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!
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.
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.