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Journey to the State of Jefferson
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Journey to the State of Jefferson

Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2008 - 2017

We left at 3:30 am, only a half hour behind schedule, I think a record for us. It was Thanksgiving Day and we headed north on I-5 for about ten hours. I drove through Los Angeles, Kern, Kings, Fresno, and Merced Counties, stopping in Santa Nella for breakfast and to buy a few soup mugs at Pea Soup Andersen and to buy gas. We continued north through Stanislaus County and then somehow after entering San Joaquin County I didn't notice when the highway turned west where we were supposed to continue north. We drove toward the Bay Area for about twenty minutes before I realized something wasn't right and the wind generators of the Altamont Pass and the sign that said "Oakland - Berkeley" convinced me to turn around. Finally back on I-5 north we continued through Sacramento and Yolo Counties.
This is the first time I had driven north of Sacramento so I tried to enjoy the scenery, but the early departure was catching up with me. At a rest stop on the north edge of Yolo County, my wife took a turn driving for an hour and a half and I shot a few photos and took a half hour nap as she drove through Colusa, Glenn, and Tehama Counties. It was in Tahama County, a little north of Red Bluff that we began climbing up out of the Sacramento Valley through an oak woodland. It took us seven and a half hours to travel the Great Central Valley of California from the south end of the San Joaquin Valley to the north end of the Sacramento Valley. We also crossed the Sacramento River a half dozen or more times as we climbed, and it descended. I took over driving again at a rest stop near the north end of Tehama County. We entered Shasta County and finally, off to the north, we saw the tiny distant shape of giant Mount Shasta and to the east, Lassen Peak, both dormant volcanos. We stopped a few minutes to view and photograph Lake Shasta, a reservoir that was many feet lower than usual. A pink line extended about 30 or more feet above the waterline all around the lake. A little houseboat chugged into one of the arms. I saw a large bird spreading its wings while sitting atop a power transmission tower, but it had finished by the time I had the camera ready. We continued through Redding and I noticed off to the left, a thin angled white structure that I thought must be some sort of sculpture. I later learned that it was the Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River and a must-see. I wanted to stop but we had to hurry on so I hope to go back another time. We were about to pass through the historic town off Dunsmuir when the car dinged that we were almost out of gas. The scenery was so beautiful that I had forgotten to watch the gage. Quickly I pulled off and got gas and since we were there, I drove through the historic section of Dunsmuir which was quiet this Thanksgiving Day.
About twenty minutes later, we reached Weed where I shot a few photos of the arch and we left I-5 for US 97 north. It was a scenic drive, but quickly the scenery changed. There were less trees and more open grassland as we entered the more arid region of northeast California and east Oregon. We stopped a minute at a viewing station looking south to Mount Shasta. I had forgotten that my friend had told me about the flag pole in Dorris which is the tallest west of the Mississippi River. Dorris is a lumber town and there were small mills everywhere. A few minutes later we crossed into Oregon stopping to photograph the sign. More scenery and another half hour of driving and we were at our destination, Klamath Falls, Oregon.
We found my friends' house easily, right where it was last time we visited. My friends had left Los Angeles a few years ago to care for aging relatives and settle their estates. Since they both work at home, they saw no reason to return to LA. Most of my friends who leave LA don't want to come back - I hope it's not me. We all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner and conversation, although I was a bit tired and started drifting. We got a good night sleep in preparation of our adventures tomorrow.
Day Two
We awoke early and my friends are late sleepers, so we had said our good-buys the night before and quietly slipped out a bit before dawn. We headed west, driving along the southwest edge of Klamath Lake, stopping to photograph the sunrise. I stopped to take a few photos of an old lava flow, now covered with snow, just east of the county line along the Lake of the Woods Highway. Also a few miles off the same highway, a little beyond the village of Lakecreek is Lost Creek Covered Bridge which I stopped to photograph. A little further on, in the town of Eagle Point, is the Antelope Creek Covered Bridge which we visited and then moved south to Medfrord.
It is a minor tradition for my wife and I to get the gift snow globe at the J. C. Penney after Thanksgiving sale, but this year we blew it, arriving after they ran out. So we pushed on to yet one more covered bridge at Wimer. This was not an old bridge, but a brand new one to replace one that collapsed in 2003. This is the only covered bridge that I have been able to drive across. Both of the other bridges we saw had been extensively restored on new foundations but closed to vehicles.
