The "Skunk" and "Trees of Mystery"
Day 1 - Pasadena to Fort Bragg - "And so it begins..."
Monday, March 29th, 1999 - 6 am
Another year, another roadtrip.
Bright and early Dee Dee and I are in the car, heading north on the 101 at a good clip. Dee Dee actually is sorta half-sleeping while I drive as the cold, cloudy morning gradually breaks up into a cool hazy one. Barely an hour and a half later, we're stopping for coffee in Santa Barbara (well, Dee Dee is, I'm getting soda). Two hours after that, we're in San Luis Obispo and I'm pulling off the road to go visit the
For those who don't know, the Madonna Inn is this really strange hotel, sitting by the side of the 101, whose main claim to fame is that each and every room has a different theme. I've gone by it lots of times, seen it on various Huel Howser-y
type TV reports, but never actually stopped to check it out.
It's just possible I could have missed doing that with no loss. The main building doesn't look too bad as you're driving up. Maybe a bit too much pink, but it does
tend to cater to "Romantic Encounters." But inside the restaurant...
I have not seen anything
this 1950's tacky in my life. Hearts are worked into the carpet, into the woodwork, into the whorehouse red velvet
wallpaper. It's 50's kitsch gone horribly wrong. After wandering around the main building for a bit, then driving the grounds to see the rest of the hotel, we flee, screaming into the night
morning and once again resume our trip north.
Entering the Salinas Valley we start seeing vineyards. Lots and lots
Big plots of land that, even a few years ago, had nothing but cows on them are now erupting with grape vines willy-nilly. I knew that the wine industry had been expanding lately - it's hard to miss with all the ads on TV for wine brands you've
never heard of before - but this is ridiculous. And it didn't end with the Salinas Valley, no sir. All the way up and down the coast we would pass vineyards, tucked into every piece of open ground they could find.
But I get ahead of myself.
Lunch time sees us in San Francisco,
trying to puzzle out the map directions to Fisherman's Wharf. Puzzling takes a while, but eventually we get there, find a place to park (tricky), and have ourselves a nice lunch. We also wander about for a while and buy a dragon kite.
Then it's off again, over the Golden Gate, and dropping off the freeway in San Rafael. Here we pick up the 1 and head west to the coast.
We'll discover that the 1 between San Rafael and Leggett is not for the faint of heart. Unfortunately, in this case, that includes Dee Dee. In San Rafael it starts as a narrow, twisted two lane road and as it climbs becomes, if anything, even narrower and twisty-er. It follows the ridgeline of the hills, with first one side
of the road being a major drop-off, then the other. Finally, it descends for a while to sea-level (well, five, ten feet above sea-level - which would not
be fun in a storm!) and heads north along the coast through tiny towns (two, three-digit populations) farms, and swaths of meadowlands.
San Francisco had been pretty clear - for San Francisco, amazingly clear - but as we headed north the skies turned gray, and we began to get the occasional sprinkles - and even more occasional heavy rains. They would last clear through Fort Bragg, but were never a real problem.
After one of those tiny towns - Fallon - the road climbs again, regains its twists, and becomes a narrow line stuck on the side of cliffs, high above either river valleys or ocean, depending. I found it a gorgeous view while Dee Dee spent most of the time carefully studying whichever side did not
have the drop-off.
Around 4:30 we pull off at the site of Fort Ross,
the old Russian-American Corporation
fort, built to help supply their seal and otter hunters - and the origin of my "Czarist America" on the TrolleyWorld timeline
. Unfortunately, it proves to be
closed for the day, so all I can manage is a quick look-see from the parking lot (okay, it's raining again, and that kinda put me off too).
Fort Ross' location did not conform to my ideas about it at all. I've always imagined it as deep within the woods, maybe in a valley along the Russian River. But in fact, while surrounded by trees, it instead is perched on a bluff high above the Pacific. Okay, in retrospect this makes a lot more sense for a Fort that did all it's trading with Alaskan ships, but it certainly came as a surprise to me.
One thing that caught our attention as we trundled north, the eagles. We saw eagle after eagle circling above us as we drove. We saw flocks
of eagles circling. We saw eagles perched on poles next to the road. I have never seen so many eagles in my entire life!
By now it's starting to get dark (the clouds aren't helping here). We watch the sunset in the narrow gap between sea and clouds and continue our way north. Through here, the 1 follows the coastline almost exactly, dipping inland at each river until it crosses it on a bridge, then heading back out.
Finally we cross a long, tall bridge that goes over the mouth of Noyo Harbor
, Fort Bragg's
port. Okay, that makes it sound pretty impressive. In fact, though, Fort Bragg only has about six-thousand people and the port itself could fit comfortably in many a less-than-mid-size mall parking lot.
We pass through the town, heading for the northern edge where our motel will be. Finally, we see the motel, on a bluff opposite a long wooden railway bridge, silhouetted against the ocean. We later find out this was a bridge on the California Western's long abandoned (fifty years) "Ten Mile River"
branch. We check in, clean up, buy dinner from a local burger joint, and fall blissfully asleep. We have a big day tomorrow...
All Linked Pictures Copyright of The Sites They're Linked To,
All Non-Linked Pictures Copyright 1999 - David William Johnson