. We were looking for the lighthouse, not the fair, and despite inadequate directions from one of the fair parking guides, we managed to spot it on our own.
Ferndale is full of beutifully restored Victorian buildings.
Sad and demeaning end to a lighthouse. The 1st order Fresnel lens from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse is now housed in a replica of the original tower and serves as a ticket stand for the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale.

It was one of the saddest endings for a lighthouse I have ever seen. The town of Ferndale had mounted the beautiful first order Fresnel lens in a replica of the original tower now down the coast at Shelter Cove, and turned it into the ticket gate for the county fair. I’m sure most fairgoers failed to recognize it as anything more than a fancy fair entrance. A small bronze plaque on the front of the structure touted its historical provenance, but even the ticket takers seemed unaware of the structure’s significance. I got the photos and we headed north towards Eureka in search of a campground for the night.

It was about 5:30 when we pulled into the E-Z Landing campground on Humboldt Bay in King Salmon on Buhne Point, about five miles south of Eureka. The campground was rated a 7 in our camping guide (on a scale of 1 to 10), the highest rating of any campgrounds listed for the area. If this was a 7, I’d sure hate to see a 2 or a 5. A narrow trailer park filled with mobile homes along the perimeter and motorhomes like our own in pull-throughs down the center, it was the typical setting one conjures up in ones mind when the term ‘trailer trash’ is spoken. But, at $19 a night, it had full hookups and our cell phones were working again!

Full from the sandwiches back in Ferndale, we decided to skip dinner. I settled in with multiple bottles of Miller that Pat had picked up for me back at Point Arena and made phone calls home to catch up on things before working on the day’s blog while Pat settled down on the sofa with Oscar Wilde. We would double back to Table Bluff Lighthouse, about seven miles behind us, in the morning before proceeding into Eureka in search of the site of the long-gone Humboldt Harbor Lighthouse coupled with a visit to the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum.

Pat went to bed early and I followed about an hour later, but after 45 minutes of laying in bed, realized it was going to be one of those sleepless nights. I grabbed my pillow, went back to the living room, converted the sofa into a bed, and pulled the ferrets’ blanket out from underneath to use for warmth over my bathrobe. The park’s hundred-plus cats fought outside all night, a yard light just across from our pull-in slot lit up the interior of the Bounder like a supermarket despite the fact that every window shade was pulled down, and by 3 a.m., Blueboy was rocking back and forth from the howling winds outside. I catnapped through the night, never getting more than 90 consecutive minutes of sleep.

Friday, August 13, 2004

I started the coffee pot around 7 o’clock and Pat came out of the bedroom half an hour later. At eight o’clock I decided to get my second shower in Blueboy before Pat started washing last night’s dishes. This time I had plenty of hot water and managed to master the art of maneuvering in a smaller bathing area, albeit twice the showering real estate that we had had in the Jayco pop-up trailer. The biggest reward came from shampooing all the salt air out of my hair.

After I got dressed, Pat hit a button on the Bounder’s stereo unit that killed its reception and ultimately led to our searching through the mini-suitcase of operations manuals which in turn led to our sorting the manuals into the packet’s dividers in a more logical arrangement and tossing out old warranty registration cards that the previous owner had religiously kept. One of the three ladies strolling past our windshield spotted us behind the dashboard going through the manuals, came over to the driver’s side window, and said, “You must be newbies!” We chatted through the window for a few minutes with Pat and I telling her of our misadventures with getting familiar with our new toy. She returned half an hour later, knocked on the side window, and passed me a rubber koala bear. “Housewarming gift,” she said. “A little motorhome trick we learned early on: when you park, stick the koala on your steering wheel to indicate that your TV antenna and overhead vents are up. It’ll remind you to retract them before pulling out. Once they’re down, take the koala off the steering wheel.”

We headed up to the office to pay for the previous night’s stay and asked about the Table Bluff Lighthouse out on the spit of land we could see across the bay. “Oh, there’s nothing out there at all anymore,” the owner told us. “Everything’s been hauled away.” My California Lighthouses indicated that the tower had been moved down to a park in Eureka and the fourth order Fresnel lens could be seen at the maritime museum. All the same, I wanted to nose around over at Table Bluff and see if I could find anything left at the original location.

I programmed Helga and we headed the seven miles over to the spit of land now shared by the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge and an Indian tribe that set up its reservation there. As we rounded a bend along Table Bluff Road a sign announced Lighthouse Ranch, and the wooded meadow overlooking the ocean contained a collection of buildings indicating that this might be the Christian commune we’d been told of back at E-Z Landing. A small postal truck came along side as we stopped in the road and the letter carrier told us that this was the original site of the Table Bluff Lighthouse. He also told us that the current residents were “mellow people” who wouldn’t mind if we pulled in and started snooping around.
Carol Waldner, our guide around Lighthouse Ranch, original site of Table Bluff Lighthouse.

