Off the Beaten Path – A Trek in the Redwoods

Dear Diary,

I made the decision to continue on into the Redwood forest from Fern Canyon via the James Irvine Trail and the Miners Ridge Trail (not sure why it’s called Miners Cabin Trail on this map) for a complete loop back into our camp on Gold Bluffs Beach. My trek looked like this, luckily I can walk in between the lines better than I can draw but only if you click for a closer look.

PrairieCreektrailmapNow normal people would just do the loop and their 8 miles or so, but I had to turn it into about 11.5 because I decided to double back and do the loop after I had completed the Fern Canyon loop.

But it was some of the most beautiful 11.5 miles I have ever seen. I can only thank God that I found this place by accident on a prior trip, because it would be so easy to miss.

And yes, I have been to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks and they are impressive, but they are also where everyone else goes to see the giants. This trail is well maintained and easy, and best of all I only met a couple of people (who were very nice) the entire day during the height of tourist season….just my cup of tea.

I felt sure I had all of the things I needed in my day pack so off I went on my solo adventure. I’m getting used to the solo thing…it’s hard to talk city folk into accompanying me on my recent outdoor madness.

Not to mention there is such a freedom in having every decision be your own, especially for someone like me who has lived their entire life in a supporting role to loved ones.

As I entered into the forest, the trail took on a Tolkien-ish quality. I expected to run into a hobbit or at the very least, a few of their homes in the Shire. tolkiensteps

The air is damp and fresh, the aroma is of old redwood and pine, mixed with damp green flora that line the path.

As I followed the trail, the feeling of getting smaller that I had experienced in Fern Canyon continued as the trees and plants got larger. I felt I had entered into a mysterious but magical place.

It strains a mere human to see the full length of a Redwood tree. It cannot be done while in motion, a Redwood demands that you stop any other activity to gaze on it’s entirety. Then it mesmerizes you.

I think that these must be God’s favorites, because he made them so close to him.

Here is a photo of the trees as they started to get larger, again I can only capture the trunk in a photo, it is impossible for anyone to capture a mature tree in a still photo.

Looks like a normal forest photo you say? Look again at the one below it with my trusty daypack as the only thing I had available to show it’s true size.giantnobackpack

Now with said daypack.giantwithbackpack

Now you see what I mean? My daypack is anything but mini I might add. I gotta have things. Like water. And food. And a phone. And a solar charger for the phone (for GPS purposes you understand). I would discover later that my cord to transfer said power to said phone was back at camp…luckily the trails were so well maintained, I didn’t really need the GPS.

Back to the trees. They were big, but not the old growth I was hoping for. Not yet anyway.

The forest was completely silent. I could not hear my footfalls on the trail covered in moist redwood chips. The trees filter any outside noise out before it could get to me.

The silence was deafening for someone who lives with city noises 24/7. Traffic, kids, dogs, cats, people, trash truck, mail delivery, parcel delivery, car doors slamming, house doors slamming, trains, planes, lawnmowers, and on and on and on. You know what I mean. I don’t even really hear them unless something stands out (like a car alarm).

Just silence in this forest. Nature’s reverence for one of planet Earth’s greatest.

Then I remembered the trail training I learned about bears (from where I have learned everything else about the great outdoors – the internet). You don’t want to startle them. You don’t want to sneak up on them. I guess they get grumpy and seek revenge easily.

So I sang. Let me apologize now to the big trees that had to hear my voice. I sang the only song I know by heart in it’s entirety because it’s easy and short. And as a prayer, it’s not that far off for my own life. Don’t judge.

Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Song by Warren Zevon

  • Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The sky was on fire
    When I walked to the mill
    To take up the slack in the line
    I thought of my friends
    And the troubles they’ve had
    To keep me from thinking of mine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The moon has a face
    And it smiles on the lake
    And causes the ripples in Time
    I’m lucky to be here
    With someone I like
    Who maketh my spirit to shine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight

 

Luckily I was not in song mode when I met up with a few people this day. I am not that comfortable in my trail skin to not care if I look (or sound) crazy just yet.

As I continued to get smaller, I came upon a bridge that had a plaque inscribed by the most beautiful phrase that was far more meaningful than anything I could say about this place. It is the John Glascock Baldwin Bridge which spans a narrow chasm. I don’t know who you were John, except that you lived in Redwood City, attended Berkeley, and applied for a passport in 1923 at 21 years old, if it’s the same man (from a Google query, I’m not a stalker I swear).

