Wednesday’s visit to see California’s redwoods and coastline turned out to be the appetizer. Beautiful as it was, it couldn’t hold a candle to today’s visits to forests, coasts, and wine country. Thursday – the 14th day of our cross-country tour – was the main course.
As is the case with much of the best cuisine of California, it did not disappoint.
Claire and I left Eureka around 9 a.m. and headed south on Highway 101. About 45 minutes into the drive we stopped for gas, and as fate would have it the manager had come out to fix the printer on our gas pump. When he saw our license plates he struck up a conversation, and finding out we were traveling cross-country, he immediately said, “You have to drive the Avenue of the Giants route. This is the old road that criss-crosses 101, and in slightly more than 30 miles it has many of the huge redwoods in the region.”
Oh my…was he ever right. And are we ever glad we took his advice.
We drove slowly for the entire 30-mile route, taking in this cathedral of trees which is part of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This description from the auto tour does a good job of providing the basics about these giants:
Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are taller than any other living thing. They can live over 2,000 years and withstand fires, floods and insects. As you drive along the Avenue some of the groves you see have never been logged. These are ancient, or old growth, coast redwoods. Their average ages are 400-600 years old.
This magical morning got us off to a very good start, and we had one wonderful experience after another.
After leaving the Avenue of Giants, we turned to go down California Highway 1 towards Mendocino, at the advice of my colleague Anthony Veerkamp. And are we glad we took his advice as well! I asked Claire if she would like to drive, and of course she said yes. Little did either one of us know that we had 22 miles of the most treacherous mountain road and hairpin curves I can recall seeing ahead of us. But Claire – in her first attempt at handling this type of road – drove it like a trooper. She generally acted like an old pro at this driving through big elevation changes and very tight roadways.
As we neared the end of the 22 miles she let out a yelp, “There’s the ocean.” And indeed, there is was.
The ocean view at this point was a fantastic reward for taking Route 1 through the mountains. We weren’t the only ones stopping to gawk…the couple in the convertible had been just ahead of us. So after they offered to take a picture of the two of us (at the top of the post), Claire – our designated photographer – returned the favor.
The next 20+ miles to Mendocino were just one beautiful photo opp after another. Parts were cloudy, but we nonetheless saw some magnificent coastal views.
When we arrived in the charming little coastal town of Mendocino, we had the first of two wonderful meals for the day. Trillium Cafe had a terrific light lunch menu. Claire and I – hungry after our less-than-satisfying continental breakfast and the drive through the mountains – enjoyed every bite. We followed it up with a walk along Main Street, although the 20+ degree temperature drop had us both shivering and quickly heading back to the car.
Anthony’s recommendations had been spot-on, so we followed his advice again and headed into Healdsburg, California via Route 128 and the Alexander Valley. He recommended a stop for some wine tasting at the Navarro Vineyards and Winery, and we followed that suggestion as well. On a picture perfect afternoon, we sampled a few of the offerings and then bought Claire bottles of Navarro’s Gewürztraminer and Edelzwicker. The former was recommended by Anthony, and when one of Claire’s college friends learned she was in the area, she also suggested the Gewürztraminer.
At the end of a long and very satisfying day, we turned in to Healdsburg for our evening of good food (more on that in a later post) and remembrances. We were both exhausted in all the right ways.
And in honor of Claire’s handling of the mountain roads of California, I’m posting a video of a song that came up while she was driving: Shawn Colvin‘s Shotgun Down the Avalanche. This is a beautiful version, with harmony help from Alison Krauss.
Enjoy…and more to come…