Sunday, September 15, 2013

Oldie but Goodie

I found this narrative of a camping trip we took back in 2007. Enjoy!

A Camping Trip

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Felton, CA
September 7-9, 2007

Will, Lliam and I went camping at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park on Friday night the 7th, and the next morning, "Auntie" Holly joined us. After a pancake breakfast ala Grandpa Mike, we headed off to nearby Roaring Camp. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a friendly one-armed employee who asked us where we were from. As we passed by, Holly wondered, too far above a whisper for my own comfort, how the man had lost his arm. We speculated that such things happen to folks who don't keep their hands and arms inside the car at all times. Judging from the man's age though, I suspect it was a much more noble injury, such as a war wound. While we waited for our 1920s Beach Boardwalk-bound diesel train, we stopped to take some classic family photos with our heads sticking out of old-timey wood cutouts. Holly and I marveled at the old-fashioned wooden store front buildings touting "established 1905" that to our recollection, were not a feature of Roaring Camp when we were kids.

On board the train, we sat in a completely open car, and our ride was accompanied by the voice of the conductor telling stories of the old redwood forest, directing our attention to a hillside that served as "the world's worst parking lot." The man was not exaggerating, as there were two classic looking cars parked on the 45 degree hillside that had apparently been there for decades. We were also serenaded by a variety of tunes, ranging from 1940s big band, to the Beach Boys, to obscure Hawaiian music. As we neared the train trestle, Holly recounted her Girl Scout experience some twenty years ago when the very train we were on derailed, and the troop had to cross over the bridge on foot. This did not increase Will's ease about the track-worthiness of trains in general, and we heard only later from a park employee that the train was closed during the winter due to the fact that the tracks were frequently washed out. This reminded me of sections where the margin between the tracks and the sharp drop-off of the hillside appeared razor thin.

Riding along, I couldn't help but give a few smug looks to our fellow passengers, a family of four with one on the way, whose son was whining at the top of his lungs, despite the fact that he was taking his birthday train ride. I also couldn't help but wonder how uncomfortable I might be in a few years (or sooner) when I'll undoubtedly be in the same situation as a mother, rather than a judgmental stranger. The ride took us through a dark tunnel, through which Lliam surprisingly remained silent and in awe.

Each railroad crossing was accompanied by encouragement from the conductor to cheerfully wave to "all those unfortunate folks stuck in traffic." It was a bit harder to do that for the crossing we were unwittingly stopped on for several minutes, with white-knuckled motorists glaring at us from atop their dashboards. During another stop due to a track switch, we found ourselves planted square in front of a rather forbidding yard whose chain-link fence was peppered with signs saying things like "Railroad Bill", "No Trespassing and "Keep Out." The backyard itself was quite a spectacle, on a slope with a number of large sycamore trees with low branches. Every inch of ground was covered with old carpet, and there were random wooden structures interspersed among the trees. It was as if a grown man had spent years building a play fort in his own backyard. Shortly thereafter, we encountered what is known as "the art fence", which is essentially a decorated section of fence lining the train tracks. It was a mishmash of colorfully-arranged junk, including broken remote controls, assorted glass shards, stuffed animals and bicycle tubes.
Later, we got to ride right down the middle of a previously-unknown-to-me street in Santa Cruz. It was lined with beautiful victorian houses, some containing excited children waving at us from behind melted glass windows, and another framed a young couple on its doorstep. I imaged them, excited by their newfound love, starting a long and beautiful life together in this cute little Victorian home.

  We pulled up to our destination to the tune of "Under the Boardwalk" by The Drifters, and memories began flooding back to me--my tenth birthday with my childhood friend Amy, the old style all-day passes, consisting of a colored string buckled to the wrist, with a matching stamp of the letter "G" on the hand. We used to feign terror by screaming at the top of our lungs during the "Haunted Castle" ride, which oozed campiness at every turn. Although we couldn't simply hop off the narrow steps of the train like carefree "non-parents," we were amused by the hand-crank elevator that gradually lowered Will and Lliam in the stroller to the ground. Two men had to use a crane to lower down the lift before it could be used. On the way back, Will insisted on turning the crank to winch me and Lliam up with the stroller. 

  We decided to purchase a 60-ticket strip so that we could all go on a ride or two. We started off with the relatively new "Ghost Blasters" ride, where you could shoot ghosts and earn points. The first time around, Holly beat me out by just a hair, and with the second trip, Will pummeled me, with over 1100 points to my 300. Will and I got to enjoy our traditional ride on the Giant Dipper, but it seemed to go by much more quickly than I remember. I tried to wave to Holly and Lliam from the top, but I couldn't quite make them out. My planned expression for the fast-motion ride camera didn't work out either, as I misjudged where the camera was. The father and daughter in front of us made a cute picture, smiling and holding up "peace" signs.

One of my favorite parts about the Boardwalk was taking Lliam on the Carousel. This was his first ever ride, and he sat on my lap with Holly next to us on the stationary bench, as he is still too small to ride on the moving horses. Holly and I reminisced about childhood rides in which we sought to ride on the outside of the merry-go-round, allowing us to grab the little metal rings that came out of a stationary chute upon each revolution. After grabbing a ring, you can throw it at the clown face painted on the wall, and if you make it in the mouth, a bell rings and the clown's eyes light up. Holly could remember a time when she actually made it after many attempts, so we were amazed that someone got the ring in the clown's mouth three times during our ride with Lliam.