Carol Waldner greeted us with her two children and cats as we stepped out, and after telling her we were here in search of the original lighthouse, she seemed delighted someone had finally come by who was interested in the property’s history. She started to fill me in as seven-year-old Lex grabbed Pat to show him the locked and boarded up two-story frame building next to their house that, from peering through the windows, contained old furniture, photographs, signs containing biblical passages, toys, and kitchen equipment. It had been the meeting hall for the Christian commune that had left the grounds a few years before, was now trying to sell the acreage for 1.9 million dollars, and while waiting for a buyer, was renting the three homes to Carol and two other families who had been there for three years.
Pat with Lex and Zoe.

Carol ran back inside her house to grab a photocopy of a page from the April 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest that contained photos of the Table Bluff Lighthouse and grounds as it looked back in its days of operation. With the photocopy in hand, we walked amongst the trees across the meadow to a square platform that obviously once supported the lighthouse that had been moved to Eureka. Carol and her children had spent many hours during their three-year residency on the grounds uncovering the original sidewalks an inch or so beneath the grass and their paths clearly indicated where the Keeper’s quarters had stood beside the lighthouse tower. We easily found the concrete step to the porch leading into the tower in front and quarters to the right.
Foundation on which the Table Bluff Lighthouse tower originally stood. The Keeper's dwelling was attached behind and to the right.

One-year-old Zoe and cat Boo eventually warmed to us while Lex insisted on showing us how fast he could run across the meadow. I dutifully photographed the area before we left and invited Carol and her children into Blueboy to meet Tasha and Allie. After thanking them for their hospitality, we headed back to Eureka where we found a bike shop and stopped to get my bicycle’s flat tire repaired. Across the street was a Jack in the Box where we grabbed some lunch while we waited. I also had a new computer installed on Pat’s bike.
Table Bluff Lighthouse tower on Woodley Island in Eureka Harbor.

We headed downtown to the marina where there was ample parking for the Bounder a block away from the maritime museum and while walking to it, we quickly spotted the tower of the old Table Bluff Lighthouse on Woodley Island across the estuary. I got some shots from the pier, then returned to the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum which had Table Bluff Lighthouse’s original fourth order Fresnel lens on display as well as the cupola which once adorned its tower.

4th order Fresnel lens lovingly preserved in its original brass housing from the Table Bluff Lighthouse tower on display at the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum in Eureka. The light shone originally in the 1856-built Humboldt Harbour Lighthouse and removed to the newly built Table Bluff Lighthouse in 1892.

The cupula was found in 1987 buried in the sand at the site of the long-gone Humboldt Harbour Lighthouse in Eureka.

Closing time for the museum was four o’clock, so we returned to Blueboy and found the bridge over to Woodley Island to get a closer shot of the lighthouse tower at the marina. As I set up the tripod for the camera, a security guard stopped his golf cart and said, “You’re too early! You should wait for sundown when they turn the light on.” I, of course, knew that the original lens was back on the mainland in the maritime museum and any light they may have installed would not have been nearly as impressive as the original; besides, I could always use Photoshop to install my own light.

As Pat and I strolled along the docks back to the Bounder, the guard passed by once again and stopped to point out a derelict steel-hulled yacht moored at the end of one of the piers. “Remember the TV show Mr. Lucky back in the fifties,” he asked? “That’s the boat that was used in the show.” We walked down the dock and peered through the windows at what was left of the rustbucket whose rooms were filled with junk. Clearly no one was living on it and no name was painted on either the bow or the stern. A little research after we got home revealed the boat's name in the show to be Fortuna. It wasn’t even worth a photograph, so we headed back across the bridge to Eureka in search of a campground and a Chevron station.

Despite a short five-mile drive back to E-Z Landing, we really wanted a campground with a little more class. Our camping guide indicated two others in Eureka, a KOA four miles north, and one in town near a shopping mall. Both got a 2-rating in our book, darn scary considering that E-Z Landing had scored a 7. Pat decided on the one near the mall, Ebb Tide Park and we tried in vain to follow the directions. In the interim we came upon the Chevron station and filled up for the third time on our trip, this time taking on 38 gallons for the 214 miles of grueling Lost Coast roads we had managed to conquer. 5.64 miles to the gallon was a not an unexpected result for all the hard climbing Blueboy’s engine had endured. While still parked at the pumps, I used the cell phone to call the number listed for the campground and heard the recorded message, “Ebb Tide Park is closed. Leave a message.”

