Thursday, January 14, 2016

Playing in the Little Leagues: McIlroy Bank, 1955-1959

I spent five summers from 1955 to 1959 playing baseball on the McIlroy Bank team in the Fayetteville (AR) Sherman Lollar Little League (LL). During my first year in LL, I was only eight years old and had never played on an organized team. Of course, I was not the only novice, but was part of the first wave of Baby Boomers, whose numbers had inundated local schools two years earlier and in 1955 started to flood the baseball leagues. 

Fayetteville’s Little League and City Park League, 1955-1959

Then, as now, LL was for kids 12 years old or younger. Its games were played on fields with smaller dimensions than regular baseball fields. For example, the distance between bases was 60 feet instead of 90 feet for standard parks. The pitching rubber was only 46 feet from home plate, instead of the standard 60’ 6”.  Also, fences in LL parks were typically 50 to 100 feet less distant from home plate than standard parks. 
 
Picture taken on June 4, 1956. Fayetteville Mayor
throwing out the first ball to start the Little League
season (published in NWAT, Feb. 5, 1983)
 
Little League not only provided a place for kids to learn to play organized baseball, but also was supposed to instill proper values in youngsters. As stated in the 1959 program for the league (see below), the Little League pledge was: “I trust in God. I Love My Country and Will Respect Its Laws. I Will Play Fair and Strive to Win. But Win or Lose I Will Always Do My Best.”

Fayetteville’s LL was named after Sherman Lollar, a local boy born in 1924 who had become a successful major league catcher. As a kid, Lollar had been the batboy for Fayetteville’s first professional baseball team (see http://www.eclecticatbest.com/2015/06/fayetteville-freddie-hawn-good-life-in.html ). As a teenager in the late ’30s and early 40s, he had been a star athlete on Fayetteville High School teams and in the city’s summer baseball leagues.  In 1943. Lollar had signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians and had made his major league debut with that team three years later. After playing one year for the Indians, three years for the St. Louis Browns and two years for the New York Yankees, he joined the Chicago White Sox in 1952 and was that team’s starting catcher for a decade. In 1955, my first LL year, he was on the American League all-star team. Before Lollar retired in 1963, he was the American League’s all-star catcher seven times. (For his stats, see http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lollash01.shtml.)
 
The sponsor of my LL team, McIlroy Bank, was locally owned, located in a building on the north side of Fayetteville’s Square. The sponsors of other teams were also local businesses or local franchises of national corporations, including (in 1959) Cravens & Co., Ricketts Drug Store, Goff-McNair Motors, Ben Franklin, Coca-Cola, Fairway Groceries, and Campbell-Bell.  Each team had 15 players on its roster, a total of 120 boys.
 
Certificate for "Graduating" from Little League
All LL games were played in the City Park. The league’s games were scheduled as six-inning doubleheaders played on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. The first game started at 6:00 p.m. and had to end at 7:45 p.m. no matter how many innings had been completed. The second game started ten minutes after the first one ended. That game was stopped promptly at 9:45. Although games were supposed to last six innings, they often were shorter because of the time limits. (Some coaches became good at stalling when they had a narrow lead with the time limit looming.)

In addition to the eight LL teams, another eight teams of 8-to-12-year-old boys played in a second league, the City Park League. The kids on these teams had not been selected or for some reason were unable to play on a Little League team. These teams were did not have sponsors, and they played their games during the day. The coaches of these teams were usually young guys who were just two or three years older than the players. In 1959, each of the eight City Park League teams had 19 players listed on its roster, a total of 152 boys. In all, 272 boys are listed in the 1959 program as members of either a Little League or City Park League team.

The following is the program for the 1959 baseball season with the schedules and the list of players on the Little League and City Park League teams. (The numbers in the margin are my dad's calculation of my batting average at different times during the season).












The Five McIlroy Bank Teams

Looking at photographs of the five McIlroy Bank teams from 1955 to 1959, I can remember most of my teammates, but have no idea what positions they played or how good they were. The pictures document that Tony Adams and Mike Fitzhugh were my teammates for all five years of my LL career.  Tony lived a few blocks to the west of me and went to Jefferson Elementary. Mike lived on the other side of town.

