“The Redwood is the glory of the Coast Range.”
I don’t know of too many places on this sweet earth where you can feel completely insignificant and at the same time incredibly blessed and loved by the Creator than in the midst of a redwood grove. Craning your neck to see the tops of those towering giants, you begin to realize that all the vain and proud thoughts you have about your own strength, your own power, or your own intelligence, pale in comparison to what is before you. The trees along your path took root and began growing hundreds, and for some, thousands of years ago. They have been a silent witness to history, from before the birth of Christ to the Atomic Age. And yet, as marvelous as those redwoods are, we, the human race, are the “crowning glory” of creation. Mankind, with all its faults, is the “apple of His eye” and the recipient of His grace. It’s overwhelming and beautiful and humbling all at the same time.
In my last post, I mentioned that in January, we took a trip up the 101 from Santa Maria, California, along the Oregon coast, around the Olympic Peninsula, and ended up in the Seattle area. After driving through the San Francisco area (which fortunately was a breeze this time!), we headed north, spending almost a week immersing ourselves in the Redwoods National and State Parks. Thanks to the efforts of many folks in years past who halted the mass harvesting of the redwoods, we now have over 130,000 acres of federally protected land dedicated to the preservation of not only earth’s tallest trees, but of nearly 40 miles of coastline, inland waterways, prairies, and oak woodlands. The National Park Service and California State Parks work in close co-operation as they maintain this immense area which is comprised of Redwoods National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. You could spend a lifetime exploring these parks, but alas, we only had 6 days! UGH!! So, we talked to the park staff, spread out the maps, and began to plan.
Our first few days, we camped in Garberville at Richardson Grove Campground and RV Park, a convenient FHU stop right on the 101. It’s not a fancy RV resort, but it met our needs and the camp staff was super friendly and helpful. Since it was the off-season, they had plenty of open sites and were very generous with store purchases—50% off in most cases since they were trying to clean out their inventory. The campground was very close to Avenue of the Giants, a must-see if you are in the area. Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile portion of the old 101 which contains over 50,000 acres of redwood groves. Pick up a trail guide and follow the route, stopping at suggested points of interest. It is an awe-inspiring, close-up look at these mammoth trees. Many of the stops along the Avenue have picnic areas and hiking trails and well as amazing photo ops. Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which has the largest stand of virgin redwoods in the world, surrounds the Avenue and further south is Richardson Grove State Park, another wonderful preserve of redwoods.
The second half of our week in the redwoods, we traveled north to Klamath and made that our base camp as we explored this area, concentrating our time in the south region of the park. We began our explorations at the Kuchel Visitor Center and had a delightful conversation with one of the park volunteer couples. They recommended several hikes and helped us plan our day.
First stop was the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a very popular, easy, level, 1-mile loop trail that winds through stands of old-growth redwood, Douglas-fir, and tanoak. Pick up a trail guide and stop at the various points of interest as you read about the vegetation and the history of the grove. At a small clearing, there are several interpretive signs with photos and stories about the dedication service in 1969 of this grove, named after Lady Bird Johnson, a first lady who promoted the Keep America Beautiful movement and championed the preservation of the California redwoods.
We picnicked at Elk Meadow where, true to its name, plenty of elk were grazing nearby. It is a lovely area with meadows, ponds, and woodlands. Across the parking lot,we picked up the trailhead for the Trillium Falls Trail—-our hands down favorite hike! There are some trails you take in life that, when you recall them, you are immediately filled with a sense of wonder, peace, and tranquility. Trillium Falls was one of those hikes. As we left the parking area and began to climb up the hillside, we were immediately enveloped in a lush forest filled with redwoods, Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, and western hemlock. Ferns carpeted the forest floor. Streams and a 10-foot waterfall provided the only sound in this hushed cathedral. We found ourselves whispering to each other, not wanting to disturb the sanctity of this wonderland. Endor, Rivendell, Shangri-La,….every fictional forested utopia we had ever read about was here, spread out before our very eyes. We wouldn’t have been surprised at all to see an Ewok or Legolas cross our path—-it is that magical of a place!
We finished our day with a drive along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a lovely road that parallels the 101 and is just about as nice as Avenue of the Giants. There are plenty of places to pull over, picnic, and snap some photos of the redwoods–if your SD card isn’t already full.
In our 6-day stay, we barely scratched the surface of trails to hike, quaint towns to visit, and a never ending coastline to explore. We really enjoy visiting popular locations in the off-season. I guess we are the type of people that when we see a crowd, we run AWAY from it, so having the forest or a beach to ourselves is our dream vacation. However, I would like someday to go back to the redwoods during the peak summer season when the ranger programs are in full swing and all the trails are open. Fern Canyon, made famous for its role in Jurassic Park 2, wasn’t accessible during our visit due to increased rainfall that washed the footbridges away. And we did spend one whole day hunkered down in the camper during a day-long deluge. Perhaps in the summer, we could experience warmer temperatures and not quite so much bone-chilling drizzle. And I think on a return visit I would be better prepared for driving through the redwoods on the 101. There are plenty of very tight curves with trees flanking both sides of the road sporting huge gashes from other motor homes and semis—-that was a bit unnerving.
The coastal area of Northern California is a wonderful place to explore, full of miles of wilderness, breathtaking beauty, and plenty of isolated spots where one can have room to breathe.
“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”