Once again we decided that a shared camping trip with my daughter Deborah would be a great way to spend some time in a beautiful place. Our plan was to camp near the Smith River in California so Deb could hone her fishing skills.
Mo and I had camped at Redwood Meadows RV Resort in Hiouchi back in November of 2010 in a nice little spot adjacent to a tiny bubbling creek. Even though there is a bit of road noise from Highway 199, it isn’t terribly intrusive and the site we like is set a bit apart from some of the other sites. We made reservations, and during the process discovered that Redwood Meadows is owned by the same people who own the Shoreline RV Park where we camped in Eureka. When talking with Brenda at the office while making the reservation I mentioned Shoreline in passing and Brenda made sure I received a 15 percent discount since I had camped at one of their parks. I never asked if the discount had an ending date, but was happy for the little bit of additional savings, more than the 10 percent we usually get for AARP, AAA, or military discounts.
After spending several days with Deb in the MoHo last month, we knew how to manage the small space and enjoy being together. This time Deb was insistent that she provide one of our meals, and had a great pot of beef stroganoff with wide noodles all pre-cooked and ready to go. We hoped for another supper of fresh caught fish, and maybe a third night of fish and chips at our favorite spot in Crescent City, not far west from our camping site in Houichi.
Deb purchased a 2 day fishing license for California, in addition to tags for both salmon and steelhead, and came prepared with pole, bait, and a tackle box of goodies. She read up on local fishing stories, best bait to use, and where the good holes were located.
We left Grants Pass around 11, knowing that we couldn’t check in to Redwood Meadows until 1PM. Since it was Sunday, no one was in the office, but I knew exactly where to find the envelope with our check-in information. I have to say that Brenda was so helpful and considerate throughout this entire process. She called a couple of times before we left home to double check how we were doing and make sure we knew that she had saved our requested spot. I was truly impressed with how well everything was managed at this park.
We knew the weather might be a bit iffy for a day or two during our visit, but Deb was undaunted. She had no qualms about fishing in the rain if need be. That first afternoon after we set up the rig Mo settled in with Mattie while Deb and I got in the Tracker to scope out where the fishing holes were located, what Mo called, “A reconnaissance trip”.
Some of the maps that Deb had were hard to understand and it took awhile to get a good picture of where the various sections of the river began. For fishing these waters it is imperative that you know exactly where you are on the river since the rules vary by section. Deb also discovered that the entire section of the river required barbless hooks so she needed to pick up some of those on her way to our home before we left.
Our RV park was just a short distance from the main entrance to Jedediah Smith State and National Park, right along Highway 199 where the Smith River flows west and north toward the ocean 7 miles distant. With a bit of wandering about we found all the fishing holes Deb wanted to try, and even saw a few people fishing in the late afternoon.
Back home we settled in for supper, a truly grand meal thanks to Deborah, with plenty for leftovers. By the time we returned, Mo had started a lovely campfire and after dinner we sat outside to enjoy the evening and roast a few marshmallows with the super roasting sticks that Deborah sent to us as a gift after our last camping trip. My old sticks were short, and these new ones extend to a perfect length, with two prongs on the end to keep the marshmallows from dripping off as they get hot, and metal that stays cool to the touch, maybe titanium?
After a great night’s sleep, with no problems from the highway noise, we woke to a cloudy morning with rain predicted for much of the day. After breakfast the three of us piled into the Tracker, Deb with her gear and Mo, Mattie, and I with coffee and phones and a book to read while Deborah fished.
The first site we explored was right near the bridge where Highway 199 crosses the Smith River. Named Society Hole, we were tickled to see the fishing symbol on the sign at the entrance to a parking area that even had a small outhouse.
Deb headed down to the river, and in spite of the chilly and damp weather was thrilled to be fishing once again. It has been awhile since she got out with her poles. Her favorite fishing was during her years in Texas along the coast where she fished in the ocean with great success. She also fished successfully for trout in Pelican Bay near our previous home in Rocky Point.
She walked the rocky bar adjacent to the river, casting into the deep pools as far as she could reach, but to no avail. We noticed that with the incredibly clear water of the river we should have been able to see a fish or two. Not a one appeared, either visually or on Deborah’s hook. Still, it was a lovely morning for all three of us, especially when the sun peeked through now and then.
I spent some time walking the gravel bar as well and was amazed at the gorgeous river worn rocks. Most of the geology of the upper Smith is in serpentine and various types of metamorphic rocks, including jade and jadeite. I have no clue which of these rocks were actually jade, but picked up one to take to daughter Melody, who informed me if I didn’t bring her one, I didn’t love her!
By early afternoon I received an expected text message from an old friend. Ben Marshall, a soil scientist who worked for me in 2008 and 2009 in Sonora California was traveling from Coos Bay to his family home in the Mother Lode area in California. Ben now lives with his wife Meghan and two young boys in Maryland, where he is an MLRA Leader for soil survey. That is the position I was in just before retiring when Ben worked for me. I remember long conversations with Ben about how he really wanted a wife and kids, to build a family. Ben met Meghan at a Basic Soil Survey training class and they fell in love. Meghan applied for a job in my office, and it was a bit of a difficult thing because my supervisor was adamant that having partners in the same office was not a good thing. I told my boss, “If we don’t hire Meghan, we will lose Ben”. The rest is history. Meghan came to work for me as well, she and Ben got married, moved to Maryland and now have two sweet little boys.
Ben, traveling with his youngest boy, arrived in late afternoon. Masked and careful, even his young son, we had a great visit, catching up on old times and laughing with the memories of soil survey in those years. It was great to see him. It is lovely when people from a past life care enough to make an effort to visit.