I was on the team with several other kids for three or more years, including:

Ronnie Cole, who lived a block down from me on Sixth Street, was a teammate from 1956 to 1958, and his father was a co-coach in 1956.

Steve Halliday was a teammate on the last three teams (1957-1959). His dad was coach of the 1959 team. Later, Steve and I played football together on the Hillcrest Junior High team and two years at FHS. 

Roy Skelton, Royce Robertson, and Richard Parrott were my teammates from 1955 to 1958. I knew Roy pretty well, but do not remember much about Royce or Richard.

Pete Benton was a teammate from 1956 to 1959. Pete was a heavy-set lefthander who was a power hitter. He was also a funny guy and I enjoyed being his teammate.

1955 McIlroy Bank Little League team. Front row (from left): Mike Fitzhugh, Danny Durning, Richard Parrot, Roy Skelton Tony Adams, Kenny Terry, Gene Fitzhugh.  Second Row: Gerald Ezell, Bobby Brooks, J.D. McConnell, ?, Charles Ludwick, Royce Robertson. Two adults: Coaches Adams and X.

Other players that I clearly remember are Kenny Terry (1955 and 1956), Dickie McChristian (1958), Larry Shafer (1958), Delmer Baggett (1957), Jackie Smitherman (1959) and Danny Watson (1957), all of whom  lived in my neck of the South Fayetteville woods. Also, Jim Nail (1958) and Larry Parnell (1959), with whom I played on other sports teams, were teammates.  In addition, I recall Gene Fitzhugh (1955) and Kent Haskell (1956-58) as good teammates.   
 
1956 McIlroy Bank Little League Team.  First Row (from left): Royce Robertson, Richard Parrot, Tony Adams, Danny Durning, Mike Fitzhugh, Kent Haskell. Second Row: Charles Ludwick, Gerald Ezell, Ronnie Cole, Roy Clyne, Gene Fitzhugh, Bobby Brooks, Kenny Terry; Third Row, Coach Adams, J.D. McConnell, Coach Cole
The pictures shows that J.D. McConnell was a teammate during my first two years in LL. He later became one the best basketball plays to graduate from FHS. He and Justin Daniels were the stars of the 1961-62 FHS basketball team that almost – and should have -- won the state tournament.[ https://www.scribd.com/doc/48613345/The-Season-of-Justin-and-JD
blog]
 
1957 McIlroy Bank Little League Team   First Row (from left): ?, Tony Adams, Roy Skelton,
Danny Durning, Delmar Baggett, Steve Halliday.  Second Row: Bobby Brown, Kent Haskell,
Royce Roberson, Pete Benton, ?, Ronnie Cole, Richard Parrot, Coach Jerry Crittenden
The pictures of the 1958 and 1959 teams show that the team was integrated. Louis Bryant was on the 1958 team, and he and his brother Willie Bryant were on the 1959 team. I do not recall any controversy about the integration of Fayetteville’s Little League, though probably there was some. It was integrated a couple of years before the city’s elementary schools were. In later years, when I was playing with Louis on the Fayetteville High School Basketball team, he and Robert Wilks were the first black players to play in the state basketball tournament, and our FHS team was among the first integrated teams to play in such cities as Hot Springs, El Dorado, and Texarkana.
 
1958 McIlroy Bank Little League Team. First row (from left): Dickie McChristian, Mike Fitzhugh, Danny Watson (?), Butch Mitchell, Roy Skelton, Tony Adams. Second row: Jim Nail, Steve Halliday, Richard Parrot, Royce Robertson, Larry Schafer, Ronnie Cole, Danny Durning, Louis Bryant. Third Row, Coach x and Coach James Earle Harris

All of my LL teams had good coaches and I liked all of them. Tony Adams’ dad coached the team during the first two years. After that Jerry Crittenden, Charles Crittenden’s brother, was coach. (Charlie and I went to high school together. He was on the 1959 team.) The fourth-year coach I did not remember very well (I think his name was George McConnell.) He was assisted by James Earle Harris, who later was the assistant coach of the Babe Ruth League team for which I played). During the final season, in 1959, Steve Halliday’s dad was coach. At the time, he was Dean of Men at the University of Arkansas.  In retrospect, I understand more fully that each of these men volunteered lots of time and underwent lots of bother to coach the team. I appreciate what they did for us kids.
 