We now pushed on west of Jackson County into Josephine County and to Oregon Caves. The next tour was full so we had to wait about 45 minutes for the one after. The tour lasted about an hour and a half and our guide, Brian, conducted an interesting and informative tour through about a half mile and about 500 steps of the cave. The cave is unusual in that it is not the typical limestone, but marble, which is a metamorphic version of limestone. There were many beautiful formations of stalagmites, stalagtights, straws, ribbons, columns, popcorn, and others of which I forgot the names. In the early days of the cave tour, to exit visitors had to back-track to the entrance. Today we exited through a tunnel that had been blasted through. As we left the tunnel, our guide said for everyone afraid of spiders to move past him. Once they were outside, he used a flash light to show the rest of us the wall behind him. The wall was covered with hundreds of cave spiders. It was about 3:30 when we left Oregon Caves for the almost two hour drive to Crescent City on Highway 199, Smith River Scenic Byway. The last half hour of the drive was too dark to see the spectacular redwood trees around us as I strained to watch the road. We drove though Collier Tunnel a bit inside the California border and continued.
We arrived in our motel, enjoyed a wonderful dinner, and settled off to a much needed sleep.
Day Three
We awoke about 7 and enjoyed our breakfast and headed south. Our first destination for today was only 20 miles south, but we stopped so often to admire the scenery, it took almost an hour to get there. Shafts of light were squeezing in between the trees as fog hung everywhere. Waves crashed against the rocky shore and fog surrounded the rocks. Finally we arrived at Trees of Mystery in Klamath with Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe greeting guests. Trees of Mystery has several trails through a redwood forest, some of the trees having been seen in Ripleys Believe It or Not because of their oddities and strange shapes. The first tree is twelve trees in one. A single trunk climbs into the sky with the usual branches, but from some of these branches, eleven vertical trees grow skyward. Later the Candelabra Tree is a horizontal trunk with a number of vertical trees growing from it. Eventually the trail lead to the Sky Trail which is an aerial tram to the top where we looked out over the panorama from the Observation Deck. There are two ways back down, take the Sky Trail back or the Wilderness Trail which is classed as very strenuous. My wife took the Sky Trail and I struggled with the Wilderness Trail. This one-mile trail is so steep that in several places, ropes are provided to help users to stop their slide down the slippery slopes. Once I rejoined my wife at the bottom station, the return trail passed through a series of large wood carvings depicting aspects of Paul Bunyan's life. The trails end in the gift shop which also has an adjacent museum with wonderful Native American arts and crafts. We bought a pound of assorted fudge and a few souvenirs, and headed back north.
We had hoped to visit Battery Point Light Station, but the lighthouse sits on a rock that is sometimes a peninsula and sometimes an island, depending on the tide. Today it was an island. I almost lost my cameras and did drown my boots attempting to get across between waves. Finally I gave up and settled for photos from across the way, but still the sun was directly behind and I got drenched again trying to use a large rock to the side to shade the camera as the tide continued to rise. I spoke briefly with a small group hunting for agates and other semi-precious stones. We returned to our motel room so I could change and wash my boots, then continued north.
We stopped at Ship Ashore, a gift shop made from a small ship that had been dragged ashore. Unfortunately is was closed, maybe for the season. The lights were on, but the shelves were empty. I settled for a few photos of the exterior and we continued north. We crossed back into Oregon and I immediately noticed a sign for a museum. We stopped at Chetco Valley Museum, a small museum in a house built in 1857 housing various historical artifacts. We were lucky as the museum would normally be closed, but the staff was in the midst of decorating the museum for the holidays.
We continued to a Rest Stop / Visitor Center a few miles on. The Visitor Center was closed but pamphlets was available in a kiosk to plan our next trip. Across the highway was Harris Beach State Park where we stayed to photograph the sunset. I must have picked a good spot because a few minutes later, several cars pulled up with others to enjoy the sunset. We returned to Crescent City, enjoyed dinner, and settled in for the evening.
