We woke at 8:15, checked out of our hotel, then had some tasty breakfast bagels in downtown Eureka at Los Bagels, which had an interesting mix of Jewish and Mexican decor, as befitted the name. While downtown we drove by the Carson Mansion again, since, although its best lighting is near sunset, across the street is a lovely and more modest (only by comparison) Victorian dubbed “the Pink Lady” that Carson built for his daughter.
“The Pink Lady,” Eureka, California
Heading south on 101 I saw a sign for Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. We were planning on stopping in the cute town of Ferndale on our way out, and it was still too early for anything to be open, so we decided to check out the NWR to see what was a-wing.
This is a relatively small refuge, at least compared to Sacramento NWR and Don Edwards NWR, and after walking around its modest visitor’s center, we decided to hike the 2-mile loop trail that starts at the center (they have another 2-3 mile trail at a different trailhead).
Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Few birds were around in the first part of the trail, largely because this is the low season – I’m sure this is a fantastic place to birdwatch during the spring and fall migrations. They even had a small bird blind so you could observe birds a bit more close-in. Well, you could if there had been any there anyways.
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
The trail split, looped around, and the birding improved a bit. We saw several young-looking Savannah Sparrows and a bunch of very young Marsh Wrens, 3 of them taking a gravel bath in the pathway. Way across the bay, a white-flecked tree was home to a few dozen Snowy Egret families, and a sub-adult Black-crowned Night Heron skulked in a nearby tree.
Humboldt Bay NWR
A small group of small birds in a slough caught my eye, and I was pleased to get a good look at a few Red-necked Phalaropes. This group was comprised of a couple of basic-plumaged adults, 2 pre-basic molting individuals, and a half-dozen juveniles. They obligingly flew towards me, and I got a few shots off, rare for this diminutive and somewhat shy bird.
Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus)
Although the Phalaropes were my highlight of the walk, on the way back we were swarmed by Barn and Cliff Swallows, which is always fun. Sarah noticed one that looked different, and sure enough, it was a Vaux’s Swift, a bird I’ve only seen once before. Alas, Swifts live up to their name, and I was not able to get a photograph of it.
Back at the visitor’s center, we wrote our sightings on a whiteboard provided for this purpose and continued south towards home.
Birds seen at Humboldt Bay NWR:
- American Goldfinch
- Barn Swallow
- Cliff Swallow
- Great Blue Heron
- Great Egret
- Marsh Wren
- Red-necked Phalarope
- Savannah Sparrow
- Semi-palmated Plover
- Snowy Egret
- Song Sparrow
- Vaux’s Swift
- Western Gull
- White-tailed Kite
Continuing south, we detoured through the “Victorian Village” of Ferndale, but being a Sunday, nearly everything was closed. Still, it’s a pretty little hamlet, with an amazing amount of lovley late 1800′s buildings.
Old Hwy 101 AKA “The Avenue of the Giants”
Onward and homeward, but not too directly. I find it impossible to take Hwy 101 when there’s a beautiful and quiet 31-mile stretch of the old highway alongside, dubbed “the Avenue of the Giants.” This lovely route winds through over 51,000 acres of redwood forest with a great many turnouts, mini-hikes, and a few kitschy gift shops, all of which sell REAL REDWOOD BURL! Ah well, I suppose every region has its touristy specialties.
Short trail through the Redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants
We did a short walk at one of the many turnouts to stretch our legs and enjoy the verdant redwood forest, with the occasional peek at the scenic Eel River, which meanders alongside the road.
Along the Avenue of the Giants
Just before rejoining Hwy 101, we stopped at the Chimney Tree (one of those tourist traps). The tree itself isn’t remarkable, a hollowed-out seventy-foot-tall shell of a tree with a stair and doorway leading into it (ooh, ahh!), and of course the obligatory gift shop next door (with REAL REDWOOD BURL, naturally!). It also had a surprisingly-tasty coffee shop next door from which we ordered locally-raised free-range beef hamburgers and fries before continuing on our way south.
Back on 101, we made pretty good time, only stopping at the One Tree House, which I swear used to be on the Avenue of the Giants (a little internet research when I got home confirmed that it has been moved since I was there 12 years ago). This too is primarily an excuse for a gift shop. The excuse is a hollowed-out bit of log that has been turned into a mobile home trailer.
“One Tree House”
One Tree House was pretty full of folks who looked like they came from our neighborhood (young hippies and hedonists), the reason being that the Reggae Rising festival was just down the road.
Happy to be passing the festival before it let out and flooded this 2-lane stretch of Hwy 101 with thousands of vehicles, we drove non-stop to Ukiah, stopping there to check out a Metal Arts Guild show at a local museum, then zoomed the remaining 2 hours home.
This was a wonderful road trip, full of interesting sights. If I had to pick favorites, they’d be Cape Sebastian near Gold Beach, the town of Pacific City, Yaquina Head, and the general 3 Capes Area. Our journey was marked by some excellent eats (a big thank you to the posters at Chowhound.com, who recommended some gems) and fun roadside Americana. I would have liked to have done relatively more wildlife photography and fewer snapshots, but this is not the prime time of year for wildlife.
In the end, we drove a total of 1,584 miles and listened to 536 songs on my iPod (thank heavens I replaced my failing car stereo with an iPod-compatible one prior to this trip!). I’ve had a fun time writing this travelogue, and I thank you for reading this far!
Om shanti, Om peace,