1959 McIlroy Bank Little League team. First row (from left): Jackie Smitherman, Toney Adams, Willie Bryant, Charles Chrittenden, Butch Mitchell, Jackie Henbest, Larry Mitchell (?). Second Row: Coach Halliday, Steve Halliday, Louis Bryant, Pete Benton, Danny Durning, Mike Fitzhugh, Larry Parnell

Sparse Memories of a Little League Warrior

No doubt, my five-year career with McIlroy Bank was filled with exhilarating moments of accomplishments and mournful moments of failure. It had, I’m sure, its highs and lows.  We likely won some tight games and lost some blowouts. I probably hit a home run or two; just as likely I probably made errors at critical times in different games.

I have to assume all of these things because I can recall little about playing Little League baseball. In fact, I remember almost nothing of the 60+ games I played in during my five years in the league. I don’t remember winning a game nor do I recall losing a game. Did my teams have winning records or were we losers? Did we play in championship games?  I have no idea.
 
Little League Warrior, 1958
I’m not even sure what position(s) I usually played during my five-year LL career, probably third base or left field.  I know that I pitched the last two or three years I played, but don’t remember any of those games. (Apparently I was not a very good pitcher because Bubba McCord, who played on Ricketts Drug Store team, claims that he hit his first little league home run off of me. I will keep rejecting that claim until he can prove it).

My main memories of my LL career are diffuse but deep. They are more recollections of surroundings and feelings rather than specific events.  I can still see the details of the field, its bare infield, the fenced-in dugouts, the stands populated by people I knew, and the manual scoreboard outside the center field fence. Also I can recall the excitement, tension, and concentration of playing in LL games. Above all, even without memories of what exactly happened during those five years, I know that LL baseball was both fun and important. My summers were all about playing baseball and LL was the center of that activity.

Some of my most pleasant memories are of the preparation for new LL seasons.  A highlight of each year was getting the McIlroy Bank uniform and a new dark-blue baseball cap that I would wear that year. It was a challenge to properly break in the hat. I preferred the cap’s bill to have a smooth oval shape and was dismayed by the uncouth guys who turned down the corners of their bills. To get the proper oval, I had to attend carefully to molding it for several days.

Along with getting a uniform and new hat at the beginning of the year, my parents would usually buy me new shoes to wear with the uniform (no spikes allowed in little league). Looking at the pictures from my five LL years, it appears that I usually wore high-top Keds. Lots of other kids had actual LL baseball shoes, black with plastic bumps on the bottom.  

Every two years or so, my dad would take me to Ken’s Sporting Goods to get a new baseball glove. To prepare for that exciting store visit, I had go to Ken’s several times in advance to check out the store’s collection of gloves. Most of the gloves in Ken’s store were endorsed by major league baseball players, and I wanted my new glove to be just like one used by a favorite St. Louis Cardinal player, maybe Stan Musial or Kenny Boyer or Vinegar Bend Mizell. I would try on the gloves until I had decided which one had just the right feel and endorsement.
 
Learning to catch, 1956
When I got the glove, I took special care to mold it to my hand so that it would fit just right. That took some work and special oil. Typically, I would use only three of the glove’s four fingers, putting my fore- and middle fingers into the glove’s third finger, leaving its fourth finger, next to the web, free. With such a configuration, I was less likely to feel the sting of a hard-thrown ball. Some kids put their forefinger outside of the glove, on the back strap. I never understood that.

