Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hiking the Redwoods

Today was one of my favorite days of our almost two weeks of travel. We spend the day exploring – hiking and driving through – the Redwood National Forest.

In the morning I called the park office and a woman gave us some helpful information about good hiking paths and highlights of the park. She directed us to a loop drive in the north of the park. Our first stop was a 1.25 mile hike on that loop.

Before we even got out to hike, we were already impressed. The giant redwoods loomed over us on either side of the car. We could see only the trunks from the car window, but they were so thick we could just imagine what rose from them.

The hiking path was soft. We walked through an area that seemed prehistoric. Ferns and dense, bright green foliage covered the ground. Thick redwood trunks surrounded us. And the redwoods rose far, far up above us, causing us to crane our necks to try to see the tops. The tall trees and dense foliage blocked out the light, making the forest dark and chill. In the places where light filtered through, it danced against the greenery, like a sprinkler emitting much needed droplets of water.

We learned a bit about the redwoods – how their thick bark protects them from
fire, how they can grow to 350 feet, 20 feet in diameter and over 800 years old. We saw how the trunks hollowed out from fires, creating spaces taller than me. We learned how the fungi break down dead trees. Even the fallen trees were majestic, their roots as wide as our SUV, the trunks looking like a sunken ship, covered with moss instead of seaweed. I could sense the decay and regeneration all around me.

I tried to imagine what it was like before the paths were constructed, when people had to make their way through the forbidding land on their own. When I looked up at the branches covered in moss, as though dripping slime, the carpet of ferns, the endlessly tall trees, I felt like I’d entered some type of fantasy or secret world.

We continued along the loop, crossing over a turquoise rushing river that reminded both Mark and I of Kyrgyzstan. Then we went on a single lane, rough road that was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken. For eleven miles, the trees pressed in upon us, coming within inches of the car. We drove through a green canopy, the outside world feeling far away indeed. When eventually we did emerge and the thick dark forest turned into bare trees and farmland, it was as though someone had removed a blindfold from our eyes and allowed the light in.

Further south we took a couple more hikes. Our most substantial hike of the day, about three miles, was in the Prairie Creek Area. We took the Cathedral Trees path, a journey through a dark green wonderland, and returned via the Prairie Creek trail, which followed a clear, rippling creek. Several trees had fallen across the path due to bad weather in the past few weeks. So we had to do a bit of scrambling, made more difficult by carrying the baby. But we managed to make it through and even saw two black tailed deer on the way.

Our final activity of the day was to see if we could see some elk. The park employee I’d spoken to that morning told me she almost always saw elk when she came to the Prairie Creek Area. A ranger at the visitor’s center there gave us some tips on spotting them and we turned on an a.m. station dedicated to elk information. When we turned off onto a road where elk are often seen, I spotted a group of them behind a barn. We paused to watch them and saw a male with large curved antler, probably a younger male with less developed antlers and several females.

It was great to see them in the wild. In our few weeks of travel we’d seen a coyote, sea lions and elk, not bad considering we never went too far off-road.

We drove down to Eureka for dinner. With a population of 26,000, it’s the largest town on the northern coast. From what I’d read I expected it to be a quaint Victorian town, something like Cape May on the coast of New Jersey. It did have some giant and wildly gingerbratic Victorians but strip shops, chain restaurants, and down-and-out looking people filled most of the streets we saw, making it a not very attractive place.

Compared to Oregon, coastal California feels much more populated and developed. However, once night fell and we continued south on 101 from Eureka, it felt like we had the dark and winding road to ourselves. We could see that we were driving through more groves of redwoods. The thick trunks stood out even in the darkness. We could also see rock-catching nets at the base of roadside sheer mountain faces. Bolivia could certainly make use of something like that.

One benefit of traveling at this time of year has been the ability to enjoy many of the places we’ve visited without feeling like we have to share them. We can choose lodging at the last minute because almost everywhere has vacancy. Even at the Redwoods today, we passed very few people on the hiking paths. We walked through the massive forests as though we were the only visitors. It was great to be able to focus on the sound of the trilling birds, the tinkling brooks, and the falling leaves, rather than hearing other humans.

In the evening we made our longest drive of the trip, doing the long haul of 200 plus miles to San Francisco. Hard to believe that we’ve almost made it down the Western coast and that 48 hours from now we’ll be heading toward Mexico

River is handling the traveling quite well. It’s giving Mark and I both more quality time than we have with him at home. His needs are basically eating and sleeping. I’ve learned to let him breastfeed while I walk when I carry him on me and he sleeps in there too. So he’s generally fine with hikes, car rides, visits to restaurants, whatever. At home, his need to eat feels to me like it ties me down, preventing me from going to the library to work or to do the other things I’d like to do. But while traveling, I just feed him as we move. Instead of him tying me down, I’m carrying him along. We might slow down a bit because of him, or change our plans slightly. But because I’m always seeing something new, collecting novel experiences, I’m happy to share them with him. As a result, I enjoy the feeding and care of him more and see it as more of a joy than a burden. As he nears 12 weeks of age, he seems to know us, be interested in us and his surroundings, and react to experiences. While we know he’ll never remember any of these, we enjoy sharing the adventures with him, hope the forest and mountain and sea air will be good for his development, and take lots of pictures to show him someday where he’s been.

1 comment:

M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

Interesting comment "down and out" people of Eureka. I thought about checking it out. Have not been there yet. Trinidad to the north had a lot of young folk running around, who looked like they had moved north because they could not cope. Sort of a had a look to them like people living in neutral or cruise-control, not really contributing to society.

Like the redwoods - eh ??

I'm going back next month on the 10th for about one week. And my spots? Here:

Grove of Titans and Atlas Grove Redwoods

Very relaxing spots. I get around to a lot of trails, and off-trail too.


M. D. Vaden of Oregon