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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!

SKOAL!

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?


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