The office is closed for the day? Or has the whole campground been shut down? I walked into the station’s mini-mart and asked a clerk. “Oh, no… they went out of business.” Pat found what sounded like a nice campground thirteen miles up the road, just north of Arcata, so I programmed Helga to take us to Mad River Rapids RV Park. It was stunning. It was full. Back to the camping guide. We reprogrammed Helga to take us to View Crest Campground near Patrick’s Point just north of Trinidad, another 15 miles and hoped for the best. In any event, there were at least another half a dozen campgrounds in the area if this one was full.

View Crest was both a campground and a motel. The steep narrow driveway with bushes along both sides was difficult to thread Blueboy through and the sign on the front of the office said the motel had no vacancies; nothing about the campground, but peering through the glass in the locked door showed no one inside to ask. I rang the doorbell and the owner at first said he had no sites left, then said I would have to drive up the hill through the woods anyway to turn around, handed me a map of the grounds, and pointed out his sole remaining pull-through that was ours to claim if we could fit into it.
Blueboy at home in the pines at View Crest Campground, 7 miles north of Trinidad.

Tricky, but we made it! Hooked our beast up, pulled down the awning, and immediately started a campfire in the midst of a forest of 70-foot tall Ponderosa pine trees. The campground looked like a Go Rving TV commercial and within ten minutes our new next-door neighbors were sitting around our campfire with their two chihuahuas telling jokes and tales of their adventures. It was 10:30 when the last of our firewood from Point Arena had burned down and we turned in for the night.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

It was after eight o’clock when I came out of the bedroom to find Pat reading on the sofa and the coffee pot perking on the stove. I downloaded yesterday’s pictures and set them to music in iPhoto while Pat grabbed a shower. Next was catching up on the blog and making the day’s supply of cigarettes. We whiled away the morning in our forest setting at a leisurely pace and it was one o’clock before we pulled out of our campsite and headed into Trinidad in search of the next lighthouse.

Seven miles down Patrick’s Point Road, we spotted a propane tank at the Trinidad Chevron station and pulled in. Pat ran across the street to the grocery store to stock up while I waited patiently for the pump jockey to come out to fill my propane tank. “I don’t have the right connector for your propane tank,” he declared. “We have RVs pull in here all the time and I constantly have to send them away for lack of a ten dollar adapter. And filling just one RV’s propane tank would pay for it!”

Pat came out with the groceries and I steered Blueboy down the street to a sufficiently long parking spot along the curb directly in front of Trinidad’s Memorial Lighthouse, overlooking Trinidad Bay below the bluff, and erected in 1947. The walls of the memorial were carved with dozens of names of local citizens who had been buried at sea. The lighthouse’s original fog bell was mounted next to the little lighthouse replica. The questions going through my mind were how close did the memorial lighthouse represent the actual lighthouse on Trinidad Head, did the Trinidad Head Lighthouse still exist, and could I get close enough to it for a photograph if it did?
Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse, built in 1947.
Original fog bell from Trinidad Head Lighthouse.

We stopped in at the nearby quilting shop where the clerk told us the lighthouse had been replaced by an automated beacon and nothing was left of the original. An odd answer, I thought, as almost all lighthouses had been automated by now and my sources said the original still clung to the western cliffside of Trinidad Head on Coast Guard property that was off-limits to civilians. The Trinidad Maritime Museum behind the quilting shop had closed promptly at three o’clock, one minute before our arrival, so asking someone else who might know more was impossible.

The main core of the town was a mere two blocks long, and as we turned around and came back down the other side of the street, we came upon an art gallery and stopped in. The gallery was originally the home of the wife of the last Keeper of Trinidad Head Lighthouse who had moved into town after his death. The gentleman who lived there now, and for the last fifteen years, told us she had been a fastidious housekeeper who mopped the floors daily. With a twinkle in his eye, he told us he mopped all the floors in the house every New Year’s Day to appease her ghost.
Idiot that I am, I listened to the sign and took the trail...
when I could have had paved/graveled road all the way!

