The Redwoods: October 2-7, 2011

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

We left Oregon down the coast highway into Northern California and made two stops to view the Sequoia Sempervirens. The first was in Crescent City; the campground was appropriately named Redwoods RV. This was the most densely forested park we’ve ever been in; the giants were all around us with paths in between for travel and parking. In fact, we couldn’t exit our “pull-thru” site without backing out.

The magnificent Coastal Redwoods are the tallest natural living thing on earth, known to reach heights exceeding 350 feet. I could spend pages on the fascinating botanical intricacies of these beasts but will spare you — save for a few amazing facts. Their cones are the size of a pecan. They continue to live after falling. They clone themselves; while a redwood may age to several thousand years, that same tree may have been spawned repeatedly through generations as far back as 20–30,000 years ago. Redwood trees can actually sustain growth without their core. Tallest is 379 feet and broadest is 26 feet across the trunk at chest height.

The stump of a cut tree sprouts numerous ancestors, as you can see below — that stump was right next to our site. They thrive on water, and their wish came true for the two days we were there; it rained or drizzled constantly!

Nevertheless, we spent time in both Jedediah Smith and Del Norte Coast state parks. Jedediah Smith, a fur trapper, is reputed to be the first non-native to reach the Pacific over land. Most of the tallest redwoods, as well as largest in terms of “volume” – combination of height and diameter — are in these two parks.

We drove downtown via the coast. In the common across from the fishing boat-filled harbor, we found two exhibits of interest. One is a hollow section of a redwood tree that measures 15 feet in diameter and 20 feet in length, weighs 52 tons and is estimated to be 1,600 years old. The other is a memorial to the petroleum carrier S.S. Emedio. She was the first American victim of a Japanese submarine; exactly two weeks after Pearl Harbor, she was torpedoed north of San Francisco. Five crewmen were killed, and when she was abandoned, she drifted north and broke up on the rocks at Crescent City, where she was salvaged in 1950.

From Crescent City, we drove 100 miles south to the city of Eureka. Like Coos Bay, its entrance is only a narrow, hardly discernible break in the coast. In 1849, merchants supplying the gold mining camps came upon the bay over land, and a year later, the ship Laura Virginia put a small boat over to explore the sea entrance. The rest is history; it took only four days for the first settlement (Warnesville) to be established and Eureka was close behind.

Humboldt Bay runs north from the entrance, and it’s hourglass in shape. Below the entrance is South Bay. Five miles to the north, up the neck, is Arcata Bay, with two islands at its entrance and a three-span fixed bridge that crosses the islands and connects the outer isthmus, where the towns of Samoa Fairhaven and Arcata lie – along with the Eureka Municipal Airport. The entire east side of the neck is the town. The commercial harbor is down by the entrance and sports a major fishing fleet and processing facility. The historic district and heart of town run north, and what a job they’ve done! It’s a wonderful mix of 19th century tradition and 21st century commerce. The town is replete with murals (as above) and the restoration of the Victorian-era architecture is carefully tended to.

Across the first span, on Woodley Island, is a major marina and related businesses. At the southern end of the lot, standing just slightly offshore, is a larger than life fisherman, tending his nets in his dory. He is the city’s homage to that critical industry. The plaque, on shore, reads To those whom the sea sustained . . . and also claimed. Nearby is a separate memorial to those claimed, including one woman, Donna Marie Robbins, who was lost in 1962 never recovered. A quaint, non-operating lighthouse, adds to the lot’s ambience.

Continuing farther out, across the other two spans, you’re in Samoa and just a dune’s width from the Pacific. We stopped by the Samoa Cookhouse, originally the meal source for the lumber camps. Today, the tradition continues, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You are served the meal of the day/hour family style – no options. The menu changes daily and is posted a week at a time. Seconds are doled out generously.

Directly next door is the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum. Founded in 1977, it is a small but rich facility of local lore. Until the bridge network was built, a fleet of ferries transferred folks between the mainland and the outer towns. The museum provides boat rides around the Bay on one of the ferries, named Madaket. I recognized Madaket as the name of a Nantucket Indian tribe. Sure enough, the source of the name was a Nantucketer, Walter Coggeshall (another name I instantly recognized). He moved from Nantucket to Eureka and built the prosperous Coggeshall Launch and Tow Boat Company. He bought the Nellie C. and five other ferries from Capt. Henry H. Cousins in 1906 and renamed them all for the land of his heritage. The Madaket, launched in 1911, is refitted as the tours around the tour boat. It is the oldest continuously operating passenger vessel in the United States. It also features the smallest licensed bar in the state of California!

The museum also honed in on the hundreds of ships that met their maker off the coast. One of particular note was the Bear, a San Francisco to Portland steamer that got lost in the fog in 1916, slipped in amongst the rocks, and beached “almost as though she intended to be there.” When you enlarge the picture at left, you’ll see one man seated alone on a rock at the far right who’s not joining the others gaping at the wreck.

He was the Captain.

Downtown is the Carson House, reputed to be the most exquisite Queen Anne Victorian House in the country. It was commissioned by William Carson, a lumber baron, in 1884 and cost $80,000 Successful in his own right, Carson formed a partnership with John Dolbeer, whose invention of the Steam Donkey Engine in 1881 revolutionized logging and milling operations. The house contains a collection of elements of all the ornate styles of the period. Since 1950, it has been owned by the exclusive Ingomar Club, and is off-limits except to members and guests. To their credit, the Club saved the building from destruction and pledged to maintain it. It shows. Across the street is a simpler example of the style of the era, no less maintained and now a commercial enterprise.

