Let’s go for a walk and a bike ride. I’ll show you what we’ve learned about the Redwoods in the past week. We decided to see this area from three different campsites over a range of 120 miles or so, and that was the best decision, as each has its own character. Humboldt Redwoods State Park was our first stop for five days, and we could not have had a better experience. The Fireball was nestled in a deep floor of redwood needles – when you’re camped in an ancient forest, you’ve got lots of time to built up a soft floor. The area where the campground sits had been logged about 100 years ago, so many of the biggest, oldest trees were only stumps. No ordinary stumps, mind you. Everyday was full of new treasures – the forest explodes with every shade of green you can imagine, streaked with bits of sunlight that can make it through the dense canopy 200-300 feet above our heads. All of the biggest trees are not named or tagged, but we think we saw the best of them all. Redwoods have the ability to regenerate new shoots from old roots, creating ‘fairy rings’ of trees. Some are fused at the base, separating into separate trees many feet above the surface. They survive fires, floods and droughts. It’s the wind that generally bring them down, unless the timber companies have gotten to them first. Redwoods are still logged, but regulations say that only trees between 40-60 years old can be cut, and five new trees must be planted for each one cut. Big trees also grow from the tiniest pinecones – this photo shows (clockwise from top right) the eucalyptus seed pods, a pinecone from a large non-native cedar that was everywhere in the campground, a sequoia cone, and three redwood cones. Amazing, isn’t it? In the center is a quarter, for size comparison.The forest floor is full of white, pink, purple, and variegated trillium. The high rainfall (60-80 inches per year) also means that there are rhododendron everywhere, although we’re a few weeks early to see them in bloom.
It’s an absolutely mind-boggling experience to wander among these giants, and each grove had its own character. We saw the Dyersville Giant, which had been the third-largest Coastal Redwood in the world until a wind brought it down in March 1991. Unbelievably, it fell in one piece, so you can walk along the full length of this tree. One resident recalls the night it fell, saying that it sounded like a freight train – and she lived 15 miles from the site. It’s estimated that this tree weighed a million pounds. One favorite tree was an enormous specimen which had been girdled in 1901. About ten feeet of bark had been removed from the bottom, and shipped to San Francisco for an exhibition. Remarkably, more than a hundred years later, the tree still lives.I’ll leave you with a few other photos of our exploration of this magnificent Park and the area nearby. Their Visitor Center was wonderful – full of photos and newspaper articles of the Great Flood of 1964, which destroyed entire towns. In several spots, there are high water mark signs. If a State Park can be this incredible, then the Redwood National Park must be even better, right? In our minds, unfortunately not. The National Park is actually a combo State/National Park effort.. We get to use our Geezer Card for half-price camping, but the facilities are actually run by the State. Complicated, but I guess it works for everyone. So, our second stop (first within the National Park) was Elk Prairie Redwoods State Park, which is kind of a godforsaken campground cut out of a swamp. A musty creek winds through this low area, and skunk cabbage is the prevailing plant, resulting in a very strong, skunk odor every day, all day. Our site was carved out of a thicket, and didn’t have many memorable qualities (of the good type). Elk Prairie is also home to a large wild elk herd, which resulted in an interesting experience for John and Jezzy. While strolling one morning, Jezzy caught the attention of a large bull elk, who happened to be snoozing in the field nearby. He decided to investigate, and began following John as he walked back toward camp. John stopped, and the elk continued his advance. At that point, the Camp Host noticed John’s predicament. He jumped in his jeep and came roaring down the road, passing between John and the elk, who was now only about 50 feet from him. The elk retreated and John and Jezzy scurried back to the Fireball. Whew!
Fern Canyon is one unique hike that visitors to this park usually want to do. We decided to bike to the trailhead, through a series of extremely muddy singletrack trails and dirt roads. I have NEVER ridden on such steep dirt roads in my life – twisting and turning through the dark forest. Unfortunately, we shared the road with cars, so there were a few uncomfortable moments as we flew through some of the downhill portions only to find a car coming up the middle of the road toward us. Fern Canyon is just a few hundred yards off the ocean, and is a steep slot cut into the coastal barrier. The soft, rocky-pebbly walls are dripping with ferns of all sizes. At this time of year, the creek is high, and there’s lots of water in the bottom. We decided to sacrifice our hiking boots, so we just sloshed in, and let the water in. After riding all that way, we weren’t going to go away without seeing what we wanted. The dappled sunlight into the canyon makes for lousy conditions for photography (at least what I can manage), so I have no photos. (The scenes are beautiful to my eye, but just don’t translate to the camera. I find the same is true for so many of the beautiful wooded scenes I shot.) The barrier dunes (I guess that’s what you call them) leading up to the Fern Canyon area have been eroded away. You can see from this photo that they don’t appear to be much more than big mounds of gravel, stuck together with a bit of vegetation.. Recent slides are everywhere. From a distance, the shifting terrain is even more obvious. At the top of the dune are the cedars and pine trees that have been there forever. Below that, the lighter colors are all deciduous trees that have sprouted in the areas uncovered by the landslides. At the bottom, some of the cedars still hang on, with beach grasses leading to the ocean’s edge.We were happy to leave Skunk City and move to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, our northernmost stop in the quest to see the big trees. This is very near the area where the 1936 film The Last of the Mohicans was filmed. Our campsite on the bright green Smith River is perfect. Here’s a photo from camp, and another from directly across the River.We’ve hiked to the grove where the biggest trees are, encountering an interesting stream crossing get there. John successfully navigated his way across the fallen logs, using a large branch as a walking stick. I wasn’t so successful – looking down at my feet on the log with all the swirling water caused a motion sickness sensation. So, to hell with it, I waded across. It wasn’t bad except for a section about five feet across where the rushing water was just up over my knees.Once again, my boots filled from the top – and we had just gotten them dried out from Fern Canyon. The Stout Grove was interesting in that it’s an ancient grove, having never been logged. But….our hearts still belong to the Humboldt Redwoods. They just seemed to be the biggest and most beautiful. I was disappointed to review my photos to date from J. Smith are all a bit fuzzy – probably due to my greasy fingers grabbing my camera out of my pocket all the time. Lesson learned. It’s been an amazing camping trip – real camping in a huge, quiet forest. Being among these ancient giants seems to make (most) campers behave respectfully. In the woods, there’s a hush. People talk in soft voices, with the occasional exuberant yell from an excited kid. It’s an awe-inspiring place to experience.
But, I have to say….my heart still belongs to the sequoia groves. If I can only visit one place again, it would be there.
We are leaving here in two days, and pointing the Fireball toward the east. We’ve seen the biggest and best, and are satisfied.