california

Lassen National Volcanic Park & Airport

We spent the better part of today exploring Mount Lassen National Volcanic Park. Brendan is feeling much better. He had himself quite a large breakfast — biscuts & gravy, eggs, toast, bacon, potatoes — that is, once breakfast actually came. It was so slow that I got fed up with waiting and went back to the room to pack.

The park is quite large. We decided to take the 30 mile road that cuts through the western part of it and stopped along the way to see various things. The volcano itself isn’t all that active. It last erupted in 1914 – 1921, but it’s still got “all the elements” for another eruption. Whatever that means.

The big thing that Brendan wanted to see were the fumeroles and mudpots. We saw some at our first stop at the sulfur springs, but then hiked to what’s called Bumpass Hell to see even more. It was actually quite pretty (although smelly). It wasn’t too hot of a day either, we were at a decent elevation (7,000 – 8,000 feet) so it was only about 75/80 max at any given point.

We gave some thought initially to hiking to the peak of the volcano, but it’s a 5 hour hike round trip, so we decided to skip it. On the way out of the park we stopped to see the rocks thrown and created by the 1914 eruptions.

Then it was back to Sacramento and the airport for our 11pm flight home. We were ahead of schedule by quite a bit so we decided to stop at a casino off the highway. Brendan now thinks that slot machines are my new calling. As soon as we got there, I sat down with $20 and made us $200. Of course, once I do that I’m ready to leave. We stayed around for a while, I spent some of my winnings, and Brendan played BlackJack until it was time to go. We had another small stop back at the Sonic next to the first hotel, “borrowed” their internet access and had Cherry Limeades until it was time to leave for the airport.

Mineral

Today was a big driving day. We’re halfway back to Sacramento, staying off CA route 36 in the middle of nowhere just outside of Lassen Volcanic Park. Tomorrow we hike and otherwise explore the park before heading 3 hours south to Sacramento to catch our 11 pm flight home.

I drove the whole way here today. Brendan woke up last night “violently ill,” as he put it. We figure he must have gotten some kind of food poisoning. Although, I just noticed he has some pretty bad sunburn on the back of his neck — it’s blistering and a little swollen — that might have been a contributing factor. He seems better now, he’s just really really tired since he didn’t hardly sleep at all last night. It’s a good thing that it happened in Eureka and not here. Our room here is spare. We have a bed (king sized, though), a chair, a few small tables, and a very tiny bathroom. At least I was able to sleep last night. If we were here, I don’t think that it would have been possible.

We had planned to take it rather slow today and get here on the later side. We came through the mountains along the Trinity River. I don’t really drive too much these days, so it took some getting used to. the car doesn’t quite get up and go like my Jetta, so sometimes we were a bit slow coming up the mountains. People were going past me left and right. Plus, the road was super windy, and I was constantly pulling over into the turnoffs so people could fly by me. How anyone could stomach going much over 50 on that road, I don’t know.

We were going to stop at some ghost towns along the way, but Bren was finally getting some sleep past a few and when we got to Shasta, the one he really wanted to stop in, he just wasn’t up for it. So, we just kept on going pretty much nonstop until we got here.

When we first turned off the highway onto 36, the landscape was as close to a desert as I have seen. It was fairly barren, with some low hearty trees, and brown short grasses. The land was fairly flat, but with some hills here and there. Then we went up a mountain or two and the landscape changed and was full of pine trees. There’s some sort of canyon to the west of where we are. The lodge is just past the park. Mineral is pretty darn small. According to the sign its population is a whopping 90. It seems like it’s a ski destination more than a summer one.

Eureka Day 2

Today we drove up even farther north to Redwood National Park. A friend of Brendan’s brother’s has recommended that we check out Fern Canyon. I’m glad we took his advice. The park is about 50 minutes north of here. Instead of hiking 8 miles from the park offices, we decide to drive to a point that’s less than a mile from the canyon. It’s this little gravel road that winds around and down to the shore and down to the canyon. Did I mention we’ve rented a Seabring? It takes a minute for me to get my eyes used to the woods once we enter them. I’m startled because it looks like a black and white photo. It takes a moment to realize that the road kicks up so much grey dust that it has covered the ferns and the trees on the edge of the road. They are so thickly coated that everything is in shades of grey.