We toured the Clarke Museum. It was begun in 1920 by Cecile Clarke, a local history teacher and a collector from childhood. She moved to Eureka in 1915 and soon after created the Eureka City Museum in the high school. Upon retirement in 1950, she used her family inheritance to purchase the massive, vacated Bank of Eureka Building in the heart of town and renamed the museum for her parents, Joseph and Annie. She was involved with the transition of the collection she so lovingly started, but she died in 1960, just weeks before its dedication.

As we started through the museum, I was snapping away until an official told me that photography was verboten. So the rest of our exploration was uncaptured. There were many fine exhibits, especially period rooms in the old bank offices. An adjacent large room is devoted to the area’s Native American origins and culture, including basketry, fashions and stone artifacts. In the center was a reproduction of their living accommodations, and I clandestinely snapped the last picture.

At the north end of town lay one of the more unusual experiences we’ve encountered – the kind that makes this journey so memorable. It’s the Blue Ox Millworks & Historic Park & School of Traditional Arts. A real mouthful, no? We drove in over a set of railroad tracks and up to the overgrown main structure. Parked in front was a 1953 Pontiac. Passively guarding the porch was a Great Pyrenees; he shared his duty with two cats and a giant statue of Paul Bunyan. Inside, we met Viviana Hollenbeck who, with her husband, Eric, run a “fully functioning Victorian job shop specializing in custom woodworking and custom millwork.” Let me tell you that this “dump” turns out exquisite work. The buildings are purposeful but rickety; light shines in everywhere. Yet in addition to being the source of incredible features that are installed in buildings all over the world, the operation is an accredited vocational high school.

Victoriana demonstrated their large collection of “power tools” in the first room. Not a one was powered by anything motorized, yet she adroitly demonstrated scroll cutting and picket making with treadles and pedals. Not much was going on in the shop, and we toured on our own. Most machinery in the entire operation is 50-100 years or more old. Students learn printing in an old shop. All the wood finishes, including stains and varnishes, are made in the adjacent lab. Out the back door and across unstable staircases, we went into the sawmill and molding works, in similar rugged conditions. Next came blacksmithing and ceramic studios, where teens were actively engaged. Boats and a fire engine decorated the yard, as did a garden and collection of farm animals.

In addition to examples of beautiful output, we were impressed with Eric’s credentials. He built a 4 foot by 14 foot table made from a single redwood slab as a gift for the White House. President Clinton was scheduled to visit him in Eureka, but insufficient security led to sending Interior Secretary Babbitt instead. In 1994 Eric addressed a National Forest Summit in Portland, Oregon to an audience including Clinton, Gore, five Cabinet Secretaries and a huge audience.

Our sojourn through the area wasn’t limited to Eureka. Just 20 miles to the south lay the town of Ferndale. It is accessed by passing over the Fernbridge, a quarter mile long, reinforced concrete series of arched spans that cross the Eel River. Built in 1911, it’s recognized as one of the civil engineering marvels of the twentieth century. Once across, you’re in the heart of two of Humboldt County’s star attractions: a thriving dairy industry and a Victorian community so well preserved that it is on the National Registry in its entirety. Gander at the heart of town and at some of its fine neighborhood.

Then join us at the Humboldt County Historical Museum. It’s two museums in one; first a polished series of past images and second, a rustic presentation of the inner workings of its past. Witness the blacksmith shop, the machine shop, and collections of dairy, sawmilling and farm equipment.

While so much of what we see from place to place is “same old same old,” we usually come across something unique. In this case it was Bosch Omari Seismographs. Do you remember Joseph Jordan Bognuda? Didn’t think so. He was a store owner in Ferndale with no formal education but a keen mind and compulsive interest in seismology. He built a seismograph in the 1920’s out of a tomato can, batteries and other improvised parts. In 1932, UC Berkeley learned of his activity and located two Bosch Omari units in the local fire station on cement piers for stability. At first, no one could understand why they were recording tremors when there was no earth movement — until Joe figured out that crashing surf on the coast was the cause. Twenty years later, when Berkeley terminated their need for the Ferndale station, they gave the instruments to the town and Joe continued his monitoring off-network. Almost two decades later, when Joe was approaching 80, he turned the monitoring over to the owners of a local television business, Ron Smith and Jim Scalvioni, who kept up the daily observation and changing of recording paper on the drums. They were contacted every time a large tremor was felt, sometimes by media as far away as San Francisco. Ron got to a point where he could define a quake within one tenth of a point of the official Richter reading. If the units were damaged by a quake, Ron and Jim would rush in to restore them in time to record aftershocks. More than once, they repaired he needle with a bobby pin and a soldering iron. The seismographs were moved to a vibration-free environment in the museum in 1981, two years after Joe’s death, and volunteer caretakers still tend to them daily. The clock and short wave radio are integral parts of the system; the radio, however, is no longer attached to the network.

Wow! How did we cram all that into five days? Now it was time for a little urbanizing, so we continued south toward San Francisco.

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