Northern California part 2: Big Waves & Even Bigger Trees

As we continued north from Patricks Point State Park the rocky coast continued but the trees began to get bigger as we made our way to the Mill Creek Campground in the Del Norte Redwood State Park. We loved this campground too and they have some really cool spots for tent campers. With the Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, and Jedidiah Redwood State park on our list we started with the Tall Trees Trail in the National Park. 

We saw some pretty tall redwoods down by Santa Cruz but these were not only tall but wide! Ive never seen anything like it, which makes sense since they are some of the tallest trees on Earth. For once in his life I think 6’9 Richard felt small. Like kids we hiked the trail “oooo” ing and “awww” ing at each tree that seemed bigger than the one before. Trees so big that they had to be cut in half or have tunnels cut through them to allow people to pass. I think the most fascinating thing about these trees, besides their size, is that they were here long before you and I and they will continue to be here when we are gone. They are living things and they have so much soul and history with every ring they develop.

Our next stop: Prairie Creek. At prairie Creek we went and saw the 1500 year old “Big Tree” which measures 286 feet tall with a circumference of 74.5 feet. Im not going to lie, it was a pretty impressive tree. Prairie Creek is full of loops that you can stroll down admiring the gentle giants. Its so calm and peaceful walking through the trees yet there is a distinct sound to the forest. The leaves in the wind, the trees so subtly swaying. Its a pretty magical place. Not only did we love seeing the trees in Prairie Creek, but there are black berry bushes everywhere and you are allowed to pick and take up to a pound with you. That being said, we have been eating fresh blackberries every morning for breakfast ever since.

Right near the parks is the town of Crescent City. Its a pretty cute little town and the one day we had sun we ate fish and chips on the pier. We heard rumors of there being sea otters but sadly we found none. We did spot a ton of harbor seals and sea lions though, hanging by the main pier. You can also make fires on the beach and while we wanted to do that one night we were usually pooped from hiking to head to town. Plus our little trailer is actually super comfy and cozy. I don’t know if its from the activity or the bed but we have been sleeping better than we did at home!

We decided to drive through Jedidiah on our way out of town and thats where we made our first mistake. Warning: Do not go through Jedidiah with a travel trailer. We thought we could make it, we really did. It was just 4 miles and there were no signs warning against trailers, not even in the guide. The road was bumpy, but Red had been on some bumpy terrain before. We had one opportunity to turn around and we stupidly didn’t take it. Once we got too far to take advantage of the turn out, a passing car stopped and let us know we would never make it and there was no where to turn around ahead of us (of course). Apparently a tree had fallen against another tree and while most cars could still drive underneath, we were too big to fit. Basically we were screwed. After many failed attempts to back up to the turn out Richard gave up and decided to attempt to jackknife the trailer in the middle of the road. I wish I could tell you exactly what happen but my eyes were closed and I was out of the car at this point. All I know is that when I opened my eyes we had a busted tail light, a puncture in the front of our trailer and a fern attached to the front grill. But, we were turned around. With that we knew we had out stayed our welcome in the Redwoods and headed to Oregon.

Mill Creek Campground, Del Norte Redwood SP | Crescent City, CA | $35/night
Wildlife spotted: Elk, Chipmunks, Harbor Seals, Sea Lion, Coastal Birds

Northern California Part 1: Big Waves & Big Trees

Northern California doesn’t feel like California at all, or at least the California we are used to. The chilly coast is filled with grey skies, rocks and harbor seals and the forest contain the biggest tress we have ever seen. And you you know what- we love it. 

This scenery might just be our favorite. I keep saying that everywhere we go, but everywhere just seems to get better and better. Luckily we were able to snag a spot for three nights at the Abalone Campground in Patricks Point State Park. Not to sound like a broken record, but this also might be our favorite camp site to date. Nestled in a fern filled forest right on the coast we had the best of both worlds at our door step. Not to mention we had perfect cell service. For Richard who is trying to work while traveling, this was campsite gold. We got spot 83 which was killer but I don’t think there was a bad spot in this place. With so many trees and plants we had total privacy. We felt like we had our own little house, complete with a living room, office and guest room all carved out of the forest for us. These sites book up fast so if you are looking to do the coast over the summer, reservations have to be made far in advance. We booked this spot in March. 

