Sunday May 10, 2015: It is overcast this morning. I take a few photos before building a little campfire to keep me company while I write in the journal. Here it is May and a campfire and a wool poncho are welcome parts of my life. I love this weather.
By time I am done writing, it is too sunny for good photos in the forests what with bright splashes of light and deep shadows. But I go for a walk, anyway, just because the forest is so wonderful.
Back at camp, I download photos and edit until my laptop battery is dead. Then Clifford and I decide to go for a drive up the Newton-Drury Parkway, which is a road right through the heart of the redwood forest in the Prairie Creek State Park.
In addition to driving the 10 mile length of the road, admiring the great trees as we go, we stop and follow paths to a couple of the most outstanding trees in the area.
The Corkscrew Tree is a redwood famous for the unusual entwining growth of its four trunks. It looks quite different depending on the angle at which one approaches, but it is no doubt unique, no matter where one is standing.
The other famous redwood in this forest, Big Tree, is a single trunk 20 feet in diameter with a 68-foot circumference. This wonderful giant is about 1,500 years old.
The big leaf maples are also amazing… so very tall with great branches reaching out, covered with moss like golden-green fur.
I am in such awe of these giants of the earth and reluctant to leave them, but on back to camp we go. I continue reading “Legacy of Luna” by Julia Hill, admiring her great courage and stamina to stand up to adversity of all sorts while living for two years in an old-growth redwood near Eureka, done to bring awareness to environmental issues and logging practices.
As I walk in the forests in the evening, I look up at the old-growth redwoods around camp and consider what it would be like to live in the upper stories of one of these giants, never setting foot on the ground for over two years.
I am so in love with trees, tall trees, short trees, straight trees, leaning trees, crooked trees, furry trees. I’ll dream of trees tonight.
Saturday May 9: I wake up in the night thinking about ticks. Hmm… guess I should have taken a shower after our outing to Fern Canyon yesterday, but waking up in the night is not helpful. It is overcast this morning, which is not something we’ve seen much of on this trip, even though I had heard how foggy and overcast it would be on the coast. Well, the weather is not being “normal” anywhere, it seems, so who knows what to expect.
Today we are going to Eureka and Arcata to the south of Prairie Creek where we are camped. After showers and breakfast, we head out, stopping at a rest stop on the way, as I see one of those beautifully blooming bushes that I had never seen before arriving in California.
I later learn that it is a rhododendron, which I also learn has blossoms similar to azaleas, but the leaves are different. It is a very pretty drive down this curving highway with tall trees frequently obscuring our view of the ocean just to the west of us; lagoons and flowering shrubs add to the beauty of the landscape.
North of Arcata we stop at Clam Beach, as this is one of the hang-outs where Clifford lived part-time in his van for seven years while going to school at the College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University in his late teens and early 20’s. He used to camp in the dunes for free, but now there are a couple fee-campgrounds. We walk out a ways into the vegetation-covered sand dunes so I can see the ocean and take a few photos.
We drive on through Eureka to Fields Landing, a small poor fishing village where Clifford would also park for free during those van/school years. The dirt lot where he used to park is now a day-use paved parking lot for folks coming in to launch their boats. Seeing these places after 40 years brings back a lot of memories for him. After Fields Landing, we find another spot off the highway near the College of the Redwoods. The dirt road down to the “secret” parking place in a clearing in the woods alongside the highway is now obscured with dense growth, as is the clearing, but he recognizes where it used to be. How things change over time!
At the College of the Redwoods, we walk around admiring the lovely campus: lawns, flowering trees, ponds, foot bridges, and flowers of all sorts grace the grounds around the attractive dorms and classroom buildings here.
What a great place to go to school! We go inside the building that houses the cafeteria where Clifford used to work washing dishes, and he recounts the experience of being there one evening when a friend of a friend streaked through, to the delight of the students who were witness to the event.
