Walking amongst the Giants

Published: August 12th 2008
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Rising into the MistRising into the MistRising into the Mist

Coastal Redwoods towering above us near the Tall Trees Grove, home of the tallest trees on earth.
Driving up US 101 the landscape changes back from the warm fields of southern California and one dominated by tall, shady evergreens, a prelude to the drops in temperature and increased precipitation we can expect the further we head up the Pacific coast. It's a welcome sight to be sure, certainly one familiar to a Northwest native, but also a clear indication that our trip is quickly coming to a close. There's just enough left for a last hurrah before we turn the engine key one last time and gun it towards our final destination.

On Friday we stopped in Leggett, not much of a town really, but the campground at Standish-Hickey Recreation Area was a convenient stopping point despite the long line of boats and trucks pulled up around us. They seemed to be incredibly busy but since we were only planing on staying the one night the ranger gave us a spot. Even after we told him we intended to leave in the morning I'm not quite sure he believed us--he kept reiterating that we couldn't stay there past 11am and that if we did stay there past 11am we'd have to leave and that 11am was check-out
Contemplation and Whale WatchingContemplation and Whale WatchingContemplation and Whale Watching

Andras stares out over the Pacific near Flint Ridge.
and we have to be out by 11am. Got it. 11am. No later.

Our neighbor was an interesting character who smelled of weed and seemed to be squatting in the campsite next to us, staring blanking off down the road, so maybe they do have a problem with people sneaking in, who knows. He said his car broke down and he was hitchhiking down about 100 miles south to get some money so he could fix it and that he had friends picking him up later. It was a questionable story but we gave him a few cans of soup anyway (he'd offered to barter with us but I don't think anything he had to offer was legal...) that he ended up eating cold. I saw him later in the morning sleeping outside the restrooms after some legitimate campers came and reserved the spot he was sitting at. It's the first time we've encountered something like this inside a park boundary so it struck us both as a little out of the ordinary, but nothing seemed to come of it.

After leaving (well before 11am to be sure!) we continued up north through several redwood groves on our way to Redwood National Park. Halfway there we detoured through the Avenue of Giants, a self-guided auto tour that parallels the highway. It was good to stretch our legs as we observed the ancient giants surrounding us up close. We found a quiet place to pitch our tent about a 1/4 mile in -- right near a bluff where we could look out and see the whales off the coast, eating and frolicking (I assume) with the occasional puff and blow and water giving their location away. The mood hung heavy in the air, simultaneously both reflective and somber. We've come a long way and it's strange to think that it will all be over soon. We stay until the sun dips down below the horizon, leaving us just enough time to pick our way back up the bluff before the darkness turns us in for the night.

The next day we went down the visitor center bright and early to get a permit for the Tall Trees Trail, where the worlds tallest trees are located. The tallest tree in the world used to be located in that grove until a few years ago when a wind-storm knocked off
Forest FloorForest FloorForest Floor

Alas, I didn't see any leprechauns in this forest glen. Beautiful clovers though.
6-feet from the top--still, an amazingly impressive sight. To protect the area they only give out 50 permits a day on a first-come basis, so it was our first stop of the morning, followed by a breakfast of greasy eggs, bacon and hashbrowns, a couple pancakes and delicious coffee served with a pleasant attitude of indifference. Outside the handiwork of the road-side chainsaw artists beckoned us in the form of bears holding "Welcome" signs and gnomes lining the path-- your quintessential coastal diner full of local color and the occasional tourist. It just wouldn't be a coastal forest without chainsaw carvings, I say.

Bellies full (stuffed really) we headed up to the Tall Trees trail to walk it off. It's only about a mile long, but what an eventful mile it was let me tell you. I hate slugs. I mean, I hate slugs. Most people would say I have an irrational fear of them, but there is nothing irrational about it. They are slimy, and just awful! I freeze like a deer in the headlights. Paralyzed. And yet for some reason people flock to his area to see, none other, but the largest, most disgusting slug of them all -- the banana slug, which just happens to be all over the trails here. So it took a lot longer than usual because I had to constantly watch my feet and occasionally stop and take big looong steps over the slimy things ahead of me. I know they can't move fast, but I want to give them as wide a berth as possible because the only thing worse than a slug on the trail is a slug under-foot.