Patricks Point was filled with little trails that lead us around the park and to magnificent cliffs that overlook the crashing waves of the ocean. We brought a drone with us on the trip but most places will not let you fly them. At Patricks Point we didn’t see any signs so we thought we would take it out for a spin. Well, while peering out into the vast ocean and the black rocks we noticed there were harbor seals- everywhere! Im almost embarrassed about how long it took us to notice the so perfectly camouflaged creatures. Our first reaction- get footage of those seals with the drone. Now I’m sure this is probably why they do not let people fly these things but the seals noticed the drone. With every move the drone made the seals would turn their heads in unison. After feeling a little too confident Richard flew the drone just a little close and actually had a seal try to swot it! Thats when we realized we should probably let these little guys be. We didn’t get the attempted smack on record but we did get a adorable video!

Deciding to leave the seals be, the next day we took a trip to Moonstone Beach. I read that you could let your dog off the leash and had pretty much been waiting for this moment the entire trip. Our beach day was the classic expectation vs. reality scenario. 

I expected this to be a great day. We were going to play and laugh and frolic down the beach. Rosie was going to roll in the sand and we were going to chase her around with smiles on our faces. How the day turned out was basically the opposite of all of that. Upon getting to the beach and releasing her, she ran straight to the ocean and started gulping down salt water. In an attempt to get her to stop I began running to entice her to chase me. That worked. She chased me until she found a large dead crab on the beach and began eating it. A few minutes of wrestling with her to let go she swallowed leaving me dreading her getting sick later. Turns out the beach was full of these dead crab land mines. Luckily we found a crab free spot on the beach and Richard decided to try his drone again. We had an incident in New Mexico with Rosie not liking the drone and barking at it, but I don’t think we really understood how deep her hate for the drone was. It turned into Dog vs. Machine. As soon as that drone went into the air Rosie lost it. I mean lost it. I mean lost it so much she ran and then dove flat face first into the ocean. In that moment I don’t think she cared that she cant swim or that she was going to drown. She wanted to destroy that drone. After plunging into the water, in my clothes I might add, I scooped her fierce angry body up and tried to get her to calm down. Then I noticed she was foaming at the mouth. Oh and it wasn’t just foam, it was blood and foam. I don’t know if she bite her tongue or was barking so much blood came up or if the crab scratched her throat, but the one thing I did know was that it was time to go home. We took the dirty, sandy, and worn out pig to the parking lot, gave her a shower, held her like a baby, and looked at each other in shock.

 Family day at the beach, folks.

Patricks Point | Trinidad, CA | $35/night
Wildlife spotted: harbor seals, star fish, coastal birds

Napa Valley to HWY 1

When we began planning this trip we decided not to spend too much time in bigger cities due to them typically not being very trailer friendly. With this in mind we didn’t stop in San Francisco but we made sure to drive over the Golden Gate bridge. Things Richard loves: dams, trains, and bridges. So, if theres a bridge you can bet we are going to go over it. Once we made it over with white knuckles theres a little area big enough for those in an RV to park and walk around on a little trail. Its a pretty amazing structure and Im (Whitney) starting to understand why Richard gets so excited for these things I once paid no attention to.

Once we made it through adorable Sausalito we went straight to Napa Valley, a first for us both. With only 2 nights in Napa Valley, location was our top priority for a campground. We ended up staying at a Skyline Wilderness and it was just what we needed. Not a lot of trees or privacy but a clean place to lay our heads at night. For those who aren’t wine drinkers, there were plenty of trails around the grounds to keep you busy. 