Day Four
We awoke a little before the wake-up call and as we got ready, we heard the distant fog horn from the harbor across the highway. We started packing, went to breakfast, finished packing and were on our way by 8:00. We first tried again to reach Battery Point Light Station, but the tide was still too high. It had been 18 hours since our attempt yesterday, so I was hopping the tide would be different. We returned to our motel and checked out and continued south after I stopped to photograph a dolos on display. Long ago, the breakwater kept washing away and these dolosse, with their interlocking geometry, were developed as a solution.
We drove past Trees of Mystery and followed a suggestion to take the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park through a scenic redwood forest. There were a few elk in a meadow and we felt bad for one that clearly had an injured leg. It did its best to limp without the use of one front leg. Today it might survive, but in the past, a wolf or mountain lion would carry out the theory of survival of the fittest. This side trip only added a few minutes to our journey as we continued south.
Suddenly in a meadow to the left was a large heard of resting elk. We stopped to photograph these and now we were behind schedule and had to hurry on to Eureka.
We were only about ten minutes late for Mass at Saint Bernard's Church. This building was no dog. It was large and reminiscent of an eastern church with all the filigree one would expect. We didn't have time to see Eureka and hope to make it a trip by itself some day, but we still had to see the Carson Mansion and drive by a few of the hundreds of Victorian buildings on the Nation Registry. The Carson Mansion is probably one of the most photographed Victorian homes still in existence. No longer a home, it belongs to a club and is not open to the public. Even if you don't know the house by name, you have probably seen a picture of it on a calendar or in a magazine. We took a good long look and headed south on Highway 101.
We were running late but couldn't resist another bypass, this time through Avenue of the Giants. This was another redwood forest with hiking trails and beautiful scenery. We picked up a guide listing the stops, but it was written south to north and we were going north to south. By the time we figured this out, we had missed a few stops. Still the drive was enjoyable and the Visitor Center was informative and we were glad we took this side road, even though we were now quite far behind schedule.
We stopped for gas in Willits which is as far north as I had gone before. Almost 40 years ago my family had taken the famous Skunk Train from Willits to Fort Brag and back. I will have to take my wife on that another time. While fueling, I photographed the Willits arch across the highway and we moved on.
About 20 minutes later, we caught Highway 20 through Lake County and past Clear Lake. I have heard of this large body of water for most of my life, but this is the first time I saw it. At first I was disappointed that the shore was developed and there was no place to park, but as we continued, there were several places where I could photograph the lake in the fading light just before sunset.
We drove along the north shore some time before heading into the passes to the east. It was quite dark by the time we finally reached I-5 south and another hour before we reached our motel in Sacramento. The motel was a 12 minute walk from Old Sacramento, but we were tired and settled for a traditional Mexican dinner adjacent to the motel. The trip was finished except for the drive home tomorrow, so we got to sleep early.
Day Five
We had left a 4:30 wake-up call, then awoke at 4:00 and were on our way by 5:15. We drove south on I-5 in dense to medium fog for five hours, stopping only for gas, to buy three more soup mugs, and at most of the rest stops. I strained to watch for potential hazards in the fog and my wife did her homework. Finally we climbed out of the fog at the Grapevine and arrived home abit after 11 and I was at work at noon.
It was a rewarding trip. We drove through five counties in California and two in Oregon that we have never seen before, stopping in most of them. We saw mountains and waves, redwood trees and seaweed, a cave, a lighthouse, three covered bridges, and Victorian architecture. We visited with old friends and met some nice strangers. The north coast of California is not like the beaches of Southern California. They are colder and rockier, but I think more beautiful. A redwood forest is infinitely more peaceful than the urban forests of Southern California. We finally took a trip in the car we bought months earlier because the old car was getting too old for long trips. We drove about 1,800 miles and paid half what we paid per gallon of gas last May. We came home to two cats who missed us, and one who pretended she didn't.
One last thing. This article is titled "The State of Jefferson." In the months before World War II, there was a renewed movement, at first half-hearted but growing in support, to separate the northern counties of California and the southern counties of Oregon and create a new state from them. Jefferson was the proposed name but it was not to be. On December 7, 1941, patriotism won out over individualism and amid more pressing matters, the movement to form a new state faded away (but not completely).

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This page last updated: Friday, 28-Apr-2017 12:54:08 EDT

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