Featured Post

Baltimore by the Sea

Friday, August 13, 2010

Scenic Drive

Is there a bigger bummer than heading home after a fun mini-break? As little Ivy would say, "I don't think so." But the day came when Diane and I packed up our sleeping bags and loaded up the car.

Aveeda and her little gang of campers were also packing but they weren't quite ready to return home. They were moving, lock, stock and barrel, headed to a camping ground where the sky would not be socked in by fog so they could view the Perseid meteor shower that blasts over the planet each & every August.

After saying our goodbyes, we were headed south to Mendocino, then east on Ukiah Road, a lovely little path that wound its way back to Ukiah. The Ukaih Road passes old farms with rustic wooden fences, ancient barns and quaint homesteads, some of which date to the late 1800s.

All roads through Mendocino pass through Comptche, or so the local lore claims. We passed through Comptche ourselves, and there wasn't very much of a town there - even Boonville, the eensie town we passed through on our way to Mendicino, is a bustling metropolis by comparison.
Beautiful 'Midtown' Comptche

There was a little meeting house or whatever-it-is, with a beautiful art neuvo tiled poster on it.

On the way east to Ukiah, we stopped to look back over the dry California hills we passed through. I had passed this way before in 1970, when Diane's mother Eunice, took all of us for a drive. Back then we stopped at Montgomery Woods State Park, where I saw my first wild Mule Deer. That was very exciting for me back then, and Diane and her sister never forgot how elated I was over seeing the deer, or for that matter, California Quail.

Flat Hills of Mendocino County

When we got to Ukiah we revisited the Ukiah Brewing Company for a quiet and restful lunch.

The Ukiah Brewing Company window reflects downtown Ukiah

The remainder of our drive home was uneventful though enjoyable. On our drive west we had looked for and didn't find the historic, 72 year old Castle of Lake Lucerne. We had luck and found the castle on our return drive. Diane told me the castle was built as a grand hotel was built just before the depression, when locals expected Clear Lake to be the Las Vegas of Northern California. Didn't happen! The castle only knew a scant couple of years of service, before it was closed down. The Castle has had numerous renovations, yet still stands as a monument to opulent dreams that came to naught.

A Local newspaper's photo of the castle, taken during one of
the numerous castle's numerous failed bids for rededication and use

Oh, boo hoo! In the early afternoon we were back at my house. The following day was all about relaxation. Diane, working in Yakima Washington schools, had another week or so left of her summer break and she flew home bright and early the following morning. No such luck for me, it's back to work on Monday. Bugger...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ALL ABOARD! Here Comes the Skunk...

Skunk Train - Here Come Deh STINK!

Bright and early on Thursday morning, Diane and I crawled out of our sleeping bags, stumbled out of the tent and readied ourselves for a special treat -a drive back to Fort Brag for a ride through the Redwoods on the world famous Skunk Train.

The drive out of the Sinkyou Wilderness area went quickly, as I wasn't sniffing out every wildflower this time around.

Skunk Train HQ

In Fort Bragg Diane booked us a couple of VIP spots on the Skunk Train. There are loads of choices - you can ride in cars pulled by a diesel engine, but we had our hearts set on the old-timey steam engine. We didn't pre-book, so for a bit it seemed we were out of luck, but Diane got us passage on a special car - the 'All the wine/ale tasting, cheese & hor'derves tasting you can eat' car. I approved.

Ready to board the Skunk Train

Before boarding, we had a nice look at our VIP car, which is brightly painted with a Blue Jay -which the birder in me begs to inform you, are not found in California - a mountain lion, and the bright California sun.

Brilliant sunrise, a Blue Jay - not found in California, and
Ground Squirrels on the car we rode in *squeeeeee!*

Cougar at the head of the wine n' dine car

Because of our "special" booking, we wore green paper wrist bands that allowed special types such as us, to ride the VIP car. Soon we were seated comfortably in a car, restricted to adults only because of the wine tasting. We and our fellow VIP passengers enjoyed loads of space. Everyone had their own window, complete with a view.

Before the big steam engine even chugged to life, we found ourselves being served Champagne Mimosas and mini-quiches for our sampling pleasure. It is good to be Queen!


Diane and I paid extra for the VIP car, but when I walked around and got a gander at the poor commoners in the rail car for the 'commoners', I felt our money was well spent.

Alas! Pity the 'commoners'

The red steam driven engine began to chug from the Fort Bragg station, rolling past the quaint houses and traffic of downtown Fort Bragg. I gave the Imperial Hand Wave to the commoners on the streets, who cheerfully waved back. How the commoners adore us!

Rolling past the Fort Bragg's Main Drag

Shortly after the train began its run, the honorable C.R. Johnson, only 150 years young, welcomed us, giving us a little of the Skunk Train's history. By the way, I should mention, Mr. Johnson is a ghost. In life he was a lumber baron, the founder of the Union Lumber company, the California Western Railroad and Navigation Company, as well as the first mayor of Fort Bragg. Anywho, Mr. J. told us the 'Skunk' got its name because the stunky-fueled train could be smelt, before it could be seen chugging down the track. The name, at first pejorative, morphed into an affectionate nickname.

