I grew up with many road trips with my family, from Vancouver, BC to California and/or Arizona. Some of the adventures I recall clearly, but many of them are far gone. Which is kind of nice, because this Operation Sunshine trip is just as new to me as it is to hubby and the kids, too. There is always something new and exciting around the next curve of the highway. Definitely, we got surprises in northern California.
The big redwoods don’t surprise us, though. Back in 2014 we were returning to Vancouver Island from mainland Mexico. We drove the Avenue of the Giants, this 32 mile scenic drive paralleling US 101 through the heart of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Even though we are familiar with big forest giants like those “back home” in Cathedral Grove we’re still impressed with the bigger giants here along the Avenue of the Giants. Not surprised by their immenseness, but still impressed.
Welcome to the northern most part of California. The rugged coast.
There’s lots to see here, and we’ve stopped at the occasional Visitor Centre, taken easy hikes, or just driven through the forests, enjoying the sun’s rays bursting through the branches, or the misty low clouds shrouding the groves. For the most part we haven’t dawdled here.
This time through though I wanted to stop to say Hi to Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox. I remember stopping here as a kid, and as simple a thrill as it was back then I wanted that for my kids too.
But my kids will remember it quite differently (or block it out of their memories completely). Because of their dad.
The kids were all in disgust of their dad handling Babe’s huge Prairie Oysters…Laars was the only one with the guts to join his dad for a good laugh.
These gigantic characters were designed by Ann Cooper and built by Ward Berg. Neither Paul nor Babe seem to have aged since my childhood…maybe I just need a new coat of paint each year and I could stop aging too.
If you’ve never seen these fellows, they are impressive. Paul Bunyan is a tall 49 feet plus 2 inches with a chest measuring 66 feet around, a waist of 52 feet, and weighs in at 30,000 lbs. Babe is 35 feet tall to the horn tips and is also 30,000 lbs. Pretty hefty boys, these two.
We had heard about RVers parking at casinos for free. Its a great way to save money on camping fees, so we decided to give it a try. Its called “dry camping” meaning its only for those that are completely self-contained. There’s no services like water or power. These parking situations are good for when you have a day of driving or activities and just want to pull up and sleep; not really for hanging out.
You make no bigger footprint than the size of your rig basically. Its not camping at all; its just parking near other rigs in usually a paved area where there is security 24/7. Some conveniences might be in close proximity such as restaurants, a gas station/convenience store, and access to restrooms and free wifi in the hotel adjoining the casino.
That’s what brought us to Loleta. A free night stay at Bear River Casino (or 3) and you get $10 to gamble with. Not being gamblers, Everette and I were admittedly uncomfortable with the whole casino environment, but it didn’t take us too long to get comfy…and on our second night we took advantage of the $10 to gamble with. We came home with $81USD (about $104 Cdn) to our credit. Beginners Luck!?!
With all the bustle and lights of the casino up on the hill we were surprised by the sleepy little town of Loleta.
More than half the businesses on this little one-way street were closed mid-day on a weekday!
We pulled onto another wide street that was reminiscent of an old abandoned prairie town. As if nothing was happening here; nor ever did. But then we were in for a surprise.
We pulled over to check it out. Yup, a for-real cheese factory & store.
Opening the wooden front doors we were greeted by friendly ladies anxious to share their local artisan cheeses with us. Encouraged to sample the cheeses we did as we were told, testing several cheeses and taking home with us a funky Citrus Jack along with Habanero White Cheddar and Deep Smoked Jack.
You know who else has made it to this little town in northern California?
This is Guy Fieri. Yeah from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: that Guy.
There wasn’t much to Loleta so we weren’t expecting much in nearby Ferndale. We drove the few miles across the farmland with its lush green rolling hills dotted with dairy cows. And then….we rolled into a Victorian town!
It was a lady named Viola Russ McBride who had the vision to preserve this Victoria Village of Ferndale. And what a beautiful little Victorian town it is. Perfect for walking around, peeking in shops, checking out the cemetery on a steep hillside, and even role playing selling theatre tickets!
This is the north end of the Lost Coast of northern California, an area that’s development was basically abandoned due to the expense of infrastructure. Population greatly declined in the 1930’s. It has a few small towns but not easily accessed much of the year; best suited for 4x4ing. Certainly not suitable for our skoolie.
We’ll head a bit farther south on the 101 before taking the windy Hwy 1 back out to the coast. We’ll see if there’s any more surprises in northern California waiting for us.
PS As Autumn is my favourite of all seasons (as long as its sunny enough!!) I have been thrilled to have it extended immensely by our traveling southward at this pinnacle time of the year. It’s heavenly.
Have I told you “I love my life!”
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