Redwoods Roadtrip Part 2 - Eureka!

Baby Bear and Mama Bear


Driving through a redwood is like watching an episode of Game of Thrones, once it is over you can’t believe what has happened, you feel strangely elated, you immediately want to talk to someone about it, followed by an urge to repeat it all over again.

(Read here for my first redwood drive-thru adventure).

Leaving Fort Bragg behind us we set forth to find the Shrine drive-thru redwood tree along the Avenue of the Giants, passing from Mendocino county into Humboldt county.

What up Booboo?

The Avenue of the Giants was heart-palpitation astonishing. I am huge fan of trees, forest, woodlands, twigs... you name it, this was my kinda countryside. Don’t expect to find actual giants on the road, sorry Róisín, the redwoods are the giants. As the famous Californian writer Steinbeck once said "they are ambassadors from another time".

A giant redwood can live 2,000 years, can be more than 350 ft tall and weigh 500 tons. Similar to how I feel after I’ve eaten pizza.

We stopped at Chimney Tree for a spot of lunch. In 1914 a fire burned out the insides of the tree so it now resembles a chimney. It is pretty hard to wipe out a redwood in its entirety, they have hardy roots that can only be killed by blasting (not that I’ve tried!). You can walk inside the ‘chimney’ and stare up to its 78 foot opening. It's a bizarre storybook feeling to walk through a door into a tree, I felt animated like Peter Rabbit paying a call to Nutkins.

We said goodbye to the scrambling squirrels, in Snow White fashion, and pushed on. The Shrine drive-thru is unique in that it was created by nature not man-made like the other two redwood drive-thrus. Slowly but surely, with me whispering in a loop “this is awesome” we forced our Rav 4 into and out of a goddamn tree <sound of mind blowing>. I made Dom do it again while I captured the slow motion thrill ride on my phone.

Can I get fries with that?
While I was Scorsese-ing up a storm I noticed a sign for a “drive-in log”, oh, it had to done. Essentially we drove up a tree stump and parked our car, it was very surreal. The stump was 3,200 years old. It started its life in America before Christ, Crusades, Columbus or the freakin Kardashians.

Redwoods are old, the ones by rivers are even older as they age 6 times faster than those on dry hillsides.

Little did I know as I stared in awe at the giant trees before me that before the hour was out I would embark on a project that would make a long harboured dream of mine a reality.

We tipped into a small store on the side of the Avenue of the Giants, exclusively selling redwood knick knacks gleaned from the forest. A rough slab of wood leaning up against a back door caught my eye. The kindly old German lady who ran the store said it was not for sale it belonged to her son who was going to make it into a table.

Before I knew it she had called her son in from his lumberyard out back to chat to me. Similar to his friends the trees, he was a Grizzly Adams giant of a man himself, very soft spoken and good natured. He took us out to his small yard where he had stock piled reclaimed redwood. I gasped, this was akin to bringing a newly engaged bride-to-be into a mine glistening with diamonds and telling her to pick something.

I had to control my excitement when I spotted a small but beautiful piece of gnarly rough redwood, and soon after a suitably magnificent complimentary tree stump was found. How much I was willing to pay whizzed through my head, escalating exponentially in correlation with my heart bursting happiness. I kept whispering my limit to Dom.

I tried to play it cool pretending I could take or leave the wood, braced for whatever x hundred amount he was going to charge. Maybe he could see my desire or maybe he didn’t mind passing on what he had foraged, for the job lot, he suggested 20 bucks… I couldn’t speak… You can barely get a coffee and a croissant in San Francisco for 20 dollars, was he serious?!

Apparently so.

The deal was struck, I looked to Dom for the 20 dollars (like the Queen, I rarely carry cash), how I was going to produce hundreds of dollars out of my ear, if it had come to that, I don’t know, ‘do you take bitcoins?’.

Diamond in the rough

My “project redwood table” was hoisted into the back of the car. I was flying high for the rest of the road trip, my dream of a reclaimed redwood table (previously considered completely unaffordable) was now within reach. I was ecstatic.

“Eureka!” I cried. Good for you, said Dom. No, I mean let’s go to the town of Eureka. On we went.

Eureka is terrifically oddball. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, all I knew was that it was a famously liberal town and always had been since the goldrush days. As we entered the town there were billboards advertising a Cheech & Chong concert (famous comedian stoners from the 1970s/80s), I thought they were dead, but no, they are alive and well and gigging in pot infused Humboldt county.

We stayed in the historic Eureka Inn in the old town. It's a beautiful part of town that has been restored to its former boomtown days.

Eureka was established in 1850 as a shipping port for the goldmines. It had a reputation as a lusty, brawling, timber town. If you’re going to have a reputation, it is not going to be cooler than that… something for everyone!

"Land Ahoy!"