Then we head back to Eureka and out to Samoa, a jetty where the Samoa Cookhouse, once used to feed loggers, is now a popular spot for locals and tourists to have a good home-cooked meal served family-style. We sit at a long table covered with a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth. Big bowls of soup and salad and a platter of fresh bread are placed before us. This is followed with platters of potatoes and roast beef and a bowl of gravy. We finish off with a spice cake for dessert. To begin with I was a bit cautious because of my food allergies, but for the most part, everything sets well with my finicky digestive system. We both enjoy the plentiful food and the ambiance of the place, which is also a museum of sorts with photos and paraphernalia of the logging operations in the area, as well as photos of the loggers who used to eat at this very establishment. While it was a great time for the logging industry, photos of old-growth redwoods, with stumps big enough to become small dancing floors, lying dead on the ground are a source of sadness for me. I am so grateful that national and state agencies are now protecting most of the remaining old-growth forests so that I and others and those to come after us have the opportunity to stand in awe under these giants, some of whom are more than 2,000 years old.
After our hearty meal, a quick stop at Wells Fargo and a visit to the library in Eureka to check email, we head north to Arcata to buy a few groceries. Clifford wants to visit the plaza for more old memories and in the process we find a used bookstore. It is perfect for Clifford because of the college text books that he finds there on microbiology and organic chemistry. In a sudden rush of memory, I decide to see if I can find the book “Legacy of Luna” by Julia Butterfly Hill and am pleased that there are several like-new copies at the used book price. I don’t know much of the story of Luna and Julia, but recall that it takes place in the redwoods, or more precisely in a redwood called Luna. Right now is the perfect time for me to read this book. I take my purchase to a chair and begin reading while Clifford continues his search for text books that will aid him in his research.
On the way back to camp we stop to take photos of the elk in the meadow adjacent to the campground. It is getting late and they are already bedded down, but I take a photo, anyway.
When we get back to the Pony (our pop-up tent trailer) my intention is to download photos, but I read instead and continue reading long after Clifford goes to bed. I am quite taken with Julia’s courageous adventure, especially being here surrounded by the magnificent redwoods that she was trying to save.
Friday May 8: When I first get up, I go out and stand by the creek, admiring the sunlight on the grove of alders on the other side and the lovely clear creek flowing just inches from my feet. As I gaze, I see something that I don’t recognize for a moment. First I think it is a small log (floating upstream??) and then I think it is a large strange fish with its back out of water. Then my mind makes the connection that I am seeing an otter, not one, but two of them. I have never seen live otters and my mind just didn’t immediately compute the information being taken in by my eyes – like the Indians who had no experience of ships as Columbus was landing on their shore. And here this pair is, just a few feet from me. They swim to a log that is a short ways upstream and frolic about for a bit before swimming across and out of sight. Boy, did that get my day off to a great start!
Today is slated for a trip to Fern Canyon. It takes us awhile for the whole breakfast and cleanup routine, and then we are on our way. We stop briefly at the Visitors’ Center at the far end of the campground on our way out of the park. It is an older building, but nice inside with good displays. We travel south on Highway 101 until we reach Davidson Road, where we turn toward the coast. This gravel road is narrow, winding, and steep in spots until we reach Gold Bluff, which gets its name from the color of the cliffs due to specks of gold dust in the soil. There the road levels out and we catch glimpses of the nearby ocean when the trees don’t obscure the view.
There are wonderful redwoods here, but on the ocean side of the road are at least a couple types of spruce. Some look like blue spruce without the blue – they are full and thick, with a growth pattern that makes them look like large perfect Christmas trees. Others are humungus man-eating trees straight out of Brackin (Princes and Priests – 1st Trilogy of the Novels of Shannon by Angela MacDonald – an exciting read which can be found on WordPress).
At the trail head, we park and hike to the canyon. Before we reach the canyon, the landscape is lush with interesting trees that are new to my experience and a variety of ferns and other vegetation.
The 50-foot walls of the canyon are steep-sided and covered with ferns, hence the name.
