Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Redwoods and Butterflies

The next morning we took surprisingly hot showers at the KOA camp and ate a huge pancake breakfast before hitting the road. Today we hoped to tour the redwood forests that stretch to the Oregon border.

At this point I’d turned off the email feature on my cell phone to avoid the regular messages from my memoir writing group. I’d joined this group the month before  and these people are actually quite talented. We have a former cult member, a woman whose family survived the Holocaust and a former Tibetan nun who just published a self-help book for sex addicts. They are, however, a little obsessive. The leader, who I’ll call Padme, wants consensus on everything, and actually suggested I join a conference call to discuss scheduling while on vacation. Obviously, that couldn’t happen, especially since I’d taken a very hard line about Ron dealing with work during our trip. I was already unhappy because he’d be forced to take three phone calls about an upcoming biotech forum in the first week of the trip. So I had to set some boundaries with the group, but that didn’t stop them from sending out a stream of emails every day, making my phone knock like a tiny woodpecker with each one. I like my writing group, but sometimes it’s a little too Berkeley for me.

Anyway, we drove to the end of Highway 1 and turned onto the Avenue of the Giants, past all the weird sings and giant wooden Big Foots. A sign promising a drive-through redwood tree lured us off the highway for a picnic lunch. The big pond nearby teamed with bullfrogs. It was a big frog family reunion, from the large, croaking males to the smaller females hissing nearby in approval, to baby frogs hidden in reeds and tiny tadpoles wiggling along the edges.

The next day we hiked through redwoods, resting at times to listen to the trees creak in the wind. You could close your eyes and pretend you were on a seafaring galleon, listening to the rigging creak, it was that loud. Ron took his first conference call parked outside a tiny general store in Gasquet near the Smith River, while I sat on a wooden bench and read “Magic of Oz” to Benny.

At this point we’d left the Coast Ranges, created when the Pacific Ocean floor slid under North America, scraping off  sediment and ocean floor and crumpling it into mountains. We’d entered the Klamath block, a complicated series of rock belts and closely resemble the Sierra Nevadas. In fact, geologists think the Klamath block is the northern part of the Sierra Nevadas, moved north about 60 miles. My book promised some basalt pillows near the Smith River but I couldn’t find any at the one path that offered river access. So I took some pictures of butterflies instead.

Benny at the Smith River near the Oregon border.

At Crescent City, we left 101 to head northeast toward Crater Lake. We were mightily tempted by the Oregon Caves just on the other side of the border, but it was getting late, so we stopped for the night in Medford, Oregon.

I checked the road conditions for Crater Lake, and they didn’t look great. The main route to the crater was open, but the drive around the crater’s rim was still closed. Snowplows were still removing the 31 feet of snow that piled up over the winter.

So we held a family council, and decided to head north on I-5, straight to Portland. From there we’d go to Mt. St. Helens, then tour the Columbia River Gorge. Then we’d circle back down to Crater Lake on the off chance the rim drive would be open. Such are the hazards of going to the Cascades in June.

I thought the drive up I-5 would be dull in a sort of I-94-oh-God-we’re-not-even-to-Kalamazoo-yet sort of way. But it was way fun. My repeated attempts to recognize Klamath geology were a dismal failure, but soon we were in the Willamette Valley anyway. At Eugene, we stopped by the Cascades Raptor Center, a nonprofit nature center and wildlife hospital specializing in birds of prey. We visited a couple dozen huge birds, unable to return to the wild due to injuries or birth defects.

It was a little pricey -- $18 for the three of us – but it was for such a good cause I didn’t mind. We never would have found the place, though, if it hadn’t been for our Greta Garmin, who directed us off I-5 and through a residential area and past some sheep and into a forest. We couldn’t help but think of those drivers who blindly follow their GPS into reservoirs and wondered if we’d end up in Montana before we had the wit to turn around.

Well, the place was worth every penny, especially for Benny, who loves big birds with talons. Many of them suffered eye or wing injuries, two physical attributes that raptors especially rely on. We saw a bald eagle from Alaska, some really loud kestrels, an absolutely huge gyrfalcon, a beautiful Hedwig snowy owl and a spooky Great Horned Owl who swiveled his head to watch Benny. Seriously, it was unnerving how it tracked the boy as Benny hopped from cage to cage.  We arrived right at feeding time, too, with volunteers moving between cages like carhops, carrying trays of dead mice. Benny spent some of his money on a big stuffed eagle he named Baldy.

The Loch Ness Monster at the Oregon Garden.
We spent the night just north of Salem near the Oregon Gardens, a spectacular 80-acre botanical garden.  It was warm and sunny the next morning, and Ron and I followed Benny as he scooted up paths and over bridges and around fountains. Benny actually knows the most about gardens in the family, since he’s spent a couple years in Grattan’s garden program. There were giant roses – you could choke on the scent – as well as a pet garden, a 400-year-old oak tree and shrubs shaped like bears. We had lunch at the garden before heading to Portland.

A black petunia at the Oregon Garden.

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