That's what Tom said when he challenged me to share my three best travel secrets in Northern California!
I said something like, Wow - only three? How am I going to choose only three!?! I'd be lucky to narrow it down to 300!
Tom said something like, Them's the rules of the game. You gotta play by the rules, kid!
Tom is the author of a popular backpacking blog called Top Backpacking Destinations, and a TwitterFriend who introduced me to Tripbase's 3 Best Kept Travel Secrets project.
It wasn't easy to pick only three secrets, but I'd been given my assignment, so I did my best to come up with the cream of the crop for Northern California.
The reason I chose these three: not only are they extraordinary sites to visit, but they really are pretty much insider secrets! You can even ask native Californians - most have never even heard of the Lost Coast, or Lassen, or Mono Lake and Bodie. They certainly haven't been there!
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The idea was to get travel writers to share their 3 Best Kept Travel Secrets, from which Tripbase would create a lovely e-book with travel highlights from around the world.
And each time one of our readers downloaded this free e-book, Tripbase would donate $1 to Charity:Water, helping to provide clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations! Win/Win!
Well, the game went viral as they say, and so many travel writers contributed their best kept secrets that Tripbase published not one, but seven free e-books!
Now, several years later, the project is done, the e-books offer is off the table, and the money's been donated to a Charity Water project in Ethiopia (see update below).
But I still get to share my 3 Best
Kept Northern California Travel Secrets Guide with you, so it's still a Win, Win for us! But first you have to
promise not to tell a soul! These very special Northern California sites are all very hush, hush, you know.
You might find it hard to imagine that crowded California could possibly have any "undiscovered" places left, but it does!
And one of the most isolated and rugged of those is The Lost Coast, 90 miles of NorCal coastline between Ferndale and Rockport.
Because no one has yet forged a coastal road through the intensely rugged terrain, The Lost Coast has remained undeveloped and untamed. And it couldn't be more dramatic or more beautiful!
Inhabited by a few scattered ranchers, a handful of retirees, and some aging Hippies who grow a crop which isn't legal in the State of California except with a doctor's prescription, the Lost Coast provides wild landscapes - shipwrecked steamers, battered Sea Stacks, jagged cliffs, pristine beaches, talus pipes - and tons of solitude to go with your hiking, fishing, backpacking, beachcombing, and camping.
Visit the village of Shelter Cove, explore the Siskyone Wilderness and King Range National Conservation Area, check out Cape Mendocino (most westerly point of California), or hike the Lost Coast Trail . . .
But don't be surprised when you discover that the wild critters - mink, bear, elk, river otter, deer - outnumber the human variety, and there are more cows lying on the beaches than there are people!
Here are a few more pictures from a TwitterFriend of mine: Lost Coast Pictures.
The Second Most Top Secret Travel Secret:
Lassen Volcanic National Park
It's amazing to me how many Californians have never even heard of Lassen Peak and its park!
After all, Lassen Peak erupted on May 22, 1915 - making it the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range.
Prior to Mount St. Helens' eruption in 1980, Lassen's powerful 1915 explosion (which shot debris 7 miles into the Earth's atmosphere) was the most recent to occur in the continental United States.
Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park and you may feel as if you've warped back in time to the boiling cauldrons that seem representative of the beginnings of the Earth! It contains your usual parkland features, such as wildflower-laced meadows and lush forestland to entice the hiker in you to take to the trails, but there's much more to Lassen than beautiful scenery!
It's also home to steaming hydrothermal vents, bubbly-boiling hot mud pots, thundering fumaroles, and smelly sulfurous springs that burn your nose - all of which should serve to remind us that Lassen Peak is still very much a live and active volcano!
A very unique attraction of Lassen Volcanic State Park is the Drakesbad Guest Ranch hidden in a high mountain valley at the end of Warner Valley Road within the boundaries of the park.
Stay at the Ranch and imagine yourself living as John Muir might have - residing in a rustic cabin, reading by kerosene lantern at night (there's no electricity in your cabin), riding horseback across the meadow, fishing and hiking and canoeing, communing with nature (like the Drakesbad resident Yellow-bellied Marmot picture here), and getting rid of the day's kinks by soaking in the hot springs fed pool!
Just to give you an idea of how remote Drakesbad is, the directions for getting there include "Turn right" (or "left," depending on your direction of travel) "at the Fire station and proceed to Drakesbad."
I might be kind of cheating a little here since Mono Lake and Bodie are technically two separate places, but they're so close in proximity, and they both have a unifyingly eerie, ghostly, other-worldly quality that I think binds them together - so I'm treating them as one travel secret.
Now, having said that, I have to confess that - except for the eerie factor and their geographical closeness - the two are nothing alike! Let me explain.
Mono Lake - pronounced MO-no; both O's are long and the stress is on the first syllable - is a natural phenomenon. Created by a combination of Ice Age and volcanic activity, this inland sea has nowhere to go.
So evaporation occurs, leaving the waters salty and alkaline - perfect conditions for the breeding of brine shrimp and alkali flies. These creatures, in such great numbers, provide an excellent food source for millions of migratory birds.
It's the abundance of minerals in the water which gives the lake its other-worldly quality; edged with tufa spires jutting up out of the water, it's hard to believe you weren't transported to an alien planet while your back was turned!
For a real treat, explore the lake from the water - take a guided canoe trip with the Mono Lake Committee. And for more on Mono Lake, see Laura Twining's Mysterious Mono Lake.
And speaking of being transported; 41 miles to the North of Mono Lake (about an hour's drive) you'll find an honest-to-goodness ghost town!
Bodie State Historic Park has preserved the Gold Rush era town of Bodie in a state of arrested decay, meaning that the buildings are being preserved in their arrested state, but no renovation is being done.
Walk the board sidewalks and peer into the buildings of the town - the stores, a saloon, barbershop, schoolhouse, the mill, outhouses, private homes.
Hope chests filled with linens, schoolbooks neatly stacked on a desk,
china sets waiting to be used, coffins, a roulette table in the saloon,
a well-stocked general store, all under a thick layer of dust - the
town looks as if its residents were all beamed up by Scottie to the USS
Enterprise, never to be seen again!
You'll need a place to stay when you visit the Eastern Sierras; Lee Vining's Lake View Lodge is closest.
Getting back to the original reason for this post - Now that I've shared My 3 Best Kept Northern California Travel Secrets, it's time to pass the torch on to other travel writers.
Now, MY assignment, should I decide to accept it - and I do, of course - is to challenge five more travel bloggers to share THEIR Best Kept Travel Secrets. So I say, "Tag, YOU'RE It!" You know who you are, Tweeple!
And a hearty thanks to all who participated. What a fun game!
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