Friday, June 6, 2014

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

We've been to see the redwoods in California before. We went to the Humboldt Redwoods once, and Muir Woods another time. Every time it's been a remarkable experience. But every time, Sam has talked wistfully about going even farther North, to see the BIGGEST redwoods of all. These, he had read, were in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park up near Crescent City---quite distant from the usual California destinations. So when we were planning out where to go during his Comp Time in May, I thought this might finally be our chance. "So it's not just a trip," said my cousin when I told her about it. "It's a pilgrimage." It was. Sam tells his art students there are certain pilgrimages An Artist must make in his or her lifetime---and the Jedediah Smith Redwoods is one of them.

We had to put in a 15-hour drive the first day, but when we woke up the next morning and started driving up the coast, we knew it was going to be worth it. I wish I could convey how mysterious and primeval it felt, driving through the mist-shrouded forests. You drive through a couple other state and national parks on the way from Arcata to Crescent City, and they are awe-inspiring. The foggy air seemed like the perfect setting for all that beautiful greenery.
The State Park is pretty small---I think there was a visitor's center, but we never found it. Everything seems a little bit wild and even most of the trails are marked very minimally---except for the one to Stout Grove, which is where we went first. The sun burst out through the fog as we drove up, and suddenly it seemed like THAT was the perfect setting for the beautiful trees. Stout Grove has a couple really big trees, but Sam had told me that somewhere in the park there were even bigger ones. Biologists (botanists? arborists?) thought they had found all the biggest redwoods, but only a few years ago, someone stumbled on a whole grove of never-before-seen trees that were huge---significantly bigger than any ever measured before. They call it the Grove of Titans. It was a really exciting discovery (I remember Sam telling me about it a few years ago---he keeps up on that sort of thing) but its exact location is kept secret to protect the trees. Sam had read about people who had hunted for it, looking for clues in the book that tells about the grove's discovery, The Wild Trees. It sounded amazing, but neither of us imagined we'd ever be able to see it ourselves. Especially with all the kids along, it wasn't the type of hunt we even had time or ability for. Still, it was cool to know that the Titans were somewhere out there in the forest, and we were right there close by---breathing their air, if you will. :)
All the trees---not just the Titans---are amazing. The small ones are equally beautiful, and the fallen ones with moss and all sorts of plants growing on them are lovely as well. I love the way the living and the dead come together to create a place so rich with life and texture.
We learned a little bit about the redwoods before we went, and I was surprised to learn that the redwood forests are considered rain forests---temperate ones. They have layers just like the tropical rainforest, and epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants)---whole ecosystems that exist on just one tree. We loved seeing trees growing on and through and out of other trees---even way above the forest floor!
Local fauna
Having established that ALL the trees are amazing and beautiful, I hope it won't hurt any of the trees' feelings when I say that the big ones truly are something special. This is the big tree in Stout Grove. It's always kind of disappointing how little a photograph can capture the immensity of these living things---even with tiny people shown for scale. Still, it gives you an idea.
I tried taking some pictures with the wide-angle lens so I could get the whole tree in, but they all look a little weird. Here's tiny Junie by a tall tree. Abe doesn't look much bigger by his tree!
The hiking we did was fantastic. I'm running out of superlatives here, but our kids are good little hikers, and the trails are small enough---and the place empty enough of people---that we felt like we were making new discoveries and exploring new ground that was ours alone. (An illusion, but a nice one.) This scene (above and below) shows the most beautiful little secret cave. A huge fallen redwood formed a wall on one side, so it was dark and wet and mossy as you walked through the green tunnel.
The light in there was amazing---pure green!
Speaking of green light, here's another example: the sun was coming down so brightly on this group of ferns that the ferns themselves actually became a light, shining green onto the tree trunk behind.
Or this group of understory trees, glowing emerald in the filtered sun.

We hiked a few different trails, and would have done them ALL if we could have. Even just walking along without stopping to look around much, the views are unbelievable. Every time of day and every type of light made things look different, and beautiful.
But of course we DID stop to look around, and there are treasures to be found everywhere. We loved this blue jay, so much more vibrant than the type we have at home.
This graceful, drippy arch
This clover-covered log
This huge stage (that's how Junie saw it, anyway, and immediately broke into song and dance)
This velvet-robed tree---dressed more finely than a queen!
This long upward ramp, evidently a good spot for contemplation
This strange, knobby root-bear
This sun-shifting stream
And of course the tiny pinecones, a reminder of the strikingly humble beginnings from which these giant trees came.

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