I always wanted to buy my own baseball bat, preferably a Stan Musial model, to take to the plate, but, alas, experience had shown that was not a good idea, and my parents were not ones to throw away money on such things. Often if a kid bought a bat, other kids would beg him to use it during a game and, inevitably, one break it (wooden bats did not have a long life expectancy). Then, he (or his parents) would not pay for the broken bat and hard feelings would follow. If another kid did not break the bat, the owner would usually break it himself not long after buying it.

Instead of using our own, most LL players hit with the bats provided by each team. These wooden bats were carried around in an oblong bat bag that also contained scuffed balls for warmups and batting practice, batting helmets, and catcher’s gear. The coach was responsible not only for coaching, but also for managing the bat bag and its precious contents, which were purchased by team sponsors, who also bought the uniforms and hats for the players. Some sponsors seemed more generous than others. My team wore the same uniforms during all five years I was playing on it. 

Beyond these general memories, I have a few snippets of random memories from my LL career:

●In May 1955, I was one of a hoard of young boys who tried out for a Little League team. The tryout was held at the old Fairgrounds Park, which seemed huge to all of us kids. The coaches set up different stations to test our ability to field a ground ball, catch a fly ball, run, and hit. I was excited and scared, but was sure I was going to get on a team because Tony Adam’s dad, coach of McIlroy Bank, had already hit me some grounders and flies before the tryout. He had told my dad that I was a natural outfielder.

●Sometime during my first or second year, I decided that I wanted to try to be a catcher. After begging several times, the coach let me catch during batting practice. After about five minutes of squatting behind batters, I no longer wanted to be a catcher.

●For some reason, we were playing a game against a Springdale team. My cousin Russell was on the opposing team. He was on first base and I was playing second (I played second base?). A ground ball was hit to me. As I bent over to field it, he ran over me, knocking me down. The ball went past me. I was mad and thought that was unfair, but felt better when my cousin was called out for interference (I rule I did not know at the time).

●I was terrified when I had to hit when my cousin Justin Daniel was pitching. He was a giant among pygmies who threw faster than anyone should. He seemed to be throwing from ten feet away rather than 46 feet. I kept thinking: What if he hits me in the head, or anywhere? Maybe he will kill me! (O.K., the league required helmets, but still…).  Also, I was impressed with some of the home runs Justin hit. They traveled not only over the left field fence, but over North Park Avenue, hitting the apartment building on the other side on the street. (Some home runs hit in the following years by Lloyd Wolfe and Charley Jordan were also awesome. They both hit left handed, and sometimes hit balls that cleared not only the right field ball-park fence, but also the swimming pool fence beyond it, ending up in the water.

●Some years, we had cool aid and a snack after the game (if it was the first game of the night). Win or lose, we would find a concrete table in the City Park and eat something one of the mothers had prepared.

●My parents went to all my baseball games. If I was playing, I knew they would be in the stands. Before the beginning of my last year, I negotiated a contract with my dad. I would get a nickel for every single, a dime for every double, 15 cents for every triple and a quarter for every home run. I think I would get 50 cents for every game in which I was the winning pitcher.  I made a little money that year, but did not get rich





Two pages from a 1956 article in a publication for employees of the Arkansas
Western Gas Company

Despite the lack of specific memories of my time as a little league player, I judge my LL career a success. Although I lack information about how well I did as a pitcher and hitter, I know that I learned much from the experience about getting along with other kids, having the discipline to show up for practice and games, learning to play on a team, and learning to compete and do my best. I think playing in LL gave me confidence that helped in future years.

The Career Ends

On the last night of my LL career, after I had just finished my last little league game, I was sad. I was lying down in the back seat of the Plymouth as my dad drove south down College Avenue toward home; my mother sat next to him. I stared at the car’s ceiling and felt unsettled by things that were happening beyond my control. After five years of playing in Little League, I could never play another LL game. 

That thought bothered me as did the uncertainty of the future: what would it be like to play in the Babe Ruth League on a full-sized field?  Could I do it?  Would I be good enough? 