John was at least six-foot-five and a mention of the year he graduated high school indicated he was 62 years old. He told Pat he was an artist, a volunteer firefighter, and had been a local lumberjack in years past and a plaque on the wall from the Village of Trinidad thanked him for his contributions in each of those areas. For us, however, he was an excellent local historian with shelves of binders containing photocopied news clippings and when he heard we were chasing lighthouses, hunted around for a few minutes before bringing out a July 8, 2004 clipping of an article in the Eureka Times-Standard announcing the Coast Guard’s intention to shut down the Reading Rock Light Station, one which I had never heard of and which took me nearly an hour the next day to locate on a map (N 41° 20’ by W 124° 10’ or four and a half miles off Mussel Point).

Hanging on the wall of his art gallery was a beautiful photo of the original Trinidad Head Lighthouse that appeared to have been taken recently. “She’s wrong,” he said when I told him the woman in the quilting store had said it had been removed. “You can still go up on the head and see it; about a twenty minute hike from here.”

“But I thought that was Coast Guard property and civilians were prohibited.”

“The Coast Guard housing area is off-limits, but there’s a trail that circumnavigates the head and just beyond the cross at the top is a viewing platform where you can look down and see the lighthouse clinging to the cliff.” Pat stayed behind to chat with John as I walked back to Blueboy to pack the luggage carrier with the camera equipment.

A narrow paved road lead from the Trinidad Harbor beach on the north and marina on the south up the 900 foot high head jutting into the ocean. At the first switchback a sign indicated Coast Guard housing along the paved road U-turning behind me and the trail to Trinidad Head along the footpath through the brush and trees straight ahead. Not wanting to encounter any problems with the Coast Guard, I huffed and puffed my way up the narrow trail lugging behind my luggage carrier loaded with camera bag, tripod, 500 mm lens, binoculars, and jacket brought along in case the fog shrouded Trinidad Head got a little too cool. I needn’t have worried. The shear effort of pulling the carrier up a steep and narrow path over rocks and tree roots had me sweating in no time and angry that, once again, I had forgotten to bring along a towel to wipe off the perspiration. I’d need another shower once I got back.

Despite John’s estimate of a twenty-minute hike, it was closer to 45 minutes by the time I reached the cross at the peak of the head. As promised, the viewing stand for the Trinidad Head Lighthouse was just twenty yards away and looking down the cliffside through the thicket of brush and scrub oaks, I could spot the roof, most of the light housing, and about three feet of the circular walkway around them. The supporting tower was totally obscured. Clearly, this shot was a job for ‘super lens,’ the 500 mm. The viewing platform was too small for the tripod’s legs to fully extend, so I adjusted accordingly, refocussed several times just to be sure, and started pressing the cable-release button trying to catch the rotating beacon as it came around.
Trinidad Head Lighthouse still in full operation on western face of Trinidad Head.

After repacking the carrier, I noticed the trail continued on around the south side of the head, becoming a wide loose gravel jeep road, eventually meeting up with the paved one at the gated entrance to the Coast Guard housing area. A few hundred yards further down the hillside I found myself back at the hairpin turn where the footpath had begun and felt like a total idiot for not having ignored the signs in the first place! Along the way I had taken several more scenic shots of the harbor below and at the hairpin saw a great shot of the crescent-shaped beach peppered with hundred-foot tall rocks.
People appear as ants walking past towering rocks on Trinidad Beach
View of town of Trinidad from Trinidad Head. Memorial Lighthouse at center right; Blueboy parked at center left.
Trinidad Marina.

I arrived back at Blueboy a little after six o’clock sweating from the last hundred yards of uphill climbing from the town’s harbor to the bluff it sat upon. Pat was sitting comfortably on the sofa reading his Oscar Wilde. I grabbed a Dr. Pepper from the fridge and collapsed on a chair to catch my breath and cool down. I was too exhausted to download and view the pictures I had just brought back, but after we settled into our next campground sixty-five miles up the road in Crescent City just after nine o’clock, I was delighted to see the results after a leftover meatloaf and cottage cheese dinner.

Sunday, August 15, 2004
It was after eleven o’clock before we had headed off to bed the previous night, but we were up by seven-thirty and downing the morning coffee by eight. During my hike up Trinidad Head yesterday, Pat had turned on the radio on Blueboy and heard that a major hurricane had hit Punta Gorda, Florida, the town adjacent to Port Charlotte where my aunt and uncle live. Cell phone reception in Crescent City was not 100%, but sufficient to call Florida only to hear a recorded message, “Sorry, your call cannot be completed at this time.” The problem was in Florida, not with our cell phone. Pat read Oscar while I caught up on the blog, peppering in a few phone calls back home just to say hi and avoid the writer’s block. It was 12:30 by the time I finished catching up the blog.

