Thursday, July 27, 2017

Northern Coastal Redwoods: June, 2017

After a terrific family get-together in the Bay Area (Norma and Fred's 60th wedding anniversary!), we headed up the coast to spend some "tree time" in the redwoods of far Northern California.  On this trip, we stayed in RV parks (which is very unusual for us), because we weren't sure whether my sciatica would limit our activities.  (It didn't!)

Monday, June 19: In the morning, we took a short hike at Rockefeller Grove in Humboldt State Park:

We spent the rest of the day "bike rolling" through the big trees on Mattole Road.  ("Bike rolling" is the equivalent of strolling – slowly pedaling the bike, just enjoying the ride, rather than getting any real exercise.)

Although the surroundings were as beautiful as ever, the road itself was a bit of a disappointment.  There was much more truck traffic than there used to be, mostly pickups laden with construction equipment and agricultural supplies.  They had torn up the pavement very badly, and the potholes had been patched with lumpy asphalt.  We later learned (from a volunteer at the Ranger station) that the county had recently legalized marijuana farming and that this one small road provided the sole access for a huge area of the backcountry.

But despite the noise and dust of the pickups, we enjoyed the ride.  After the wet winter, the trees showed a lot of bright green new growth at the ends of the branches:

That evening, we drove into Fortuna to get some block ice for the cooler.  This photo documents a frequent (and hilarious) event, our traditional weekly "yard sale" in the parking lot, as we juggle the contents of the cooler and repack everything:

(By the way, note the stylish reflectix duct-taped to the cooler, in an effort to improve the insulation.  It really works well, but it looks funny.)

Tuesday, June 20: We hiked in the Bull Creek Flats area, starting at Rockefeller Grove and then crossing the creek on a seasonal bridge.  A huge redwood trunk was marooned in the streambed:

South of the Rockefeller Grove, there is a huge grove of redwoods on a flat floodplain:

Later, we drove to the west end of the Bull Creek Flats area and hiked for a total of 7 miles:

In the late afternoon, we hiked north from the trailhead on the north shore of the creek, toward Albee Creek.  At times, the trail was a little close to the road, but the old growth trees were stupendous -- this is an area we had never visited.

Wednesday, June 21:  We spent most of the day "bike rolling" on the Avenue of the Giants, starting from an area just north of the headquarters toward Myers Flat and then on to Hidden Springs Campground, a round trip of 20 miles.  (This was a big milestone for me – it indicated that my sciatica was not going to prevent us from riding bikes, at least.)  The sweet peas were still in bloom along the riverbank:

We found a path leading down to the river from the paved road:

Down by the river, we found a nice swimming area.  So we got back to the car and packed up our bathing suits – Felice discovered a way to stash our rolled up yoga mats behind my backpack:

(The mats give us something to stand on when we are changing into our suits.)

The swimming hole was in the Eel River, just north of the Burlington Campground.  The water was just warm enough (maybe the low 70s?) that we were able to hang out in the middle of the river for almost an hour -- very pleasant on a hot day!  Note Felice's stylish water shoes, which we carry in the truck for exactly such occasions:

There was a little riffle near us -- this is technically a Class 0.01 rapid:

Thursday, June 22:  In the morning, Felice jogged on the Fleishman Trail near the park headquarters.  The surface was great, as was the scenery.  As we left the RV Park headed for Prairie Creek up north, we took the obligatory "trailer in the redwoods" portrait:

Late that afternoon, after getting settled at funky Kamp Klamath RV Park, we went up to the nearby whale-watching overlook.  It was a very hot afternoon (a record temperature of 96 degrees).  There weren't any whales at this time, but there were quite a few seals and sea lions clustered in the mouth of the river, evidently fishing and having a terrific time – lots of splashing.