We walk the narrow canyon floor where more ferns grow amidst fallen trees, while the creek meanders about in such a way that it is almost impossible to continue deeper into the canyon without wading.
Some people avoid wading by crossing the creek on slippery-looking deadfall, but I don’t trust the deadfall crossings and don’t want to risk falling with my cameras. I am careful to avoid wading the creek as much as possible at first, but finally I just give into the fact that I am soaking my hiking shoes; might as well just enjoy the experience.
Eventually we arrive at a spot in the canyon where the deadfall is so dense with huge old trees tumbled together like super-huge, gigantic pick-up-sticks that we are forced to turn back.
Since it is sunny, bright splotches of sunlight reaching into the canyon make it difficult to take decently exposed photos, but I take lots of photos anyway.
Back at the trailhead, we take our picnic lunch to one of the nearly-ancient picnic tables and spread out our fare. Crows soon join us, coming as close as they dare, perching on nearby trees and rocks. They are quite bold as they wait for us to leave so they can clean up our crumbs. It was quite fun to see them.
On the way back out, we stop at Gold Bluff so I can walk out to the ocean to take photos. People are sitting in their lawn chairs on the expanse of sand, reading or snoozing as the waves come circling around their feet. If I was camped here, I would do the same thing, but this is not a road that can be traversed with the Pony (our pop-up tent trailer).
Back at camp, besides the dinner routine, I finish the blog I’m working on and fuss with the sheets, trying to get them rearranged and tucked in better so they will stay put. Note to self: make sure you pack the right sheets next time. But it is easy to overlook the sheet issues when we are camped at such a great place and able to go on lovely interesting outings. I really do love northern California!
Wednesday May 6: Today we start packing as soon as we are up, as we are headed south from our campground at Panther Flat to Prairie Creek Redwood State Park. We say good bye to our host, Jeff, and his wife, JoAn. They have been especially friendly and helpful. I say good-bye, also, to the trees and shrubs at Panther Flat and to the Smith River, which has beguiled me with its beauty.
We enjoy a beautiful winding-road drive with occasional glimpses of the ocean until we reach Elk Prairie Campground.
Quite a beautiful place: old-growth redwoods, Douglas fir, a few western hemlock, and Sitka spruce stand tall and majestic. Big-leaf maple also tower above the puny humans camped beneath their boughs.
A variety of shorter trees, shrubs, ferns and grasses make this forest more like a jungle where there are no trails. Prairie Creek runs through the campground.
Alongside the campground is a large meadow where the Roosevelt elk graze and bed down, giving the campground its name.
Now to find the right spot. I want to be by the creek and there are very few campsites that have a view of the creek. Clifford wants sun so the solar panels can charge the battery. We compromise on a beautiful spot that is right on the creek, but too small to fit comfortably.
In spite of the “help” from the camp hosts, Clifford gets the Pony (pop-up tent trailer) angled in so that the door faces the creek and we are off the road. It takes a bit more work to get leveled and set-up, but in the end it is worth it, as we have a private spot by the clear water of Prairie Creek, surrounded by amazing trees, and sunlight on the panels.
“Go With the Flow” was the suggestion from the Sacred Geometry cards before this road trip began, and that has become my mantra. Sometimes it has been a challenge to keep it in the forefront of my mind, but certainly helpful today as we found our spot and got set up. So many times on this road trip “Go With the Flow” has kept me from becoming upset and anxious. Of course, I have heard this and versions of it most of my life, but implementing it on a day-by-day basis is the real trick to having it make a difference.
In the early evening we walk the path through the woods to the Visitors’ Center at the other end of the campground. The trees are a constant wonderment.
It is nearly dark and getting chilly by time we get back to our camp. We sit outside to look at the stars and listen to the creek. Feels like it will be cooler tonight. What a wonderful place to spend the next few days!!!
Thursday May 7: It was 37 degrees last night, a good excuse to make a campfire this morning. I have a cup of organic French press coffee as I write in my journal. I admire the morning light on the creek in front of me and the alder grove on across the creek. Sunlight filters through the tall trees of the camp, and the sky is a beautiful blue – so great to see.
