California 2012: Redwoods

You know there's been some stress around when I'm the one requesting a lazy morning in camp on the first day of vacation. Sunday we had packed up and drove out of Portland, saturday we had been completely booked with Tacit & Zaiah's commitment ceremony and visiting Floridian horde, and the entire week previous I was covering at work for various people. No wonder I slept in until Scott had finished creating coffee, then I made a leisurely omelet breakfast and eventually Scott pushed us to get going.

Our southern drive had a stop at Burlesque, which was about as fun as we remembered, and left us desiring a tree house. We bought nothing, but the woodworking roadside attraction left us smiling and still feel its a fine stop in the middle of a long driving day.

(more Burlesque images here)


We're just north of Redwoods National Park, leaving a bandit campsite beside the Smith River. Yesterday we arrived in the area around dinner time and took a hike in Stout Grove. Only a half mile, but it was enough to banish the last of my all day headache while we enjoyed the big trees. Scott took a picture of me doing my squirrel imitation – I think he's got an identical shot from 2005 when we visited Redwoods while on walkabout.

Gawds, what a nightmare.

We had just gotten across the continent and begun exploring new ecosystems when Scott came down with an itch – insect bites? No, by the time we hit Crescent City, not only was it obviously poison oak, it had gone systemic, and it was good drugs and weeks later before he'd slept through the night. We don't remember too much from that first trip through Redwoods because we're repressing those memories. Firmly.


This time, we were heading from north to south, knew what PO looked like, and wore long pants. It was summer, yes, but it was cool Northern California, and the day was successive rain showers. Stout grove was a short, 1/2 hour hike with a little scramble down to a river bank. The visitor center was a stop to chat with the rangers and stamp the passport – its getting particularly full in western states, I'm going to have to craft a new version of it soon. Continuing through the drive, we stopped at Moormon grove – not impressive – and Big Tree, which is. Big Tree is the widest and probably oldest tree in the park, and apparently the park has stopped trying to keep a large wooden sign with its vital stats near by – instead, they have a laminated photo of the old sign. Scott took a pic of it – very meta. And as we recall, is where we tried to have lunch with the van doors swung wide open and were harassed by a Stellars Jay until we retreated (back then, having the van doors wide was a treat, as we were still From the Land of Mosquitos). This time, we also hiked across the street in an unassuming grove near the creek, and Scott attempted to photograph big trees while perched on the trunk of their fallen brethren, in the middle of the creek.

Past the visitor center and looking for a turn off, we instead found a handful of cars pulled off and a herd of about 30 roosevelt elk munching in someone's front yard. We stopped and jumped out and were taking pictures when car 1 came around the corner and slowed down to see the spectacle, and then car 2 zoomed around the same corner and started an uncontrolled skid. It looked to me like we were out of the path of collision if they hit, but to be safe, I ran towards the elk. Into a bog. The cars pulled it out without incident – though the young driver of car 2 heaped verbal insult on to everyone legally off the road and watching wildlife, regardless of the speed he'd been recklessly driving at. I extracted myself, Scott checked that the phone I'd pulled from my pocket hadn't gotten more than a splash, and then I went back to the van to change – I was mud to my hips, and my shoes squished.

We headed up Bald Mtn Road to the Redwood River Overlook, which did not appear to show off the landscape as well as Scott had hoped. You could still see the clear cutting canopy differences from the logging that was still going on in 1978, though the trees are defiantly moving back in. On the way down, we hiked over an impressive bridge and through the Lady Bird Johnson grove – where Nixon, Johnson, & Reagan (then the gov) dedicated the national park opening. It was an interpretive trail, and while Scott took endless photos of rhododendrons blooming in front of misty redwoods, I read the interpretive flyer aloud – it sounded like marketing drivel, but most entries had a bite or two of actual education in it. At one point, Scott put his camera down in the center of a hollow tree, shooting upward on timer while we hid outside the bark. Another point he set up a times shot of the two of us. Mostly, though, he shot in the mist.

Back on the road, we found cell signal and answered emails and checked weather and our intended route, getting most of that data before we turned off the highway at Redway, and then became self contained again. From Redway to Shelter Cove, we'd been told, is 30miles and would take us 1.5 hours to drive, although the locals do it in about 40 minutes. (pull over if someone comes up behind you – really) It started in a small redwood grove, then twisted through a variety of ecosystems – forest, prairie, farmland – as it wound up the ridge line, with no flow, unexpected corners, and exposure. I expect anyone mildly suseptable will get carsick when following this route; it was extremely disconcerting. I don't want to drive it myself, and I was really glad we made it to our destination before sunset. Scott has declared this road the Californian equivalent of El Camino del Muerte.

We pulled into Tolkan Campsite, at a peak of a ridge line, in time to perform camp chores and fetch water, and then the sun went down. The two other occupied campsites soon quieted. Scott stood outside, shaving before bed, and called me to join him. After a day of rolling clouds and rain, the moon was up, half full and visible through the trees. “Most guys,” I told him, “give their girls diamonds. You give me the moon. This works for me.”. He chuckled when I kissed him, and finished using his electric razer by braille in the dark night.

(more Redwoods photos here)


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