After we checked in we settled in early exhausted from the days drive. The following day we headed out to Saint Helena. The first winery we went to was Charles Krug. With a drive up to a magnificent facade the the most perfect weather we found a spot outside and enjoyed a glass of their wine paired with one of their stone oven pizzas. Apparently a Monday is the perfect day to go wine tasting because we felt like we had the valley to ourselves. After lunch we ventured to the Beringer Winery. The place was huge and absolutely breath taking. We decided to indulge in a tasting and with each glass we explored the grounds. From the gardens to the two preserved historic houses I think we enjoyed wandering around more than the wine. Knowing we didn’t want to drink anymore since we were driving we headed back to the camp.

On our last day we had a tour reservation at Del Dotto. A friend of ours recommended it and said it was just as good, if not better, than some of the wineries he had been to in France. We did the wine cave tour and tasting and not only was it enjoyable but we felt that we got our monies worth. They take you through the caves explaining the wine making process and how they choose the barrel and the affect that has on the wine. After the tour we tasted their meats, cheeses, and pizza. Which we were not expecting and glad we didn’t eat lunch before hand. I think we tasted a total of 9 wines from a rose to their signature cabs to a pinot noir and finishing off with a dessert wine, which was a pleasant note to end our Napa trip on. I know plenty of wine drinkers that would probably be disappointed that we didn’t see or try more in Napa Valley, but we were more interested in heading back to nature than drinking. 

From Del Dotto we headed straight for the coast and then onto Highway 1, going north. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen views as magnificent as those on Highway 1. My stomach however was in constant back flips with every zig zag turn we made. The views were beautiful but the idea that you are so close to a cliff and could fall over into that view, isn’t a beautiful thought. Red didn’t let us down though. The expedition and Red kept truckin’ and we made it to our first stop on Highway 1, Van Damme State Park. 

The campsite at Van Damme was right across the beach off of Highway one but tucked into the green lush forest. We couldn’t believe how chilly the weather had become and didn’t make a fire that night for fun, but out of necessity to stay warm. With the beach just a hop skip and a jump away and plenty of trails through the forest we could’ve stayed at Van Damme for much longer than we had planned. With just a quick stop over we made our way to the road again, heading north on the coast. 

The second day of Highway one was filled with beautiful views, lookout points, and little coastal towns. As we traveled up the coast the skies became moodier and moodier and sandy beaches began to turn into giant Rocks. We stopped and did a few trails by the ocean with Rosie in Mendocino and we were surprised at how much we felt like we were on the east coast and not in California. We were looking forward to many destinations on our trip but this drive alone took the cake.

Skyline Wilderness Park | Napa, CA | $33/night
wildlife spotted: birds, horses, cows

Van Damme Sate Park | Little River, CA | $44/night
Wildlife spotted: mountain lion (not by us, by other campers)

Exploring the Detour: Santa Cruz & the Redwoods

With a full week that was suppose to be spent at Yosemite cancelled due to forest fires, we had to find a plan B. Once we left Yosemite we started driving west towards the coast to get out of the smoke and ash. I (Whitney) had done a girls glamping trip in Big Sur for my bachelorette party the year before, so I called the campground we stayed at but they were full. Everyone was full. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones with Yosemite plans ruined and forced to retreat to the coast. So I started making calls. After about 15 calls and mini melt down, wouldn’t you know it we finally found an opening at Smithwoods RV park near Santa Cruz. 

Neither of us get to worked up about having to change our plans, we are actually pretty easy going, but we still like to have a plan and be in control of the situation. When Yosemite didn’t work out, the places in Big Sur were full, and we were forced to stay somewhere with “RV park” in the title we were discouraged. So, when we finally got to Smithwoods the fact that it was the cutest little place among the redwoods and we got one of the best spots ( I should also add the staff was so nice and helpful) we couldn’t help but laugh. The push and pull with wanting to control a situation is a constant theme in our lives. However, most often than not, when we surrender control, things end up working out better than we could have ever planned.

Walking distance from Henry Cowell State Park, we spent the next few days hiking in the mystifying redwoods and relaxing at our little piece of home nestled in the biggest trees we had ever seen. We liked Smithwoods so much that we extended our reservations and canceled our next stop at Mount Diablo. Richard had to fly home for work for a few days and my sister, Kelly, was going to come and replace him, so we wanted to share this little gem we discovered with her too. We had to move around to a few different spots to ensure our stay but the staff was super helpful in getting us into open or cancelled reservation spots and for us it was well worth it.