After breakfast we head to Orick, the nearest town to our campground, so we can check our email and phone messages. Then we drive out to the Visitors’ Center to see what books they carry, get information about camping further south, buy a couple post cards to send to family and friends, and get quarters for the showers at the campground. We walk out to the ocean shore, but the sandy beach doesn’t offer many photo opps, especially with the wind blowing so hard that I fear for the safety of my camera lens.
Back in Orick we buy gas at the only gas pump in town, a 40-year-old relic that still works. Then we drive out to the Lady Bird Johnson grove and do a walkabout. This old-growth forest of redwoods and Douglas fir was dedicated in 1968 to Lady Bird Johnson for her efforts to preserve the natural beauty of this country. A brochure that we pick up at the beginning of the trail describes the environment , the history of the area, as well as information about the life cycles of the plants and trees that grow here, including the hardiness of the redwoods. It is obvious that the old growth trees have all survived a forest fire, as they are all blackened and wounded, but they still live. In some cases, the lower portions of their great cores are burned out, creating caves so large enough that a person could set up house in them, kind of hobbit-like.
On the way back to camp, we stop to look at a herd of Roosevelt elk, but they are not in a posing mode. However, it is still fun to see them and be glad that they are thriving after nearing extinction.
Clifford takes a nap after a late lunch while I make another campfire, a must if I am to sit outside in the chilly afternoon, and write in the journal. Personally, I prefer this cool weather and am grateful not to have to cope with the heat. Just before we left Idaho, I overheard someone saying that it was over 100 degrees in California, so I took some of my cool-weather clothes out of my duffle bag and replaced them with warm-weather clothes…. Well, so far, I would have been better off to have left things as they were, but next time I will inquire what part of California is hot, as the northern coast certainly is not. Except for the extreme wind right off the ocean, I am liking the weather here. So glad to be here with the cool breeze, and where I am surrounded by and can walk amongst wondrously tall trees. I am loving northern California!
Saturday May 2: This morning, after my campfire, coffee, and journal, Jeff, our camp host extraordinaire, comes by to show us the secret path to the local Darlingtonias. Jeff is a natural when it comes to being a tour guide and he makes this outing into an adventure. Clifford, Nigel, and I follow him through the woods to find the community of California Pitcher Plants. He even points out angles where we can take the best photos to include ferns for a more dramatic setting.
As I take photos of the irresistible wild iris on the way back to the campground, we learn more from Jeff, who has a wealth of knowledge of the history and geography of this area.
Clifford and I are going to the Battery Point Lighthouse today, so we head to Crescent City after our woods adventure. This lighthouse, built in 1856, served an invaluable purpose for over a hundred years, alerting ships to the rocky coast until it was decommissioned in 1965.
Nowadays digital instruments have taken over the job of most lighthouses, which are now closed down, but Battery Point was reactivated in 1982 as a private aid to navigation and has been converted into a museum. The tour is very interesting as we learn of the early lighthouse keepers and see some of the original furnishings of this building, which was also home to the lighthouse keepers and their families.
Our tour takes us all the way to the top, where we go carefully up a narrow winding staircase to the lighthouse tower with a 360 degree view of the surroundings.
To the east is the town of Crescent City; looking out another direction we can see the harbor where ships can safely come into port, and along the coast the other direction and toward the ocean, we see the great rocks that were (and are) such a danger to ships.
On the drive home we take Howland Hill Road recommended by Jeff, since this dirt/gravel road traverses the jointly shared Redwood National Park and the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. The redwood trees are totally awesome, but it is too late in the day to stop for many photos.
We will be seeing other redwoods before the journey’s end, so I enjoy the drive, window down, exclaiming over the size of these giants as we drive through the forest.