Without fish for the Monday evening menu we settled in with a meat loaf I had prepared, just in case. It was also delicious and once again we enjoyed a nice campfire with marshmallows. Mo and I put out our awning, a new one that we replaced a couple of years ago and haven’t used since. Often the winds are too unpredictable to leave out the awning. This time we were protected from the wind and had no problem. However, Mo was careful to put the awning up at enough of an angle that the rainwater would run off without pooling and causing any problems.
Another good night’s sleep and we were ready for a day of exploring more holes along the river. This time we traveled Walker Road, a dirt track that meanders through Jedediah Smith State Park toward the river. On our last trip through this area we stopped at the visitor center where we learned about Walker Road, but chose to skip it since we were on the way farther south and didn’t want to have to unhook the Tracker to explore it.
It was absolutely gorgeous! Most people traveling through this area visit the main park road or the access road to Stout Grove farther north in the park. It was the first time in all the years we have traveled this route that we had a real reason to explore Walker Road.
Once again, the fishing area was beautiful, the river gorgeous and incredibly clear. The morning fog began to lift around 9, earlier than we expected, and the sunshine made everything sparkle. After a few hours at this hole, once again Deborah decided that it might be time to try another spot. We decided to go home for some lunch and a bit of relaxation before Deb and I drove back to another highly recommended spot. Mo and Mattie stayed home in the Moho for some down time.
This time Deb and I decided to try another route, a dirt track that showed several access points that we had seen that morning from the west side of the river. The road wasn’t too bad, but we did have to drive through a few deep pools left from the recent rains. We hoped to get all the way to the area across the river where we had been in the morning, but the last deep pool was too much for the Tracker.
I thought I might need to double check the depth, and it was a good thing I did because the water was 3/4 of the way up the tires, with a soft mushy bottom toward the end, and deep enough to bury the exhaust pipe of the car. I was glad Deb had some waders with her. She never used them, but they sure helped me as I crossed that deep pool.
We had Mattie with us on this sunny, gorgeous afternoon and she loved following Deb as she fished along the shoreline. I managed to wrangle my walker out of the car to help a bit with walking the distance over the rough gravel bar, but I think I had to carry the walker more than I used it. Still, it was nice to sit there in the sunshine and listen to the river and watch Deb fish.
Once again, incredibly clear water, but no fish. Deb loved every minute, though, insisted that she didn’t care that much and was just happy to be out there fishing. It was a magical afternoon.
When we got back to camp, Mo had been visiting with a camping neighbor who had fishing gear in his truck. He told her that all the fish were gone for the time being, with the local river guides taking vacation time until the fish come back! He managed to catch trout by traveling 20 miles upstream to his friend’s home right on the river bank and sitting there all day. Ah well…who knew. Deb and I thought that maybe next time she might like to go during the Christmas steelhead season and hire a guide to help her learn the river from a local.
With no fresh fish, our plan for Tuesday evening was to take the short drive to Crescent City to visit our favorite spot for fish and chips, the Chart Room. I knew they were closed on Monday, so we saved that trip for Tuesday. It was a lovely drive, and when we got there I discovered that my memory of the place being closed on Monday was wrong. It is closed on Tuesdays! Ah well. Instead we rambled back through town along the highway and found another place, one I still only thing of as “restaurant” because that is what I saw on the sign.
The place was funky and charming in the way the coastal coffee shops often are with a laid back vibe and lots of souvenir racks in the middle of the room, fish murals on the walls, and friendly waitresses. We had excellent service, good decent ordinary food, and yes, we ate indoors! Everyone was masked as they entered the restaurant, and tables were more than 6 feet apart. Even though Mo and I have only had one vaccination, Deb has had her second, and with numbers going down we felt safe enough. I had forgotten how much fun it is to actually sit in a restaurant, sharing food and background noise with all sorts of people you don’t know. Why is that fun? I have no clue, but it was nice to be able to dine inside again.
We went home to enjoy our last campfire of the trip, laugh about the closed restaurant and the lack of fish in the river, and spend another night together in the MoHo.
It was a simple trip, a bit less than 2 hours from home, and yet it felt like another vacation from everyday life. Deb kept worrying that we were making the entire trip about her desire to fish. I told her that was great! It is always nice to have a focus for a trip. We learned a lot and saw parts of the Smith River that we wouldn’t have seen without Deborah along. Mo and I love our own company, but having another compatible, easy person to share a trip with had been delightful. Deb is now hooked of course, and wants her own camping rig. She might decide that a trailer is better for her than a small van, especially since vans are becoming so popular and so highly priced, even for used ones. She spent the entire last part of the trip looking up trailers and vans.
Our trip home was uneventful. We are used to traveling Highway 199, high on a cliff above the Middle Fork of the Smith. Such a gorgeous river. We left on Wednesday. Once home, we discovered that just a day later on Thursday, right near the intersection of Highway 199 and Walker Road a huge redwood fell across the highway, killing two unsuspecting people traveling along in their car.
When Deb and I first explored Walker Road we saw a big tree that had fallen across the road that was being cleaned up. Still, it never really occurred to me that those huge old trees could fall without warning on a perfectly clear, non windy day. Of course, if you spend any time walking the redwood forests, you will see huge trees everywhere that have fallen at one time or another. As many times as we have driven through the redwoods on our way to the coast, I never gave it a moment of thought. I might think differently next time, but it won’t keep me from driving the Redwood Highway.