Note: photos by Bill and Kate Poss. This is the fourth in our on the road series, following a month pilgrimage with Bertie the Ford Explorer and Marion the Trillium trailer.
We took leave of the healing waters at Franklin Hot Springs, saying goodbye to our neighbor Jim, who brought to mind John the Baptist, and resident Dave, the former surfer who swore his vision was restored and his arthritis cured from Franklin’s healing waters.
Our next campsite was at New Brighton State Beach in Santa Cruz. We felt immediately at home in this university surf town, with the local eateries, comfortable neighborhoods, and friends to visit.
Our first night we shared dinner with Urashan’s daughter, Kater Pollock, at her comfortable home of 30-plus years that greeted us with an outdoor garden of pink climbing roses and red clematis. Urashan is a terrific elder and friend on Whidbey who passed into spirit March 20. We feel her presence every now and then while traveling on this trip. Her loss causes my heart to ache, and, it was comforting to be in the presence of Urashan’s oldest daughter, a woman calm and wise of word.
While New Brighton Beach is a popular and somewhat worn campground, with clean restrooms. We found accommodations roomy and the neighbors pleasant—families, college bros, tents with surfboards parked outside. Here über tall eucalyptus frame the campgrounds,
The morning after dinner with Kater, we ate our first breakfast (like hobbits, we have eaten breakfast twice each day on this trip!) and walked through morning mist down to the beach where we found a college teacher with his students on his last day of work on the last day of class.
Meeting David Schwartz, department chair of Geology, Oceanography, and Environmental Science at Cabrillo Community College, made the morning!
The man, who is surely an inspiration for earth studies students, is retiring after 35 years of teaching.
“I spent early summers on the Jersey shore,” he said, by way of introduction. “Teaching just happened. My wife and I wanted to stay here after traveling across country. Over the years I am proud that the environmental studies program has grown under my watch.”
We learned from David Schwartz that we were looking at the Purisima Formation, which contains shells fossilized in sandstone, a formation unique to the Central Californian Coast.
“This is where this sandstone was laid down 2.5 to 6.7 million years ago,” he added. “This class has been studying geology from 1.8 billion years ago to the present.”
Following his retirement, David Schwartz will continue his work with Clean Oceans International and its program for plastic removal. The Santa Cruz-based non-profit has engineered portable plastic-to-fuel systems, which convert ocean plastic into fuel for ships. He said he also plans to continue surfing, skiing, swimming, running, reading, and, remaining active with the school’s environmental program.
Turns out Santa Cruz is a small town. Our friends Bridget Maloney and George Bañuelos knew him from tennis.
Staying at Bridget and George’s we slept in a house for the first time in a month. The driveway was steep and would have been a challenge to back our trailer into. A neighbor across the street kindly gave us permission to park Marion in front of his place. We’ve known Bridget a long time. Bill and I met at a party at her family’s home in November 1973. It was good getting to know George, her partner of nearly a decade. The two are avid tennis players, and like us, enjoy birding.
After a delicious salmon and risotto dinner, we sat outside wrapped in blankets, visiting in the twilight, admiring the bobbing heads of three acorn woodpeckers silhouetted on a Ponderosa Pine branch, and framed by a waxing moon.
Next morning we set our alarms, ate an early breakfast, eggs compliments of the couple’s hens, and headed out for the Elkhorn Slough and an educational, interesting trip aboard Elkhorn Slough Safari Nature Boat Tours. Bridget is a retired elementary school teacher and took her classes to the nearby Elkhorn Slough State Marine Conservation Area for field trips.
With Brianna as our guide, we learned about the resident male sea lions, who frequent the Moss Landing Marina, where our journey began. Some of them commandeered marina boats, many barked manly songs. We saw nesting cormorants with blue vibrating throats. In Monterey Bay, just outside the marina, we learned 200- to 300-foot-deep canyons were present beneath the water.
Crossing under Pacific Coast Highway 1, we learned that between 130 to 140 sea otters claim the slough as habitat for females and babies. The slough is rich in clams and other shellfish. Otter pups learn to dive and feel the clams with their whiskers. We saw up close mama otters with their pups floating on their chest. What a thrill! Sixty percent of the slough’s otters have been rehabilitated and released through the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There, mama otters teach orphans how to fish and are then released to the wild.
While we were observing the otters eating, diving and floating among the eelgrass and marsh plants, our naturalist explained: “Otters are considered a keystone species in maintaining the eelgrass beds and keep the carp population from taking over.”
We also learned that the slough is an important stopping point for bird migration.
“California has lost 90 percent of its wetlands,” our guide continued. “This place is protected, so the birds have shelter.”