The grove at the bottom was just other-worldly. With the cloud layer hanging low the tops of the trees were shrouded in mist, while down below huge ferns dominated the underbrush. Mosses of all varieties clung to every branch both large and small. There is a bit of a mystical feel, almost magical. Had a dinosaur crashed through the branches above or a fairy flitted out from the clover below it would have seemed completely fitting. It really does make one feel small and insignificant to think that these trees have been here for hundreds of years, the vast majority of them older than the country itself.

I read somewhere that the average time spent looking at the trees is something like 2 seconds. That just didn't seem appropriate somehow so we dawdled and strolled around the trails and had a bit of a picnic lunch before making our way back to the top. Traffic had picked up on the by now so I'm glad we got here early so we could enjoy the area in the solitude and quiet it deserved.

For our final night we had decided upon booking a room at the Klamath Hostel. Since the Redwood National Park is jointly serviced by a series of state parks it really didn't make sense financially to pay for some of the campsites when a hostel would have been just as costly. On the drive north we ran into a huge bottleneck of cars pulled off the road every which-way and I couldn't see the reason for the congestion until I looked over in a field and saw a large pair of antlers peaking above the grass. An elk sitting there watching the masses. At first I laughed a bit ("Oh look at all those people looking at that elk, we've seen dozens of them!") before I caught myself and realized that a few weeks ago that
From the TrailFrom the TrailFrom the Trail

We're still about 150 feet above the forest floor and still viewing the mid-trunks of trees.
was us; how quickly we become conditioned and desensitized to things that should be of great beauty and interest. I would hate to think we're becoming a sort of those "seen it, done it" type of individuals so I'm hoping it was just the resulting traffic that made me find the whole scenario ridiculous. I imagine had we been hiking through the field we'd have been just as awed. Anyway, I'm glad we ended up making the reservation because the hotel was in a large, beautiful historic house right across from the beach where we ended up sitting on a log and watching the sky turn from blue to orange to purple and red as the sunset over the water.

We've been on this movie kick lately. I don't know what it is--maybe it's our need to slowly connect back with the world before we find ourselves thrown head-long into the daily grind when our trip comes to a close, or maybe it's just a bit of travelers fatigue that lulls us into the theaters to sit on our bums for 2 hours instead of being outside hiking like we've done for countless weeks now. Of course it could
Infamous Banana SlugInfamous Banana SlugInfamous Banana Slug

This one had previously been consuming some wild mushrooms on this tree trunk. I didn't want to get too close, but I braved my fear for the sake of documentation. Yelch!
always be very practical, a desire not to have the endings of this summers movies spoiled by family and friends before we get a chance to see them ourselves. Either way, after going months and months (because we hardly ever went to the movies before we left) without seeing a film in threatre we've now seen two in the last week. First the new Harry Potter in Napa Valley and now The Simpson's Movie in Cresent City.

I don't feel guilty about the movies (should I? I mean traveling doesn't always have to be adventurous and novel, yes?). No, instead I feel guilty about my sudden craving of sprinkled frosted doughnuts I suddenly had and gluttonously indulged at a picnic table overlooking the ocean. May as well start packing on those post-travel pounds now, why wait? What is it about the ocean that turns an ordinary outing into something noteworthy?

Tomorrow we'll be packing up and heading north. We're both a bit undecided how far we'll push it so we may or may not be in Washington next time you hear from us. Either way, our trip is rapidly coming to a close but hopefully the transition back into the sedentary life won't be as rough as I'm imagining it will be.

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


Grove of the AncientsGrove of the Ancients
Grove of the Ancients

Our car still "trucking" along, giving some sense of scale to these large trees.
Andras' Silhouette Andras' Silhouette
Andras' Silhouette

Gazing into the distance.
Neck Cramp Anyone?Neck Cramp Anyone?
Neck Cramp Anyone?

Andras strains his neck to see the tree tops
Another Misty ViewAnother Misty View
Another Misty View

The clouds and mist rolling in gave the area a peaceful, prehistoric feel.

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