Tree Hugging: Redwood Parks

Trip Start Jun 22, 2010
Trip End Dec 15, 2011

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Prairie Creek Rerdwoods National Park

Flag of United States  , California
Monday, June 20, 2011

Shhh. I have a secret to tell. I'm in love. With my husband? Yes, but that’s not the secret. I am absolutely in love with Redwood trees. We’ve been on several dates now. Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Mendocino.   And I've realized there is no other way to describe how I feel when I am in their presence. When I walk among them my soul is rejuvenated. I am happy, content and alive.  I walk lighter when I walk on their needles. I know it’s odd, but I’m odd and I accept that.  

I woke up Sunday morning ecstatic, as it was Redwood day. We had camped at Standish-Hickey State Park the night before. Mostly a campground, the park did boast a nice swimming hole in the Eel River. Mike really wanted to take a dip before we hit the road. We walked down the steep path to the river. The sun was just rising above the tree covered hills.  At this early hour and with temperatures in the low to mid-sixties, we were the only ones down there. My husband took a deep breath and jumped in. "Brrrrrr," he exclaimed sounding a lot like a motor boat when his head emerged from the water.  After a couple laps, he warmed up and I knew he was loving the early morning swim. Pines and Redwoods lined the steep stream walls and no sound could be heard except for the occasional birds. I was ready to get going, but it was so peaceful that I was able to relax and let him enjoy himself.

We were on the road by ten and an hour north, we entered Humboldt Redwood State Park. I was surprised to learn that this is where the Avenue of the Giants is located. I had just assumed it was in the National Park. We headed to the Visitors Center awe-struck as we drove along the majestic road.  It was only by looking up through our sunroof that we could see the tops of the Redwoods that lined the street. The Visitor Center recommended that we go to the Rockefeller Forest, the largest old growth Redwood Forest on Earth. We first saw “Tall Tree” which is believed to be the tallest tree in the park. It was last measured at 360 feet in 1957. I got dizzy looking up trying to figure out its height fifty years later.  Another spectacular tree was “Giant Tree” with a 53 feet circumference.  I could have spent weeks in this park, but the National Park beckoned. 

We arrived at Redwood National Park at 3:30. In order to maximize time, we hit up the Visitor Center again. The ranger made some suggestions and gave us a permit to hike the Tall Trees Trail down to the oldest Redwoods in the park. The permit included a code to unlock a gate before we embarked on a 6 mile gravel road down to the trailhead. The trail was about four miles roundtrip including a loop of old grove of Redwoods. One of the first things I noticed was the vast diversity within the forests. Lots of ferns and other underbrush lined the forest floor. It was almost medieval as if you were walking through a forest hundreds if not thousands of years ago. We saw very few people on the trail further emphasizing the sereneness of this place.  Along the hike we climbed into Redwoods that had hollow openings into their trunks and gauged the size of some of the trees based on those that had fallen.  The loop down in the old grove was magnificent as this was the grove that had inspired the creation of the national park. Most of the trees were over 300 feet tall and it was impossible to see the tops of many. It was such a humbling experience and I enjoyed every second. I was so struck by the trees that I often had to stop and touch them. And as much as it embarrassed my husband, I had to hug one. I picked a baby next to a large one so I could actually get my arms around it.

It was after seven when we finished the hike, and we still needed to get a campsite.   We drove further north to Prairie Creed Redwoods State Park (which is part of the National Park). We were hoping that since it was a Sunday we would have no problem finding a campsite. “There’s one left,” the ranger informed us when we drove up. “The car before you went to pick from the remaining two and you’ll get the one that’s left.  We chatted with her for a few minutes. “You know it’s late enough that I can probably give you the handicap site. It’s a lot nicer.” As we drove to campsite we saw the last available site was very open in a field of grass. We knew we were very lucky as we set up our tent under several Redwoods in the handicap site.

While chatting over the campfire, Mike expressed his desire to get on the road earlier the next day, so we wouldn’t be rushing to set up camp.  I really wanted some more time in this park, so I decided to wake up at six to steal every second.  It was about three mile roundtrip hike to the Big Tree, the widest tree in the park, from our campground.  An early morning hike by myself sounded wonderful and would allow me to see all the things I wanted. The sun was already up, but of course it hadn’t reached above the tree line. It shone through the open spaces in the trees casting an ethereal light over the forest.  I had walked about a half a mile when I remembered that this park had bears. And it was early morning. I was alone following a trail that wandered near a creek.  At the Visitor’s Center, I re-read the tips on dealing with bears and mountain lion. The first tip was to hike in groups and the second said to make noise. Perhaps I could just be noisy? I continued on the trail, clapping along the way. Like the Tall Trees trail, the forest was covered with underbrush, felled trees and brush.  The trail wound between tall logs and trees, some hollow. There were so many places for a bear to hide. The enchanting forest with my friendly Redwoods suddenly seemed bewitching. I wished Mike was with me. He appeared kind of scary while I felt I looked like a tasty treat.   Either fear or reason took over and I turned around.  My relaxing morning hike was not very relaxing as I was on constant guard clapping like a fool.

Although he made fun of me for being scared of the bears, Mike did drive me over to see the Big Tree. We had time for one more hike, and I wanted to see Fern Canyon.  Apparently part of Jurassic Park 2 was filmed in this part of the park. Although I could not remember if I ever saw that sequel, I figured it must be a beautiful place. Another lengthy drive down a narrow gravel road, we arrived at the trail head. Very quickly, we reached the mouth of the canyon. The canyon was indeed a magical place. Ferns covered the sides of the canyon. They were only interrupted by small waterfalls dripping down the sides. A creek flowed through covering most of the floor, so we had to navigate our way over log bridges and rocks as I we explored the canyon. I was grateful for my waterproof hiking boots as my balance is not the greatest and more than once I stepped into the creek. I love hikes like this though. I love climbing and trying to find the best route. It reminds me of playing in the woods as a child. And I could see why a movie about dinosaurs was filmed here. The entire park made me feel as if I was in a land before time where imagination takes over in the fairy tale setting.

After leaving the canyon, it was still a long drive back to the main road and out of the park itself. I soaked up every minute among the Redwoods. I love that they are the tallest trees on Earth. I love that their roots are actually quite shallow so they wrap their roots around each other to provide additional support for themselves and each other.  I love that they are survivors. They usually survive forest fires.  If they don’t they provide nutrients for new lives to grow out of them. I love that they grow in visible families. It’s easy to see the parent, the children, the grandchildren etc. But most of all, I love that they give me hope. I find they make me feel simultaneously small yet strong. They inspire me and bring me peace. Pictures do not do these trees justice. It is difficult in person to comprehend their height, their girth, their total size. It is impossible to capture this on film. I encourage you to see these legendary creatures for yourself. Then maybe you will understand. And when you are there, give a tree a hug from me,

Tip: If you want to visit this area and see the Redwoods.  Plan a trip spending at least a couple days at Humboldt Redwood State Park and then a couple more days at Redwood National Park (and the included State Parks). After seeing both parks I think the trees themselves are most impressive at Humboldt State Park, but the more diverse ecosystems and scenery that surround the Redwoods at the National Park is amazing too.  When looking for the most impressive Redwoods, you want places that have lots of Old Growth.
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