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.