We make it to the end of the road and set off to first explore the beach. It’s much flatter here and more like the beaches that I am used to on the Atlantic. We walk down to the water and take a few photos of the birds there. I am leading us on the way back and out of the corner of my right eye I see them: three elk, just hanging out. They weren’t there when we started. I take a few photos, and as the shutter clicks as I’m taking one of the male, he turns, looks at me and takes a few steps. We were far enough apart that I wanted to switch to the zoom lens, but I thought twice about it as he moved towards us slightly again. I was satisfied with our Nature moment.

Then we hiked into the canyon. It is so beautiful. I know the photos won’t do it the proper justice. As we rounded each bend it got more and more beautiful. We headed up a trail up a ridge and walked for a while. Once we got to the fork we had to make a decision: hike for 5 more miles and get back to town at about five or six, or go back the short way, maybe a mile and get back around two. Since we hadn’t seen any of Eureka, we opted for the short route and made our way back to the car. The elk were still hanging out where we left them, and so I switched lenses and took a few more shots. The male was still posing for me (and the others who were even closer). A man getting into a car near me muttered something to his wife like, “People are more interested in the elk than they are in Fern Canyon!” I turned and said, “Oh, we’ve already done that.” Plus, there aren’t elk in our part of Virginia!

Back in Eureka, we decided to have a big lunch at a brewpub and skip dinner for the most part. Afterwards, we headed into Old Town Eureka. It’s not really what we were expecting. There were a few blocks with a few shops, but not really much going on. There were a few coffee shops, a bookstore or two, a Restoration Hardware that seemed out of place, and a whole lot of scraggly, homeless looking people. The boardwalk was even more depressing. Evidently there are grand plans for shops and whatnot along it, but right now there isn’t anything, just some buskers playing bad, loud guitar. It kind of reminds us of Sharon: once a big milling town and now sort of struggling. Admittedly, we’ve only seen a small part of the town.

Tomorrow we’ve got a long drive ahead of us. There probably won’t be any more posting until we get home. Right now, we’re borrowing access from someplace else (we thought we were going to have wireless here, but apparently there’s not). We’ll be in the middle of nowhere tomorrow on our way to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Eureka Day 1

Right after breakfast we packed up the car and headed even farther north.

We stopped at a couple of beaches just north of Fort Bragg. At the first, there were plenty of rocky outcroppings for photos, but the dead sea lion on the shore kind of ruined it for me. At the second beach we were able to see a few sea lions playing in the surf and explore some tide pools.

After more and more spectacular coastal views, we headed into redwood country. Instead of simply riding on the freeway, we opted to take the Avenue of the Giants. I am so glad that we did. According to one of our brochures/books, the area is home to 60% of the world’s largest trees. We could have stopped for more hokiness, but we filled our quota yesterday. I knew the trees were going to be big, but I never could have imagined how large they really are.

Then we arrived in Eureka. We will be here two nights. Today is all about pampering. Brendan ordered us the “Romance in the Redwoods” package at the hotel. That means we had champagne and roses waiting for us in our room, plus an hour massage at 4:30 and dinner at the 4 star hotel restaurant at 6:45. On top of all that, the hotel has upgraded us to their suite on the third floor. It’s enormous. We have a double shower in the bathroom, a sitting area with a gas fireplace, and a separate bedroom area with a Jacuzzi. The windows at the tub look out overtop a few blocks of buildings to the harbor (although you have to sit just so in order to see the boats and I can’t anyway when I don’t have my glasses on).

The massage is the best. It’s our first. We were both just completely relaxed. Then it was down to dinner. The restaurant here is “Eureka’s only 4 star restaurant.” They are supposed to have a ridiculously good wine selection here, too. We’ve pre-paid for a five-course “discovery” menu. Along with that we decided to have what they call here a “wine flight” In other words, they’ve chosen the wine that best compliments each course. The meal is really great. What’s a little weird though is that there are an awful lot of scraggly looking people who keep walking by and I start to feel a little bit bad for enjoying my pampering so much.

