Part 1: Arrival through Pinnacles
Our Spring Break trip to California in 2020 was rudely interrupted by the COVID pandemic. We decided to give California another try for Fall Break this year. Once again, we flew into San Jose to start our trip from there. First on the agenda was a tour of the Winchester Mystery House, which is your classic tourist trap. We joined the “Walk with Spirits” tour, to see the areas of the house most well known for “paranormal” activity. The house is interesting,we did not see any ghosts. Evan did get spooked when a fellow tourist goosed him while he was staring into a dark hallway. That was the most excitement we had.
We then dropped by our friends, the Reese’s, to catch up. Shawn grilled up some bear, boar, and deer sausage for us. After a few stories, it was time to be on our way to the next stop. We drove down to Monterrey, hoping to see the Pinon Point lighthouse. Unfortunately, the site was closed, and you really couldn’t get a decent view from behind the fence. The fog had rolled in by that point anyway, so not much of a loss. We grabbed dinner at a nice Italian spot in downtown Monterrey and called it a night.
The next day was our Pinnacles day. We hiked through the Bear Gulch caves, which was really interesting. We needed headlamps, and at times were squeezing between cracks and crawling on all fours to fit through the small openings. It wasn’t exactly spelunking, but it was pretty cool. We grabbed a picnic lunch and then headed up to the Condor Ridge viewpoint. By this time, it was about 90 degrees, and the trail was pretty steep. Once we got to the viewpoint, we were pretty beat. While cooling down in the shade, we spotted 3 condors soaring above the ridge. Given that the estimated population of California Condors in the wild is only 345, this was pretty cool. We headed back down the trail and grabbed some ice cream at the visitor center before heading back to to the hotel.
Day 2 was a driving day. We crossed the Golden Gate, and then cut over to the Pacific Coast Highway via the Anderson Valley, where we stopped to grab a bottle of wine from one of our old stops before getting on Highway 1. We cruised up the coast through Mendicino, Fort Bragg, and Humbolt before hopping back on the 101 to Arcata. By that point, some thick clouds rolled in, bringing a heavy mist. The scenery was beautiful, but tricky to photograph in the weather.
Part 2: Redwoods
We woke up to a thick fog bank. Fog could mean great photo opportunities in the Redwoods, or it could simply mean that we couldn’t see anything. We debated whether to head high to try to get above it or stay low and hope that it wasn’t too disruptive. We decided to stay low, and headed for the Fern Canyon trail along the coast. On the drive in, we were treated to a close-up visit with three Roosevelt Elk bucks grazing near the road.
We weren’t prepared for this trail. It follows a creek bed up a narrow gorge with walls lined in ferns and moss. It’s an enchanting place, especially draped in fog, which we were blessed to experience. We followed the canyon as far as we dared, but it was getting impossible without simply slogging through the water, which would have ruined our afternoon plans. As it was, we made it a few hundred yards up the canyon, but walked away with a bunch of magical images and even more memories.
Next we went up in the hills to the “Tall Trees Grove”, which is about a 3.5 mile hike that drops down around 800 feet into a grove of old growth redwoods. These trees are just amazing. Standing at the base you can’t comprehend just how tall they are. They just make you feel small. The combination of gigantic red trees surrounded by lush green plants is striking. It almost makes you forget that you have to climb back up the 800 feet to get back to your car!
That was it for our time in Redwoods. We really enjoyed this park, and look forward to some future trips to explore it in more depth.
Part 3: Lassen
On Wednesday, we drove from Arcata to Chester, CA by way of Lassen Volcanic National Park. It was a winding drive through the Northern California mountains, primarily along highway 299 and right through the heart of Bigfoot Country. It seems that every town along the route bills itself as the official home of bigfoot. Alas, we saw no big feet.
We entered Lassen through the Northwest entrance near Manzanita Lake. We decided to take the 1.5 mile loop hike around the lake, which was really beautiful with Lassen Peak and several of the other prominent mountains neatly reflected in the calm water. After that, we drove through the park along the Lassen Scenic Byway and made another hike to see Kings Creek Falls. Continuing up the road, we decided to take one final hike of the day to see the “Cold Boiling Lake”, which bubbles due to gasses escaping from the volcanic rock below the surface.
Thursday presented some unique challenges. The road leading into the park from the southern entrance was closed from 8-12, and again from 1-5 for construction. Our rental car was a battery electric vehicle with moderate range, and we were in a part of the country with essentially no charging options. We had to stretch every mile we could out of the car in order to get one more peak in the park and still make it down to a charging station on our way back to San Francisco.
Fortunately, the stars aligned. We got up early enough to get into the park before the road closed, and made a wonderful hike to the Bumpass Hell area of the park, which is an active geothermal area akin to the wonders of Yellowstone. Given that this was at the extreme end of the road from the only other entrance, we had the entire area to ourselves. We finally came across a few families making their way into Bumpass as we returned back to the parking lot. It was a wonderful way to start the day.
We grabbed lunch at the picnic area near Lake Helen just before the road opened up to let us head back out of the park through the southern entrance. Then it was on to San Francisco for the final stage of our trip.
Part 4: San Fran
The first order of business in San Francisco was to visit Alcatraz Island. Alex desperately wanted to see the rock on our last trip here in March 2020, which was so rudely interrupted by COVID. We grabbed a morning ferry and headed straight for the prison. It was a blustery day in the bay, but we enjoyed a few hours exploring the nooks and crannies around Alcatraz.
After the tour, we grabbed a seafood lunch at Pier 39, and explored Fisherman’s Wharf. We tried to grab a trolley back up the hill, but found the stop at the Wharf was just too crowded with tourists. We headed back into the city to find a different spot, and luckily were able to snag a ride back into Chinatown, which was near our hotel.
We rested at the hotel for a bit before heading into North Beach (the San Fran version of Little Italy) for a fantastic dinner and dessert. Then it was back to the hotel to crash after a long week. On our last day, we explored the tourist spots of the city a bit more, including Lombard Street and the Golden Gate. Then it was time to head to the airport for our flight home. We were all tired, but thoroughly satisfied with our California Fall Break.