As the car pulled into the driveway on Sixth Street, I was thinking how much I would miss playing little league baseball. I didn’t really want things to change. I was being forced into something I did not want to do. As I pondered the future, I was glum. Then a thought dawned on me: in the coming year I would get to wear baseball shoes with real spikes and most certainly would get a new, larger baseball glove. With that realization, my mood brightened and I slept peacefully my first night as an ex-Little Leaguer.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Traveling the Pacific Coast: An Embarrassment of Riches

We have all encountered an embarrassment of riches at some point in our lives. Perhaps it was when we were at a party with a buffet table crowded with too many tasty dishes or when we were visiting a city in which too many historic churches had to be seen. My most recent embarrassment of riches came in late August during a car trip from Birch Bay, WA to Mendocino, CA.  Traveling down the coast, I encountered so much natural scenic beauty, so many memorable vistas, that I was unable to do more than sample a few of them.
The Trip Route from (1) Birch Bay, WA to (2) Mendoino, CA

The idea of the trip was to see as much of the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California as possible. After getting to the Olympic Peninsula, much of the drive was on Hwy 101.  In Washington, it sometimes veered inland, and we had to take some smaller highways to get closer to the water. In contrast, much of Oregon’s Coastal Highway (also Hwy 101) lies within view the Pacific, so side trips were not necessary. In California, after enjoying stops in the Redwood National Forest, accessing the coast required leaving Hwy 101 and driving a perilous mountain route on Hwy 1 to reach the coast. From there, Hwy 1 was often near the edge of the buffs overlooking the ocean.

Washington: The Olympic Peninsula

The trip was made with my young friend Denis Gajdamaschko. We have traveled together to many places since he turned twelve, including Austria, Poland, Ukraine, and China, plus we have shared a car on long drives from Athens (GA) to Fayetteville (AR) and Athens to Birch Bay (WA). He was as eager as I to see the Pacific Northwest coastline.

We departed from Birch Bay, WA (about 9 miles from the Canadian border) to drive to one of my favorite little towns, Coupeville, on Whidbey Island. There, we caught a ferry to Port Townsend which is located on the north shore of the Olympic Peninsula. The ferry ride is a short one, covering the 17 or so miles in less than 30 minutes.

The city of Port Townsend has an historic waterfront built on a bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is worth an extended visit, but we stopped only to look at the housing models set up by Greenpods ( http://www.greenpoddevelopment.com/ ). This firm designs and builds efficient and modernistic modular housing, a candidate to occupy a lot I co-own in Birch Bay. We were impressed with both the design and quality of the model units we saw.

View of Port Townsend as the ferry approaches the dock

After that brief stop, we headed west to Port Angeles, another old seaport, to spend the night (http://www.portangeles.org/pages/ActivitiesAttractions/link ). This coastal city with nearly 20,000 residents lies on the north end of the Olympic Peninsula in the shadows of the Olympic Mountains. From Port Angeles’ ferry landing, the city of Victoria (Canada) is only about 25 miles across the Strait (https://www.cohoferry.com/ ) The city has mellow, artistic undertones amid the bulk and debris of an aging seaport.

Outdoor mural showing the futurist ferry, the Kalakala, that linked
Port Angeles with Vancouver CA for many years
The next day, we took off on Hwy 101 for the real adventure. The road plunged quickly into the Olympic National Park; although the highway generally follows the coastline, it often lies several miles away from the ocean. To get to the ocean beaches, we exited it at a couple of points to go farther west.  
Not far from Port Angeles, we turned west onto Highway 112 near Sappho, WA. After a short ride, we checked out Clallam Bay, a small but robust town with an expansive and empty sandy beach. After enjoying the beach views and reading about the town’s naval history on historical monuments in the city park, we headed back to Hwy 101, ready to exchange bay views for some raw ocean.

Just before we reached Forks, WA, we again left Hwy 101 to take Hwy 110 to La Push. Then, the real fun began. At the end of the highway was a noisy ocean plus the community of La Push sitting on reservation land owned by the Quileate Indians.  At La Push, the gentle ripples of bay beaches were only a memory; instead we saw beaches pounded by the powerful waves of the unfettered Pacific. It was a pleasure to finally see the high white-capped waves and hear the sound of an ocean in turmoil. You can sample the views here: http://forkswa.com/first-beach-webcam/

Sign at La Push WA

In and near La Push, we made our way to three sandy beaches (cleverly named First Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach) separated by bluffs and rock formations. All three were under attack by enormous Pacific waves. To get to two of the beaches, we had to walk steep narrow trails, but the efforts were rewarded with the feel of white sand under our feet, the sound of the raucous ocean, and the sight of the sun turning the water a deep blue with white fringes.

First Beach at La Push (Note the surfer in the foregound)

We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the La Push community has a resort operated by the Quileate Indians with cabins a few steps from the roaring water. After seeing them, I updated my to-do list to include a stay in one the cabins with my Godson Danielka the next time he comes to visit. Maybe we can ride out a fearsome storm there, just to say we survived. http://www.quileuteoceanside.com/


Resort cabins at La Push between First Beach and Second Beach

La Push is surrounded by the Olympic National Park, which includes coastal long the northern part of the Olympic Peninsula.  As with all Indian Reservations on the Peninsula, the Quileate reservation is not part of the park.


Ocean Waves at La Push's Third Beach

After returning to Hwy 101, we veered close to the Ocean for several pleasant miles, then abruptly turned to the East to go around the huge Quinault Reservation. When we were almost around it, we pulled off Hwy 101 to take the Moclips Highway to get us back to the Ocean. This highway ran through heavily forested land to the small ocean-front community of Moclips. There we met up with Hwy 109 and headed south.  Moclips and most coastal land south of it are not in the Olympic National Park, and the difference is immediately visible: without the park’s building restrictions, numerous houses and other structures have been built on the bluffs along the Ocean. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moclips,_Washington.)

The drive down Highway 109 mostly followed the shoreline, taking us past several small, aging cities with coastal resorts and RV parks. However, just a few miles south of Moclips, which is populated by modest houses offering million dollar views, we passed through Seabrook, a new development with expensive modern houses overlooking the ocean (http://www.seabrookwa.com/ ).

We puttered down Hwy 109 until we got to Hwy 115, which goes down a peninsula that ends at Ocean Shores, a small rectangular town, six miles long and two miles wide. Surrounded by water on three side, the ocean side of this resort town has huge sandy beaches onto which some people drive their cars. Although this was the first place where we saw cars on the beach, it turned out to be commonplace on Washington beaches further south.

Ocean Shores, with a population of about 5,600, is laid out on a precise grid. This precision likely came during its initial development as a resort in the 1960s. In its initial incarnation, the city, as developed by the Ocean Shores Development Association, was a glitzy place for the rich and famous. Why else would Pat Boone live there for a while?  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_Shores,_WashingtonWikipedia .

The city’s low-lying, sandy soil, reminds me of similar cities along the coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia. It has several hotels/motels for tourists attracted by its moderate climate and superlative beaches. (For the city’s attractions, see: http://www.tourismoceanshores.com/ and http://oceanshores.com/ .) Also, most noticeable, it has an astonishing number of deer roaming along the roads, munching grass along the public land and in the yards of the city’s residents. Who needs a speed limit when the threat of hitting a deer is always looming?

After a night in Ocean Shores, we drove on Hwy 109 to Hoquiam and Aberdeen where many of the innumerable logging trucks on Hwy 101 dump their loads. Back on Hwy 101, we drove several miles away from the Ocean until we made it to Raymond, which looked like another logging town. After Raymond, Hwy 101 again ran along or near the Ocean for many miles, providing several different opportunities to stop and check out the seemingly unending sandy beaches.

We pulled off Hwy 101 to visit the Long Beach peninsula. Long Beach claims it has the “World’s Longest Beach,” and its white sand does stretch about eleven miles from the top to the bottom of the peninsula. This narrow peninsula reminded me of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where often when driving you can look one way to see the ocean and the other way to see the bay. Of course, Long Beach is not an island, so we did not have to worry about ferries.