Nobody could have said it better John, whoever you were. JohnGlascockBaldwinBridge

The stream below the bridge that offered the singing John referenced, indeed provided it for me as well. Stream

Have you ever been to a place where only a stream can be heard? No birds (I’m not sure why, maybe they are too high up?), no wind, no planes, no people, nothing but the singing of the stream and the majesty of the trees. Was this what it was like in early Northern California?  Will it still be here a hundred years from now?

Dear God above, please let it be so.

As I trekked deeper into the forest, all of the other cares of the world fell away. My soul soared.

I was shrinking at a fast rate now. Even the fern fronds and other unidentified flora (I am no Bear Grylls here) leaves were getting larger than my pack.

Then I was among the giants. The old growth. The trees that were born around the same time as Jesus Christ was.2giants

They defy description. I could only walk among them in awe.  anothergiantwbp

How does one reconcile walking alongside a living thing that has been here for 2000 years? What secrets do they hold? They have watched animal life evolve around them, yet are unchanging. They have seen 2,000 winters and summers. They have lived through how many fires? Been struck by how many bolts of lightening?

Until men came along, and wiped out whole forests of the old growth. According to the Save the Redwoods League, in less than a century 95% of ancient redwoods had been logged at least once. According to them, “The places that survived were either too difficult to get to, beloved by some family who made sure they were not logged, or purchased by groups like Save the Redwoods League.”

Thankfully the logging companies have gotten on board with more responsible habits, and the State and Federal Governments have worked together to set aside land for an aggressive regrowth program that will remain undisturbed…for now.

The ancient Ents in Prairie Creek state park are part of that 5% and are magnificent.big trees

Here is the size of a tree that the park service left alongside the trail, with the year it was born (by counting the rings). It was born in 1850, and my daypack looks normal against it. 1850treefixed

So how old was this behemoth when it fell?fallengiant

No pack in this one…I was starting to get a bit tired to keep running back to take the picture and strapping back in every time. Can you picture it by now though?

Remember the old riddle; If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? I’m pretty sure this one did. A mighty big sound.

But even the fallen soldiers provide life. This fallen tree has ferns and other plants growing from it, along with another tree. fernsfromdeadtrunk

While this younger fatality is hosting mushrooms. shroomsThis is a more recently fallen ancient, and I can honestly say it was taller than the second story on my house. treerootI had stopped singing long ago. I was imagining how easy it would be to picture dinosaurs here. I was thinking how lucky I was to be in this place, and thanking God for the ability to do so. I was thinking about my dead phone and wondering how far I still had to go. I was thinking how dark the forest is because so little light is able to get through where no trees have fallen.

I was not however, thinking about coming upon a big old pile of steamy bear poo. I mean it had just pinched this poo log. Even a city girl could see that.

Oh crap. Literally.

I thought about the bear pepper spray I had left back in camp. Dammit…how come I can only think of 8 or 9 of the ten essentials when I pack my pack? I thought about the canned air horn I was going to get to throw in my pack as another deterrent in case the spray failed, and never did.

Crap, crap, crap.

It’s amazing how “un-tired” one can get in a matter of just a millisecond. With adrenaline pumping through my veins I took off at a good pace (never run…according to the internet) but honestly, if it wanted me it could have gotten me. I’m sure I just oozed fear in the air for miles. Not fear, terror.

I’m not sure what terror smells like to a bear, but I’m sure I was as aromatic as a cheap whore on a Saturday night to them. Er…I mean cheap meal.

I started alternately praying and singing as I made my thinly veiled panic of an exit. Luckily my hiking partner is Jesus and he saw fit to have me finished this trek unscathed. In fact, I never saw hide nor hair of the poo perpetrator.

But I suspect he/she knew all about me.

After I got home, I was able to identify the poo (or scat as it’s called by wild men) as being from a mountain lion.

Oh, I feel much better now.

Guess who took their bear spray (also can be used on mountain lions) on the next day’s trek down a mostly inaccessible beach? Yes, that would be me. But I forgot something even more important. Dammit with the 10 essentials.

I guess I’ll have to get the list tattooed on me somewhere.

Until next time dearest.

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Off the Beaten Path – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Dear Diary,

I am deliciously exhausted from my latest adventure into the unknown. Living in Southern California allows me access to just about anything a heart could desire…desert, mountains, beach, forest, you name it, we got it.

This time however, my sights were set on a much more northerly area of my state.