The ghost of Railroad Companies past;
Mr. C. R. Johnson makes his rounds

While I listened to Mr. Johnson, I began some seriously focused staring... out the windows, watching as bits and pieces of the history of the Skunk train and scenery flowed past. The first thing of note we passed was the Fort Bragg Cemetary. There must be at least one hundred and fifty years of history buried there.

Shortly after the cemetary passed, the train wound past wetlands and sloughs.

Tules and Cattails line the riverway

After Mr. Johnson spoke his piece and floated off, one of the real live train conductors, in a bright red vest, saundered in to chat with passengers, collect tickets and maybe nick a few grapes or a tidbit of cheese from the snack trays.

One of the many pleasant conductors

It was relaxing watching the country scenery go by and photographing every bit of scenery. Tidbits of the Skunk's history and that of the surrounding scenery were broadcast in the rail cars.

The conductor told us when we approached a grey hewed, thousand year old redwood tree that grew right alongside the railway tracks.

The grand, thousand year old Redwood

Another area was full of downed redwoods - we were told they had all be knocked down by a whirlwind of a storm. It was difficult to imagine a storm strong enough to tip over so many HUMONGOUS redwood trees!

Redwoods lie like matchsticks, felled by a windstorm

We passed over loads of old wooden bridges that spanned creeks

Redwoods float past

The train passes many cute little homes. We were told many of them held 100 year leases, that could only be passed down within a family. When the leases are finally up, the homes revert to railroad ownership. The men who worked on the railway, historically occupied the homes.

One of the many occupied woodland homes we passed

There was other entertainment aside from the scenery swirling past.

Mr. Conductor makes his rounds

There was loads of talent on the Train - here's the conductor, a one-man band, serenading us. You can hear the conductor doing one of the many train oriented songs he entertained us with.

Diane applauds our musical Conductor

Rounding a Bend

After the first hour, we passed a Boys & Girls camp full of kids from the Bay Area. We waved to the kids, and I got a kick out of the little cabins, little bunk beds and sleeping bags visible even at such a distance.

Trying for a perfect shot as we passed the Camplands

The Boys & Girls Club camp was chock full of camping kiddies and adults

The Boys & Girls Club camp had a central spot in the camp in which white teepees towered. I wondered if they were for sleeping in or some other use.

White canvas teepees stand just beyond the cabins

Redwood ferns

Forest beauty reflects on the rail car window

Of course all our time wasn't spent watching scenery and waving to campers. Being the VIPs we were, we had to show our appreciation to 'the help' by wolfing down the goodies they provided us with. we scampered to the rear of the car to sample cheeses – Blue, Gouda and Camembert, and grapes, blueberries and other fruits. Oh, and of course, additional wine - and of course I had to sample the Railroad Ale!

Wine Tasting and goodie sampling in our VIP car

It took a couple of hours and were were at Northspur, where , a little area that mostly served as a place to chill for an hour or so until the train engine was turned around for the return trip.

The North Spur Depot

The North Spur is where the Skunk train turns tail, where the steam engine at the north of the train does a 180 and winds up at the south of the train headed in the opposite direction. Must be magic!

The Engine turns around at the North Spur Depot

Everyone had to leave the train at North Spur. There were rustic redwood kiosks with loads of souvenirs and food to buy. Diane and I, did a little shopping, but as for lunch, already full of wine and hor'derves we went for ice cream sundaes. The sundaes were made with vanilla ice cream and blackberry sauce and were yummy.

A view of North Spur by Diane

Mr. Conductor at North Spur

I took the time to walk around the Engine to view it head on, and see the 'off' side of the Wine n' Dine car. While one side of the Wine 'em & Dine 'em car was painted with ground squirrels, jaybirds and cougars, the opposite side of the car was splashed with psychodelic colors.

The psychedelic 'off' side of the VIP Rail Car

When it was time to leave North Spur,I boarded onto the train's open air car, where passengers can get up close and personal with the scenery and redwoods.

The open air car

We totally enjoyed our 4 hour ride on the Skunk Train. I've known of it and wanted to ride for decades so this day was quite special for me. I have always loved railroad trains - quite a cut above Sacramento's light rail if I do say so myself! And anyway, how could I not love a train that sported such marvelous artwork of a Mountain Lion's changeable personality?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Outdoors in the Outhouse

Didn't take long for 'Ms. Wilderness 2010' to re-aclimate to camping. I am lucky enough to be able to sleep on any surface, ok, with the sole exception of a bed of nails, so I was back in camping-out-form the v. first night.

All together, there were thirteen of us camped out in the Lost Coast wilderness. As mentioned before there was Diane, her sisters Aveeda with grandniecelet Ivy niece Anastazia with boyfriend Geoff, and sister Heidi with husband Drew. There was also Diane's cousin Eric and his wife who are like me, are both of Sacramento county. I first met Eric and his family, when he was a teen in Marin county, back in 1970. Last up, also of Sacramento were John, Noel and their yearling boy, Sage.

