Saturday, September 4, 2010

In the mist, among giants

[Three days behind again... Darn it!!]

We packed up the tent for the last time this morning, leaving the camping behind to finally ease ourselves back into civilization. We left the California Redwoods yesterday after stretching our three-day trip into a fourth and headed north along the Oregon coastline, arriving at Sunset Bay State Park for a one night stopover, before continuing up to Astoria today. What a week!

After leaving Crater Lake, the drive to Redwoods National Park was a relatively short and scenic one. We stopped at the Visitor Center on the way in for campground recommendations, and learned that many were full for the night, and ended up with the “consolation” of a site at the Mill Creek Campground. Redwoods is actually three state parks pasted together, and ours was in Del Norte Coast State Park. It turned out to be a perfect location, right in the middle of all three parks, allowing us to get around easily, and still retire to beautiful surroundings.

Tree pose!
Our first full day, we decided to take ranger recommendations and visit Stout Grove and do the Boy Scout Tree Trail, but not before a ranger presentation on “OWLS in the Old Growth Forest”. To get there though, we took an old stagecoach road through the towering forests of Redwoods. The dirt from the road covered the trees, offering an even more eerie feel to what was already a pretty amazing sight. We stopped in the Stout Grove for a quick walk under the giants before heading on to our morning talk. Alyssa was incredibly excited for another owl presentation of course, only to find that these “OWLS” were just a mnemonic device – an acronym to remember the composition of the forests. It was a great interpretive walk, where we learned that there was much more to look for in these forests than just the trees themselves. Ranger Poole was both informative and engaging – which is important when you’re surrounded by 300-foot tall trees that you just want to stare up at!

I saw a tree "this big"!
The hike was a nice 6-mile round trip on fairly level terrain, a nice change of pace after a few weeks of mountain hiking. The Boy Scout Tree was more than 30 feet in diameter, making everything else seem puny in comparison. Back at the campground that night, we attended another ranger talk, this time by one of the state park interpretive rangers, a recent grad named Ryan. Let me just say that this guy was the best of the best, combining entertainment, information, and enthusiasm in his pitch perfect delivery. He got the crowd singing safety songs, and cracked jokes that were all ages appropriate. It was great fun and I made sure to fill out a comment card to commend the state of California on retaining this natural resource.

On Saturday, We did a lengthy section of the Coastal Trail that followed Damnation Creek down to the shoreline. While the beach views were nice, the 12-mile hike was a bit of a snoozer, starting with a thousand foot climb in the first mile and then plunging another thousand feet down to the water in the mile following the creek. Everything in between was pretty flat, and not even forested with Redwoods. We vowed not to repeat this mistake the next day, and Alyssa picked a winner – the Fern Canyon Trail. To get to the canyon, we followed the Irvine Trail, which took us through the old growth redwoods. After this hike Alyssa officially put Redwoods ahead of Badlands as her second favorite park of the trip (Teton being the clear #1). Once we got to the half-mile canyon stretch, the walls filled in with fifty feet of bright green ferns all around us, with a small creek trickling along at the floor, which we followed to the beach.

Fern Canyon - the orange
dot in the middle is a person!
Once on the sand, it was like we were in another world. Though you could drive down to base of the canyon and walk up from the beach, the parking lot was small enough that the beach itself seemed almost empty. The mist settled in at the far ends of the stretch we were walking and though the surf pounded the shore, it was the retreating water that made the most din with a great big sucking sound. Giant rocks dotted the seascape, and there was a feeling of quiet solitude as we walked the mile-plus stretch of sand that connected us to the trail for our return trip. Along the way, we noticed a few smaller dots in the cresting waves – the heads of some playful seals came up to the surface, searching about curiously, then disappearing for brief periods of time. We could have sat there all day watching their antics and just enjoying the ocean breeze, but the trail called us back!

After finishing the hike back on the Miner's Trail, we headed back on the 20-minute drive to camp. Alyssa had asked about the "drive-through" redwood trees, and I remembered seeing a sign along the road on the drive down, so we pulle doff in Klamath, at first thinking it was just something along the road. But a screaming billboard and a kiosk at the roadside informed us otherwise: we were at a bonafide tourist trap. I couldn't resist though, so we shelled out the $5 to drive up a hill and be confronted with a tree whose lower region was excavated in a most unnatural shape. We were both disappointed that this wasn't just some gargantuan tree with room to park Sylvia underneath, but instead had been carved out after some fire damage, but was inded still a living and growing redwood tree. At first glance, it did not seem as if our trusty Highlander would make it through the tunnell, but with some minor adjustments to the side-view mirrors, we got through with room to spare!

On our final day, we headed into town briefly to catch up on some correspondence, and then made our way north. The weather was fairly good for a lot of the trip, but the drive was a bit more than we anticipated. The Oregon coast was much like what we saw in the Redwoods, and made for a scenic trip, but we were happy to arrive at Sunset Bay. This state park borders on two others and each had their charms. First we headed to an overlook which offered views of hundreds of sunbathing seals and sea lions, barking furiously. Alyssa couldn’t help but comment on how unpleasant and dirty their island respite might be, but they seemed not to care. After a brief visit to a tidal basin that offered little for us to see, we headed to the botanical gardens of the park next door. Alyssa particularly liked the dahlia displays but we both marveled at the array of plants – the monkey puzzle tree being my favorite. This was a one-night stopover, however, and today we got back on the road to much less pleasant weather. Only about thirty minutes of our drive offered any sun, and we arrived this afternoon in Astoria, only to find it pretty rained out. But we’ll make the most of it. [Can anyone guess what brought us to Astoria?]

This time tomorrow, we should be in Seattle. We’ve already started scouring Craigslist for apartment rentals, and have secured short-term accommodations to get us through the early days of house-hunting. Hopefully we haven’t missed the best of the apartment season.


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