It was the first day we had seen the sun since leaving Petrolia and I hoped the clear skies would allow us to see the St. George Reef Lighthouse, just three and a quarter miles off Point St. George, notorious as the most difficult lighthouse to photograph in California because of the nearly constant fog. We drove down sunny Washington Street to the parking lot on the point. The lighthouse’s reputation was still safe; the fog hugged the beach. We sat on a bluff overlooking the rocks below watching the brown pelicans and cormorants enjoy a feeding frenzy in the water.

The fog rolls in and out over Battery Point Lighthouse; camera was in sunshine!

Downtown we found a nice large parking lot for the Bounder right at the entrance trail to Battery Point Lighthouse perched on its head of land jutting into the harbor two hundred yards away. The parking lot was bathed in sunshine while the lighthouse was shrouded in fog. Battery Point can be reached only at low tide and this time our timing was impeccable. At high tide the water washes over the rock and gravel spit connecting the land head to the shore. The lighthouse was closed to visitors despite the fact that the hours posted on the sign indicated otherwise. However, we were able to walk over to it and explore the grounds.
Battery Point Lighthouse
Light tower rises from Keeper's quarters still in use.
Pat searches for seals and sea lions at Battery Point.
Crevice in cliffs at Battery Point forms huge washing machine.

By 5:30 we were checked into the Travelodge, having checked first to see that they had HBO. This week we were able to watch Six Feet Under at its normal (for us) 9 p.m. Pacific Time. The bed was hard, the room had no circulation, and you could hear the water running loudly through the pipes when one of the other guests took a shower in their room. Plus the motel was situated in the block between the north and southbound lanes of U.S. 101, providing us with lots of traffic noise. After ten minutes of trying to go to sleep, I headed back to the Bounder for the night, stuck in some earplugs, and fell asleep in its far more comfortable bed with the cats who were happy to have the company. Pat stayed in the room on the theory we paid for it. “We paid to watch Six Feet Under,” I told him. “They can have their crappy room.”

Monday, August 16, 2004
Up at seven, I made the coffee, fed the cats, then took two mugs up to the room where Pat had just come out of the shower and was ready for his morning brew. We had reached the end of our quest for northern California lighthouses and had a week of vacation left to do something different. A check of the map and I decided on Crater Lake, Oregon, about a three hour drive away. Showers, sweet rolls, feed the cats, and we were underway by nine o’clock.

U.S. 199 heads northeast out of Crescent City through Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park full of breathtaking groves of giant trees that dwarfed Blueboy as she threaded her way through them. The highway continues to follow the Smith River as it climbs the coastal range towards the Oregon border. It’s a beautiful drive and well-worth the trip.
Blueboy at Mazama Village Campground
in Crater Lake National Park.

After a stop for cheap gas (by California standards) and a fillup of the propane tank at the first Oregon town we came to, we pushed on, arriving at Crater Lake around one o’clock. After securing a site at the Mazama Village Campground inside the entrance to the national park, we headed up to the rim for my first viewing and Pat’s first in 40 years. As expected, the lake is drop-dead gorgeous, the water a Prussian blue, and snow fields still melting along the shoreline of the western rim. I busied myself with the camera.

Dinner back at the campsite was macaroni & cheese with tuna mixed in, beer for me and wine for Pat. At 8:15 we wandered over to the amphitheater for a slide show put on by a park ranger that gave the history of Crater Lake and the surrounding area that shouldn’t be missed. Back at our site after a futile attempt to get a good campfire going, we turned in for the night around eleven.


Deep blue waters of Oregon's Crater Lake, filled entirely by snow melt.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004
It was quite chilly in the Bounder the previous night and I didn’t sleep too well, arising at 6:40 to get the coffee going. Pat was up by seven. Opening the curtains I discovered we had left one window open during the night in addition to the overhead vents. We broke camp early and pulled into the dump station to empty our dirty water tanks, then headed up to the south rim of Crater Lake where the morning sun was just starting to illuminate the water.

We had 437 miles to cover today to get to Enterprise in Oregon’s northeast corner. With the lighthouses behind us, I settled on driving to the last five counties of Oregon that I had yet to see. Klamath County, home of Crater Lake, was the first of those. Our route today took us out the north entrance of the park and across the Pumice Desert along state highway 209, then east on 138, and north on U.S. 97 to Bend. Helga was in rare form refusing to give us our location or directions for the entire 112 mile leg.

