Road Trips: Northern California in Color and Black & White

If you take the fastest route you can reach the little town of Ferndale, California in twelve hours from our house. Happily, we had time to spare so we took a longer route, avoiding Seattle traffic by taking a ferry to the Olympic peninsula and heading south along the scenic Hood Canal.

A ferry ride is a nice way to begin a road trip. On a cool September morning we watched two seals and a Great Blue heron fishing in the harbor while we waited for the next Coupeville – Port Townsend ferry. The heron’s successful catch was an auspicious sign for the start of our the trip.

1. Saturday, 8:45am. Coupeville ferry terminal

After disembarking from the ferry we drove through Washington and Oregon, stopping for the night in a small town off Route 5. The next day it rained off and on as we wound through southwest Oregon and into California via the Redwood Highway, finally arriving in Ferndale. The two long days on the road were a bit of a slog but we were in good spirits as we settled into one of our all-time favorite airbnb’s. The cottage was stocked with fresh eggs, home made muffins, local jam, coffee, tea, chocolate and wine – how could we not feel pampered? I woke up early Monday morning to fresh, cloud-dappled skies and a rainbow.

2. Monday, 5:58am. Ferndale
3. 7:12am. Ferndale

We had a leisurely breakfast, then headed into town. Ferndale is known for being a throwback kind of place where people cherish their old-fashioned, small town way of life. The atmosphere is such that movies have been made here and the entire town is a state historic landmark. The uniqueness could have gone to town’s collective head but residents go about their business in a low-key way, keeping the town a few degrees away from preciousness.

4. 9:25am. Ferndale

After wandering around town we drove up to Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This is dairy country so there was a slight delay as a herd of cows crossed the road.

5. 10:41am. Ferndale
6. 10:16am. Ferndale

At the Ma-le’l Dunes unit at Humboldt Bay NWR we hiked across an expanse of sand dunes out to the beach. It feels so good to be at the ocean when you haven’t seen it for months. I took off my shoes and socks and waded in the cold water, delighting in the small spectacle of foamy water swirling over rippled sand. All day the skies paraded towering cumulus clouds as the storm we came in on sailed out to sea.

7. 2:21pm. Ma-le’l Dunes, Humboldt Bay

9. 6:48pm. Near Ferndale

The next day we followed a road out of town to a place on the map marked “Centerville Beach.” It turned out to be a county park, the kind where kids meet up after dark for a bonfire, and people walk their dogs unleashed and drive their trucks on the hard sand beach. To the south we saw cliffs rising steeply to grassy, rolling hills dotted with evergreens. Curious, we began walking down the broad, deserted beach towards the cliffs. There were strange rock formations along the way, things that make you wish you had a geology guide tucked in your pocket, or a handy app to consult.

Way down the beach we found a big piece of driftwood that we simply had to have. It was water-logged and very heavy. How could we get it all the way back to the car? Eureka! I found a fresh length of Bullwhip kelp, we tied it to the driftwood, and dragged it over the sand. Worked like a charm. (You’re right, I was NOT the one doing the dragging.)

10. Tuesday, 9:21am. Centerville Beach

12. 10:11am. Centerville Beach

Centerville Road swings past the beach and uphill into the grasslands. We wondered what was up there. On the map there didn’t seem to be much, though we imagined the ocean views had to be spectacular. Up we went, following the narrow, pot-holed road around tight curves, past deep gullies, up hills and out onto open range land. A few herds of grazing cattle and widely-spaced ranches were the only signs of humanity until we arrived at a small parking lot and trail. We hesitated to take the trail all the way down to the beach, thinking about the steep climb back up, so we ambled along the winding dirt path for a half mile. The views were breathtaking. We admired golden grasses and lingering wildflowers and wondered about animal trails tunneling through the grass. A fist-sized hunk of fur had been left on the trail next to some scat. There are mountain lions in the area. Maybe this was the site of a kill.

13. 12:38pm. Lost Coast Headlands

14. 12:11pm. Guthrie Trail, Lost Coast Headlands

15. 12:19pm. Guthrie Trail

17. 12:14pm. Guthrie Trail

We spent the rest of the day exploring by car. Older wood frame homes dotted the countryside – some barely standing, others well kept. When I stopped to photograph one of them the neighbor from across the street approached us. Uh oh, I thought, here’s trouble. But no, he just wanted to offer us a few apples from his heirloom tree!

We drove through the town of Scotia, which we learned was built for loggers employed by the Pacific Lumber Company about 150 years ago. When a new owner took charge of the company in the 1980s, logging practices changed, clear-cutting for quick profit became common, and protests ensued. You may have heard about Julia Butterfly Hill’s two year sojourn living high in a 1500-year-old redwood tree to protest logging practices in the late 1990s. That tree was finally protected. During the 2008 recession the lumber company declared bankruptcy. Now the company, called Humboldt Redwood Company, is divesting itself of Scotia real estate. Logging isn’t as profitable as it once was, and running a company town no longer makes sense. What we saw was a depressed town, a busy lumber mill and an elaborate educational exhibit with live salmon, promoting the company’s efforts to preserve salmon habitat. Logging can pollute the streams where salmon reproduce; they and other animal and plant species may be threatened when timber is extracted haphazardly. On the surface the town of Scotia was calm, but protests at nearby logging sites continue.

18. 1:31pm. outside Ferndale

Wednesday morning we hiked at Headwaters Forest Reserve, a preserve comprising over 7,000 acres of redwood forest which was protected in 1999, thanks to over ten years of grass roots organizing to save one of the last intact old growth forest habitats from the saw. The land had been owned by the same lumber company that founded Scotia, the town we looked at the day before. For over 100 years the family-owned company provided an important, and probably sustainable livelihood for Humboldt County residents but a hostile takeover in 1985 put the company into the hands of an outside corporation that drastically increased the timber take and violated environmental regulations. Activists rallied together to stop the company, using legal actions, protests, road blockades and campaigns. Feelings on both sides were intense enough that one activist’s car was bombed. It took years to reach an agreement in which the company was paid to hand over 7,472 acres of forest land.

Previously logged forest is slowly being restored at the reserve, where you can still see evidence of logging. One intact old growth groves is open to anyone with the energy to hike 10.5 miles (17km). Alternately visitors can make advance arrangements for a tour to another old growth grove that’s only accessible with a guide. We hope to do that next time, but our walk through the surrounding, previously logged areas was delightful.

The weather was unsettled. Light rain interrupted us a few times but the forest is thick and we weren’t bothered. The woods had a magical look that morning, especially around the South Fork Elk River, where I concentrated on photographing the ever-changing reflections of foliage in the water. (Some of those photos are in the post “Transitory States.”)

20. Wednesday, 9:38am. Headwaters Forest Reserve

22. 9:42am. Headwaters Forest Reserve

23. 11:09am. Headwaters Forest Reserve

24. 11:09am. Headwaters Forest Reserve

25. 8:50am. Headwaters Forest Reserve

26. 10:53am. Headwaters Forest Reserve

27. 10:27am Headwaters Forest Reserve

We had time after hiking at Headwaters to return to the Lost Coast Headlands via another route, Mattole Road. This remote, scenic road is described here, on a “dangerous roads” website. We went as far as Steamboat Rock. We pulled over and wandered on the deserted beach, feeling like we were indeed on a lost coast. Interesting traces of ocean life and intricate rock formations were plentiful, but this time we only pocketed a few small shells and rocks. (The photo below of Ferndale was taken when we stopped for coffee before driving to the Lost Coast.)

29. 4:23pm. Steamboat Rock, Lost Coast

30. 3:12pm. Ferndale

Our time in Humboldt County went by way too fast. Thursday we had to be to another airbnb in Waldport, Oregon, before dark and it was 6 1/2 hours away. We planned to punctuate the drive by meeting Gunta for coffee in Gold Beach. That left an hour or so for one last stop to gape at California’s redwood giants. I chose a location in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park called Cal Barrel Road because it was on the way, easy to get to, and is home to some of the really big ones.

Steam poured off the tree trunks seventy feet over our heads as warm sunlight met cool, damp bark. It’s impossible to describe the experience of standing among these ancient beings and needless to say, photographs don’t do justice to 300-foot-tall, 1800-year-old trees. I hope you can see them someday for yourself.

31. 9:32am. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

32. 9:23am. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

33. 9:29am. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Perhaps I should have broken this post up into several shorter ones. If you read all the way to the end, thank you for your patience!

***


53 comments

  1. If I didn’t know you better, I’d think #2 was a composite. It’s just wonderful, and would still be wonderful if it were a composite: the clouds and the trees mimicking each other, and the haze getting in there to make you think more about the clouds. And that punctuation of the utility pole and wires! Really nice. In #7 I love the line that goes from the left across the top of the grasses to point at the clouds arranging themselves into an interesting formation. Yes, interesting rock formations in #11. Before I read your words, I thought the one on the left was a chunk of concrete. It really pays to read as I move through your post sequentially. (I tend to zoom through all the photographs first.) The footprints and drag mark in #12 make so much more sense that way—and make me laugh knowing their reason for being. What a beaut, #13. And #14—I love it, especially for the high key! I like #15 for its colors and the lay of the land. I was about to bring up the novel The Overstory again when I read your paragraph about Scotia. Then, clicking on your link to Julia Butterfly Hill I see that “The character Olivia Vandergriff in Richard Powers’ 2018 novel, The Overstory, is loosely based on Hill.” So I don’t need to, except I just did, didn’t I. Sometimes—when they stimulate readers’ emotions—novels can do more than news. I’m glad, though, for your link to the NCJ. The backlighting in #19 is delightful in the way it shows up the moss. I always go for photographs of dark woods whose path leads to light, and #21 is one of the best I’ve ever seen of these. I’m fond of #25 for all the obvious reasons: composition, variety of tones, etc., etc. I think you fooled around processing #26. I like it. Infra-red? Or maybe it’s real snow and no fooling! Maybe I’ll find out later, when I read some more. Love those rocks in #27! I think #30 does do justice to the redwood. How anyone can log these magnificent beings, I’ll never understand. . . . I never did learn what you did in #26 . . .

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for all that attention, Linda. #2 isn’t a composite but it IS an odd crop. Glad you like the pole and wires. 🙂 I’m glad you appreciate the grassland photos too – I don’t think they’re as universally appealing as beach or forest scenes.
      My brother just read The Overstory and also recommended it. One of these days I’ll get to it! For sure, novels can do more than news. Art, too. 😉
      I only discovered the NCJ when researching for this post – it’s a good resource. Actually I learned much of what’s written above only after returning home. In my mind, it’s always a toss-up between the advantages of knowing and not knowing facts about places one visits. Fresh eyes vs. deeper understanding, etc.
      #21 is thanks to using the spot metering option in-camera instead of center metering or other options. That one change has been a boon. In #26 I probably did begin with an infrared Lr filter that sits on the left side of the develop panel. It’s a good starting point, then tweaking more in the color sliders and elsewhere fine-tunes it. Snow, haha! Maybe snow’s on your mind! You learn things when you convert to black and white; that’s one reason I like to do it. And it’s a challenge to make black and whites stand out enough to sit here with the color photos and not be sad. 😉
      I wasn’t that happy with #30 and only included it at Joe’s suggestion because without people in the photo, there’s just no way to see the scale. I really want to go back and make more photos in that location. Why don’t you book a ticket to SF and we’ll meet there, and drive up? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just checked – yes, I began with the infrared preset for that photo, then made lots of adjustments, including local adjustments and a reduction in clarity at the end, but also a little increase in texture. Next time I’m going to try adding snow – where’s that slider again?
        Thank you again.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That’s funny life is worth living here, too. Seriously, it’s not hard to imagine a creek like the one in #25 being near you, and the name “Mill Creek” is perfect. Takes me back east. There are Mill Creeks out here I suppose, but not was either Elk or Salmon, something like that. 🙂 The light rain that day was a gift.
      I can picture the house in #19 upstate too, or in the Midwest. Like I said to Linda above, I enjoy the challenge of making black and white images that can stand up to the color images in the same post. I always learn things in the process. I’m glad you found something to like, Ken, thank you very much.

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  2. In #6, did it occur to you to switch the objects in the two sentences?
    The third picture in #8 looks like it includes a cross-sectioned purple cabbage.
    #19 gives the impression that the tree trunks are twisted into tight spirals.
    Hello, infrared, in #25 and #26.
    #27 is full of intriguing shapes and textures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you get to Humboldt Bay be sure to go further south – that’s where the Lost Coast begins – or further inland, where the redwoods are. I have a feeling the bay is best seen from a boat, but we didn’t do that. There were lots of birds way out there that a scope would have helped with. 🙂 THank you, Hedy! ENjoy the rest of your day, and the next, and the next…

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  3. Wonderful series and I enjoyed it immensely, Lynn.

    Normally I can’t read long posts as my eyes glaze over and eventually stop ‘working’, but punctuate a long post with stunning and/or interesting photos and the length is no issue at all.

    Being a details sort of photographer, I love #8, #16 & #27, but the sight of those Redwoods with the people on the path to highlight their massive size in #30 must have been an incredible sight. Wish I was there in person to stand and look at that jaw-dropping sight. Makes one instantly turn into a ‘tree-hugger’ and environmentalist (if you’re not already one).

    Must have been fun to meet Gunta too. I’ve admired her seascapes for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Details are what I tend to gravitate towards as well – I’m glad you liked the closer shots here. You’re right, the redwoods are just plain incredible. It’s very, very difficult to imagine how anyone could take a saw to the real giants. I guess people just thought the resources were infinite. Or didn’t think at all. Yes, Gunta’s is the Queen of seascapes! We met before actually, so this was the second time. 🙂 Thank you, Vicki, enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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  4. Wonderful post, Lynn, as always just like being there and seeing it all – but the thought of being two days on the road – ohhh! As to the pictures: LOVE 6!!!; and 19 and 26 are ohhh! (but a good ohhh! in this case!!!); and I also like 2, 8, 14, 20, 25, 27 and 31. A 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, the two days were punctuated with a few niceties, but it did get tedious. Glad you like #6, complete with errant straw fragments. 😉 And you singled out one of the black and whites, nice. No, most of them! Good. 🙂 Thank you for sticking with this long post to the end. Enjoy what’s left of your day, if anything is… 😉

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  5. Oh, so many to choose from! Of course #2 appeals to me with its minimal, graphic feel. And then #4 has such a classic look. My immediate reaction to #6 was that the second line should have been “wreck the planet”. The tryptich in #8 fascinates me and feels soothingly meditative – especially the first image. The contrasts in colour and form between the individual components of the tryptych montage in #18 hold the attention. And then there’s the watery abstracts with your Monet-esque treatment in #22 and #23. I love te study of texture in the montage of #27. And #30 gives some indication of the scale of those mighty, towering giants. It must be so humbling and awe inspiring to be there – to simply “be”. Such an opportunity for “shinrin-yoku”. Thank you for sharing your photographic insights into what sounds like a splendid trip.

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  6. WOW … so many winners in this post where do I begin? 4, 6, 8 are all great (and 26 too)! I love the dark woods feeling of 21 and the twisted branches in 19. The northwest forest has a very different feeling than the forest here in Colorado. Your images convey that very well! I love the smaller collections you intersperse … like the beached collection of 27. Great post Lynn. I appreciate how much time you spend to blogging!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your enthusiasm is appreciated, Denise! I messed up the numbers after 18. They’re fixed now. Anyway, you’re liking some of the black and whites I think, and that’s good. I like the challenge of making black and whites that can be shown in the same space as color images without the eyes just racing past the black and whites. There’s no doubt that northwest coastal forests are very different from those in Colorado, or any forests once you cross the mountains. There were many familiar “faces” for us in northern CA, but also plants that don’t grow up here, so that was fun. The beach is definitely different from our beaches, which are saltwater but very far from the ocean. I hope to get back to Humboldt County before too long, but as you know, there are so many places in the West that vie for attention.

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  7. So great to read your words again. You are just the kind of person I would love to take a journey with, the way you’re taking it all in – there are so many lovely moments in this post, I can feel all the twists and turns of the road. Sounds like a great trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a nice thing to say. I do love to travel! There’s so much to see in the western US, and even in the places above, we barely scratched the surface. Here’s to more scintillating twists and turns than we can count!

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  8. Good to finally see a summary of your trip. I particularly liked the black and white forest photos, and you did a really good job putting the size of the redwood tree in context with the people. Otherwise it is, as you said, hard to convey their sheer size. I bookmarked this as a reference for future travels to Northern California, it’s very helpful. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, Alex, I appreciate hearing from you. I like the challenge of making black and white landscapes than can compete with the color photos in the same post. 🙂 As for the redwoods, they are incredibly challenging and we had barely an hour there. I wasn’t thrilled with those photos, but I’ll be back someday to try again. Cal Barrel Road turns out to be one of the choicer redwood spots, and it’s very accessible. I highly recommend spending time along the Lost Coast, too. I think it’s different enough from the beaches you’re familiar with to be worth exploring on those slow back roads. Have a good week!

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  9. Wow is right! What a trip. Thanks for taking me along with your beautiful photos and details. I have been to Redwoods and the old Orick Mill (many moons ago). That part of the world is so rich and beautiful. I hope to return someday! Thanks for the inspiration!

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  10. There are no long publications when they reflect with sensitivity what is intended to be reported. In this case a trip that we would all be happy to make.
    The photos reflect very well the textures of the places visited, but personally, I was delighted with the three images that make up the set 8.
    Beautiful!
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is very sweet of you….it took time to put this together and now I’m way behind on everyone’s posts, including yours. Sorry! The photos in #8 almost are lost here, being so small. I was really pleased with them so I’m very happy that you singled them out. With your love of the ocean and beach, it makes sense that they would appeal to you. 🙂 Thank you for being here and have a great week. 🙂

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  11. Looks like a great trip. Those redwoods are really something, aren’t they? When I saw your beach trail shot (#12), I was thinking about who else might come along, see it and wonder what it was. I can see them telling the kids, “that’s the trail of a Giant Pacific Sea Slug!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 Funny! It’s fun to fantasize about tracks in the sand, isn’t it? Those Humboldt County beaches are amazing, and of course, the redwoods are beyond anything words OR pictures can show. You had to be there! 😉 Thanks Dave, have a good week.

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  12. What an enjoyable read this was. It sounds like you had a really lovely time on your travels off the beaten path. I bet the US is full of places like you found where there are hardly and roads/people and lots of landscape. So many gorgeous photos I don’t know which ones to pick. Oh #21! I have to mention #21 – so mysterious.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t tend to think there are many places with lots of landscape and few people, but I suppose you’re right. It’s the mindset of someone brought up on the east coast, to be amazed at big places and deserted spaces, right? 😉 Those meandering paths in the forest are a treasure – so much beauty. I’m glad you enjoyed the post – thanks!

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  13. Such beautiful and interesting places! Seen through your eyes we get the nicest impressions of all 🙂 What a great shot from the heron! The structures from all of your trips are “mine”. I love them, especially nr. 28. Picture nr 2 is beautiful and it looks a bit like japanese art. Amazing landscapes and trees! 23 looks like a painting with these soft tones. I think I mentioned it before with the other mirrorings you showed before. 10, 11 and 12 are amazing. This steep cliffs and the stones are impressive. I have to laugh when I look at nr. 11! The tracks look like a yeti did this job 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 A yeti – well almost. 😉 We thought we should take advantage of the fact that we had a car. What we brought home from Europe was tiny by comparison. I love that you see a Japanese influence in #2, that’s good to hear. The cliffs are very impressive and there are so many interesting things going on in the rocks. But it makes sense – this is where 3 major tectonic plates come together. There have been huge earthquakes here, and there will be more. I thought about that as I walked under those cliffs. :-0 Thank you, Almuth, hope you’re healing from the wisdom tooth!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ups, I wouldn’t want to be there when there is an earthquake! But I get the point about the different stones and the cliff. I assume you can spend days there looking at the stones. I like that, very interesting. The tooth must wait till january 🙂 But thank you for thinking of me!

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  14. There was no patience required, dear Lynn, to read your breathtaking, exciting contribution to the end. And thanks be to you who write such emotional, engaging travel reports. Through them, I learn more about the beauties of North America than in all my life before.
    I find your black-and-white tree and forest pictures particularly aesthetic, they do not look as emotional as the colored ones, they clarify the structures and the play of light and shadow. I like that a lot, and yet I’m glad to see the wonderful colors of the woods in other photos that give me life, warmth and fragrance, an echo of summer for the mind.
    I was also pleased to read so much about the environmental commitment of the people in the lumbering areas. You have very sensitively shown how the pursuit of profit destroys the world if we are not vigilant and courageous. This is not only in these last years of deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest, but for a long time, always, I am tempted to say. I admire your art to connect travelogue, love of nature and cultural criticism quite organic – and your great art of photography anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ule, thank you so much. I like the way you tease apart the differences between color and black and white photographs. As always, it’s obvious that you engage your mind when you come here and I really appreciate that.
      Logging, like many businesses, is not inherently evil, as you know, but profit does corrupt people. There have been strong voices against corruption and for the environment in the American West for a long time. Appreciation for the environment runs deep in the west – we noticed the difference when we moved here from New York. Maybe being here helps me express beliefs I always had a little more clearly. I never thought of that before but it’s possible. I try to combine good photography with something interesting to read and when I read a comment like yours, I feel like I might be succeeding. 🙂

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