Friday, July 26, 2013

Mini-Vacation, Day 2

(Day 1 is here.)

Saturday, we got up, had breakfast in the hotel (waffles!), and hit the road for the Oregon Caves.  The website indicated that the tours in mid-day fill up fast, so I wanted to try to get there as early as possible.

The website had also warned that the last 10 miles or so was full of tight turns.  However, when my GPS was narrowing in on the destination, I was highly disappointed with their definition of tight turns.  However, it turns out my GPS was wrong, and the road did, indeed, get pleasantly winding.  Fun!

We arrived, walked up to the visitor center, and got "tickets" for the tour that started in just 10 minutes or so--just enough time to use the restroom and check out the photos in the visitor center.

The guide met us in the assigned spot and gave us a lecture about not touching anything, confirmed none of us had been to caves east of the Rockies anytime recently (there's a dangerous bat virus or fungus or something there that they don't want to spread here), etc.  She was a young thing, an college student double majoring in earth sciences and earth science education, interning/volunteering here for the summer.  She's from Ohio, and this is her first time in the west.  :-)  The visitors did stump her with a few questions throughout the tour, but overall she did really well, and will likely make a great teacher or professor.

She took us into the cave, where we spent the next 90 minutes enjoying the sights and walking up over 500 steps and crouching through a few low spots.  The cave is lit, so I tried not to use my flash (even though it was allowed), but I'm an idiot, and didn't look at my camera's ISO settings before attempting that, so my photos weren't as good as they could have been.  :-/  I did use the flash a couple times, but most of these are without flash.

Soda Straws

These caves are some of only 5% that are "carved" from marble (instead of limestone, granite, or whatever)

The guide told us about how these signatures were from explorers from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The rangers tried to remove them, but they've already been covered by enough layers of stone to make that impossible, yet they're still visible.

This is a cross-section of a stalagmite, which must have been removed to carve a "trail" up to a vantage point.

Getting to this room involved going  up a long, steep, optional staircase.  It was worth it!

Back outside the cave, we chatted with the guide a bit (she'd mentioned wanting to visit Central Oregon, so I and some other guests that have visited here gave her some recommendations), then started walking back down the hill to the visitor center again.  Wow, my legs were wobbly after all those stairs!

We went into the Chateau (hotel, restaurant, and gift shop), where Nathan and I both bought some souvenirs, and I took some more photos.

The visitor center, from near the cave entrance

The stairs inside the Chateau

A little waterfall and pond outside the Chateau

The Chateau (and the visitor center) is sided with tree bark.  Very cool texture.

After we left the caves, we went about halfway back down to Cave Junction, to a campground called Grayback, where we ate our picnic lunch in a beautiful setting.

The view from our picnic table

Those girls were brave--the creek was COLD!

We also stopped in Cave Junction to plot our route once we had wifi, and to get a milkshake each at Dairy Queen.

Then we headed south on highway 199.  The first part wasn't too exciting, but after crossing the border into California, it got scenic fast.  We were in the Smith River area, which is beautiful.  The foliage is very "California," with dry hills with scrubby trees, but the river is blue and tumbles over rocks.

Trail along the Smith River, where it's still pretty shallow
Advice I read for swimming in the Smith River just said to basically watch for areas with lots of cars pulled over to know where the best swimming areas were.  We did just that, and pulled over here:

I apologize it's out of focus, but this is the area where Nathan and I swam for a while.

The water was over my head in the right side of that photo, and the current wasn't very fast.  Best of all, the water was the PERFECT temperature.  Sure, it felt cold at first, but that was a good thing--it was hot out!  But it quickly became the perfect swimming temperature, not so cold your skin tingled, but cool enough to be refreshing.  Aaaah.

We spend a good while there, then hit the road again, stopping a few more pullouts just for photos.

A panorama made with multiple shots

While I was taking the photos for the above photo, Nathan found something dangling from a telephone pole.  Our first accidental geocache find!

When we left the Smith River area, we passed through a little bit of residential/farm land, and bought some fresh blueberries and blueberry jam.

Then BAM! we were in the Redwoods.

We drove through without really stopping (except to take that picture, above, in a small turnout), because we wanted to get to the Trees of Mystery before they closed.  All I'd heard (from some people at the swimming area) and seen (on a brochure I picked up in a motel lobby) was that there was a gondola ride through the treetops.  What I didn't know was that there was also a giant Paul Bunyon.

(Also a composite of multiple photos, hence the jagged black parts)

There was also an educational hike through the forest to get to the base of the gondola ride.

The Cathedral Tree, from a switchback above it.  Apparently they hold weddings here.  When we were there, they just had cheesy organ music plaything through some speakers, which you could actually hear from a ways around it.  Kind of weird.

Yep, another panorama.

Then we got to the gondola ride and boarded, just 15 minutes or so before they stopped letting people on.

The view from the top

Fat and happy!

Then we hiked back down to the visitor center / gift shop.  It was mostly a different trail, with a bit of shared trail with the hike up.

Then there was an ... interesting ... part of the trail.

Then Nathan had a ball on the Paul Bunyon statue.

Fair warning:  This next part is Not Safe for Work.  A little crass.  Feel free to scroll through until you don't see Babe the Blue Ox any longer.





Okay, so if you're gonna stick around, here's the question.  What do you do when you happen upon a big blue ox, with big blue . . . ox-sticles just hanging around?

First you caress them a little,

get a little friendlier,

really start getting acquainted,

then  you just grab on and hang around a bit,

give em a great big hug (and a motorboat?),

and just enjoy the experience!



Okay, enough of that.  Inside the gift shop, Nathan bought more souvenirs, and I bought a little something, too.

This statue was at the entrance/exit.

Our next goal was to drive through a tree.  When I told Nathan (before we even left on this trip) that we could drive through a tree, he didn't believe me.  He said it was impossible--you can drive over a tree, under a tree, around a tree, but not through a tree.  Somewhere between then and actually doing it, he realized I meant that we could drive through a HOLE in a tree, not right through a solid tree as if we or it were a ghost, so it wasn't quite as magical, but we did it anyway.

Then we stopped at a nice stretch of beach for photos shortly, before heading back to Crescent City for dinner.

Click on this to view it bigger

Hydrangea outside the restaurant we ate at

After dinner, we went to a different beach, closer to town, to dip our toes in the water (Brrrrr!) and, of course, take photos.  The moon was nearly full.

Finally, we fell into our respective beds in our motel (which took us a couple tries to find--the first couple were full), listened to a previews of Arrogant Worms on iTunes and Baxter Black on YouTube, and fell fast asleep.

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