Later, we made dinner together and later watched The Sandpiper, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Their chemistry was beginning to blend back then. Our friends Sheila and Ray in Carmel Valley had watched it recently, since it was filmed in the Santa Cruz/Pt. Lobos area in 1965. An interesting story, great scenery. We watched the movie a second time on the night we returned home and found the acting and the story compelling. So taken were we by ‘Laura’s House,’ in the film, I found out its fate. Hope someone adopts it and brings it to life the way Elizabeth Taylor did in in the film.
The following morning we said goodbye to our friends and stopped by to visit Urashan’s son Jacob Pollock and his lady Eva Wax. Only about ten minutes away from Bridget and George’s, Eva and Jacob’s backyard opens onto a colorful community garden. Again, so good to be with Urashan’s family in the wake of her passing. We shared a visit, talking of our shared progressive values and hope to see them on Whidbey this summer.
San Francisco to Santa Rosa
Left the comfortable vibe of Santa Cruz, driving up Highway 1, winding along the wild coast toward Half Moon Bay. The cliffs were lush with Monterey paintbrush, yellow and purple lupine, California poppy, purple ice plant, yellow, purple, and white mustard; white and purple protea, to name a few of the colors that wowed us as we drove by. Strawberries bought at a local stand were some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Sweet and a little salty. Next time we will stop at the scenic Scott Creek Beach near the town of Davenport and hang out rather than roll on by with Bertie and Marion.
We had read about the Outer Sunset Farmer’s Market in the morning’s San Francisco Chronicle. The description of Molcaxitl Kitchen (pronounced Mol-cah-shee-tl), and its indigenous ingredients gleaned from family recipes, caught my attention. We cruised into San Francisco and the farmer’s market, enjoying the molè sauce, rice and veggies on handmade tortilla tacos. Nomar Ramirez, executive chef and founder of Molcaxitl, saw that I brought the newspaper article complimenting the food, and gave me a free soda and black bean taco. I enjoyed three meals thanks to this delicious and authentic food and its generous chef.
We crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge, always a thrill, and stopped in at the Marin County city of Mill Valley. Something about the place revs my mojo and I feel the flow of creativity and sensuality here like no other place. Ideas come to me. My body feels life’s flow. We enjoyed sitting on a bench drinking coffee and watching the people: grandparents with their handsome grandson, who looked like my dad when he was young, another granddaughter rolling by on a skateboard and returning to her beloved ponytailed grandpa to give him a hug. People with interesting dogs. Shopping in the Mill Valley Market with its tantalizing smells of good food cooking in the deli. Ahh. Bill said he’ll check his lottery ticket and maybe we’ll get lucky and be able to buy a bungalow there.
Sugarloaf Mountain, Sonoma County
Filled with the Mill Valley good vibrations, we rolled into Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood, CA. Two fires, one in 2017, and one in 2020 burned more than 90 percent of the park. Yet the campgrounds and surrounding oaks, bayleaf trees, and creek plants survived. We met Woody Woodbury, campground manager, who kindly directed us to camp in a spot more suited for parking Marion than the one we reserved online, right along the creek. Each campsite had its own porta potty, in tune with maintaining best practices during COVID. Campground visitors included a brown Towhee, who mistook his reflection in Bertie’s front windows, for a rival male, and pecked at the glass and pooped prodigiously on our side mirrors. California Quail and acorn woodpeckers also added to the bird chorus.
We were lucky to meet up with a friend of our friend Mary Brennan, named Sandi, a volunteer biologist at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Mary and Sandi were friends in Alaska from the days they worked for NOAA. Sandi is fit and took us on a butt-kicking awesome hike along Vista Trail. She has a cool app, Seek by iNaturalist, which allows her to point her phone at a flower and tell us what it is. We learned of the Diogenes Lantern and the Douglas Iris, among others. The plants survived the hellish fires to live again. Charred oaks sprouted green shoots, showing their will to survive. The creek, as in most of California’s watersheds, was extremely low. The trail was full of poison oak and Sandi recommended buying Tecnu soap to scrub off any residual oil. Grateful for her personal tour of the mountains, we said our goodbye after spending several hours together companionably. We will see her next when she visits Mary on Whidbey. Showering soon after the hike, I was lucky not to have gotten the dreaded itchy rash, which poison oak gives me.
