A Northern California Journey of Renewal
I’d been planning a solo trip this summer. Somewhere in my mind, the notion of Route 66 was beckoning. But as so often is the case as life unfolds, our plans don’t always match what really happens.
My mother and I had been very close for a long time. So when she passed away this summer, I knew I needed some time away, alone, to re-gain my balance and do a little healing. She and I had traveled a lot, and I didn’t want to go anywhere there were memories to add to the already crazy mix of those swirling in my head. So I looked at the map and Northern California was perfect. Lots of places away from the crowds. Beautiful scenery. And an endless variety of backroads, which are my favorite way to do a road trip. While none of my trip was in the least boring, I’ll just hit the highlights to tease you into putting this on your travel agenda.
First Stop: North Lake Tahoe
Tahoe had been a favorite place of mine from when I was a kid. There’s not a prettier lake I’ve ever seen. To top it off, I stumbled into the quaint Tahoma Meadows Bed and Breakfast in Tahoma that delighted beyond measure. Gourmet breakfast prepared by the most wonderful hostess imaginable. A decades-old cabin made into a cozy comfy hideaway. And stunning views of pines, redwoods, and of course the gorgeous lake.
I spent two wonderful and peaceful days and nights there, enjoying the cool and fresh mountain air at night, and a surprisingly warm afternoon on a nearby beach. Lake Tahoe, they say, is for lovers. Yeah, lovers of nature, and mountains, and life. The north shore of Lake Tahoe, and Tahoe City, while still busy with summer tourism, is much removed from the casinos and commercialism of South Lake Tahoe. It was a great start to a week of solo traveling.
North To Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic Park
I took Highway 89 out of the Tahoe area and headed north, stopped at a number of small communities but the next point of interest was the Lassen area. Lake Almanor is a summer resort area, that sometimes struggles to survive on a very short tourist season of only May to early September. But the people are resilient and love their mountain lake, as evidenced by the waitress one evening who had never been to a big city. Chatting with locals, where ever I go, is one of my favorite parts of traveling.
Beyond the local mingling was what I’d come for: Lassen. A huge volcanic area that was last active 1915, it’s grandeur is stunning. I’m sure you could hike the area trails for months and only scratch the surface of all the beauty. But this trip my views were mostly from the roadside, and that didn’t disappoint in the least.
On To The Coast
Northern California has such a variety of landscapes that it’s impossible to sample it in just a week, let alone write about it in a blog post. So we’ll skip ahead to my very favorite part of this trip. That’s a coastal and mountain circle that I could do over and over and never tire of it. Headed west, I took Highway 20 towards Ft. Bragg. Highway 20 gives a little sample of what’s to come. But for now, let’s just say the final and almost all downhill 12 miles is one of the most curvy and fun roads I’ve driven. Highway 20? That should be the speed limit!
I spent a night in Ft. Bragg, and managed to get lucky enough to avoid the fog common to the area in July. For you blue sky seekers, the best time to travel the coast fog-free is September and October.
There’s a couple places along the coast that are aptly named “Glass Beach.” That’s because many decades ago the locals used to dump their garbage into the ocean. The garbage is long since gone, but what remains is sand-smoothed pieces of glass in every color imaginable. In most locations, you’re welcome to take a few treasured memories with you. So of course I couldn’t resist. Turns out, this was the most memorable (but not so favorite!) part of this road trip.
I watched the beach area and the waves for a few minutes, and decided I knew what part of the beach was safe. You can see this coming, right? Well, I didn’t! As I was bent down searching for just the right pieces, a very unexpected and large wave crashed on the beach . . . and on me, from head to toe. Wet rat? Yes. Very much. Later, the hotel desk clerk said, “oh, don’t ever turn your back on the ocean!” So noted! (sorry, no pic of the wet rat!)
Jewels of Sunlight and Wine
The route I chose to head back to the central California valley was Highway 128. I cannot say enough about how stunningly beautiful it is. The first 15 miles, back up the mountain, traverses dense groves of coastal redwoods. The morning sun made this a spiritual if not sacred experience. I cannot count the number of times I stopped to wander in the dimly lit forest, because little of the sunlight reached the ground. The light that did penetrate the trees was scattered as sparkling sunbeams. The pictures cannot possibly do justice, but here they are.
Leaving the redwood forests, Highway 128 enters the Anderson Valley. If you’re a wine fan (guilty!), you might never want to go home. This long and winding valley is home to dozens of small family vineyards and wineries. Hint: enroll someone else in driving so you can indulge in all the tasting rooms!
You could do a hundred different variations of my trip. There’s so much to see and experience and it seems that Northern California should be its own state, because it’s nothing at all like SoCal and the madness of Los Angeles. Yes, this is a place I could easily call home. For now, it’s been a journey of healing.
No matter your reason for going, Northern California will leave lasting impressions. So be careful as you go there, as you may be called there, too.