Later on, Holly and I took a nostalgic ride on the Logger's Revenge, which consists of a conveyer belt taking the riders of a giant log to the top of a steep incline. The log then coasts along what is supposed to be a flume, boasting gorgeous views of the beach, ocean and parking lot, until the ride climaxes in a "death-defying" drop back to earth, concluded with a drenching splash. Sitting in front, I was meant to experience the brunt of the splash, but I decided to be a generous and share with Holly by ducking at the last moment. As we waited in line, she recounted a birthday trip with her friends Allison and Loren in which they rode the Logger's Revenge thirteen times. I remember being very intimidated by the ride as a little girl. My mom assured me that the drop portion lasted only "two seconds," and she did not let me down. Once I got over the fear, I was thrilled by the brief weightless feeling, as my mother clutched my chest from behind.

The train ride back to camp was relaxing and enjoyable, and Lliam slept to the rhythm of the train over the tracks, as the varied shadows of the redwoods passed over his eyelids. We were somewhat surprised that the rather verbose conductor still had narratives to give on the way home, and also were relieved that the whiny little boy from the morning was fast asleep in his stroller.

We packed enough necessities to wait on an Arabian Princess in the desert, so naturally Will brought his remote-controlled Helicopter. Back at the campsite, our fellow campers were fascinated by the miniature aircraft, buzzing around our luxuriously large campsite. Will and Holly were imagining scenarios in which the Helicopter could serve as an "eco-friendly" alternative to the obnoxious leaf-blowing machines for those too lazy to use a broom. Will, of course, frequently fantasizes about things like flying the helicopter next to the Roaring Camp train, or using it for covert surveillance missions.

As darkness fell over our campsite, Will started a crackling campfire, punctuated by the traditional marshmallow and junk-mail burning, as we chanted "see ya later, Chase Manhattan Bank," and "have a nice life, Ameritrust Mortgage!" In my opinion, this primal method of unsolicited mail disposal is much more satisfying than using an impersonal electronic shredder. After the park's noise curfew set in, and a few chance encounters with local nocturnal critters, we embarked on two excursions in the car, prompted by bouts of high-pitched screaming, courtesy of a certain member of our party. At 4:30 am, after the second such occasion, I decided it was as good a time as any to visit the campground's paid shower, since at that point, I was wide awake. As a parent, I have learned to seize such opportunities at the moment they present themselves. I'm writing this at 3pm, and I still haven't had a shower yet today.

On Sunday, we packed up camp in anticipation of a relaxing nature walk around the grounds before checkout time. I was bemused to discover that the trails around the campground had nary a redwood in sight. Instead, we were greeted by oak and pine trees. I then suggested that we take the shortcut to the ranger station, where I politely inquired where the Henry Cowell Redwoods had gone to. The ranger was kind enough to suggest the day use area, just a couple of miles down the road.

I was not disappointed, as there we encountered the humbling majesty of 2,000 year old, seventeen feet across redwoods. We probably spent about two hours on the half mile nature walk, stopping every twenty feet or so to snap photos of deer, provide sustenance for Lliam, change his diaper, read the guide posts, and discuss local fauna with a volunteer park docent. 

  This particular docent spoke with a Jersey-like accent and had many an amusing story to tell. He recounted the colorful history of the park, including a hotel that was erected and torn down on the very spot we were standing, and the so-called Fremont tree, which Holly and I had stood inside minutes before, marveling at the almost complete silence and darkness. The docent gave us the low-down on the redwood cross-section that we saw at the front entrance, and how Big Basin had rejected it on the grounds that it was too old and cracked, in favor of a "shiny new one" that was "only" about 1,500 years old. Apparently, this particular cross section now on display at Henry Cowell was from a 2,200 year-old tree that fell there in the 1930s due to a lightening strike. 


The docent explained to us how height measurements of redwoods change over time, and why tree coring doesn't work on them to determine age, because the biological center of a redwood is not necessarily the geometric center. He gave a personal account of an old man who had lived in a house overlooking the park for all of his eighty-some odd years. The man literally watched the newer second-growth redwoods springing up from the valley over his lifetime, but always noticed one particular tree sticking up above the rest. Finally, this man called the docent and asked him to measure the tree. The docent purchased a red helium balloon from Safeway and a long roll of string. He got on his cell phone with the man overlooking the tree from his home, who had a pair of binoculars. The docent then raised the balloon until the man told him that the balloon had hit the top of the tree, and the docent then marked off the string he was holding. The resulting measurement was close to 300 feet.

After perusing the visitor center and viewing the recommended eight-minute video about the park, we began journeying home. Before leaving town though, we stopped at a quaint Mexican hole-in-the-wall restaurant to reflect on our trip. We really enjoyed Lliam's second (of many) camping trips.


Holly Hilton said...

Hey -- is this the camping trip where I was laughing too hysterically to change Lliam's diaper on the picnic table?

What a great write-up of that trip! I totally remember some of those really intricate details -- wow! And it's great you've got it coupled with pictures!

Julie said...

Yes, it's the one where you were laughing too hard to change Lliam's diaper. I wish I remembered what you were laughing about.