Sunday May 3: Today is a stay-at-camp day. I go for a walk in the woods to take more photos of the Darlingtonias and, of course, the lovely wild iris and the rhododendron (or is it azalea?) before making a campfire and a French press.
Nigel, the young man on his spring break from college, comes by and we chat for a bit. After breakfast, while wood-gleaning I stop at the host site to say “hi” to Jeff and his wife, JoAn. Since we have power (sun on the solar panels) today, I am able to download and look at the photos I have taken over the last several days. And since my cell phone works here at Panther Flat, I call my daughter, Becka, who is moving to Georgia, and check email on the phone. We take showers and are feeling quite spiffy and civilized.
A hike down to visit the river rounds out the day for us.
Monday May 4: It is cloudy this morning, so we sleep in a bit. I skip my flower-photo walkabout and make a campfire right away so as to have some quiet time before starting breakfast.
Today is another stay-at-camp day, which is fine with me, as it gives the vata nature a chance to settle before we start on the next long leg of our journey.
I have been collecting postcards as we travel, so have a stack to write and send to family and friends.
While I write, Clifford continues his research. How many people go camping with three tubs of technical books such microbiology and spectroscopy? Well, Clifford does and as he studies he takes notes, filling several spiral notebooks. This is all in connection to the Carnicom Institute, his health and environmental research non-profit organization.
In the afternoon, as the skies clear, I walk down to the river. It is now too sunny for much photo-taking, but I take time to sit on a boulder by the river, glad to be alive, glad to be here.
Tuesday May 5: It is 40 degrees and clear this morning, a bit chilly, but so lovely. I love being here and am a bit sad that today is our last day camped here at Panther Flat. I make a campfire, enjoy my coffee, take a few photos with the cell phone to share this place with others, and admire the trees. At the Rocky Mountain Summer Intensive Photography School that I attended in 1995, one of the suggestions was to take a photo of what makes you happy: that day I photographed the silhouette of tree branches against a beautiful blue sky, and I do so again today.
We are going to Crescent City today in preparation for leaving tomorrow. It is better to take care of errands today and focus on the traveling tomorrow. After getting propane, gas, groceries, and sundries, we drive out to Pebble Beach on the outskirts of town. Pebble beach is not exactly pebbles and is so windy I can’t stand still enough to take photos except by shooting through the open window of the Blazer. However, it is still mesmerizing – the waves coming in and smashing themselves against the jagged rocks, over and over and over. It seems as though they delight in their powerful playfulness.
Back at camp, even though it is getting kind of late, I call my mom. Today would have been my parents’ 70th anniversary, although my dad has been gone for nearly twenty years. I am so grateful that my mom is still here and part of the lives of her children, grand and great-grandchildren. What a blessing she is to all of us. May I be such a blessing to all those who know me and those who come after me.
Friday May 1: I begin the day with a campfire, a cup of coffee, and journal writing.This is my precious QT – quiet time – a time before talking begins, a time of being before doing takes over for the day.
It is windy this morning and as I sit by the fire (well-contained in deep metal firepits), I gaze up at the tall Douglas fir and youngish redwoods as they do their slow graceful dance to the wind-music. As I walk about the camp, the iris are are also doing their little dances, which makes it challenging to take their portraits.
After breakfast, we drive up the highway to the Darlingtonia Interpretive Trail which we know about from Jeff, the camp host, who gave us the flyer as well as the insider information that these rare plants can also be found not far from the campground. Maybe I will be able to find the local ones, but in the meantime, the botanical area will be a good outing for us. Jeff shows me an unusual plant right at their site. Perhaps related to a mushroom, this plant was about six to seven inches tall and not like anything I’ve ever seen before.
We park at the trail head and walk a short ways to a swampy area where hundreds of these ancient-looking plants, also known as California Pitcher Plants, grow en masse. They remind me of giant Venus fly-traps – the neat little plants that I would buy as a kid, even though they never seemed to catch a fly and didn’t survive for long. The head of a Darlingtonia is designed to trap insects; decayed remains of the insect provides nourishment to the plant.
