North to the Redwoods!

Introducing Mr. Mead you can check out his photography work James Mead Photography on Instagram.

The Chandelier Tree, Leggett, California
The Chandelier Tree stands 315 feet tall and is almost 2400 years old. It is one of two drive through trees along California’s Redwood Coast.

North to Redwoods

I had finished up photographing the Golden Gate Bridge when we decided to head North over the bridge and up Hwy 101. Stephanie and I both visited the Redwoods when we were young children. In fact, we both have pictures of us at the same popular Redwood tree, with the family car going through in nearly the same position. Our two month old son, inspired us to take a massive detour and go towards the Redwoods instead of just heading home. We decided we needed to visit this tree for another generation of family photographs in the same spot. With that, we headed back to the car and headed North across the Golden Gate.

It was after sunset when we headed out of San Fransisco. If you are a photographer, you know that you will NEVER leave anywhere until after sunset and night has fallen. I think this must be in the unspoken photographer code. *note: the best light is at and just after Sunset, and you never want to miss the best light*

Never one to leave a place without one last stop, I insisted we stop on the North side of the Golden Gate bridge to view the Bay area skyline at night. Naturally, I insisted the camera come out again; this is the life when are a photographer. After taking in the views, we stopped for a bite to eat at In-N-Out in Navoto before we continued North on Hwy 101.

"Forest Towers," Redwood State and National Parks, California
The canopy of the forest reaches hundreds of feet high as the Coastal Redwoods tower over the forest floor below

The drive North was rather uneventful for awhile, sans a pit stop at a Shell gas station in Willits, CA. While stopped, we commented how we were making great time. Murphy’s Law and the California coast had different plans. As we continued North, the ever famous California coastal fog rolled in. If you’ve never witnessed it before, it is thick… extremely thick.

At first, we felt we could power through it to Eureka. As we drove it got thicker and visibility diminished. So we slowed down. Eventually, the fog got so thick we literally could not see more than 20 feet in front of the car. After experiencing “Deer Alley” at the beginning of the trip, we decided it was a bad idea to keep driving with zero visibility.

Thankfully, we hadn’t made a hotel reservation in Eureka, so we decided we would stop at the next one we found. In retrospect, we should have turned around and headed to a hotel behind us. However, we decided to push forth. So we kept driving…and driving… and driving. Minutes turned into hours as the pace slowed due to the thick fog.

Eventually, we saw a sign for Garberville and the Best Western Humboldt House Inn: 20 miles; after one last 45 minute push, we arrived. The fog was so thick, we could barely see the hotel from the road. When we pulled in, the clock read 1:30am. What should have been a 3.5 hour drive from San Francisco to Garberville took nearly 6 hours. The check in desk is staffed 24/7, and thankfully they had room.  So we got a room, checked in, and went to sleep.

We woke up in the morning refreshed. After a nice full breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and oatmeal we pulled out our maps to decide where to head next. We decided to head to the tree we had visited as Children: The Chandelier Tree.

The Mead Family visits the Chandelier Tree, Leggett, California
A family picture of The Mead family while visiting the Chandelier Tree. Both of our parents have pictures family pictures of us visiting this tree when we were babies. We decided to keep the tradition going for another generation!

It’s about 35 minutes south of Garberville, so we got in the car and backtracked down Hwy 101. It’s amazing how much quicker you can get somewhere when there isn’t any fog. We arrived, paid the $5 entrance fee and headed through the tree. The Chandelier Tree was ancient and massive: 2400 years old and 315 feet high. It’s crazy to think we were driving through a tree which sprouted long before Julius Caesar ruled the Roman Empire. This tree was sprouting during the time of Socrates in Ancient Greece.

Driving through a Redwood, Chandelier Tree, California
Our trusty 2005 Toyota Corolla driving through the Chandelier Tree near Leggett, California

When driving through any tunnel tree, it’s almost required to stop and take pictures of the car in the tree. So naturally, we did (followed by family pictures). It was a fun place to stop and look around, and the tree was certainly a sight worth the stop. There are picnic tables, giant logs from fallen trees, and a gift shop here. So if you stop and visit, take some time to look around!

After leaving the Chandelier Tree, we headed North on Hwy 101 towards our next destination: Avenue of the Giants and Redwood State and National Parks. A trip through the Redwood forests is a trip back in time. The west coast was once covered in old growth forest, but now almost all is gone sans for a select few areas which have been protected and saved.

Redwood State and National Parks is one of the areas which have been protected and saved. When you visit the Redwoods, you are surrounded by tall trees everywhere you look. The groves of Redwoods reach towards the sky, seemingly never ending as sunlight creeps through the canopy high above. It’s a humbling experience and an amazing site to see. You begin to get a feel for what early explorers to the area must have experienced hundreds of years ago.

Sunshine through the Giants, Redwood National and State Parks, California
The sun shines through the dense foliage of the California Coastal Redwoods in the late Autumn

As we cruised down the avenue and visited various parts of the park, we kept an eye on the time. Knowing the fog will begin to roll in a few hours after Sunset, we decided we wanted to be at a hotel before nightfall. We arrived in Eureka and stopped at McDonald’s to look up hotels on our phone and grab a quick bite to eat. We looked reviews for hotels in Eureka and nearby Arcata, and decided on the Howard Johnson in Arcata (which is now a Comfort Inn).

The Lonely Highway, Redwood National and State Parks, California
A lonely highway cuts through a grove of Redwoods along the Northern California Coast

The sun hadn’t been set for more than 5-10 minutes when we noticed the fog beginning to roll in. Not wanting a repeat of the night before, we hopped in the Corolla and quickly headed North to Arcata. We check into the Howard Johnson still hungry. We’d noticed the Round Table Pizza just down the street was having buffet night, so after checking in we headed to Round Table for dinner.

The buffet has a nice selection of pizzas and breadsticks and the salad bar was well stocked. They did a good job keeping the buffet stocked, despite the place being crowded and the entire Humboldt State Football team dining there.

__________Disclaimer: Sometimes when you travel you are presented with situations that you can’t even fathom when you set out on your adventure______________________________

Halfway through dinner, all hell broke loose. A lady got up from her table, came over, looked at us and screamed “I’m going to eat your baby!” I immediately stood up, and the Humboldt State Football took notice and looked straight at her. At that point, she decided it would be a good idea to drop the N-Bomb on the entire football team. When they stood up, her girlfriend quickly got up and screamed at her to shut up and get outside. When the lady wouldn’t listen, her girlfriend grabbed her, took her outside and screamed at her to stay out here before she got herself hurt. The girlfriend came back into Round Table and profusely apologized to Stephanie, me and the Humboldt State Football team.

She tried to calm them down, telling them her girlfriends views were not hers and that she was high and didn’t know what she was saying. She then profusely apologized to us, telling us her girlfriend really wasn’t going to eat our baby. I told her that her girlfriend shouldn’t go around making threats like that and calling people those names, as the entire situation could have gone a lot worse. She agreed, thanked everyone for not escalating it further and promptly left with her girlfriend (who was still waiting outside the front door).

After she left, the entire place was quieter. I think all the patrons were still in shock over what had transpired. After all, it’s not every day someone threatens to eat your baby and then threatens an entire college football team. Still in shock from the events that had transpired, we quietly finished our dinner and headed back to the hotel to plan our adventures for tomorrow. Sunrise would bring a new day, and with a new day new adventure awaits.

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