Sunday, August 29, 2010

Avenue of the Giants

Driving down HWY101, the Pacific Coast Highway, is a treat on its own, but there’s this little alternate route that starts a bit south of Fortuna, Ca. It is known as The Avenue of the Giants. From the website:

This world-famous scenic drive is a 31-mile portion of old Highway 101, which parallels Freeway 101 with its 51,222 acres of redwood groves. It is by far the most outstanding display of these giant trees in the entire 500 mile redwood belt and is accessible to all with convenient services provided along the way. The Avenue of the Giants is surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park which has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world. Take time to picnic, camp, hike, swim, fish, raft or bike ride in the cool hush of these ancient redwood forests.

We pulled off the main highway onto the Avenue of the Giants, and stopped at the first information booth we saw. We collected a little brochure that informed us that there was an auto tour, with 8 stops, along the highway. We decided to hit every one, and pretty much managed to do so. At each location we got out of the car and went hiking. It was a long and tiring day, but we had a wonderful time! We also stopped at a number of the little tourist shops on the way, as well as the visitor’s center where we viewed displays about the trees, animals, and native Americans and we even watched a very interesting documentary movie about the redwoods.

As we hiked, we read all the signs along the way.


Big tree, little tree.




A fellow hiker volunteered to take our photo.


It was good they cleared the paths… there’s no easy way to step over these fallen trees!


One tree died, but others grow on top of the fallen trunk.



The shade was deep, and the sun was bright, my family glows!


Brian tries to find the top…


One of the many tourist places we stopped… there was a house built into the stump of a downed tree. Not actually a house, but a very large room with a window and door. Apparently it had been used by Native Americans and trappers as a shelter before it became a tourist gift shop. Now, the gift shop is located in another building, and there wasn’t much to photograph, so I didn’t, but it was interesting to see how big it was inside.


On to another trail. The kids hiked for miles!


A view back to the road. This highway was very narrow. In many places, the trees were right out on the edge of the road.


The kids found a little stream running across the path.




A couple of motorcycles just happened to drive by as I was taking this photo… gives the trees some scale.


One of the stops on the auto tour was a place to look out over the Eel River. I turned in on a dirt road right before the stop, where I’d seen a truck pull out, and we found ourselves down at the riverbank. The water was crystal clear, and we thought about wading, but it was kinda chilly, and the first rock I pulled out of the shallow water had a leech on it. Hmm? Eel? Leech?


You know the saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? I found myself thinking of that… not for its figurative meaning, but the literal. These trees were incredibly big. My camera was overwhelmed… there was no way to capture the massiveness of these redwoods with a photo. I tried though.


Aagh! It’s the tree that ate my family!





Some interesting facts about redwoods:


Even after the tree falls, it is very resistant to fire, insects, and rot, and may lay where it is, for centuries. 



Along the way, we saw dedications to people who worked to save these trees. I’m grateful that they did!


Did I mention? There were flowers too… I just spent most of that day looking up!


Friday, August 27, 2010


As in many ‘new’s. You know, many new things. Ok, lame title, but I'm feeling lazy today.

Earlier this week I finally met a friend, who I have never actually met before, but have known for several years now. We first met, by blog, long before either of us knew we would be meeting here in Amman. Donna, of Email From The Embassy, (please visit, read, subscribe – you’ll be glad you did) is as wonderful in real life as she is in blog form. She probably thinks I am liar now though. I know that I’ve blogged about how pleasant the weather here is, and yet she arrives in a heat wave! Heat made tougher by the fact that everyone is running their ACs and the power is flickering worse than we’ve ever seen it here. Sorry Donna, it really does cool off, and the power is usually much more sane! At least the sky is beautiful blue… it’s nice to re-discover that color, isn’t it?

Speaking of crazy electricity… it seems many are having appliance issues these days. It does go hand in hand. Our water filter died, as did the oven. Neither died quickly though, which made us all suffer. Facilities would repair them, they would work fine for a few hours, then die again, only to be revived the next day. Finally, both were declared officially dead, and replaced. Look! A shiny new stove! Although like the last, it doesn’t quite fit in the space. There’s a concrete base that is a tiny bit too small and so the stove must be set up about 4”. Good thing I’m tall enough to reach… I only receive minor burns.
DSC08305 Also, school has started. I wasn’t organized enough to get first day of school photos this year. I was pleased to just get them to the bus in time! But here is a first homework of the year photo. Pixie is a great supervisor.
Not that they need school to learn everything, they’ve been having fun with a science experiment book and Brain Pop (an animated educational online site that the kids really enjoy).  They recently did a simple experiment with ice, salt and string, The salt makes the ice stick to the string so you can pick up ice cubes. I need to really start paying attention now, when they come in and ask “Can I have this, this, and this??” This experiment was pretty tame, but … maybe I better find that book and read it too?
Yes… Pixie is supervising again. She is a very educated cat.
Speaking of learning. Yesterday was the first day of Taekwondo classes for both kids. They had a wonderful time in class. The coach had them working out very hard, but they were laughing and having fun too. Honor had only ever taken a few classes, and never tested for a belt, although she remembered a lot anyway. Brian had tested to blue belt, first stripe, but as he has been out of practice for over a year, the main instructor said to start with white belt, and Brian would quickly work up and test soon, skipping belts until he caught up again. Brian was good with this. I think it took some of the pressure off of him to remember everything at once! I was pleased to see he kept the flexibility that he’d worked so hard to gain in his previous classes.
Another new thing, which is actually an old thing that broke but is now newly fixed, is my label cloud. Yea, it’s silly, but I like it and I’m glad I fixed it. Besides, I don’t think anyone really cares about or uses the tags, except me, so turning it into a simple toy might give it wider appeal. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with the layout of my blog. I’ve messed with it a little, but I’m not satisfied yet. Expect it to alter a bit in the future as I try to clean things up a bit.