The following day we visited with friends originally met 21 years ago at the Whidbey Island Waldorf School, Christine Schreier and her daughter Francisca. The family has grown to include Francisca’s baby daughter Isla, and son Dakota. We met in the square at Healdsburg, where our all-time favorite bakery, Downtown Bakery & Creamery, still continues with excellent baked goods. From there we drove to Riverfront Park in Windsor, an excellent park with two lakes, redwoods, wildflowers, and even a gray fox that Bill saw along the way. Later we dined on delicious barbecue, clam chowder, fresh corn, salad and strawberries and whipped cream. Tyler, Francisca’s partner and the children’s dad, wowed us with his great barbecue and chowder skills. Felt good to be with this family, who we have long loved.
Leaving our campsite at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, (note: cell and wifi coverage here is sparse) we headed for the coast down Highway 116, through Jenner-by-the-Sea (also our son Raymo’s middle name, for this jewel where the Russian River meets the sea) and up toward Gualala, where we would stay the night at Salt Point State Park at the Gerstle campground. Being rockhounds, we had read earlier about the tafoni fretwork rock formation, sandstone with Swiss cheese holes and pebbles, and wanted to visit. We put on windbreakers and braved 50 mph gusts that dried our eyeballs out. The wild ocean, the spray, the chance to see tafoni, was worth the visit and the wind.
Driving along Highway 1 up to 101 and Mendocino County involved hairpin curves that tested our nerves and bladders. We stopped in Mendocino for a bathroom break (tightly controlled COVID restrictions here and Sequim-style food and tourist stores). We stopped in Garberville, but didn’t stay long. This was the only place on our entire trip where we felt it was unsafe to leave our car and trailer out of sight. Garberville used to be a fun hippie place and is now sorely in need of social services for its increased down and out population. We do not recommend driving this route.
Redwoods – Humboldt State Park + Del Norte State/National parks
Heading out of Garberville, we tuned in to the Redwood community radio station, KMUD. We learned that California’s snowpack is down and the drought serious. Two of the driest years on record were the past two years. Governor Gavin Newsom has declared an emergency situation for Sonoma and Mendocino counties, encouraging strict water conservation, financial assistance, replenishing of diminished water supplies, close management of watersheds. It is sobering and folks we talked with shared their worry about future fire. This giving land and its people need a break.
So good to feel safe at the Humboldt State Redwoods Park, Burlington campground. We visited old growth redwood gods and goddesses in the California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove at the Eel River. Watched a pair of ospreys circle overhead above the very low waters of the Eel.
We strolled among the giant trees, many over 2,000 years old, 300 feet tall, with 12-foot-plus diameters, which evoke a powerful presence that we venerate. We learned of women’s role in saving the trees in the early 1900’s, when they grew alarmed at the rate of logging and rallied conservationists to create a federal redwood park, which led to the creation of the Save the Redwood League and the eventual preservation of the trees we visit today. Of California’s original two million acres of redwood forest, only 300,000 acres remain.
That night in our campground we watched the sun set through the trees, and listened to the flutelike song of a Varied Thrush. We heard a raven chuckling. Big leaf maples, lit by the setting sun and looking like stained glass, riffled gently in the breeze. I listened to my recording of Urashan’s sunset song, Ave Maris Stella, which I recorded on February 27, a month before she died. A heartfelt way to close the day.
The following morning we left for Prairie Creek Redwoods Elk Prairie and hiked along Trillium Falls Trail. Great lords and ladies of the forest climb the hills and the trail with towering trees that grow straight and true. Shaggy barked redwoods grew along the straight-barked giants, and others had great knobs or burls on them. All magnificent and all a part of the holy temple of tree beings.
For the next two nights we camped at the Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. The older park has small sites, not well-suited for big RV’s. Our site, as in many of the sites, sported fairy rings, trees that grow out of an an old-growth stump or burned tree. The trees’ ancestors continue after 250 million years of evolution, with only three redwood locations left: in the Sierra Nevada, along the Central and Northern California coast, and as dawn redwoods in China. However, not all the sprouts are clones, some are seedlings that grew into mature trees, more than a hundred years old. I think of Urashan as the spirit tree, surrounded by her living children.
We visited Crescent Beach in the good city of Crescent Beach. We did not linger, the redwoods called us to be with them on our last day. That afternoon in the redwoods, a banana slug spent time with us before gliding back into the brush. A simple presence reminding us to glide through life.
Our time on the road is nearly over. I write this in Corvallis, OR, while camping at Benton Oaks RV Park, located on county fairgrounds. We’ve camped here since 2013 and it is a good place to stay with the oaks, acorn woodpeckers and dove song. Our daughter Gillian lives here with friends. It is a comfortable college town with great hiking all around.
We have loved living on the road, camping in an 11 x 8-foot space that shelters us from wind and rain and cold and holds our dreams while we sleep.