It is easy to imagine a swamp dinosaur browsing here. The Darlingtonias are not at the height of their blossom period, but we do see a few blossoms here and there.
We continue the walk learning of other flowers and trees in this area, including Port Oxford Cedar, Jeffrey Pine, orchids, azaleas, and several other flowers and shrubs. The Darlingtonians are thriving here, but are quite rare. I have to wonder how long these swamp-loving plants will survive the California drought.
When we get back to the campground, I go off to gather twigs for tomorrow’s fire and when I get back to our campsite, Nigel, the young man who is camped down a couple spots from us, is talking with Cllifford. He is an interesting fellow, having some of the same interests as we do, such as camping and photography, and going to school not far from where one of Clifford’s brothers live. We chat for a bit before Clifford and I head down to the river.
Today we are going swimming at the beach that we found the first day. What this means is that Clifford is going swimming while I take photos and wade in the shallow water at the river’s bank.
Although I find the water too cold to be comfortable, Clifford cajoles me into getting in deeper. It is a a refreshing but short-lived moment. This afternoon the river seems especially rich in color, that delicious shade of aqua, and crystal clear as always.
As we look at the map and review our travel schedule, we decide to not go to Yosemite as planned, but instead go east and north from Sebastopol. The timing as well as the expense of traveling are the deciding factors. We will be staying with friends in Sebastopol in connection with the Institute, so that is an important portion of the journey, but also a good turning point. I am disappointed that we won’t see Yosemite on this journey, but understand the need to make this change in plans. I am still looking forward to the giant redwoods and seeing the ocean, however.
We finish our day with nachos and more crossword puzzles. One of these days I am going to switch to photo editing during dinner instead of the puzzles, but not today.
Thursday April 30: We are up before 8:00 this morning. The odd thing is that I seldom know what time it is, what time we get up, what time we eat, or what time we go to bed. This morning, after a short walkabout to visit flower-friends, I make a campfire, not really because it is cold enough to need it, but because I enjoy it.
My friends Ken and Shelley Anne who have been so supportive over the preceding challenging months are on my mind. I give them a call, thinking I will get voice mail and am pleased to talk to Shelley Anne in person for a few minutes.
Once the coastal redwoods covered 2 million acres of land, mostly in California, but due to logging in the late 1800’s to the 1920’s, only about 100,000 acres of ancient redwood forests remain. Today we drive to Stouts Grove near the beginning of Howland Hill Road (or end, depending on which way one is traveling). This is an old-growth grove in what is now Redwood National Park and Jedediah Smith State Park, a co-operative effort on the part of national and state agencies to preserve what remains of the old-growth forests. What a loss it would be to both the natural world and the civilizations of the world to not have the redwoods. These ancient giants deserve our very best efforts to preserve them for their invaluable role in the ecology of the planet, as well as to inspire all those who gaze upward toward their lofty heights. We today are most fortunate that efforts have been made to preserve these remaining great trees.
Redwoods may reach a height of 370 feet tall and may be as much as 20 feet in diameter. They can live to be 2,000 years old, although many are merely 500 to 700 years old. I am in awe of them as I walk the trail. The tops cannot be seen by looking up; it is like trying to look at a mountain peak when standing at the base of the mountain where one can see only the foothills. Photos do not do justice to their majestic size unless a tiny human is included in the photo.
We have learned something of their growth patterns that allows these great trees to survive. Bulbous outgrowths hold the potential to grow new trees out of the old – like a fetus waiting to grow and be born as a baby. Some redwoods grow in a tight cluster from one root system, their strength supporting each other. Thick bark protects them from insect injury and even damage from fire. Many of these old trees, still living, bear the scars of severe forest fires.
Not only are the trees wonderful, but the ferns and shamrocks are lush, adding color and texture to the scene.
Back at the campground, I take the trail down to the Smith River and find a place where I can take photos of some of the rapids along this stretch. I am drawn to the beautiful clear aqua water of this lively river.