Let me begin at the end:
After a week in the Redwoods, we spend a day scrubbing. Unlike Chris’ post-Burning-Man-clean, which involved sweeping dry white playa dust out of every nook and cranny, this joint effort required parking in the open sun and working mold out of cracks with old toothbrushes. We needed to air out, dry out, and let our little Cricket know that we wouldn’t sacrifice him to this moist fairy-tale environment.
After camping for almost a week in the dark, damp, and divine old-growth forest, we felt a bit mossy ourselves. Luckily, the camper was de-mildewed without too much fuss and we were left mostly with memories of our time traipsing among and communing with the stunning old trees.
It was a refreshing way to close our time in the Pacific Northwest which, as we entered autumn, had become more mossy and drizzly by the day. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. We were lucky with the weather and with the opportunity to see these beautiful places. It was mid-November and we enjoyed a sunny streak that allowed us to wander around the dense forest floor almost every day.
In the Redwoods, we camped at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. We chose this place (and are so glad that we did!) for its unique benefit of offering camping within 14,000 acres of old-growth Redwoods right on the coast (other areas of the parks are more inland). We could (and did) hike into the famous Ferm Canyon. We traipsed around, hugging old trees (many about 500 years old, although potentially up to 2,000 years old), climbing on and under the fallen trunks of even older trees, marveling at the filtered sunlight, the almost unimaginable height of these trees, their girth. And then, suddenly, we would drop into view of the ocean, the landscape opening up to cold waves and coastal fog.
Our uniform for the Redwoods forest sounds pretty outlandish as I type this poolside in the southern part of the state, but it was practical for that place and time: rain pants over regular pants, heavy-duty hiking boots, rain jackets. The key was waterproof layers — while it could be mild in the sunshine and we would start to unfurl, it was damp and dripping in the woods and our explorations, mostly confined to paths for practical reasons (the forest floor is a soft mulch-y bed of leaves, branches, trunks, and other gently decaying or moss-gathering materials) could still sometimes take us through wet patches, or through a brief rainstorm.
Unlike most of the National Parks, the Redwoods are jointly managed by the State of California and the National Park Service (this arrangement has existed since the mid-1990’s in an error towards cooperative forest management), and the locations are scattered through the northern part of the state. These beautiful parks are a portion what was saved after logging decimated about 90% of the 2 million acres that existed back in 1850. In the early twentieth century conservationists started to realize that these old giants needed protection, and they began to set aside land. Today, the parks contain about 40,000 acres, about half of the remaining old growth trees in northmen California.
But let’s talk less about lack, and more about what there is to see and do and appreciate about what remains of these amazing forests.
These trees are the tallest species on earth (they can reach up to 350 feet). Looking up at the trees, and reading statistics like “one Redwood can provide enough wood to build thirty houses” we marveled at how these trees could even be toppled and pulled from the forest. They are so huge it’s hard to imagine moving them, or even wanting to try — human beings are a strange sort.
Some facts that we learned about the cycle of tree life in Olympic park and in Oregon also applied in the Redwoods —you can see where a tree fell, began to decompose, and where, along the line of the rotting trunk, new sprouts found purchase and nutrition, becoming new trees. When that old trunk was finally gone, there would be a line of new trees with arching root structures where they had sat astride the old log. I loved spotting this evidence of old blossoming into new.
Chris, ever in tune with nature, perceives that the trees are mystical because of their age and size, like they are old wise beings. We would walk into the forest and stand with our hands on the trunks feeling their spiritual vibrations and communing with their history. There were other people in the park and on the trails, but there were many quiet and private moments to be found.
Another interesting way to commune with the redwoods was to (occasionally) enter a tree directly. In general, redwoods are quite resistant to fire (because of their thick bark) and rot/insects (due to the nature of their wood) but occasionally the elements will compromise the interior wood of a tree, leaving a hollow “chimney” that is almost like a very tall room. Standing in one of these spaces is a great way to contemplate how immense the trees are. It is also a way to — thrillingly, sometimes almost frighteningly — feel their power, feeling that we were becoming one with the tree itself.
By the end of our stay camping among these giants, we were indeed feeling like we were becoming part of the forest. We were sad to leave, but glad to dry out a bit. It was exciting to be on to new adventures as we proceeded down the coast. Yet among our frequent conversations of “if you could pick one place to go back to,” the redwoods is always a contender. I suspect you’ll hear more from the Crickets about future adventures in this magical land.
This post is a joint effort — photos by Chris (except those of him, of course!) and text by Alexis.
Alexis has already blogged about our time spent in Joseph, OR. In that blog she mentions a hike I did while there. Here’s a short blog about that long hike.
The Wallowa Mountains is one of those places I could easily go back to. It seems to be a backpacker’s paradise; for that is what it would take to get into some of the isolated beauty these mountains have to offer. The shortest day hike I could find that had a specific destination was to Aneroid Lake, a 12 mile round trip. Another three miles from the lake is Tenderfoot Pass, something I wasn’t sure I’d make and would play it by ear depending on how I felt. Did I mention there’s a 4000 foot elevation gain.
I hit the trail around 8am and told Alexis I’d be back between 2-4pm. It was uphill from the start and soon I was shedding off layers. It was one of those hikes that didn’t start really rewarding you until the last third. Sure, intermingled within the spruce and fir forests were some nice vistas and small waterfalls, but I was hoping for more.
And more I got. As I worked my way out of the real steep terrain, things began to open up. Beautiful meadows dotted the base of the rocky peaks with meandering streams carving their way around in no big hurry. A greater sense of isolation and vastness began to fill the air and I knew I was in a special place.
It’s nice to hike alone sometimes, and be alone while hiking. I only encountered one other person on my way up, a trail runner on her way down. As she jogged past me she said I’d have the place to myself. Hinting that I was close to Aneroid Lake, a spark of excitement ran through me. Sure enough, the lake was in sight a bit before noontime. Breaking for lunch at a scenic alpine lake is always rewarding.
I spent about an hour at the lake before deciding to continue on to see what laid ahead even though I was getting worn out. Soon the trail emerged into a breathtaking valley surrounded by peaks and bowls. It was a gateway I had to enter.
Before I knew it, I was at Tenderfoot Pass. I walked around this open area, taking in the rewarding views, the peaceful silence and crisp air. Feeling alive and free, feeling lucky to be able to be there.
Off in the distance, I saw a fellow hiker; we waved to each other, as if bearing witness to where we each were. His small body describing the immense space around us. He continued climbing towards a peak while I turned and forced my way back down. I was beat and knew I had at least eight miles of trail before me.
I’m spending these weeks in Durango with our good buddy Dave.
He was kind enough to welcome the idea of hosting me while Chris is at Burning Man so I flew in, procured a bike from Craigslist, and we got to having fun. In the picture above we’re at the San Juan Brewfest. He also took me (and his awesome new lady friend) to an opening at his favorite local gallery, Studio &.
We’re hanging out and talking, and writing, and talking about writing. And art. It’s great! Durango is the sort of happy place in which, on rainy days, you see rainbows. I love it here. (I’m secretly — or not so secretly, now! — rooting for Chris’ parents to relocate here.)
The scenery is amazing here, but my staff photographer is on vacation. So I took a few snapshots like this one of Dave & the Animus.
Meanwhile, Chris had “our” first Cricket sighting on the way into Burning Man.