Mendocino

It was pretty warm in Sonoma, about 90 degrees, when we left. We took a little side trip to the Petrified Forest and the Old Faithful of California. Talk about old-fashioned hokiness! The Petrified Forest is pretty much in someone’s backyard. The geyser is a little more formal attraction. The woman who sold us our tickets said that it went off about every 40 minutes and was going up 60 feet or so and at it’s longest, lasting for 6 minutes. After we’re there for a couple of minutes, the rock in the middle of the pool starts to steam and we can hear the water bubbling. However, the water that shot up was a weak little stream. It did that a few times (just enough for Brendan to get annoyed and want to leave). We decided to stay for just a little while longer, and I’m glad that we did. It went off like a rocket for about 5 minutes. Put on quite a little show for us.

Then we were off up the coast.

As soon as we reached the coastal highway, the temperature dropped 20 degrees almost instantly. Took me by surprise a little. I had expected it to be cooler, but it happened so fast. The first chance we got we pulled over to get a look at the Pacific. It was quite a sight. There were sheer cliffs, rocks off the shore and sea lions playing in the water and basking on the beach. The scenery kept getting more spectacular as we rolled north.

Our hotel in Mendocino, the Sea Rock, had wonderful views of the coast as well. We had enough time to go into town and have dinner at the Mendocino Hotel where I had ahi cooked very rare for the first time (it was good, actually) and we had a dessert made of special Mendocino county berries which are a cross between blackberries and raspberries. The town itself is also very cute. We made it back to the hotel in time for a spectacular sunset.

The weather was very cooperative. Apparently, it had been foggy for months until today.

Sonoma

We stopped at the park before we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. We’ve been lucky with the weather in San Francisco; it’s been sunny every day. Whenever we’ve looked towards the bridge however, the clouds have been low and rather dense. Today the skies were clear. There wasn’t a cloud. We had a couple take our picture at the highest point of the park, but I decided I wanted one of us at the bottom, with flowers and not metal bars, in the foreground. The people we choose at the bottom weren’t the best photo takers. Ah well.

As soon as we went over the bridge and down the mountain, the temperature shot up about 10 or 15 degrees. It was practically instantaneous. I had always heard about the Marin effect, but I didn’t quite believe it until I actually experienced it.

The drive was relatively easy. We planned the trip well in that we weren’t coming to wine country on a weekend. There are still crowds.

We decided to take a tour of a winery, and were told by the nice lady at the Visitor’s Center that the Benzinger tour was quite good. They have what is called a biodynamic winery. “A step above organic,” is what people say that it means. Not only do they not use pesticides, but they also have a healthy ecosystem within their winery. The tour was good — worth the $10 they charge a person. Included in that is a tasting of four wines. All pretty good. Of course, I liked the most expensive red reserve the best. But we’re on vacation, so what the hell. We bought a bottle.

Benzinger is at the northern part of the valley, and the farthest away from our hotel. We worked our way back from there. We stopped at two wineries on our way here, and were not treated as well as we should have. At one, the girl working would just pour it for us and say “and this is our 2003 cabernet” and leave it at that. But she would take care in explaining the tasting notes to everyone else there. We didn’t buy any wine from her. Of course, it wasn’t all that good either. The next winery was a little bit of the same. The gentleman taking care of us did start out explaining the wines to us but he became distracted by some other customers who were apparently getting some wine shipped. We were left at the counter alone and unattended to for quite a while. Another guy came buy to see if we wanted a second tasting. We told him no, we just needed to pay for the one we had. But he couldn’t ring us up for whatever reason. Eventually, the other guy came back. He was very apologetic and gave us an additional tasting of two wines that were not supposed to be available to taste. Both were very good and we decided to take a bottle of the Saryah (which we just discovered we like). The last winery, Charles Creek, which has a small tasting shop and gallery in Sonoma was our last stop. The girl there was very attentive. She treated us spectacularly, explaining the wines, telling us the little stories behind them. We also bought a Chardonnay from her. All in all it was a good experience, but I felt like we weren’t taken seriously by some people. Lord knows why. Everyone here is a tourist.