We spent an hour in Bend looking for a Magellan dealer who could correct the problems with our GPS unit in vain. As we drove out the north side of town, Helga suddenly awoke from her malaise and performed without incident for most of the rest of the day. We turned off U.S. 97 at Redmond and headed to Prineville on state highway 126 where we intercepted U.S. 26 east to Mt. Vernon and the junction of U.S. 395. At this stage of my life, trying to visit every county in every state takes me to some beautiful highways and spectacular scenery not seen by most and this adventure was no different. U.S. 26 threads its way through the central Oregon mountains following one stream, river, or another, up forested ascents, followed by drops into lush green valleys, passing through quaint hamlets along the way.

U.S. 395 from Mt. Vernon to Ukiah winds its way through the western slopes of Oregon’s Blue Mountain Range passing through national forests such as Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman and climbing to passes as high as 4,900 feet. Oregon 244 over to La Grande was particularly beautiful. Our average speed over these scenic backroads was no more than 40 to 45 mph, but there was so little traffic that we never impeded others, got to take in the grandeur of it all at a leisurely pace, and were rewarded at our La Grande gas up with a stunning 9.515 miles per gallon. Clearly Blueboy prefers meandering, even up steep mountain grades, to being in a hurry.

Oregon 82 heads north out of La Grande across Indian Valley past summer wheat fields ready for harvest and through the hamlets of Imbler, Elgin, and at Minem parallels the Wallowa River around Smith Mountain. We arrived in Wallowa at nine o’clock, spotted an RV campground along the banks of the Wallowa River and pulled in for the night, 30 miles short of Enterprise, but satisfied we were close enough to Hell’s Canyon for one day’s driving.
Beautiful downtown Wallowa, Oregon, population 837 and dropping.
Wallowa River passes by our campground. Blueboy in center behind bushes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004
At over 400 miles inland from the coast, we had lost the natural air conditioning flowing off the ocean and my response to the warm night air with moderately high humidity was to close up Blueboy’s windows and turn on the air conditioning for the first time. Comfortable, I slept soundly and was up by 5:30. The Wallowa River flowed in front of us just 50 feet away and after morning coffee, Pat and I did a little exploring of our surroundings. A railroad track ran past the north edge of the campground and parked on a trestle across the Wallowa River was an old passenger train. A peak through its windows revealed that it was a tourist train. Pat found out from the campground manager that it was the Eagle Cap Excursion Train departing from Wallowa or Joseph and riding past “northeast Oregon’s most beautiful scenery.”
Eagle Cap Excusion Train parked behind our campground.
Train tracks heading east towards Joseph at other end of excusion train line.
Interior of Eagle Cap Excursion Train's dining car.
Bachelor buttons and cattails growing wild behind campground.
Smoke from nearby forest fires fill Hells Canyon with murky haze.

We pulled out of the campground around 10:30 and onto eastbound Oregon 82 for the short 30 mile hop down to the town of Joseph, then east on Inmaha Road over Sheep Creek Hill Summit (4,642’), and at the bottom of the grade turned south onto Wallawa Mountain Road which becomes Forest Road 39 as it enters the Hells Canyon Wilderness Area; destination: Hells Canyon Overlook. A local we had asked directions from back in Joseph had advised against taking the road with our Bounder, but it turned out to be far better than the roads we had taken to Petrolia last week. We ambled through the forest up and down the steep grades at a moderate 25 to 30 mph, finally arriving at the Hells Canyon overlook around 1:30 in the afternoon at an altitude of over 7,000 feet.

Forest fires in northeastern Oregon had filled the canyon with a strong haze that obscured the view. Even without the haze, I was disappointed. Hells Canyon is huge, but if you’ve already seen the Grand Canyon it can be a let down. I had seen the Snake River Canyon upstream near Twin Falls years ago and its shear lava cliffs dropping over 1,000 feet straight down took my breath away and I expected Hells Canyon to be even more dramatic.

We continued south and east along Forest Road 39 for another twenty miles or so and turned eastbound onto Oregon 89 for the five miles to the junction of a private road that follows the Oregon shoreline of the Snake River, at this point known as the Oxbow Reservoir. Seventeen miles later, the road crosses Brownlee Dam and becomes Idaho 71 leading up through Payette National Forest to the junction of U.S. 95 at Cambridge, Idaho. Unable to get a campsite at an RV Park in Fruitland, we continued south to Parma where we pulled into the Fort Boise RV Park which appeared to be owned by the city.
Pat, along the Idaho shore of Brownlee Reservoir, views the dam across the north flowing Snake River.
The Bounder arrives in Idaho.

