Exploring A Cave & Hallucinating A Wave

Trip Start Jul 21, 2004
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, July 26, 2004

We awoke to another hot day in Ashland.  Over the past thirteen months, I had spent a grand total of about eight days in Ashland.  With the exception of one evening, the temperature in Ashland was as hot as I would've experienced in Fresno.  While there were a lot of other attractions that distinguished Ashland from Fresno, I was convinced that the fabled Oregon weather that I'd heard so much about was just marketing.

We enjoyed another delicious breakfast with Pat, Tom, and the other guests.  After breakfast, we headed up to our room and packed for the drive home.  Around 10:30 a.m., we pulled away from the Oak Hill B & B.  It was another great stay at this wonderful establishment.  Pat and Tom do a fantastic job of making each guest feel like there is no other guest in the residence.  I've found a few places in my travels which feel like a "home away from home".  The Oak Hill B & B is definitely on that list of places.  

Instead of driving south on Interstate-5 in a straight path to Fresno, I was determined to find some cool weather.  That meant a trip to the coast in order to take advantage of the coastal fog.  But, as we'd learned the previous year, there is no really easy way to get to the coast from Ashland.  Since the trip to the coast would add a lot of time to our trip, we decided to break up the trip back to Fresno by spending the night in Fort Bragg, California. 

As we had learned from the previous year, the best way to get to the coast from Ashland was to go north to Grant’s Pass, and then go southwest to Crescent City, California. With this valuable knowledge in hand, we drove up Interstate 5 to Grant’s Pass and then turned south on Highway 199 toward Crescent City. But, we didn’t go straight to Crescent City. Instead, we turned east when we got to Cave Junction, Oregon so that we could see the Oregon Caves National Monument.

The Oregon Caves are a marble cave complex buried deep in the Siskiyou Mountains. When I say “buried deep”, I mean “buried deep”. It’s about 20 miles from Cave Junction to the cave complex. And most of those 20 miles are accessed via a two lane road consisting of winding hairpins. Suffice to say, it’s not the easiest place to visit.

We parked in the main parking lot and walked about a quarter mile to the visitor’s center. Tours of the caves were leaving every 15 minutes. We purchased a ticket on the 1 p.m. tour, and walked back to our car to put on sweatshirts and long pants. Why? Well, the temperature inside the caves is a constant 41 degrees. Our attire for the 90 degree day outside the cave would not serve us well inside the cave. So, we changed our clothes and went back to the visitor’s center. By the time we arrived, our tour had just started to leave. We caught up with them at the cave entrance. After a brief safety lesson, we entered the cave.

I’ve been in a couple of cave complexes in my travels (Ailwee Cave in Ireland and LaFleche Caves in Quebec). But, I’d have to say that touring the Oregon Caves was much more like a “spelunking” experience than my previous cave visits. We went through several chambers, each decorated with very fascinating stalactites and stalagmites. The tour involved some climbing, some descending, and some ducking. I even got a bit wet. It was definitely the most interesting cave complex I’ve visited. The only downside to the tour was the guide. While she managed to handle the standard tour speech just fine, she always seemed on edge throughout the tour.  I realized why she was on edge when she led us into one chamber which had a door on it.  She waited for the whole group to enter the chamber, then she closed and locked the door.  With all of us as a captive audience, she took the opportunity to lecture us on the cave’s “bio-importance” and how we needed to tell the politicians how important it was to continue preserving land for conservation purposes. While I tend to agree with her statements, I didn’t appreciate being trapped in a cave listening to her exercise her free speech rights.  Worse yet, her political views delayed us and other groups behind us from finishing the tour on time.  Waiting at the cave's opening was the guide's supervisor, who confronted her on why her group took so long to get through the tour (obviously, there had been problems with this guide before).  The guide pointed to two children (both about 8-years old) and said, "I had small children in this group, and they held up everyone because we had to wait for them."  As a bureaucrat myself, I had to admire the skill with which this guide threw her guests under the bus to save her own skin. But, as a tourist, I didn't appreciate this guide's opportunism.  Still, despite the political propaganda, treacherous guides, and winding road, the Oregon Caves proved to be a worthy diversion.

