How far do you have to go to enjoy a great getaway? Recently myself and the krew decided to travel just a few miles from our home town to the KOA in Willits, California for a fun weekend of steam, camping and adventure.
Willits is one of the unique little towns in California’s North Coast that once thrived on logging the famous Redwood trees. While logging is still definitely part of the Willits economy, today tourism and other industries have been added to the mix. Of course, Willits is also in the “Emerald Triangle” which means it’s at the center stage for growing the magical herb that is so much in the news today.
Another thing you’ll notice about Willits is that it has a thriving arts community. There had been a lot of hippies that called the town home in the 1960s and, today, there are their modern-day equivalents. This means lots of great music, food and even some great shops like my wife’s favorite, Mazahar, which sells a lot of steam punk items among other unique clothing.
Another highlight of Willits is The Loose Caboose cafe, which has sandwiches, soup and things like that. I can't recommend it more highly. Great little “discovery” restaurant.
But what brought us from the neighboring county here was steam. Well, more specifically, vicariously enjoying the steam as it motivated various machines.
Twice a year there’s a place called Roots of Motive Power which is a tribute to the various steam-powered machines that were used in the logging business. From steam locomotives, steam donkeys, steam shovels and all sorts of other machines this is a paradise for steam nerds like myself and is one of the reasons we chose this weekend to camp locally. Or, since it was a KOA, perhaps that was kamping.
I’ve done a video about Roots of Motive Power in the past so I’ll leave you to that for more information.
Another reason to go to Willits is the Skunk Train, a historic logging train that now serves passengers. The Skunk Train is one of the last whistle stop lines left in the US which means that, as the trains rumble through the redwoods on their way to the sea they blow their whistle at each property so locals can hop on and off. I’ve been on the Skunk Train numerous times and have seen them loading everything from grocers to building supplies for the locals, many of which have no access to the roads that are in the area.
The Skunk Train also offers a variety of motive power including a diesel locomotive, a motorcar and even a 1928 Baldwin steam locomotive. The team on the Skunk are great with telling stories of the trees, history of the area and all of that. There is a snack bar aboard the train and, halfway between Willits and the coastal city of Fort Bragg, there is the Northspur Station which offers a barbecue lunch under the shade of the redwoods.
Among my favorite people aboard the Skunk Train is Greg Schindel, the Train Singer. Greg is a super animated individual whose train songs are a joy as he walks back and forth on the train serenading the passengers with his guitar and harmonica. Greg’s songs are a mixture of his own originals along with railroad favorites.
Like many others, the KOA offers all sorts of activities for families. From a western town to meeting space to a water park this KOA is a great place for families. The spaces were nice, relatively level and there weren’t any overly bright lights at night so the dark skies above were a part of the experience. The campground, er, Kampground, is well lighted but not overly lighted.
Our spot, which is right by the Skunk stop, was one of the ones that didn’t have sewer hookups but many do there. I was quite surprised when the friendly lady at the front desk asked if I wanted the honey wagon to stop by. Who in the world came up with this wonderful name for such a miserable vehicle?
While distant journeys are fun, I’ve enjoyed quite a few that were right around the corner.
Written by Anthony B. Barthel