The humidity was overbearing and the mosquitos plentiful; once we were able to figure out how to get the electric hookup to work properly, we fired up Blueboy’s air conditioners and buttoned down for a “night at home.” Despite the local drought, the city park/campground kept the sprinklers running all day and night turning the swales of grass into a mini-swamp. The good news: our cell phones worked and after a quickly prepared dinner of hot dogs and baked beans, both of us started calling friends back home to report our progress. By 10:30 we were in bed for the night.
Parma is a typical southwestern Idaho farming town. Nearby fields were planted with corn, sweet onions, and potatoes.
Fort Boise Campground in Parma, Idaho had outdated 15 amp electric hookups for Blueboy.

Thursday, August 19, 2004
We pulled out of Parma at 9:30 and as we started down U.S. 95, looked back at the campground and spotted a replica of Fort Boise that the humidity and mosquitos had kept us from even noticing. Straight trucks loaded with fresh harvested sweet onions headed north as we traveled south past corn fields which, just prior to reaching the high desert, became fields of hops. Around eleven, we crossed into southeastern Oregon reaching the Nevada line by early afternoon and Winnemucca at mid-afternoon where we stopped to gas up Blueboy.
Blueboy at the full hookup Pyramid Lake RV campground.

Crossing the desert is usually pretty tedious and uneventful, but if I’ve learned anything about crossing Nevada in the past, it’s keeping the speed down to 55 no matter how boring it is. It paid off just twenty miles out of Fernley along I-80 as we encountered a severe wind storm and the front brace of Blueboy’s awning broke loose from its mooring. I pulled onto the shoulder and Pat jumped out to relatch it. Back on the road and buffeted by the strong winds, both braces broke loose just ten minutes later. Re-rolling an awning in a 50-mile-an-hour gale was quite a challenge and we appreciated the help of a Nevada State Trooper who offered assistance. Back on the road, I cut our speed to 50.

We turned off of I-80 at Fernley to head up to Pyramid Lake and with the wind still howling outside, I kept my speed on Nevada 447, 446, and 445 down to 40-45 the entire 35 miles to the lake. The lake itself was an emerald green covered in white caps as the wind howled through the valley. We stopped for the night at Sutcliffe on the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation and only after paying ten bucks for a $9.บบ permit to park our rig on the beach for the night, did we discover the unadvertised campground with full hookups. We cheerfully paid the twenty-one dollars, especially after I had won six dollars on the slot machine back at the Indian bar where we had acquired the beach permit. Heat lightning flashed at the south end of the lake and I tried in vain to catch it on film while Pat prepared dinner. By dark the wind had died down and the threatening thunderstorms had moved on elsewhere. After dinner we came out of Blueboy to gaze up at the carpet of stars overhead and the crescent moon setting just behind the ridge to our west.

Thunderstorm rages at south end…
of Pyramid Lake.
Colors changed rapidly with setting sun.
Pyramid Lake's namesake.

Friday, August 20, 2004
Up by seven after a good night’s sleep, I headed outside with the camera to see what shots I could get with early morning light while Pat fixed pancakes for breakfast. I caught up on the blog and plotted the day’s routing while Pat fed the leftover pancakes to the seagulls. By eleven we were underway and headed back to California. Both Helga and StreetAtlas USA indicated a shortcut directly west which we discovered did not actually exist and were forced to head south to Sparks to catch U.S. 395 northbound.

After clipping two miles of Sierra County at the state line, 395 enters Lassen County. Three miles later, we turned west on California 70 which traverses the meadowed valleys of the northern Sierra and after Quincy, follows the Feather River Canyon down to the central valley of the state. Our descent from the high country was inversely coupled with a steady increase in temperature. By 4:30 in the afternoon we reached the reservoir behind the Oroville Dam and headed northwest towards Magalia, home of a ferret friend of ours who had moved there from the Bay Area three years before.

Hildy had been leaving for a shopping trip in nearby Chico when we first called her from Quincy and said she’d be home around five or five-thirty, so I decided to get Blueboy as close to Magalia as possible. Magalia, however, was atop a ridge nearly a thousand feet above the Oroville reservoir we had just crossed and in the afternoon heat, Blueboy was having a tough time climbing the hills on the narrow road. I thought it a bit odd but figured the Bounder would have its chance to cool off shortly.

Blueboy’s temperature and oil pressure gauges remained at normal levels, yet something just didn’t “feel” right. After passing at least three “Welcome to Magalia” signs, I had yet to find what one would call ‘downtown’ Magalia. The town seemed to go on forever with a strip mall here and residential housing over there but no center. Finally I pulled over and called Hildy on her cell phone. “Oh, you’re just a block past the turn in to my street,” she told me and proceeded to give directions to her house which Pat wrote down as I repeated them. Hildy would be home from Chico in 15 minutes.

