"Much of the California landscape has tended to present itself as metaphor, even as litany." --Joan Didion, Where I Was From
I left Utah last week to drive hundreds of miles through the color spectrum from red and orange to green and blue. I did not give the contrast a thought until I arrived in Northern California with my sunburned skin and was greeted by cool ocean weather.
A single chapter in Wasted by Marya Hornbacher takes place in Northern California, and I have been haunted by the region ever since. The minute I decided I wanted to see National Parks, the Redwood Forests were at the top of my list. I was delighted to find them every bit as weird and beautiful as expected.
I drove all day and arrived in Arcata just as the sun should have been going down, but the fog was so thick that I wasn’t sure the sun was really there. It looked exactly the same the next morning when I set out to see Redwood National Park.
The park is divided strangely along the coast and dotted with small towns. Unlike many of the National Parks, which have only one main road that leads to every attraction, seeing Redwood National Park means driving up the 101 and turning down dark roads you’re not sure lead anywhere.
I stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Grove where I was shocked to see my first sign of other people. You park in a lot and then walk across a bridge into a grove. While not as spectacular as giant sequoias, there’s something to be said about the redwoods and the fog that surrounds them. It is incredibly quiet and you wouldn’t be surprised to see a procession of elves walking through on their way to the Undying Lands.
I drove next to an overlook, and I could tell from the educational signs in front of me what I was supposed to be seeing (a creek and mountains and trees for days), but the fog made it so all I could see was white. I continued up the 101 along the coast, stopping at several viewpoints. I came across an area that seemed almost abandoned: a concrete walkway with large concrete bears on either side of it. There was no one around, so I walked back and forth around the area trying to figure out if this place really existed.
My next stop was Klamath Overlook from which there is a possibility of spotting whales, but I didn’t have the patience to sit and wait for them to arrive, so I continued North to Stout Memorial Grove. Miles down a one-way dirt road is a popular path through the trees. My final stop was park headquarters in Crescent City where I requested one of the official park maps, because even though I insist I don’t collect anything, I have managed to grab one from all sixteen parks I’ve visited this year.
The next morning I headed for Crater Lake National Park. Whenever I mentioned where I was going, a member of my family would remind me we took a trip there years ago, but I was too young to remember it, so the only evidence I have is the pictures (here and here) my mom sent me.
Crater Lake is a significant stop on my National Park tour, because this was my first time camping solo. My first priority when I entered the park was to set up camp. I’d only ever set my tent up once and it was in my apartment, but it was easy enough to set up and I only embarrassed myself while putting on the rain cover. I stacked my food in a metal box to keep it from bears and took off to see the lake.
There is really nothing like Crater Lake. Where once there was Mount Mazama, there is now a large crater filled with the bluest water you’ve ever seen. I drove around the entire rim, stopping to photograph the lake from every angle. Then, because I was really roughin’ it, I ate dinner at the restaurant before returning to my camp to read.
The next morning I woke up early and headed to Rim Village to check out the historic lodge. I figured while I was there I might as well eat breakfast, so I ordered pancakes that tasted like they were made with cake mix. I drove around the rim to the historic (-ally challenging) Cleetwood Cove Trail. This steep trail down the caldera wall is the only water access to Crater Lake.
I sat on the rocks while braver people jumped into the cold water as we waited for our Volcanic Boat Cruise. As I was waiting in line to board, a girl asked me if I was alone. I don’t usually mind the question, but I’d been asked it three times within the hour and most recently to a very strange response, so I said yes half-annoyed, and I was surprised when she said, “Me too!” We talked about our experiences in the different parks and sat together on the boat.
A Volcanic Boat Cruise is a two-hour tour of Crater Lake that takes you to the most interesting geological sections of the caldera wall and around both Wizard Island (so named because it looks like a wizard hat) and Phantom Ship (because it looks like a ship). Where the water is deep, it is very blue, and where it is more shallow, it’s an aqua color. I loved the boat tour and didn’t mind the dreaded hike back up the caldera wall.
Next I hiked up the Watchman Trail to a historic fire lookout. I have been thinking for months about visiting the fire lookout in North Cascades National Park where Jack Kerouac briefly lived and wrote, but I did not expect to see one at Crater Lake. As tired as I am of living in small apartments, I wouldn’t mind taking up residence in a fire lookout.
I made my way back to camp where I took a freezing cold shower; it was easy to let go of vanity while camping, because there were no mirrors anywhere. Then I went to the restaurant for pizza and beer. I was going to read by lantern light and then go to bed, but I couldn’t resist driving back to the lake one more time. I watched the sun set and used some lodge wifi before saying goodbye to Crater Lake. My last night in the tent was kind of cold, but my first solo camping trip was a success.
On Monday I made the very long drive back to Southern California.