Sonoma is very quiet. Especially on a Monday. We did a little shopping in town — I bought 6 bars of olive oil soap (most of the wineries also have olive trees). We made it back to the inn in time for their daily wine and cheese reception in the main lobby. The wine wasn’t anything particularly special — just your standard red and white — but still good. I don’t think they make really awful wine here. Anyway, this group of older people (in their 60s probably) came down. There were three couples. A few of the women were really complaining about the quality of the wine. Brendan and I are sitting there thinking, it’s free people, get over yourselves and enjoy it. One woman in particular is pretty vocal about it, making sure to talk to each of the others to say how the wine isn’t bad; it’s just not to her taste. Of course, everyone knows that she really means it’s bad.

After a dip in the jacuzzi, Brendan and I headed back into town to the Irish pub for dinner. After all the wine we’ve had today, a pint (of Boddington’s) sounded really good. We had just finished talking about how the old people at the hotel were slightly rude when they walked into the pub. The men came first. They were perfectly happy with the choice and were scoping out the room for a place where all of them could sit. Then in came the women. One of them seems pretty easy going. She would have been fine. The other two however, were awful. One asked the owner of the pub what the best restaurant in Sonoma was. The other said she could manage to find something that would do. After a whole lot of hemming and hawing they left. Thank God. I can’t wait until we see them again at breakfast!

The landscape here seems strange to me. Except for the grape vines, everything is brown. The grass in the square here is green, but that’s it. Mostly it all looks very dry and very, very brown. It should get greener as we go north towards Eureka.

California – Day 2

We did Alcatraz today. Awesome tour. It may be one of the most cliche things to do in San Francisco, but I think it’s a good thing to do. After that we had lunch at Pier 39 and walked around. Nothing too exciting. We stopped at a shop on the pier where you pick an oyster out of a barrel and they get a pearl out of it for you. Jess got one and had it mounted on a ring. It felt like a total scam, but it was fun. The woman even gave us an extra pearl because we told her we are on a trip for our anniversary. Very nice Asian women worked there. I got Steelers underwear for game day at an NFL shop. It sounds weird, I know, but it’s actually very exciting for me.

Had dinner at an Italian place where the food was excellent, but the service was horrible. We probably sat for 25 minutes waiting for our plates to be cleared. We had a bottle of wine to get through to pass the time, though.

Sorry, but today just wasn’t as exciting.

Except for when Jess blew up the hotel hair dryer, and clogged the toilet. Although the toilet wasn’t her fault. It was just a coincidence, but a funny one. A repair guy was here for about 30 minutes trying to fix it. We’re fine now.

I believe this negates me being wrong earlier in the trip. The score is now 0-0. Jess loses two points because of destruction of property, etc.

First Full Day

No problems or issues today. Everything went smooth checking out of the first hotel, getting to San Francisco, and checking into the hotel here.

Lots of walking today. Chinatown, shopping, and doing 300 steps to the top of Telegraph Hill, when we could have cut over halfway up it. It was suggested, but shot down. I believe the quote was, “I want to do all of the steps.” She was stopping after almost every flight. It was pretty sad. We made it up to the top, to the tower, and the view was awesome. You could see the whole city, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. from up there. Good stuff.

Went to Haight/Ashbury later in the afternoon to walk around and to get dinner. The absolute center of the counter-culture in the ’60s, and now there is a Gap store right at the corner of the famous intersection. Terrible. The whole area is nothing like you would think it would be. It’s filled with “vintage” stores and smoke shops and boutiques. Nothing like I would have imagined. You did see the occasional middle-aged hippie strolling the street. There was a pretty cool music store called Amoeba that we spent some time in. We had dinner at a nice little place on Haight and sat in a little courtyard area in the back. We shared a pitcher of sangria. Good thing we were taking the bus there and back. Great dinner, but expensive.

We came back to the hotel, rested for a minute and got our long sleeves on. It’s freaking cold here. Then we found an Irish bar down the street a bit.

Now here’s the funny part.