We left the Oregon Caves and made our way back to Cave Junction. At Cave Junction, we once again turned south on Highway 199 and drove toward Crescent City. Within an hour, we were driving through the majestic redwoods that populate the aptly named Redwoods National Park. I’ve driven through this park twice and have thoroughly enjoyed looking at the towering giants that line the roadway. One of these days, I’m going to have to spend some time hiking in this park to gain a real appreciation of this forest. But, this trip was not the time to take that hike, because we were on a mission to get to Brookings, Oregon. There was only one reason why we’d go back to Oregon; and that was to eat dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant on the southern Oregon coast: Scampi’s. About a half hour drive from Crescent City, we pulled up to the small, nondescript trailer that makes up Scampi’s establishment. We were happy to see that nothing had changed in the thirteen months since we had last been there. The small tables were out in front of the trailer, the owner was busy unloading the catch of the day into the kitchen, and the food was as tasty as ever. We each had the two piece platter, along with a bowl of clam chowder. The food was again worth the detour back into Oregon. 

After our pleasurable detour, we set off down the coast. We soon crossed back into California, breezed through Crescent City, and started making our way south on the California coast. The diversity and expanse of the scenery was almost too much to take in at one time. One minute, we were driving through stunningly majestic redwood groves. The next minute, we were parked, taking pictures of an elk herd that were grazing along the road. A few minutes later, we were looking out over the gorgeously still Humboldt Lagoons. We then knew why Northern California is considered to have some of the finest scenery in the world.

So, if the scenery is so great, why aren’t there more people enjoying it? The answer lies in the area’s roads. Highway 101 is primarily a two lane road all the way to Eureka. The side roads that detour from 101 aren’t much better than dirt roads. The simple transportation system has limited the amount of people who can use or live in the area. And, I’m sure that’s just how the current residents want to keep it.

We made it into Arcada around 8:30 p.m. The setting sun had poked below the fog layer to light up Humboldt Bay. We drove around the cozy bay into Eureka. We thought about stopping to see the port area. But, because of the late hour, we decided to pass through and continue along to Fort Bragg. However, we did stop long enough so that I took over the driving from Dianne.

We drove about an hour south through the forests before reaching our turnoff for Fort Bragg. We had decided to take Highway 1 to Fort Bragg just so that we could drive along the coast. Of course, we had planned to take this drive during the daylight. But, it was now night. To make matters worse, the dense forest around the road had turned the area pitch black. Still, it seemed more expedient to take Highway 1 down the coast, instead of continuing on Highway 101 and then taking Highway 20 into Fort Bragg. So, we made the turn into the hills.

I knew I was in trouble when, one mile into the drive, I saw a sign saying “Curves – Next 22 Miles.” These weren’t just regular curves. These were 10-15 mile per hour hairpins: so steep that at times it seemed like we were turning on ourselves. Driving these curves in the pitch black with only the headlights to illuminate the area directly in front of us heightened the disorientation I experienced. Eventually, the forces of vertigo took over and my motion sickness overwhelmed me. We pulled over so that I could settle my stomach and my head. However, that action only introduced a creepier element to the scene. We couldn’t see anything around us. The canopy of trees was thick enough to block out what little light there was. The only thing we sensed was the sound of noises rustling through the forest all around us. Given these eerie settings, I cut my recovery period short and got back to driving.

Eventually, the forest gave way to a cliff side. The narrow ribbon of Highway 1 hugged the cliff tightly. Unfortunately, there were still plenty of curves to negotiate. These curves did nothing for my motion sickness, which was worsening with each mile. It got so bad that I started to hallucinate that the ocean was rising up the cliff, even though it was still a couple of hundred feet below the road. Despite the hallucinations, I thought I could make it to Fort Bragg. But, when the fog started covering the landscape, I became more disoriented than ever. I knew it was time for me to pull over and let Dianne drive the rest of the way. She got us into the Holiday Inn Express in Fort Bragg at 11:30 p.m.

The cool air seemed to mitigate the throbbing motion sickness headache that I was suffering. But, it was more likely the fact that we had stopped driving that was making the headache go away. We went inside and checked into our room. The lock on the door to our room wasn’t working; making our room a potential living room for anyone who wanted to enter. After a quick visit to the hotel's manager, we changed rooms and collapsed into bed.
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