Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Avenue of the Giants, Eureka, Redding, Weaverville and Mendocino Weekend

Road trip post! In the quest to, as Jackson says, "visit California's most desolate places," we hit the road for a surprise three-day weekend (thanks to a mandated day off by our school district). With the goal of seeing some fall foliage (goal unmet), visiting Joy in her new digs in Mendocino, and taking a trip back through time on the Avenue of the Giants, we climbed into the Subaru and hit the road.

In no special order, photos and thoughts. We haven't run out of places to visit in California by a long shot, oh no. California is truly a place of wonders.

We begin in Redding, visiting a bridge. Not just any bridge—the Sundial Bridge—designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 2004. Why visit a bridge? Well, look at it. It's awesome. It's so tall (217 feet/66 meters), it has a warning light at its top for aircraft. It's a cable suspension bridge that's also a working sundial! Glass panels line the walk going across the Sacramento River. Originally they were made of clear green glass, but that was too freaky for people to see the water below their feet, so now they're frosted, but still green for tinted-light purposes. And perhaps best of all, this is a pedestrian bridge, which includes Segways, because: California/technology, etc.

Witness the splendor of this destination bridge.

Have Segways, will travel

Like really great public sculpture, it must be seen in person for the full effect

The McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens and acres of walking paths through tree-dotted open space, plus the Turtle Bay Museum with interactive science exhibits, all make for a fine afternoon outing. Redding—who knew? And if you like this sort of thing, check out Calatrava's  Jerusalem Light Rail Bridge—splendid.

Have you spent any time in Weaverville by the Trinity Alps lately? Neither had I. I'm so glad Keith discovered this lovely little gold-mining town. And by gold-mining, I mean, from 1845, with a downtown made up of buildings from the era, with spiral staircases outside (to avoid a bizarre California tax on indoor staircases—it's California and it doesn't always make sense), cute restaurants, antique shops and my favorite: junk stores. Junk stores where you can buy a second-hand long-sleeved cotton shirt for a dollar. A dollar! Where mood-ring displays and political buttons from the 1940s sit alongside records, charm bracelets, Carl Sagan books, driftwood sculpture, model ships, buttons, you know—junk. The Bay area used to be full of junk stores—no more. Now we have to go to Weaverville to get our fill. Fine, so be it.

I walked around downtown Weaverville, gaping and exclaiming little ooh's and ah's and took not one photo, so here's a photo from Matthew Roth, who has kindly posted it to the creative commons space on Wikipedia. Look how cute!

Up the street from the old courthouse is a row of lovely Victorian-style homes. Here's one. I like old homes but having owned one (not nearly as stylish as this), I issue this word of advice to would-be old-home-owners: have a chunk of surplus cash set aside for ongoing repairs. And by ongoing, I mean for the rest of your natural life. Then bask in the charm.

I took many photos of the Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park, the oldest Chinese temple in California (in continuous use since 1874! Actually even before that—an earlier temple burned down, like much of mining architecture of the time). That's the temple behind Keith and Jackson. The arched bridge they're standing on not only gets you across the creek, but purportedly helps keep out evil spirits, who have trouble managing curved pathways. The temple was built by gold miners from China who were mostly young men, hoping to get rich. It was a rough life to be sure.

Looking up at the entrance. The blue "tiles" are painted to look like ceramic as in traditional Chinese temples, but this temple is completely made of wood. There's a high first step upon entering and a solid wall that you have to go around to enter the temple. More evil-spirit barriers. They travel in straight lines and don't go over steps or through walls very easily. Now you know.

The temple altar honors powerful deities, Xuan Wu and Guan Yu. Our lovely park guide, Julie, gave us much information on these gods and all their accouterments. The interior decor was bought in San Francisco then hauled up to Weaverville by mule-wagon, piece by piece. It all looked super-deluxe to me and in great shape (the park doesn't refurbish, only preserves), but Julie told us Weaverville miners probably got the leftover discounted temple artifacts that had been shipped from China and remained unsold after a period of time. Kind of like a temple outlet mall.

Nonetheless, the Joss House items look good to me. These procession banners are made from silk and silk embroidery. One of them features a crafty bat atop it to bring prosperity and good luck.

This lion dog is made of gilded silk thread and it's not stuffed—that's just layers and layers of embroidery atop itself for a 3D effect. I've done some embroidery and let me tell you—wow. The long-ago artisans who created these items have my complete respect and admiration.

A lovely drum banner for parading around. Everything has meaning in the Joss House. I should have taken notes. I'm not really a journalist in my heart, but mythology and symbols are important. I'll return again and do a better job reporting next time.