Anastazia and Ivy work the coals

Diane, Heidi, Drew and 5 year old Ivy

One of the cool things we discovered on the camp out was loads of coincidences. For example, Diane and I were joking about how our nicknames in High School were 'Didi' and 'No-No'. Noel said that her nickname is No-No'. Then we exchanged chit-chat and discovered we both live in Sacramento, and... don't be frightened with the bizarreness of this so-called coincidence - she was originally FROM NEW YORK! Is that Rod Sterling's shadow other there? YIPES! And it DID NOT STOP THERE!

I overheard Anastazia's beau Geoff mention Kneeland. Turns out he knows my Kneeland friends the Aggeler's and is buds with Ricky and Carolanna Aggeler - talk about your small world. That's it? Heck no! Fast buddies Ivy and Sage turn out to share more than a friendship - the wee pair also both share the middle name of Phoenix! Doesn't that just make you want to burst into flames and rise from your own ashes?

Ivy, is sharing a middle name with Sage a scary Coincidence?
Says Ivy: "I don't THINK so...!"

So 13 stalwart souls shared a wilderness campground. What did we do there? Uh... well, I can hardly remember how we spent our days, though I recall loads of bullshiting (not related to the local bull elk population - and I also recall being in daily happy anticipation of sundown, when the fire was lit to stave off any of us freezing to death. It's plenty cold in the coastal fog drip region.

Diane and Anastazia, with demon eyed, wool-hat'd Geoff in the background

Orbs bounced around the campfire

Traditional Coastal din-din: foil wrapped salmon steaks, cob corn and veggies

Now I did not yet mention that the primary purpose of the campout was to honor James Knutson, the brother of the Knutson Sisters Diane, Aveeda and Heidi. James died about a year ago, and the sisters wanted to wish him a happy send off & a viking spreading of his ashes in one of his favorite, pardon the expression - haunts.

So, one afternoon everyone, save for myself, Diane and Ivy, mostly everyone headed out on a hike to spread James' ashes. However, Diane devotedly babysat her niecelette Ivy, and I, too lazy to hike, resided in camp for the day. It was a comfy sort of afternoon, and in the course of it, 'nature called' and I, well trained woman that I am, answered. To do so, I hiked over to the lone outhouse on the far side of the meadow.

The lone outhouse, guarded by a tribune Elk. Hail Elk!

Since there were no one with eyes in the vicinity, unless you count squirrels and the Bull Elk that volunteered to guard the outhouse from peeping toms, there was no need for me to close the outhouse door. Due to a steady breeze from the nearby salty Pacific ocean, the little outhouse was filled with amazingly fresh air. Really, as outhouses go, this one was fresh, and had a lovely view, as you can see below.

Lovely view from the outhouse

Post poo, I decided to complete a loop instead of backtracking. I headed across the meadow, in the general direction of two big Bull Elk, that were lying about lazily, in a very male fashion - you know what I mean. You can see them, the twin brown spots in the center of the photo below. A large flock of gulls were walking about, leaving webbed footprints on the creek mudflat.

Across the creek Bull Elks sat idle

Click photos for better views of lazy elk

I did some wildflowering on my walk. Finding Brass Buttons, and a strange flower that I have yet to identify.

Later, after Jame's ash bearers returned to came after a sucessful hike, we sat around the campfire. I spotted a Wilson's Warbler overhead and several Stellar's Jays, that flew in and around the Alder trees. Then I spotted something strange, and on closer look I spotted a Northern Pygmy Owl - you could have knocked me over with a Pygmy Owl feather! The bird was gray phaze - while red phase is what is normally found coastally. The bird wouldn't sit still enough for a good photo so all I managed was this CRAP photo. The wee, 8 inch owl faces right, lying along a branch, hidden by leaves. You can see a row of spots along a ruffled wing, just behind the green patch of leaves in the photo's center. Below you can see a pink talon. Honestly - stare a bit, you'll see it - sorta, kinda, almost, maybe.

That's a Northern Pygmy Owl I'm tellyin' you!

Ok, scoff if you must, but that's a Northern Pygmy Owl and I'm thrilled to have had a gander at it. Shortly after I snapped this photo, it flew up into another alder, then winged away, sailing over the heads of my fellow campers - they, being non-birders did not even glimpse up to see the mini-owl sailing by. NON BIRDERS! Gads, how do they LIVE with themselves? Oh SHUT IT you insufferable, non-birder types!

Look, here's some birds you can see without squinting. These baby Barn Swallows were happily homed under the eves of the outhouse I'd mentioned earlier.

Outhouse with swallows and more swirling orbs

Here is the outhouse again, during a nocturnal visit. Note the magical white orbs of fairyland, swirling around it. The Swallow's nest is tucked under the left hand side of the roof. I must say, that was as magical a view of an outhouse I ever did see!