Even Hildy’s residential street caused Blueboy to pull hard, though the grade did not look that severe. As Hildy had told us on the phone, the pavement of her street became a gravel road descending to her driveway a hundred yards up ahead. One look at the trees and brush told me the passage was too narrow for the Bounder and I decided to back up and wait for Hildy. Reverse was dead in the transmission! And I’m blocking the ‘street.’

Blueboy had just enough room to turn around.

I put it in forward, which still worked, and eased my way down the grade and into Hildy’s yard while the tree branches scraped along Blueboy’s roof and sides. Finally in her driveway, I attempted to back up and turn around to no avail; I still had no reverse. Hildy pulled up three minutes later, reverse started working, and with her and Pat as lookouts, I managed to get Blueboy turned around, and parked in front of her garage facing towards the driveway I had just descended.

I concluded that either the transmission was going out or the Bounder was very low on transmission fluid. I had no idea where the transmission dipstick was located, but at this point I was so frazzled and overheated by the high temperature and humidity that I decided to just go in the house and cool off.

We hadn’t seen Hildy since the Ferrets Anonymous Roundup in Pasadena back in March, 2003, hence we had a lot of catching up to do. After the grand tour of her home and introductions to the dogs, the cats, and the ferrets we chewed the fat over a couple of beers out on her back deck where Pat and I could smoke freely. After two hours of yakking, we all hopped into her Jeep and headed into town to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. By eleven, Pat and I retired to the Bounder; he went to bed while I sat up and poured through the RV’s owner’s manuals looking for the transmission dipstick to no avail. The previous owners had kept every manual to every system and every warrantee and registration card except the one for the engine! I gave up and went to bed around midnight.

Saturday, August 21, 2004
After starting the coffee pot, I went out to the front of the Bounder, opened the pull-down cover to the engine, and started hunting for the transmission dipstick. Found it behind a rubber flap hanging down just behind the oil dipstick. Yes, you’re supposed to check transmission fluid with the engine running, but I pulled it and took a look anyway. The residue on the stick looked clean which gave me hope that all it needed was a quart or two of fluid. There were no signs of leakage under the coach. But where to put the fluid in?

I went in the house to use Hildy’s phone and spent the next two hours calling local transmission shops (all closed on Saturday), Fleetwood (the Bounder’s manufacturer), and finally General Motors who had made the engine and body. Ultimately I spoke with a Chevy dealer in Chico who, based on my description of the problem, agreed that all Blueboy needed was a couple of quarts of transmission fluid. He told me what to get and where to put it, then Hildy drove me into town to an Ace Hardware store where I bought four quarts, just to be safe and have extra, plus a funnel and an extension tube.

Back at the house, we started Blueboy’s engine, left it running for half an hour, then checked the dipstick and added two quarts of fluid to get it up to the proper level. It was eleven in the morning and already the heat and humidity was becoming unbearable for me. With Hildy’s permission, pruning shears, and a saw, Pat and I headed up the driveway and spent the next hour trimming tree branches away from her driveway and the gravel road leading to it. Back in the house to cool down, I felt I had just stepped out of a sauna. By two o’clock we were ready to pull out and head home.

Only photo taken of me during the trip.

Hildy followed us to Chico where she had some unfinished shopping and we headed south on Highway 99 towards Sacramento. The road to Chico took us past the "Grand Canyon of California" which Hildy had told us about. The view was gorgeous, but my mind was on the transmission. Blueboy seemed to be fine. Of course the trip from Magalia to Chico was all downhill and Highway 99 is in the central valley where there are no hills. Even so, I just wanted to get the rig home and avoid towing charges in unknown territory if there was to be a disaster.

From a call home to Angelo, our house-sitter, that morning we learned that our neighbor John Montgomery, whom I had hired to fix next-door neighbor John Thomas’ front yard, had not poured the concrete along side our driveway on Monday as he had promised. According to Angelo, he was planning to pour it today which meant that when we did arrive home, Blueboy would not be able to park in our driveway for a few days until the concrete cured.

We arrived home at seven o’clock to find the concrete had still not been poured. I found street parking for the Bounder around the corner and just wanted to get in the house and relax, but both Johns met me on the street and followed me into our backyard patio where they filled me in on what was going on with the project for the next two hours.

Finally back inside the house I was taken aback by how huge the rooms, the hallways, and even the refrigerator looked after two and a half weeks in the Bounder. After 45 minutes of playing around with the remotes, I finally got the TV and sound system working properly, correcting whatever Angelo had done with the myriad of buttons. Home at last, and what a good feeling it was!