The beach at the southern end of Long Beach

We spent too little time on this peninsula and I have added another visit there to my list of things to do. See https://funbeach.com/ for news of the attractions of the Long Beach peninsula.

After eating lunch in the small city of Long Beach (at the southern end of the peninsula) and walking some of its nicely developed beach-front trails, we continued on Hwy 101 across the soaring bridge that links Washington State with Oregon. Here is where the mighty Columbia River meets up with the Pacific. The bridge took us into Astoria, and after a quick look around the city we continued south on the Oregon Coastal Highway (the state’s name for Hwy 101). In the northern part of the state, Hwy 101 was often within sight of the Ocean.

After some time peeking through the trees for a glimpse of the water, we were ready for an encounter with an Oregon beach.  On a whim, we turned into a parking area with the sign “Hug Point State Park.” I am glad we did. The Hug Point beach is broad and sandy, surrounded by bluffs into which ocean waves have dug caves. Also, not far from the ocean’s edge, huge rock formations rise out of the water.

Energetic Denis jogs to see more of the beach to the south

Hug Point State Park is just one of many small beach parks off Hwy 101 in northern Oregon. If the others are like it, this part of the state is particularly blessed with beauty. 
Hug Point Beach cave

Continuing south, we had a steady diet of enticing ocean views until we reached the small city of Garibaldi; then the highway went inland a few miles, passing through Tillamook (famous for its cheese). We traveled for quite a while with only periodic glimpses of the Ocean until we reached Lincoln City. There, we got a room across the street from – you guessed it -- a sandy beach.

The next day we continued south on the Oregon Coastal Highway and had a long stretch of road with the ocean in view.  One of the two highlights of the long day of driving occurred after we passed the city of Depoe Bay, whose front street has businesses facing the Ocean. We noticed a crowd congregated on the sidewalk across from the downtown stores.  They were intensely staring out at the ocean. We wondered why they were there (bird watchers?), but traveled on. Then, climbing a steep hill south of the city, we saw a bevy of cars parked on a high bluff overlooking the ocean.  Many people were standing at the bluff’s edge. Were they going to jump?

Whale surfacing (left side of the picture) with whalers in pursuit

We stopped to investigate. We quickly learned that the attraction was whales. From that vantage point, we could see a couple of whales periodically coming to the surface. Not far from them, two whale watching boats were filled with observers. We enjoyed the spectacle; that was the first time I had seen whales in the Pacific.

The second highlight came a little later in the day, when, after a steady bombardment of jaw-dropping ocean views, we traveled down a hill in the Cape Perpetua area and stopped at Devil’s Churn State Park. As suggested by the name, at Devil’s Churn the Pacific is sending a steady flow of giant waves smashing into an unyielding igneous beach, creating huge sprays of water. We walked down to this beach, formed by lava flow, for a closer look, carefully avoiding the water crashing over the rocks.  (See http://www.beachconnection.net/news/dchurn021011_344.php )

Devil's Churn from a bluff overlooking it

We greatly enjoyed the spectacle provided us by Devil's Churn and noted that the entire Cape Perpetua area has several beaches and trails for ocean-loving visitors who also love to hike. I made a note to myself: “You have to return for a longer visit to explore this area.” To get a taste of the area, watch the video at this website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/siuslaw/recarea/?recid=42265   

Ocean meets beach at Devil's Churn

After Devils Churn we made the long drive to California, stopping intermittently when a view absolutely demanded attention. During the drive, as the road veered inland a bit, we traveled through land famous for its enormous sand dunes. (See information on the Sand Dunes National Park here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/siuslaw/recreation/recarea/?recid=42465) .  Sadly, we had no time to explore the dunes, but noted their existence as candidates for future travel adventures.  

At the end of a long day of travel, exhausted by viewing a surplus of majestic sights, we crossed the Oregon and California border, then stopped in Crescent City, CA for the night.

Northern California

Crescent City is not a particularly attractive city, so we departed quickly the next morning. We had two key items on our agenda: to explore the Redwood forests and to go down Highway 1 to Mendocino. 