As expected, Kelly loved it too. With cool mornings and sunny afternoons we relaxed in the park pool following explorations in the Redwoods. As a film lover, she especially loved seeing sites where scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo were filmed. One day we rode a 100 year old steam engine down to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. While aboard the impeccably preserved train they informed us this was how the Vanderbilt’s and high society of old went camping. Now Ive been to a few boardwalks but this place was the real deal. Shops, rides, games, food booths and the beach! What else do you need? Oh and a wharf with a posse of sea lions putting on a show to boot! While in Santa Cruz, my film loving sister also got to witness the house that Bates Motel was inspired by. Now part of a retirement home, oddly enough. A day trip to Davenport also made our itinerary. Strong winds, crisp air and some of the most amazing ocean views. This was also the first day Rosie got to see the ocean. She had to stay on her leash but finally got to feel the sand between her little doggy toes.

When I exchanged my sister for my husband at the San Francisco airport, Richard and I spent our last day down at Moss Landing. Both being suckers for adorable marine mammals we went there to see the otters, and they did not disappoint. 500 pictures and about 2,000 “awwws” we were in heaven. We watched the cuddly creatures bathe themselves and play with one another. Seals we also an unexpected surprised and we couldn’t help but think they resembled a very lazy Rosie.

Im sure Yosemite would have been jaw dropping but our week was definitely not wasted. I think sometimes we focus so much on visiting National Parks to check off that invisible box in our heads, that we forget how many amazing little hidden gems and unexpected attractions there are along the way.

Smithwoods RV Park | Felton, CA | $55/night
wildlife spotted: otters, seals, coastal birds, sea lions, chipmunks

Smoked out of Yosemite

As sad as we were to leave Mammoth Lakes, we were so excited to to move onto Yosemite National Park. Yosemite has been on our list for awhile and we had a whole week set aside to explore it. 

From Mammoth Lakes we drove through Stanislaus National Forest towards Yosemite. Stanislaus National Forest felt secluded and gorgeous. It was also some of the most difficult roadway we traveled with its constant switchbacks and steep grading reaching 25%. Halfway through the forest we stopped for a walk along a river and checked out the Columns of the Giants, a geologic formation that like Devils Postpile, was formed by lava and ice. We also past a lot of small campgrounds that we put on our list for the future. Looking back, the drive through Stanislaus National Forest was the highlight of this section of our trip.

Due to a lack of BLM land around Yosemite and not booking our trip early enough we ended up at more traditional RV park than we are used to. While the park was not really our style, it had a great location just outside the park. Once we pulled up we started to notice the air to be smokey, but not bad enough to make us worried. We had heard that 2 days before there had been some fires but the park was still open. Unfortunately, we could not get any wifi or cell phone signal so we couldn’t check the news to see the status.

The next day we woke up to an increase of smoke in our campground so we headed out to Yosemite National Park to do a drive through and asset the situation. Since we didn’t plan on doing any hiking we brought Rosie along for the ride. Upon arriving at the park entrance we could tell that whatever was going on with the fires hadn’t scared anyone away, because there were big crowds ready to go in. As we drove through the smoke was manageable but our views consisted of burnt trees which was not really what we were hoping. Continuing through our luck changed for a moment because we saw a bear right outside our car! We immediately pulled over to get some pictures. Rosie even saw the bear and went nuts! Luckily for the bear we kept her in the car. Once the bear wandered off we continued further into Yosemite and the further we got the smokier things got. Eventually we had to just turn around because we couldn’t see anything through the gray blanket that had overtaken the park. 

Sadly, on our second day at Yosemite we had to wear bandanas over our noses and mouths and knew it was time to move on. We packed up our home on wheels and headed to the coast to seek refuge. We decided to leave Yosemite unchecked on our list of National Parks to ensure we go back and see it in all its glory. 

Yosemite lakes | Groveland, CA | $60/night
Wildlife spotted: Bears