The old town was full of antique shops, restaurants and a plethora of stunning Victorian houses (built by the wealthy Eurekans who profited from the gold rush and timber trade). We took a stroll down to the boardwalk to look out across Humboldt Bay. Rich people, homeless people, gay people, stoners, families, all types of people strolled by, all in harmony. Oh, and one street had a boat plonked in the middle of it, just for the craic.

The worlds first ever Lemonade Stand...probably

We popped into the Waterfront restaurant, a former wild west brothel that still had a gun slinging saloon feel about it. A table of people dressed as cats came and sat beside us. No one batted an eyelid apart from Róisín who turned half circle in her seat to gawp at them, turning back to me and Dom every so often to exclaim “Cats!”. I began to explain they weren’t real cats, they were dressed up as cats because… I trailed off. They might have been a theatre group, or a themed party crowd, but I got the feeling it was their persuasion, it was how they ‘identified’. In Eureka, anything goes.

The next day we took a stroll through the town, it was full of quirky throwbacks; a photo shop that does one hour processing, a store devoted to scrapbook material, and a few old school movie theatres. There was a cafe devoted to motorbikes, where you sat among the bikes, the leathers and the helmets as you sipped your tea (come to think of it, you’re probably not supposed to sip tea like I did, you’re probably supposed to down a bottle of Jack and then eat the bottle, or have tea).

More buildings like this please

One striking thing about Eureka was the spectacular huge murals everywhere, most of them promoting music and the arts from opera to new age. After dinner I headed off on my own to explore the textile and antique shops while Dom and Róisín headed back to the hotel. In turn while I put Roisin to bed, Dom headed out to do some exploring of his own (see end of post for guest blogger segment by the esteemed Dom).

What you talkin about Wilis

We moved our ramblings out of the old town to see what else was going on. I was taken aback to find a sign for the Victim Witness Protection Program. Should there really be signage for something that is covert and if discovered could lead to fatalities? Is everyone in Eureka on a witness protection scheme? It would certainly explain the cat disguises, and surely the scrapbook shop and one-hour photo place are fronts. I got you sussed Eureka, your secret it safe with me.

Before we hit the road again on our last day in town we breakfasted in a place called Oberon. It was refurbished but chimed of days gone by. I read an old letter that was framed on the wall. It was written in 1966 by a man who said back in 1910 he had witnessed bar brawls in the Oberon involving novelist Jack London. Evidence of the towns wildness, I loved it.

Munster Mansion

On the way out of town we stopped at Carson Mansion, you can only view it from the outside because it’s now a private members club. It claims to be the most photographed house in America as it is so pretty. I’m thinking the White House might take the ‘most photographed’ crown. But the Carson Mansion is nice, it reminds me of the Victorian houses that dominate the San Francisco cityscape. It was originally owned by the lumber magnate William Carson who built the house across the road for his son and called it ‘The Pink Lady’. Draw your own conclusions.

The magnetic pull of the forest was drawing us south again, this time to romantic Mendocino, the place where they filmed the TV show Murder She Wrote (all the while pretending it was east coast Maine).

With the do-do-do-doodoo-do-do theme tune in my head, off we trotted to Jessica Fletcher country.



Just down the road from our hotel was the Art Museum. Some odd electronic sounds had caught my ear on the way back to our room, so while Sheilagh put Roisin to bed, I went back to investigate.

This time I noticed the sign on the way in “Experimental music night” -what did ‘experimental’ look like in a town that was already way out there? Would I find people inside dressed in suits and ties, rebelling against the rebels?

What I actually did find was a large round room with a domed roof that someone had taken a lot of trouble to light artfully. About 50 people of all ages and beard lengths were sitting on the floor watching a band on a makeshift stage. I say “Band”, because they had two guitars, a keyboard and some drums, but the similarities ended there. They weren’t playing “Songs” in the traditional sense… or in fact any sense I’d ever come across. I genuinely thought I’d walked into the soundcheck, until they stopped making noise, and everyone started clapping.

Oh that was supposed to be a performance?! I had a split second where I wondered if I was caught in a candid camera skit, before I picked up the incredibly strong smell of marijuana, and noticed at least half a dozen people openly flouting California’s No-Smoking-Indoors law. Ah! So that explained the off-the-planet vibe.

I decided to embrace my inner Pink Floyd, grab a can of beer, find a spot on the floor and pretend this was normal carry-on as I watched the second band (“band”).

The next person took an age to set up, and for a long while I wasn’t sure if that was the actual performance. When he did start, his act consisted of him sitting with his back to us, playing projections of industrial factory machines accompanied with ear splittingly loud audio. Wow! how was this guy not on “America’s got talent”?

Although… the crowd loved it, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the strength of the weed up there. However, having consumed just a single can of Blue Ribbon myself, I drew the line at the 4 minute solo from the nail gun, and shuffled off to the peace and quiet of my 2 year old.

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  1. Brilliant post, have to admit I hadn't heard of any of these spots but will be adding them to my must-see list, a taste of hidden America.
    Great guest post Dom ��


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