I loaded up the Suburban with everything one would need for spending a week in a magical place where the redwood giants meet the ocean. A place so special I hesitate to mention it for fear that by reference alone I would somehow diminish it’s enchantments.

Prairie Creek Redwood State Park and Gold Bluffs Beach.

Doesn’t sound so special you say? Nay nay mon frere, it is as special as they come.

I promised myself I would be back here when I discovered it on my Pacific Coast Highway adventure a couple of years ago. I vowed to return when I had more time to explore.

Having spent this summer’s first adventure in the Grand Canyon during a heat wave last month in June, I was ready for cooler, wetter weather.

So I hit the road with my daughter and her boyfriend for a long 13 hour drive to the very Northern part of California by a tiny town called Orick.

I have been to the larger tourist stops across California…and there are many. But these days there is a hunger in me to get off of the cement jungle highway. To bid room service good-bye (ok, that one hurts a little bit), and turn onto the lesser traveled dirt road.

If only the dirt road didn’t make everything so dirty. I’m still adjusting to leaving my city girl roots behind. It’s not easy, but I’m getting there.

Ahem…back to my story.

In the interest of time we took the inland freeway which provided us miles and miles of agricultural scenery. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, and finally the vineyards. We could chart our journey by what was being grown around us.

We cut over to the coast just before San Francisco. Ah San Francisco, how I love you but we had no time to stop. Even for those just passing through, San Francisco still holds reign over roadside wonders.

The Golden Gate Bridge.

No matter how many times I come to San Francisco, the bridge never, ever gets old.

Don’t mind that dirty windshield, it had seen a lot of miles by then (see what I mean about feeling the need to apologize for dirt? Such a city girl thing to do).

golden gateNot my photo…and a bird’s eye view.

california-golden-gate-bridge

But onward we went.

Onward as the trees got larger and more dense, and even during this particularly bad drought, the world around us became green. Something I’m not used to, even during non-drought times in So. Cali.

Then finally we came to the unassuming spot I remembered from my coastal trip…Elk Meadow. We turned onto Davison road and instead of parking we continued onto the dirt road that would lead us to Gold Bluffs Beach.

On the East Coast, we would have been through 5 states by now.

We had arrived. We had just set up camp when the sun bid us farewell over the Pacific Ocean.

GBBsunset

I thought I would not be able to sleep for the excitement of what lay ahead in the next 3 days, but the sound of the ocean surf puts me out like nothing else.

How could I forget that?

The next morning we headed out for Fern Canyon. The prehistoric-like setting for movies such as Jurassic Park 2, and Walking With Dinosaurs was filmed here because of it’s surreal properties as a narrow 50 ft. high canyon completely covered in ferns.

It is so unique that it is both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.

The floor of the canyon is a stream bed which provides for a contrast of water, rocks, and fallen lumber against the impossible green of the canyon walls.

FernCanyon

As we followed the stream further into the canyon…I got the sense that the surroundings were not getting larger, but that we were getting smaller. We had fallen through Alice’s Wonderland hole, but instead of an animated world we were in a tunnel devoid of time. We could easily imagine the presence of dinosaurs among us.

Without the terror of being lunch of course! Whew.

My daughter and her BF as tiny versions of themselves against the Fern Canyon backdrop.

SandTFernCanyon

The further into the canyon we went, the larger everything else became. Fallen trees became so large that they provided a kind of super sized jungle gym. Getting past these wooden fortresses was quite a challenge and again I felt the sensation of being not only small, but very young when everything is large and navigating over, under, and through  is so much fun.

I want to thank Mr. Red Vest for providing a size example.

Redwoodjunglegym

This is the spot where the less daring or less ambulatory were thinned from the rest of the herd. We kept going, and even when it seemed we were at an impasse, if we could make it over the hurdles, the canyon kept us in suspense by continuing on.

And of course, boys will be boys. Because it’s there, it must be climbed.

Troy

And on we went…over and under, beside and behind.

FC

Finally we reached a place in the canyon that would have required a little more climbing equipment than we had (which was none).

So we doubled back to a place with some ancient (seemingly) stairs covered with moss that would transport us up outside of the canyon and toward the second half of the Fern Canyon loop trail.

And even though we were in a new growth forest, still we seemed as smaller versions of ourselves.

newgrowth

And so we parted ways. The youngsters back to the beach, and I onto a solo trek through the magical forest known as the Redwoods. Home of the silent giants.

Another story altogether (and yes, there is a bear scare in there).

Until next post dearest…