Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Road Tripping Southward: Into the Redwoods

While I've hiked many trails and traveled widely around the Pacific Northwest, until last week I'd never been along the Redwoods Highway in southwest Oregon/northern California. 

Wow. Just wow.

With most old growth Sitka spruce gone, the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) comprise the last significant remnants of what was no doubt mind-boggling forest magnificence along the Left Coast of North America.

Today only 5 percent remain of the estimated 2 million acres of the coast redwood habitat. Thank goodness for the Save the Redwoods campaign that began in 1918. 

For those of us so inclined, they are a sacred destination. Walking and sitting in the redwoods feels akin to being in the ancient cathedrals that I've visited in Europe, like a Chartres of nature.

I'm especially thankful for these trees, these ancient and magical forests, because on this particular trip they provided a perfect place to reflect on the life of my recently deceased, much loved brother.

With a couple days to get to San Francisco for my brother's memorial service, my sister and I make a mini-road trip of it, starting with an overnight in downtown Eugene, Oregon, at the pleasant and well-situated Timbers Motel.

After driving south the next morning on I-5 a couple hours to Grants Pass, we take the exit to Highway 199/Redwoods Highway and angle southwest through winding canyon country on into northern California.

And before we know it, we're amongst the big trees on a narrow, curvy roadway through Jebediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the northernmost in the Redwoods park complex.

Before this trip, I hadn't realized Redwoods National Park,World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, is actually a series of national and state parks strung out over 40 or so miles in the tippy top, northwest corner of California. The loopy road through them slaloms past a glorious panorama of the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline.

While we don't have time to explore and hike as much as I'd like, the ranger at the visitor center recommends a short hike through the woods in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park along the 10-mile Newton B. Drury Parkway.  This side road off Highway 101 threads through giant redwoods closely bracketing the roadway. 

Our destination is the Zigzag Trail #1, connecting to the West Ridge Trail to Zigzag Trail #2, for a 3.2-mile loop. So the trailhead signs aren't well-marked and we didn't end up on the trail we expected; it was still a refreshing 90 minutes walking up and down through the forest.

Why they call them redwoods.
And because it's a healthy forest, there are diverse tree species.
After tramping for a while through a grove of huge old trees, past a stream and wetland, we reach a junction and head up towards the west ridge on this mild September afternoon.

Up here, with views into the rich forest below, around, and above, my sister decides to take a break and sit on a log beside the trail. As I join her, I suggest we sit in silence for a bit. Or maybe she suggests it, doesn't really matter.

What does matter is how incredibly powerful it is to just sit quietly in an ancient redwoods forest, listening, breathing steadily. I try to absorb the still, silent forest with all my senses.

For the briefest of moments I swear I feel the forest breathing too, then a slight breeze picks up. The mystic in me thinks immediately of our brother, whom we've both been thinking about and remembering as we travel to say goodbye in San Francisco.

Above in the forest canopy, a delicate, sweet bird call echos, and we rise to continue.

After cresting the ridge and not being sure which way to go (the directional sign points the opposite way our instincts tell us to go), an oncoming hiker comes along. Good thing; from her map we realize our instincts were right and we were on the wrong trail.

[Note to self: you know better than to hike without a map.]

So we descend, enjoying the truly awesome forest and big trees, so photogenic, as we go.


With gratitude to these splendid old trees and those who work to protect them. And may you, too, enjoy and feel their truly discernible presence. 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

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Good Eats Along the Way
Good eats in Eugene included tasty Thai dinner at the Ta Ra Rin Thai Cuisine and an inexpensive and quality breakfast at the Full City coffee shop/Palace bakery.

Based on a recommendation from Lonely Planet, we had delicious fresh halibut tacos for lunch at the Good Harvest cafe across the street from the marina in Crescent City, California.


JoJo said...

I used to live in NoCal and did a lot of redwood-type drives, although not the one you did. If you get a chance, do Avenue of the Giants which starts in Garberville, CA. Gorgeous drive. I used to live near Muir Woods in Marin County and if you got there early in the morning b/f the tour buses, it was a beautiful walk.

jill said...

Hey JoJo,
We actually did do the Avenue of the Giants; camped along it in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It was also magnificent, but definitely drier and less underbrush than farther north. Also visited Muir Woods once when my brother's family lived in Marin. We were there with the tour buses. :) Still beautiful. Thanks for commenting!

Lainey Piland said...

Very touching post. Gorgeous photos and writing, as always!

I visited the redwoods as a child, but would like to go back now that I'm mature enough to actually appreciate them. How amazing to think that such giant trees used to cover this whole region! I can only imagine how stunning that would have been to witness.

jill said...

Hey Lainey, Thanks for your comment. Yes, I'm sure you would find rich inspiration to spin some beautiful prose about the redwoods. I hope you make it there sometime relatively soon.

Bill said...

I lived in Arcata for about 4 years after living in southern CA up to that point. It took about 3 years for my mind to get used to seeing trees so huge. The redwood forest is truly a spectacular ecosystem yet a relatively simple one. There are many reasons why the natural resource science programs at Humboldt State are so great and having the redwood forest as a living laboratory is a huge one.