And one more photo before I end this post… what happens when you leave the potato and onion bin open in your house?
If you don’t know, I have a couple of cats who are willing to investigate for you!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Shark Bait

After tromping through a rain forest to view dinosaurs, and then hiking up and down hills through the redwoods to explore the Trees of Mystery, you’d think we would have just continued on down the highway to a nice, comfy hotel, and let our worn out kids have something of a break.


As we approached Crescent City, California, we started seeing signs for Ocean World. Of course we had to stop.

First, we went surfing:
Then we went in to explore the aquarium, which is actually a boat. Apparently, way back when, someone decided they wanted to buy a glass-bottomed boat to take people on tours of the local coastline, however, the water was too murky. People couldn’t see a foot past the windows! Not exactly a successful venture. So, it was permanently docked, and an aquarium was built around the boat and its large glass windows! The nice thing about this place is that visitors are divided into groups, and sent around with a very knowledgeable guide. It made for a very interesting tour.
First stop was the tidal pool. Our guide identified the various animals in the pool, and explained how to safely touch or handle them.
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Inside the boat, we were able to check out the aquariums. They had a number of very pretty sharks on display.
We also enjoyed the tank with rays. Again, the guide was very helpful about identifying the animals and answering all of our questions. Kids have a lot of questions.
The thing the kids were most excited about was the chance to pet a shark.
Not that one! Real ones.
This little tank held four sharks. Two larger ones, about 3 and 4 feet in length, and two very tiny babies. Brian was the bravest of our bunch.
Honor needed a little help from her Dad.
One of the babies was quite attracted to Honor. Maybe it saw her bright blue sweatshirt? It kept swimming to the edge of the pool next to her and poking its nose out of the water, like it was trying to reach her. I couldn’t get a clear photo. The light was very dim and my camera was having ‘flash or no flash’ confusion and other focus issues.
The babies were off-limits for petting as they were only a few days old and very fragile. I wasn’t able to get a clear photo of them either. They were moving all over the place and diving up and down. My camera wasn’t up to the chase.
Their tiny little fins were so small and thin - they were almost translucent. Very pretty!
Outside of the aquarium, was a pool housing a couple of seals and a very young sea lion. This wasn’t really a performance attraction, but they did a couple of little tricks for us. This little guy was a rascal!
And this one… very pretty, and very sweet. Definitely my favorite.
Now, to be honest, if you are expecting a GRAND aquarium experience like what you’d find in Baltimore or Monterey Bay.. this isn’t it. This is a much smaller site. They have the tidal pool, three large tanks in the boat, the shark pool, and the seal pool. But for it’s small size, they really do a good job. The guides definitely make the tour very special, and we got a lot out of our visit.

And after this stop, we finally called it a night!

Monday, August 23, 2010

More Giants, and the First Mystery

After leaving the prehistoric giants behind, we continued down the road towards Klamath, California, where we met up with a different breed of giants.. these guys are giants of American folklore.


Yes! That is Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox! We posed for photos, and had a good chat with Paul. No, we had not been out in the sun too long. Paul talked to us, answered the kids questions, joked around, etc. Don’t believe me? I know, Paul is all about tall tales and exaggerations, but if you want to know for sure, then go visit and try for yourself! Tell him we say hello.

We had arrived at the Trees of Mystery… the first of three touristy traps we visited with ‘Mystery’ in the title. This site is located in the center of the Redwood National and State parks and it is absolutely gorgeous.


This was another ‘hike through the woods and read educational signs’ adventure. We put the kids through a lot of that on this trip. Fortunately, they are of a perfect age for it – big enough to appreciate running through the wilderness, old enough to read and learn from the interesting facts, young enough to have a ton of fun in the process.


This park has trails you keep to, for safety and to protect the environment, but there was still plenty to explore, climb in or on, and many things to find and exclaim over. Honor, always goofing, found this statue and said reverently, “Ooh, look, it’s God!”


Not sure what Honor is doing here, but the tree behind her has been featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. These trees are massive and very old. In this section of the forest, a large tree had fallen and not rotted away… redwood is tough stuff… it had lain there long enough for another tree to grow over it and reach a similar size and girth.



A water wheel, turned slowly by a small stream.



The Cathedral tree – apparently a number of couples come here to be married each year. How lovely!


The Brotherhood Tree – The largest tree on the property. It has a boardwalk around it to protect the ground around it. If too many people walk alongside it, the ground will become too hard and it can cause the tree to die. Unbelievable to think that something as small as footsteps can harm a tree of this size, but it’s good to see the measures taken to protect it.


This next bit was new, to us. Brad and I had visited the Trees of Mystery many, many years ago. Pre-kids. Since that time a sky-lift has been added. It carried us up, over, and through these great trees, all the way to the top of the ridge. Absolutely stunning views. We could see all the way to the ocean.

DSC07736  DSC07744




There is also a section of the trail where you can explore the legend of Paul Bunyan. Along the path are large carvings that show depictions of his life and adventures, and here and there, they’ve included narrative recordings. Push a button, hear a story. 

Honor’s favorite.


Oh, and how green is this place? So green that even the furniture is growing!


At the end of the trail, we did the obligatory browsing of the museum and gift shop, which you really should take the time to look through. It’s a good one. The only thing we walked away with though, was a book of Paul Bunyan stories.


After this, we headed off again to find a motel to spend the night. We had not planned out, in detail, this leg of our journey as we had no way of knowing how long we would spend on the road each day, but we made our way a little further south and we found a nice hotel in Eureka.