Saturday, August 8, 2009

Highway Character

For most of the week we were camping, we traveled along Hwy 101 in Northern California. The 101 is a very interesting road. Now depending upon your perspective, the 101 either starts or ends in Southern California. From my point of view, that's where it starts, so that's where this tale starts.

The 101 starts in Los Angeles as an 8 lane superhighway at one of the worst congested intersections of two freeways in the entire world. It is labeled an odd numbered freeway or highway. Usually, but not always, odd numbered roads run north/south while even numbered roads run east/west. There are always exceptions as we found out later on our trip when we were traveling almost due north on the southbound side of Interstate 5 in Oregon, but that's another story.

Anyway, the 101 is a north/south highway/freeway and starts in Los Angeles. For the next fifty miles it runs east/west along the coast, then veers into a northwesterly direction until it gets up into San Luis Obispo County before it starts on a more northerly route. Suffice to say, it seemingly goes every way. And it also seems to have a life of its own with regard to how many lanes it's going to have. On our trip, just on the northern section of the road north of San Francisco to the Oregon border, this road had 8 lanes, 6 lanes, 5 lanes, 4 lanes, 3 lanes and 2 lanes. You gotta admit, this road has some character to it, perhaps to the point of schizophrenia. I'm not sure it knows what it wants to be, but that's the fun of the road. You never know what's going to be around the next bend or over the next hill.

On our trip along the 101, we noticed all sorts of interesting things, most of which you don't normally see in your daily travels. How often do you recall seeing a sign along one of your highways indicating that you were in a Tsunami hazard zone, or that this was a Tsunami Evacuation Route? We noticed these signs every time the 101 came down close to the ocean, or was close to sea level even though it could be inland for quite a ways. This stems from the 1964 earthquake in Alaska which caused tsunamis to strike along the coast of Northern California, killing several people.

When was the last time you drove along your nearby highway and saw a statue of Paul Bunyan with a fifty two foot waist who stood next to a just as large big blue ox named Babe who also happened to be anatomically correct? This was all part of a local tourist trap known as Trees of Mystery. I'm not sure which is more disturbing, the fact that people were getting their pictures taken near Babe's anatomy, or that if you stood in front of Paul Bunyan, he'd talk with you and answer some of your questions. Roadside kitsch like this is becoming few and far between, but the 101 still has it.

Wildlife seems to be common along many freeways and the 101 is no exception. The fact that it winds its way through a national park also increases the chances that when driving along the highway, you'll see wildlife. Having driving along the highway many times when I was going to college, I was prepared for the large herd of Roosevelt Elk we saw right along the road. I'm not sure the Tadpole was the first day, but by the third day, he was pretty much used to it. You just learn to drive slowly, so that one of those big creatures doesn't end up becoming part of your car's exterior paint job and everything will be OK.

All of these encounters happened when the 101 was in two lane mode, in other words, in the more rural parts the highway wound through. The larger part of the road tended to be in the urban area. But that's what was really enjoyable about the road. No matter how big it got, it always seemed to go back to its roots, a two lane road, connecting point A with point B. A lot of these roads seem to be disappearing. I hope this road never loses its character.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
Code by the Coast - by Phobos+Demos
Babe - by ChrissySkyking + Blaze
Big Critters With Antlers - by NCFLYERS - The Double J's of Fortuna, CA

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Steve Natoli said...

Do you mean it's 2 lanes in each direction or actually goes down to 2 lanes total, as in 1 in each direction?

Nice pictures.

Webfoot said...

Two lanes, one in each direction. The speed limits on the highway are all over the place too. Obviously, when in urban area, it's usually 65 mph, but it'll get down to 25 mph while it goes through some of the smaller towns north of San Francisco, most notably, Willits.

The state has been making progress to upgrade it to two lanes in each direction, but there are some spots where I feel that will never happen due to the local topography.