Friday, June 23: We rode our mountain bikes from the RV Park onto the Coastal Trail.  The total mileage was only about 10 miles, but there were quite a few steep hills.  The coastline was foggy during the morning:

Along the sides of the road, there were long stalks of these beautiful bell-shaped wildflowers – we’re not sure what these are:

Eventually, the coastal trail (which is really the old Coast Highway) petered out in an unmaintained area.  (Note to self – next time wear some sort of leggings to protect against the stinging nettle alongside the bike trail.)

On our way back, we stopped for lunch at the High Bluff Overlook.  As we sat on the edge of the cliff, the fog started to clear:

From the cliff, we could see the sharp boundary between the ocean water (dark blue) and the river water (greenish blue); this photo was taken at ebb tide, with the water in the river rushing far out to sea:

As we rode back toward camp along the trail, we could see quite a few whales (perhaps a total of eight?) dawdling along the coastline, basking in the sun.  There were too far out to photograph.  We saw a very large animal (a big sea lion?  a small and agile whale?) playing in the surf.  The waves were about six feet high; the water looks disturbed because the river is flowing out into the ocean from the lower right side to the upper left:

Late that afternoon, as we were relaxing in our folding "cocktail chairs" at the RV park, we got a visit from a small flock of chickens, complete with a very noisy and comically bossy rooster.  (Note the cocktail.)  Even though the chicken coop was at least 100 yards away from us, the rooster was much less comical at 5 AM:

That afternoon we met Mike and Debbie, our neighbors at the RV park.  They were interesting people and terrific storytellers.

Saturday, June 24:  We took the James Irvine Trail in Prairie Creek, which is always a treat.  I was able to handle about 8 miles in total, and Felice did a little extra (a total of about 9 1/2).  We didn't quite get to Fern Canyon, but this day was another milestone for me:  a decent hike, albeit on relatively flat ground, with a moderate load in my backpack.  No flareup of my sciatica.

As always, the huge ferns along the trail were very lush – in this photo, you can see me waving a red bandanna:

This is one of those "where's Waldo" shots – Felice is in a patch of sun in the lower right.  I took this from a hillside, in an effort to show the true size of these trees:

Although the irises were somewhat past the peak, there were still a few good specimens along the way:

That evening, the RV park held its usual Saturday night barbecue, with excellent wood-grilled salmon.  The music was extraordinarily good, a country/rock fusion band called the "Coast Countrymen."  (Their YouTube videos don't do them justice – don't even bother watching them.)  Almost everybody was just standing around listening, but Felice and Debbie were line dancing.

Sunday, June 25:  We drove to the Fern Canyon trailhead.  There was plenty of water in the canyon, but we couldn't complete the loop trail because there was a blockage due to some fallen trees.  The walls of the canyon were dripping musically:

Five-finger ferns cover the canyon walls:

After touring the canyon, we headed up to the Friendship Ridge trail, one that we had never taken before.  It heads north from the Fern Canyon trailhead; parts of it were pretty steep.  (Our total mileage was about 6.5.)  We saw almost no one on this trail, which is unusual for Prairie Creek.  There were quite a few big and old trees, with very dense understory:

Felice found this unfurling fern frond, which is easier to photograph than to say:

The vegetation was so lush that there were "fern gardens" up in the trees, whole landscapes above the ground:

We saw just one purple iris -- most of them were white:

In a swampy area, we came across these plants with huge flat leaves, about 3' x 2'.  I was not able to identify them.  The tip of Felice's pole provides some scale -- the visible portion of her pole is over a foot long:

Monday, June 26: We took the Brown Creek trail, one of our favorites.  The morning was foggy and drippy, which is exactly the way the trees like it – their needles draw water from the fog, which then drips onto the roots.  (The scientific name for this phenomenon is “fog drip,” for some reason.)  The plants in the understory are incidental beneficiaries of the fog drip:

The ferns near Brown Creek are huge – it was not easy to find a gap in the foliage:

There were patches of leopard lilies along the trail --  they have an intricate internal structure:

These lilies looked like Chinese paper lanterns:

This is a photo of Brown Creek itself – not exactly a thundering river, but very peaceful and lush: