Going south…

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

….to San Francisco

After our dream of a trip to Canada was finally off the table, we immediately planned our way south. The weather as well as the temperatures in Washington (State) were rather unstable and fresh. But we still took the necessary time for some highlights; after all, it is not every day that you are in this northwestern state.

No sooner had we fed our tablet with the right data than we were off into the wide world and the heights of Mount Rainier. Almost a little disappointed, we meandered up the fog-shrouded mountain flanks. On this day, there seemed no prospect of a summit view. After a short hike to Mowich Lake, we turned back. On the way back, a quick glance in the rearview mirror and I (Tom) almost couldn’t believe it: the snow-covered Mount Rainier with a wonderful cloud border showed up. You could hardly have seen this mountain better. When we camped in the evening, we, or I (Tom), were allowed to admire the north-eastern slope of the summit from the White River.

The following day we hoped, or was it again only me (Tom), to be able to admire the mountain in its full glory from the south side. Unfortunately, I was denied this wish and the low-hanging rain clouds let their load down on the earth in a continuous rain. Together with many other tourists, we marvelled at the beautiful photos of the mountain in the visitor centre, stood around the model of the volcano and dreamed of a beautiful hike in this – supposedly – gorgeous mountain world.

Our way led us west again towards the Pacific. Up to Olympia, the capital of Washington (State), it was still quite uncomfortable and the many rains also brought lower temperatures. But the deeper and the more we approached the sea, the more the sky cleared up. Thanks to the wet weather, the evening fire at the campsite was allowed again and provided pleasant warmth.

Passing through Olympia, we followed the most important government buildings in the clearly laid out centre before continuing westwards to chase the setting sun. After the past and rather humid camps, it was again a pleasure to be outside and sit by the fire with a glass of wine.

Chantal always claimed that it was always beautiful by the sea and so we continued our journey south along the legendary road 101. She was not wrong for this day; the sun and pleasant temperatures accompanied us along the heavily rugged coastline along the Pacific. It was actually only a short drive to the mouth of the Columbia River and we were already standing at the lighthouse where Lewis and Clark once gazed into the vastness of the Pacific long ago.

In contrast to the earlier transcontinental expedition, our overnight stay at the southwestern tip of Washington was certainly more pleasant than it had been in earlier times, despite the onset of rain. The following day, our belongings were quickly stowed in the jeep and we were already scrambling up the connecting bridge and changing the bank of the Culumbia River. On this rainy Saturday, we headed straight for Portland (Oregon), hoping to be able to order our new tyres directly from the Walmart branch. Pre-ordering via internet was not possible. First the card issuer blocked the payment and then Walmart’s fraud specialist prohibited the order; a European credit card and without an American mobile number apparently doesn’t work. 

Also in the Walmart branch it did not work out with the order of our desired tyres. The workshop manager could not order the desired tyres for us and offered us an alternative, which we again did not necessarily want. Somewhat disappointed, we drove back out of the Portland agglomeration and looked for a place to spend the night in the next state forest. The rain slapped incessantly on our tent tarp that evening. Despite the rain, our campfire crackled in front of us and provided the necessary warmth. Our camping neighbour served us freshly shot and finely roasted game birds. A short talk about hunting and what can be shot rounded off the tasting of wings and legs. Well, also a sign that the hunters were already on the prowl in the North American forests.

We postponed our tyre purchase to the southern border of Oregon and headed for the coast again; according to Chantal, it is always beautiful there. Unfortunately, even on the coast the clouds were rather persistent and again and again it dripped from the sky. Despite the rain and the fog banks blown in from the Pacific, the landscape was very varied, and again and again we had to stop briefly and look over the cliffs into the depths.

After the rainy days, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds again more often and somewhere in the middle of the Pacific coasts we reached the Oregon Dunes. Parts of this huge dune landscape are protected, another part is open for “big boys” with their sand vehicles. The weather was promising and I (Tom) was attracted by the sand hills. A groundsman at a campsite provided us with a red flag, a quick glance at the fuel gauge and there we were in this huge sandpit. A little hesitantly at first, so as not to get stuck in the quicksand straight away. But with food comes appetite and already we were digging our way back to the entrance gate in deeper terrain. Actually, digging through the sand with an off-road vehicle is absolute nonsense, but it was still fun.

We continued to follow the coast south towards California. Sometimes the road followed the coastline directly, a few kilometres further inland and countless villages and small towns invited us to linger. Shortly before the border to California, we left the coastal region and scrambled up the coastal mountains again. Buying tyres was still on our top priority list, as in California a steep sales tax was added to the tyre price, while in Oregon no sales tax was charged. But even on the other side of the coastal mountains, it was not easy to find reasonably priced tyres that we liked. It was only in Medford that we found a tyre discounter and a suitable fitting date.

It was also an opportunity for us to visit Crater Lake National Park, and we headed out of the Medford conurbation on Friday afternoon. But we weren’t the only ones, Americans love it too and head out into nature every chance they get; of course with all the luxuries they already have at home.

In the national forests it was usually easy for us to find a place to spend the night, but in the national park it was crowded everywhere. Even at the normal park entrance, even in rain and snow showers, we had to wait in a long line of cars at the park entrance. At the top, at the crater rim, there was a lot of activity on this Saturday and even at these icy temperatures people were still walking around in shorts. The views of the crater lake were beautiful due to the weather, but not exactly stunning. Still, the masses of tourists eagerly snapped their photos like there was no tomorrow. As snow began to fall, we left the wintry heights and returned to the nearest national forest. Perhaps the sun would return on Sunday.

After a frosty night, a picture-perfect day followed and we returned to the crater rim. We were not the only ones to take advantage of the impeccable weather on this Sunday and accordingly there were motorcades on the park roads. Despite the crowd of vehicles, the drive along the eastern ring road was fantastic, and wonderful sweeping views compensated for the wait. Even the view into the crater lake was without any fog banks this time. It’s actually crazy what must have happened here 7700 years ago; after various smaller eruptions, Mount Mazama with a height of around 3700 metres had sunk into the earth and a huge crater remained – it’s amazing what nature can do.

Impressively, we left the past history of the earth and headed for Medford again, where our jeep finally received its new tyres and relieved our travel budget from the high tax in California. On a direct route we now drove towards California. Our route again led us through wide mountain landscapes towards the Pacific. The fact that even an important US road can be closed for several hours surprised us and patience was the order of the day. The many forest fires of the last few years have left their mark and the road safety through the narrow gorges and valleys is being made safer again at huge expense. Where the forests are missing, rockfalls and landslides are almost as certain as the Amen in the church.

We followed the US-101 along the coast again, where large areas of forest were still protected from logging. But what does large areas mean here; of the original coastal forests and the mighty redwood stands, about 10% remain today. The rest was generously cleared after the development of California. The demand for timber has always been enormous, and even the environmentally friendly railway used huge amounts of wood to lay the track.

We enjoyed the drive through the various protected forests and were fascinated by the huge redwoods and other large trees. Many of these giant trees can look back on several centuries and with a height of up to 100 metres they must have a great overview of our existence and activities.

After Eureka, we left the US-101 and explored back roads that directly followed the Pacific coast as we continued our journey. Few farms lined the coastline, much of it in disrepair, followed a few kilometres later by holiday home developments for the well-to-do. Those who can afford it buy some great piece of land, fence it in and put up prohibition signs everywhere; the American dream. Crazy; this world!

After the many kilometres of coastal road, by now we were following road “1”, we turned east again in Manchester. Somewhere behind these mountains is supposed to be the Napa Valley with its vast vineyards. After crossing a few mountain ranges, we found ourselves at Clear Lake, where not only vines but also various fruit plantations were cultivated. The actual large wine-growing areas only begin shortly before Napa, where everything is really done for wine-growing. Even around Santa Rosa the noble grapes grow, which are processed into fine juices, and many wineries invited us to the appropriate tasting.

We resisted the constant temptations and scrambled back over the mountains in a westerly direction towards the Pacific. Back on road “1”, we continued in a southerly direction. Low clouds and a lot of moisture from the sky accompanied us on the way. But after the rain, the sun often shone again and in the best conditions we climbed Mount Tamalpais, or just Mount Tam, the northern local mountain of San Francisco, where hot races used to be held with the first mountain bikes. Instead of plunging into the depths on our bikes, we enjoyed the first impression of this huge metropolis around San Francisco.

It was only a “stone’s throw” to the Golden Gate Bridge, where tourists from all over the world meet and enjoy this unique sight. And really, this structure has a certain flair and mystique that has a fabulous aura. But there is also something wonderful about driving over this bridge; it’s like setting off into another world.

But there is also something mystical about the drive into San Francisco, which is praised by many songs. But in the street canyons and the heavy traffic, the background sound was soon silenced. Until we reached our motel, we tortured our way through the city and the daily traffic chaos, which is probably part of the normal traffic in this big city. Almost overhanging, the roads lead up to the next four-way stop and down again correspondingly steeply on the other side. We were glad to finally stand in front of the motel we had booked, where we could park our jeep in the garage for the next few days.

We had already been to many big American cities and walked our legs off. But in San Francisco, many things were somehow different. Whether it was the antique trams or the cable cars, the littered streets or the tourist piers; we don’t know exactly! Instead, it was frightening how many people live on the streets in this city and how many streets are submerged in dirt. In parts it was very dirty and neglected!

Anyway, we were glad to leave this city with a great past after a few days and headed east towards Yosemite National Park. The weather was supposed to bring lots of sunshine in the next few days and we were looking forward to the days ahead in one of the most beautiful natural areas on earth as we crossed the Bay Bridge – at least that’s what the guidebook said.

Chantal and Tom/October 2023

>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator