Crescent City CA & the Giant Redwoods

Jedediah Smith State Park – Dec 20, 2011


When it’s December in the Pacific Northwest you might easily face grey drizzle for eight days straight. Or ten, twelve. Just pick a number. So if you open your eyes in the morning and see brilliant blue blue sky, you smile and actually moved to leap straight up out of bed. Make the most of this day! And if today is the day you are going to walk among the giant red redwoods of northern California, well, you fairly explode upwards out of bed!

“Daylight’s a wastin’, Big Steve!”

We’re too eager to pause for breakfast cereal. Big Steve makes the coffee. We grab it and go. Why is it that the coffee always tastes better when somebody else makes it?!

We pulled into Crescent City,Ca, late yesterday afternoon and it gets so dark around here so early around. So you don’t have much driving time if you get up at 10 am, get on the road by noon, and have to get off the road again at 4. Yes, we’re shameful, we know it. We can hear all you 6 am early birds scolding us . . .blah blah blah. We are actually stupid to stay up til 2 am because what is the point of being up in the DARK hours?!  And being sound asleep in the SUNNY hours. We are trying to shift our schedule, I promise. Last night we had to watch Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Whatever, and we didn’t even start the movie til 11 pm.

It gets dark here early because a) it’s December and b) we are so much further north than we were in Oklahoma, and it really makes a difference to our internal clocks!

After arriving yesterday we took off in our truck to explore Crescent City,CA, but we only had 2 hours and the whole town was wrapped in thick, heavy fog. All I got before dark were a few shots of harbor seals in fog, and a couple redwoods in fog. These are strictly novelty shots for beauty or mood. You really can’t see much. So last night I was praying for sunshine.

This morning we are so excited to see the brilliant sun. We grab our coffee and camera and take off to see the giant redwoods. Our first problem is, we don’t know where they are. We head for Tourism office, but on the way we are detoured by the sound of barking seals in the ocean just two blocks away.

That reminds me! We both woke up laughing this morning and scratching our heads because we both heard the distinct sound of seals barking in our dreams last night. It was fun, but this morning we realize it was real! The harbor is two blocks from our bus, and a big herd of Stellar seals are permanent residents there, lollygagging about day and night. They don’t bat a whisker when humans line up to take their picture.aIMG_9312

When we arrived at the seals I was excited to see the morning sun turning their coats a coppery brown. Yesterday in the fog they were solid black. I pressed the shutter and nothing happened! Darn, my camera battery is back in the bus on the charger. Haste makes waste. We have to run back home for the battery.

When I put the battery in and turn the camera on, it acts like I just put a new SD card in,and it asks me, “Do you want to format (erase) this SD card?”  I immediately press YES out of pure muscle habit, without even thinking. So there goes all the fog shots I took last night. They are all erased, gone. I have never done this before! I don’t know why the camera asked me that question when I put a battery in, not a card.

So now I am determined to re-shoot what I lost. At least seals look prettier in the sun – many things actually look better in shade or soft light.aIMG_9301

After re-shooting the seals, we turn around and see, on the opposite side of the jetty, a beach with crashing waves and a dozen surfers. Woo-hoo! Well, it’s Saturday. That’s why they’re all out! I can’t leave without shooting them. The sun is directly in front of my lens so it’s silhouettes only, but I get some cool shots.

Big Steve is sitting on a log enjoying his coffee while I’m shooting surfers. A little Hispanic boy about 8 runs up to my camera. He is entranced. I am delighted by how smart he is and want to show him. He immediately wants to shoot my picture. I tell him to shoot big Steve instead. I stand right next to him while he holds my $2,400 Canon 5d Mark II body with a massive, old 80-300 mm telephoto lens on it. He makes the shot like a pro. Again he wants to shoot me. Okay, let’s gamble. I crouch down next to his 4 year old sister and he gets the shot of the two of us. I run over to grab the camera and that little girl cuts in front of me and knocks the camera down into the sand. I am horrified. I spent the next 30 minutes cleaning it. It could have been a lot worse. It landed on the top right corner and didn’t get sand on the barrel. No more nice. Never never again.

We try again for redwoods but get distracted by their lighthouse. It’s a cutie. In order to get there, you have to walk across a ten foot driveway that is underwater during high tide. You can only visit this lighthouse during low tide, and even then you have to wade across 6” of water. How fun is that. All their visitors must have wet feet! In winter they are only open on weekends. I want to make pictures of the lighthouse at twilight because it is decorated for Christmas.IMG_9651 ret @200

Finally we make it to the tourism office and they are closed on Saturday. Can you believe that?! No brochures outside either. It dawns on me that every restaurant in town must have brochures, so we stop for brunch and maps.

By 2:30 we are on our way to the giant redwoods of Jedediah Smith State Park, just three miles east of town.  You drive your vehicle along a narrow, curving seven mile path. Not a road, but a car path. It’s not gravel, it’s not dirt. It’s a path of redwood needles compressed solid over time, a silent, firm, soft, beautiful car path.

The minute you start seeing these behemoth redwood titans all around you, your jaw drops and stays dropped. They are as tall as a football field, as big around as a Volkswagon, one more stupendous than the next. You squeal like a kid at Christmas. The first time you get out of your car, you are dumbstruck by a profound silence like you have never experienced before. You don’t hear a bird. You don’t hear a plane. You walk on the path but you don’t hear your feet. The silence has an actual weight to it.  What a profound, spiritual experience, this cathedral of silence hosted by your friends the giant redwoods.

IMG_9422 IMG_9500When you look staight ahead, all you can see is the bottom layer of the forest, one giant tree trunk after another, nesting in acres of giant ferns. The tree trunks are solid grey.The ferns are intense green. The pathways winding through the forest are a rusty red orange. The trees love the ferns and the ferns love the trees. Dead trees are strewn horizontally across the ground with their roots flipped up sideways, making giant pie plates two stories tall. We marvel at what shock of nature could have caused such a cataclysm – not fire, not lightning. Maybe erosion, or earthquake. Or maybe the tree just got old and died a natural death. Many of the trees have black scars around their base, branded by long ago forest fires. New trees sprout from the dead “nursery” logs. Moss covers over all and time marches on. You feel the weight of time upon your shoulders. Hundreds and thousands of years are compressed into one short day by these old souls. You are an insignificant ant intruding within their ageless, timeless sanctuary. You keep looking for grazing dinosaurs to come out from behind these trees.

The smell of the forest is very quixotic. The air is so fresh and clean and easy to breathe. Perhaps it’s all the oxygen. But you can also smell the pungence of mushrooms coming from all that moss and moisture. And it’s really dark down here in the bottom of the forest. You check your watch to see if the sun is setting, but it’s only 3 pm. So then you look up, and up, and up, trying to find the tops of these trees. You start to get vertigo and tip over backwards. Your neck does not bend that far. Finally you see a little bit of sky way up there, mingled with green tree tops. You realize its still midday up there. You marvel at how flimsy these little green tree toppers are. How can such colossal trunks can get by with such teensy hats of foliage?!

.Today I learned that “Sequoia” and “Redwood” are pretty much interchangeable. They can live 2000 years. They are the tallest and the oldest living species to grace the earth. A few of them have reached 450 feet tall and 25 feet in diameter. In the 1850’s there were about 2,100,000 acres of giant redwoods thriving in a damp, temperate rain forest that once extended from Los Angeles to Alaska. Our short-sighted nineteenth century ancestors, greedy for cheap, beautiful lumber, cut down 96% of all redwoods before a few conservationists staved off catastrophe by starting the “Save the Redwoods League” in 1918. This makes me so sad.  It took nine more years for California to establish the state parks that now protect a good chunk of the remaining 4% of acres. 4% left!