This morning is our last morning at Elk Meadows Campground, as we are leaving Prairie Creek State Park and heading south to visit friends and take care of Carnicom Institute business. I take a photo of the creek that has been such a joy to me during our stay here. I would love to stay longer, but we must go.
After taking photos of us by the Pony (our pop-up) we pack up and are on our way by 11:00 a.m.
On our way out, I had hoped to talk Clifford into hiking the trail to the humongus redwood family that I saw yesterday, but he is anxious to get on the road. Good thing I took a few selfies yesterday with some of the big trees in the forests here.
We stop briefly at the Visitors’ Center in Orick and then continue the journey toward Sebastopol. We take the scenic highway through the “Avenue of the Giants” and, although we don’t stop to take photos, I am happy to see more of the old redwoods that live here. My mom and dad were here 25 years ago and it is interesting to think about them driving this road all those years ago and seeing what we are seeing today.
We catch glimpses of the slow-moving and now very low Eel River, but can’t get a photo of it until I ask Clifford to pull over when there is a safe place for us to do so. Although this river isn’t as lively as the Smith River further north, every river is important and I show my appreciation by taking photos, portraits if you will, of these special entities.
We consider camping at the furthest south campground along the “Avenue of the Giants,” but when we get there, we find that it is not open. Since we cannot take time to backtrack, we keep on going, our next destination being the Standish-Hickey State Park, arriving there in the late afternoon.This is the campground that had poor reviews because the more desirable loops along the river and away from highway are closed. We find a spot on the side of the open loop as far away from the highway as we can; I certainly understand why people complain. The closed loops are ever-so-much prettier and quieter. But we are fine, since it is just for the night.
We find a relatively level spot and do a modified set-up, which means that we don’t pull the extensions fully out. We don’t unpack anything and only have access to what’s in the back of the Blazer. It is not as convenient, but it saves a lot of time both tonight and in the morning, as there is almost no set-up or take-down involved. We use a camp stove and mess kit from the topper on the Blazer to cook soup and heat water for tea. I have enough wood to build a campfire and we enjoy a simple dinner sitting at the picnic table.
We do a little walkabout, noticing that there is a lot of poison oak here; I am fortunate not to have walked right through a patch of it at the backside of our spot before Clifford pointed it out to me. Whew – that could have been a bummer! Definitely not a good place for families to camp, as kids would surely get into it. Although the poison oak is abundant, there are also tall Douglas fir, madrone trees, lovely big oak trees, and a variety of shrubs that create a colorful backdrop to our campsite.
Take down is quick and easy, as planned, and we are soon on our way. We stop for lunch in Ukiah for lunch and gas, noticing how much warmer it is here, and arrive at our destination – Sebastopol – by mid-afternoon. I will always hold the redwoods of northern California in my heart, but new adventures and new sights await us.
Monday May 11, 2015: I go for my early morning walk, but instead of going along the path that I know, I go the other direction through the campground to see other sites that might be good when we come again, and I find a trail along Prairie Creek through the jungle there.
The trail comes out along Elk Meadows and I follow a hint of a dirt road along the meadow back to the campground. During this portion of our trip, this is the only time I see mist. Even though the redwoods are usually wet and misty, this has been an unusually dry spring with no rain and no mist in the forest
After breakfast, we drive out of the state park far enough to get cell service to check on emails and take care of any pressing needs for Carnicom Institute. Then back to the Newton-Drury Parkway where we again visit Big Tree. Clifford drops me off so I can walk back to camp, while he heads on back to return to his studies.
I am at first a bit uncomfortable walking alone in this forest because of the reports of mountain lion sightings in this area. However, as I go along, I become more comfortable with being here by myself, enjoying the deep silence, and admiring the trees.
As I walk, I see the most humongous “family” redwood, as I call those trees whose main trunk splits into two or more trunks as it continues its climb to reach the sky. This particular tree is like a family with grandma, the kids, the grandkids and even great-grandkids, as there were so many trunks coming from the one base. I wish Clifford was here to take a photo of me beside this great redwood family. How tiny I would have seemed next to it.
Once I reach the campground, I take the familiar trail through the redwood forest back toward our campsite, stopping to take selfies of myself with my favorite trees. Wish I had thought to do this with the big family back up the trail, but I have not been one to take selfies at all. I’m just doing it now to have photos of them in right perspective. I mean, these are not just big trees, they are BIG trees!
While here with the trees, I have become aware of my habitual tendency to walk slightly hunched forward, with eyes on the ground for sure footing. Being among these tall trees and looking up has encouraged me to stand and walk more upright.
Back at camp, I make one last campfire and after dinner pack up the kitchen stuff, as we will be leaving tomorrow morning. I will be sorry to leave this place with the creek at my front door (which is our only door) and being surrounded by trees and birdsong.
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.
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.
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.
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!