A band of middle-aged guys is setting up while we’re drinking our first round. The drummer is wearing a black button-down shirt with yellow flames on it. He’s got one of the most complete drum sets I’ve ever seen. He has 5 cymbals set up on the set. Cow bells. Everything. He’s the type of drummer that you would think would wear a Zildjian hat or shirt. The guitarist is just about a couple of years away from becoming the Cryptkeeper, and the bass player (who we thought was the roadie at first) wore a black button-down shirt with some blue flames on it, a black t-shirt with a blue pacman ghost on it, along with a blue fret-less bass. It was completely 80s. Jessica said they would be a new wave cover band. I disagreed. I figured with the flames and the type of instruments they had, it had to be 80s hard rock or metal. Jess was right. It was absolutely hilarious. They started out with Counting Blue Cars, then went to I Ran, then to Don’t You Forget About Me. Then we had to leave. It was getting late, and we have another full day tomorrow. It’s just that these guys were dressed absolutely and completely wrong for the music that they were playing. They shape of the instruments they were playing were priceless as well. Very sharp edges, all 80s-metal-like. Awesome. We didn’t stick around to see if they rocked out any more, but figure that the middle-aged rock we saw tonight is the highlight of the trip so far.

Beautiful Beginning

OK, so Jess was going to write about this, but I’ve beaten her to it. She’s in the shower, washing off the stink that is a day of travelling.

The day started off well enough. We both went to work, our bags were packed, and we were going to leave from the office. Fine.

Except that in my rush to leave the office, I happened to forget the laptop. Didn’t find out I left it until a coworker called me as we were pulling into the airport. We thought about turning around, but then decided just to leave it. It ended up that another coworker that lives near the airport (which is about 40 minutes away from the office), was willing to come and drop it off. Excellent. We didn’t even have to wait that long. By the time we checked our bags and walked to find a snack, she was there.

Awesome. Our trip just had its snag, and it was over before the trip even began.

But that was just the beginning.

The flight was fine. We even got in 30 minutes early. Except that we had to wait another 20 or so for our luggage to come on the belt.

So as we’re waiting, we think we see one of our bags coming. Until some old guy, who is completely disheveled, decides that it’s his bag. He grabs it, checks the ticket, says, “Yup,” and proceeds to high-tail it out of the airport. I think, “Well, he checked the ticket, said, ‘Yup,’ and walked out, so it must not have been our bag.” Jess was insisting that the guy stole our bag. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But it was our bag.

We get our other bag and are waiting and waiting for the big one to come off. No dice. So we finally give up and head into the baggage office. As we’re in there waiting in line, I turn around and see the guy. He’s now carting another bag, A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT COLORED BAG, out, and there’s ours sitting by the baggage belt.

Nice.

But we’re still ahead of schedule, so I’m happy.

We have no problems getting the rental car, and head for the hotel. Then the ray of sunshine:

THERE’S A SONIC PRACTICALLY IN THE HOTEL PARKING LOT!!!!

Now, Jess and I LOVE Sonic. More than words can express at this particular moment. I can’t tell you what I would do at any given time for a cherry limeade. Perfect.

So we check in. No problems. Literally drop our stuff off in the room and head for the Sonic.

More issues.

All we want is a little snack and some cherry limeades. Shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Just a small popcorn chicken and some cheese fries. Evidently this was a big deal for them. It took 15 minutes or so to get our order. Was the order ok? No. We got Cokes instead of cherry limeades, my cheese fries must have been out for an hour before they brought them to us, and they completely left out the dipping sauce for the chicken.

So after we finally got the limeades, we headed back to the room. It’s now 2:30 in the morning to us (11:30 out here), and we’re completely exhausted from the day. Hopefully we got all the snags in one day. Updates to come if we didn’t.

UPDATE: We were awoken at 3:00 AM by what had to be either a prostitute or an actress, because the woman in the room next to us should win an academy award. I’ve never heard anyone moan and scream like that. We had to turn the TV on to drown it out.

Then the alarm went off at 3:30.

one more thing

The shower in this hotel is ridiculous. When standing there, the shower head is at nose level. When turning it on, the water hits at the neck — and that’s only when pointing the shower head straight out.

Also, cherry limeade = crack.

Disclaimer.

Brendan joined the party on January 2, 2004. He's cool now.

Jessica has never been cool. She is OK with that.

And just so everyone is clear, what we say here is not endorsed by either of our employers.