Let us not forget Whiskleytown. Another mining town that was made into a lake in 1962. That is, the town is under the lake that was created by damming up the valley. One original building remains on dry land. This is a popular boating and recreation area.

My favorite story from this trip came from an official billboard-sized sign at a Whiskeytown scenic vista. One day a mule-drawn shipment of barrel whiskey toppled off the dirt path, nearly 175 years ago, rolling down the hill towards the town, ultimately smashing to bits. The distraught miners named their settlement Whiskeytown in commemoration of this heartbreaking moment.

Whiskeytown is also home to four waterfalls with fresh new paths made by the park service. We only got to Crystal Creek Springs Falls this time. Next spring we'll probably come back for the Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge—hike all four waterfalls in a week and receive an "I Walked the Falls" bandana (while supplies last).

Crystal Creek Falls is more raging in the spring—still a very nice to see in the fall

Upper Crystal Creek Falls

Hey, we're in Eureka now. We were just passing through this former logging town/suburban city-center, when out of the corner of my eye I spied the Carson Mansion tower and made a screeching sharp right turn to visit. Here it is—the crazy-times Victorian Queen-Anne style lumber-baron home of your dreams.

Check out the intense architectural detail. Apparently owner William Carson had this house built by his laborers during a slump in the lumber industry. The house was a source of employment during its two-year construction. Job creators, we salute you.

And directly across the street, The Pink Lady, same San Francisco-based Newsom brothers architects, hired by Carson to design a house for his son. A sort of "Everybody Loves Raymond" situation, Victorian style.

Of note - the Minor Theatre in lovely down town Arcata. Not only a nice old theater, built in 1914, but perhaps the oldest movie theater in the country designed exclusively as a movie theater that's still showing movies. Apparently a trap door that Houdini once used is still there. The lobby was the woodsiest movie-theater lobby I've seen. I would have loved to have checked out The Skeleton Twins, but we had to be on our way. That was three days of adventure. We'll be back.

Avenue of the Giants - this is a side-by-side comparison of Jackson at the Shrine Drive Thru Tree at ages 6 and 12. The tree itself is barely alive and kept standing by wire. Next time we'll try the Chandelier Drive Thru Tree in Leggett. They both cost about the same fee for the opportunity to thread your car through the tree slot. Of course drilling a tunnel through a living tree is a grotesque and harmful thing to do and would be completely frowned upon today. Still, you can drive through it, or should I say "thru it"—tell your grandchildren.

Jackson is growing but I think the Shrine Tree has reached its full growth potential

We strolled through Founders' Grove and marveled not only at the trees towering hundreds of feet above us, but also at all the fallen giants along our path. Redwoods have a shallow root system and make these tremendous environments for more forest growth once they topple. Keith poses to give you an idea of the size of the base of this tree. Ferns, redwood shoots, fungus and who knows what else have made this former tree their home.

Large and in charge (now that they're protected from logging interests)

A sampling of fallen tree root systems and their eco-systems.

We saw a few slightly burned-out trees, perhaps from fires started by logging companies many years ago...? It's hard to burn redwoods—they're dense. Lots of crevices and tunnel-like formations from old fires. The trees endure.

Did you know there's an Avenue of the Giants Marathon in May? That would be a beautiful, shady run. Runners must feel like beetles scurrying through the vast woods.

Jackson poses at one of the redwood sculptures at the Legend of Bigfoot Gift Shop in Garberville. Let me say this about Garberville—it's overpriced for what you get. Bay Area new-money-itis has probably had a hand in this, making Garberville a stopping-off point for trees and other destinations. Motels and restaurants overcharge in this small, nondescript town. If you must visit, do stop at the Woodrose Cafe where the food is organic and served with a smile.

Shrek-tastic (not an officially licensed product of Dreamworks Animation)

On to Mendocino! Another logging town turned tourist destination. Adorable Victorian-style buildings a few hundred steps away from ocean-side cliffs. Taking a stroll around the neighborhood is an edifying experience for the senses.

Joy has discovered that living in peaceful, quiet conditions by the Pacific Ocean has its merits.

Town is on the left. This was the location for Elia Kazan's East of Eden and it looks pretty much the same today. No streetlights, telephone poles or overhead wires of any kind. James Dean could walk down the street as Cal Trask and you wouldn't know what era you were in. There's no Target, Costco or Trader Joe's either, so plan accordingly.

The Mendocino Joss House, the Temple of Kwan Tai, is open only by appointment. Built some time around 1854, it's still in use—a humble temple with ample stairs to thwart all evil spirits.

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