Saturday, January 4, 2014
A Teepee by Highway One
We drove southeast on Highway 101. The morning was cool and foggy but still quite a bit warmer than what we were used to in Oregon. Not long after the sun was up in earnest we came across a very interesting little store right on the 101. It was hunkered down against a large hillside like someone had just picked a random spot to fell about 30 trees and build the place. The first thing you notice is the enormous sculptures made from large pieces of redwood. There was a totem pole, a bear, and some more kitschy stuff like Shrek and Pinocchio. As I walked further in across the wet mixture of pine needles and landscaping bark I could hear wind chimes, also fashioned from redwood trees. Perhaps the most eye-catching feature however was this Bigfoot lurking right outside the front entrance.
Apparently that part of US Highway 101 is Bigfoot country. There have been a number of sightings in the area and a good portion of the interior of the roadside shop was devoted to books and other memorabilia related to Mr. Missing Link. I’ve never been much of a Bigfoot believer but it was fun to get a glimpse of just how passionate some people were about researching and someday uncovering definitive proof of the existence of this fuzzy guy. I thought of the guys we met way back in the Everglades and wondered if the Bigfoot believers put any stock in the existence of the Skunk Ape or if they thought it was a cheap knockoff.
We kept on south until we came to the little town of Liggett, CA, close to the intersection of 101 and Highway One. It’s here that for a modest fee you can drive through an enormous redwood tree. It’s called a chandelier redwood I’m assuming because of the shape of the limbs which don’t even start until around 70 or 100 feet up. It's 315 feet tall and the base measures 21 feet in diameter. We had seen trees even bigger than this one the day before but it was something about being able to walk through the big hole in the middle that made more of an impression on the kids.
They ran and played with the dogs for a long time before they even realized there was a gift shop to check out. Once they were inside I walked the dogs around some more and listened to the sheer stillness of the place. It was so quiet it felt like I was walking around the inside of an elaborate painting, the foliage a little too green to be real, the shards of light too ethereal to be seen on Earth. I could hear animals that were probably no larger than mice skittering underneath hedges a hundred yards away. Pine needles drifted down with a surprising clunk. Then wind rolled down from the hillside and shook everything inside the little valley hurling pine cones and even small limbs down at the ground while the tops of the tallest trees remained every bit as motionless as the mountains in the distance.
We turned onto Highway One south for a scenic drive along the coast. The northern part of the Pacific Coast Highway winds through some of the most beautiful, rugged country in the entire US. The road itself is extremely narrow including some sections where there’s no shoulder at all and the white line on the right gives way to a sheer drop off, often without any kind of guardrail. It’s worth the nerve-wracking moments however when you break free of the switchbacks for a glimpse of what feels like the edge of the Earth.
We turned off just north of Westport following signs for a campground. We took a dirt track down from the little sign on the highway and drove through the campground to the beach. Cold wind blew across the dark sand. Waves broke on the shore. The sun glowed pink in its descent. It was a beautiful place, but cold. They also had a teepee at the campground which we thought might be a little warmer than the tent.
It was cozy on the inside with a big bed, rocking chair, wooden table and chairs. The only problem was there was no fire ring in the middle like traditional teepees. Didn’t seem like a big deal at first but later on as the night grew colder I began to seriously consider building my own fire pit in the middle of that thing. Even before the day’s light had faded in entirety it was already too cold to sit outside by a fire so I drove into the nearest town to get some food for the fam. It was a tiny wooden place about as wide as a Pittsburgh bar. Outside two guys were sitting in the darkness drinking a case of Keystone Light. I could make out the label by the light of their cigarettes.
Inside a rather trendy looking girl rang me up. It had a general store feel to it with high prices to accompany the remote nature of the place. She told me the next nearest town was 20 miles away. They still had Sierra Nevada though. You gotta love Northern California.
On the way back the headlights were swallowed in the almost absolute darkness. I could see a few of the white divider lines and the bends in the road and that was about it. I was happy to make it back to the teepee safe but a little surprised by how cold it still was inside. The kids were already layered with covers in the bed and were being really good sports I thought. We had everyone fully dressed and bundled in lots of blankets.
Amy told me she and 8 Ball had an encounter with a skunk while I was gone. Thankfully no one got sprayed. She said she saw its eyes glint red in the beam of the flashlight and 8 Ball rushed it with a ferocious growl he had never used before. The skunk took off but we decided to push some luggage and my guitar case up against some holes at the bottom part of the teepee in case the skunk got any ideas about coming back for revenge. Now it’s official: we’ve encountered every cute and cuddly camping pest.
Amy and I talked for a while but we climbed in bed too pretty early on. I drank a little more whiskey than I meant to in my effort to stay warm. It was one of those nights where you wake up every time part of your body gets uncovered because someone moved. Amy and I slept on the outside edges of the bed to keep the kids from falling off and also to seal in everyone’s heat. One of the many times I woke up I reached over and checked on Amy and each of the kids. They all seemed to be sleeping pretty comfortably considering. Juniper was in the middle and thus the warmest of all. I fell asleep listening to the waves and the wind snapping against the taut material of the teepee, thankful for my warm family crammed into that queen size bed with me.