Not long after we took off, fog rolled in and stayed around – in and near the water -- most of the day. The play of light and shadow on and over the water enhanced the beauty of the setting.

Foggy day on the north coast of California

We spent the morning appreciating redwood trees whose height and age and beauty are worthy of a long string of admiring adjectives. We left Hwy 101 to drive on the Newton Drury Scenic Parkway through the Prairie Creek Redwood State Park. Midway through the Parkway, we stopped to walk a trail among the giant trees.


Northern California's Pacific Coast on a foggy day

After getting back on Hwy 101, we exited it again a few miles to the south to get to the Lady Bird Johnson Redwood Grove near Orick. This grove of ancient redwoods is protected from development, and an interpretative trail has been developed among them. As we walked the trail, we were in constant awe of our surroundings


Denis on the Redwood Trail

As we sated our interest in redwoods, we worked up a big appetite and stopped in Trinidad, a nifty ocean-front city whose name I had never heard before. With the lingering fog, we had some fetching views of the ocean from the top of the bluff on which the city sits.  After a few minutes in the city, I had the thought: “Wow, I would like to live here.” Then I saw a modest house for a sale a few steps from where we parked. The half-million dollar price tag reminded me of why I don’t live in such a place.

View from Trinidad, CA

Continuing down Hwy 101, we saw enough of Humboldt County to regret that we did not have enough time to check out its many attractions. When we entered Mendocino County, Hwy 101 had gone several miles inland and we were ready to get back to the Ocean. To do so, we left Hwy 101 to travel on California’s famous Hwy 1 at its northern entrance. The first segment of his highway, we quickly found out, is a scary, twisting-turning two-lane road through the foothills of the Pacific Coast Mountain Range. The road has innumerable hair pin turns near jutting bluffs and very few straight stretches. It was an exhausting drive that, fortunately, paid off by taking us to the most memorable views of the Pacific to be found anywhere.

Along the ocean, Hwy 1 is still a dangerous road. Built in the 1930s, it is narrow by modern standards with almost continuous zigs and zags as it follows the coastline. What makes it especially dangerous are the ocean vistas that distract drivers as they try to negotiate the meandering road.

Driving along the Northern California coast, I was getting excited about the prospect of visiting Mendocino. For some reason, I have long wished to see this small coastal town. I am not sure why – maybe because of something I read or saw three decades ago when living a couple of hours away in the San Francisco Bay area. Whatever the source, I have pictured this town as an ideal ocean-front community.

State Park by Mendocino, view to the north

Mendocino did not disappoint. This unincorporated village of about 900 people sits on a bluff with the Pacific clawing at it on three sides. A haven for artists, it is quiet, tidy and unpretentiously upscale. It has an active art center with a gallery and small theater. At the village’s western edge is an ocean-side state park overlooking the ocean with trails for hiking and enticing views to the north, south, and west. In the evening, a lighthouse on a large rock to the north whirls its illumination across the water toward Mendocino every three or four seconds.

Birds on a Pacific Coast outcropping by Mendocino

The Coastal Trip Ends

The night in Mendocino, in a pleasant inn, was the last on the coast. We departed the next morning for a 150-mile trip to Berkeley, but just a few minutes after leaving the village and before we turned inland to drive through Mendocino County’s wine country, we noticed a huge modern mansion sitting by itself on the edge of a high bluff above the Pacific. On this perfectly beautiful sun-filled day, the house struck me as the perfect house in a perfect location, and my envy rose to new heights.
Perfect house in a perfect location on a perfect day, near Mendocino

After a few minutes of stewing in my envy, I calmed down, reminding myself that I had just spent four days enjoying some of the most spectacular ocean views in the world. I decided to be thankful for what I have instead of envying the rich SOBs with their billion dollar mansions and their perfect lives.

Well, maybe I didn’t get rid of all traces of envy, but as we left the coast, I was happy that I had been able to make this trip and was looking forward to returning. A good thing about this embarrassment of riches is that I can easily go back for more.