Highway 101 Through the Redwoods

Humboldt's Scenic Route Still the Way to Go

The drive north through southern Humboldt County takes you along the Eel River with the Redwood Highway on the left and “Avenue of the Giants”, the old US Highway 101, on the right.

The tall trees east of the river are Blair Grove, at the southern edge of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which encompasses 52,000 acres, including over 17,000 acres of old-growth coast redwood forest. In December of 1964, the two roads here were under water; a road sign about ten feet above the highway along this stretch shows the high-water mark of the flood that devastated nearby Myers Flat and Miranda.

A 1920 Humboldt County brochure documents the “recently completed highway south to San Francisco and a road being considered going north toward Oregon.” As highways go, US101 is a youngster.

In an interview with Harvey G. Harper, a man as young as the road, he spoke of his father, Harvey M. Harper, who drove the first car in winter to Eureka in 1912. In some places north of San Francisco, the senior Harper literally carved out the road with a shovel so his Model T Ford could make way over what was no more than a rutted, muddy trail.

Born in Eureka six years after the family arrived, Harvey G. Harper remembers picnic journeys to Twin Trees south of Benbow as a child, when father Harvey M. navigated the US101 dirt and gravel road south. By the time they arrived for lunch, the car, picnic gear, and family were all covered in fine powder. “My mother said she could never live in southern Humboldt - it was too dusty!” Harper recalled. “Further south, Mendocino County even had a law against automobiles for awhile, when noisy engines spooked horses. Also, my father sold tractors and road equipment to the highway crews that improved 101 over the years. It was tough country, and they went through a lot of equipment to build the road back then.”

Talking with Harper, I gained an appreciation for “The Alignment” - a phrase he used interchangeably for the gigantic task of improving the highway, and also for speaking of historic sections of US101, such as the College of the Redwoods access road, which was once the main highway. Of another old section, the abandoned mountain road between Ukiah and Willits, Harper said, “You could get stuck behind a truck for what seemed like forever,” back when the Eureka-San Francisco drive was a twelve-hour ordeal.

Now the trip to the Bay area takes less than six hours if you’re in a hurry. However, the best approach to one of the most beautiful highways in the world is to start early. Then you can take your time along the scenic Eel and the Avenue of the Giants to enjoy the solitude of an ancient forest grove and to whisper a prayer of thanks for our Rivers and Redwoods home.

Articles and photographs copyright Gary Todoroff. For licensed use, call (707) 445-8425 or contact him by email.