Friday, December 25, 2009

Tolowa Dunes State Park

Christmas Day -- another warm, clear, beautiful sunny day on the Wild Rivers Coast.  I had to get out in it and walk and wanted to go someplace I hadn't been before, so I returned to the huge Tolowa Dunes State Park just north of Crescent City, down in California.  This time, I drove to the end of Kellogg Road, where the road stops at the ocean and there's good parking and where it's possible to drive onto the beach, if you wish.  I didn't.  One could walk for long distances on the beach in either direction, but I opted for the trail that wanders up and over dunes and through grasses, paralleling the ocean.

The views were lovely from this vantage point, and I enjoyed the peace, quiet and solitude of the trail as opposed to the people and dogs and cars on parts of the beach.

Of course, I couldn't resist eventually scrambling down the dunes and walking along the shore.  This wave sneaked up on me and almost got my feet wet -- but I scrambled backwards, if inelegantly so, the foam chasing my toes with every  hop.

The incoming tide brought some nice breakers and waves.  I used the zoom for this shot, to actually see what was happening beyond my feet.

When I finally felt like turning around and heading back to the car, a big finger of fog was creeping inland around Crescent City, in the distance.  Again using the zoom, it looks as if these folks are right in the middle of the fog, but in reality they were in the same warm sunshine that bathed me so splendidly.  The camera tends to capture such scenes as this in black in white for some reason -- does not appreciate my tendency to shoot right into the sun. 

What a beautiful day!  I feel sorry for the people back east struggling with blizzards, and even for my friend in Eugene who has an icy fog to deal with today, but I'm really happy to be in this place right now!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Adieu, Adieu

Today I went for what is probably my last walk to Harris Beach.  My last because, if all continues to go well, 3 weeks from tomorrow I will drive away from the Pacific Coast to a new home in Georgia, far from these beautiful beaches and redwood forests.  And since it is, after all, winter -- days like this are not the norm.

I hadn't planned to walk -- but the weather is so beautifully warm and sunny that it seemed a waste to stay inside.  I need the exercise, too.  From my house it's about a mile to this spot, almost all of the walk within view of the coast and one spectacular scene after another. It generally shocks outsiders to find that we can have days like this, this time of year, at such a northern latitude -- sunny, 60 degrees, balmy, beautiful.  Shhhhh -- it's a secret!

I wasn't the only one enjoying this day at the beach.  The seagulls seemed to be having a bit of a hey day, and there were other humans and dogs as well.  Up at the parking lot some folks with binoculars were looking for -- and finding -- whales.

I love this beach.  It's always beautiful, regardless of weather.  When the tide is low, which is really isn't here, it's a great place for tidepooling.

No critters here -- they're a bit further out. Still, I love the clear pools sparkling in the sun.

A beautiful day at a beautiful place.  Adieu, and thanks for many an hour of soul-soothing over the past months.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Boy Scout Tree Trail

With perseverance comes success, they say!  I called in advance to be sure the road was open (since a fallen tree had it closed when I made the attempt a few days ago), then drove south once more yesterday to hike this trail, which is well worth the extra effort.  It's interesting that the sign doesn't say how far it is to the Boy Scout Tree, and that there's NO sign directing one to the tree from the trail.  It's almost as if they don't want you to find it.  I first hiked this trail in August, 1996 and didn't go all the way to the falls then, nor did I do so yesterday.  There are some discrepancies in directions -- William Sullivan's book says the trail rises 500' over 2.4 miles to the Boy Scout Tree, and the falls is another mile beyond.  That can't be right, if the total trail is only 2.8 miles.  I'm no great mathematician, but I can get that far.

The trail is accessed off Howland Hill Road, which cuts deep into the heart of the Jedidiah Smith Redwoods and is by itself a lovely drive through quiet forests of big trees.  Running from Crescent City to the Smith River off Hwy 199, the road is unpaved, a bit rough, and quite narrow.  Pullouts allow cars to pass when they meet.  This road also accesses the Stout Grove, which was the first grove to be dedicated back in 1929, and I saw numerous other side trails all along its length.  I opted to travel east to west, because I wanted to enjoy the forest, see it all.  If one is in a hurry, this trail is much closer to Crescent City on the western end.

 One big tree after another!

Unlike other trails I've hiked lately, this one is so deep in the forest that unless other hikers are around, there are no sounds not produced by nature.  Quiet, peaceful, utterly beautiful.  It's also a bit rough in places -- lots of big roots to cross, very narrow in places, lots of ups and downs. Everything was also quite wet, and therefore slippery, even though it hasn't rained lately.  I don't think these trails ever dry out completely, and that moisture is what makes these big babies happy. I wore my leather hiking boots for the first time in years, and I'm so glad I did -- would not have liked to try that trail in sneakers although some young folks passed me at some point literally running on the trail, so it's probably an age thing.

I don't have a lot of photos from this day -- issues between the new camera and its operator, who resists having to learn digital photography beyond point-and-shoot.  The day was beautiful -- morning mists cleared about the time I arrived and the sun speared through the trees.  I've been so spoiled by our summer-like weather that I was surprised that the air was chilled back in these deep forests.  It is, after all, December!

I can't tell you the distance to the big tree, but it's a good hike.  All in all, with maybe a 15 minute stop at the tree for lunch and photos, I was on the trail for about three and a half hours.  Finding the tree isn't all that easy, as I suggested above.  Perhaps there is normally a sign off the main trail, but there wasn't one today.  I was a little confused when I reached a trail angling uphill and to the right, wondering which way I was supposed to go, then memory from the first trip began filtering in.  I knew the tree was a bit off the trail and to the right, but I didn't remember it was that far off the trail.  If you try to find it, this is the only trail that angles off to the right, and it circles the tree.

According to Sullivan's book this tree is 20 feet thick, and I believe that is possible.  Sorry I couldn't manage to include anything in the photo for scale and it's also not a great photo but it helps illustrate the tree.  I used the self timer and took a self-portrait, arms spread and still looking miniscule,  but ego prevents me from using it.  This is a lovely and peaceful spot, with lots of room for sitting and looking at this wondrous tree, having lunch, or merely taking a rest.

I love that thick, shaggy bark with the moss on the north side.  Still hard to see any scale, but those ferns are rather large, like the ones in other photos. 
From the bottom looking up and it's still impossible to capture a real sense of its size as it reaches for the sky.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tolowa Dunes State Park

Egret, off to the side of Alder Marsh Trail

I left home this morning with the intention of hiking in the redwoods, on the Boy Scout Tree Trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.  I hiked this trail over 13 years ago, and remember that it was a nice walk.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas for me today: a tree fell over the gravel access road yesterday and the road was closed from both ends.  So much for that idea!

Since it was a beautiful day and I was almost in Crescent City, I drove into town and stopped at the Parks Information office -- and ended up going for a nice walk in Tolowa Dunes State Park.  This lightly-developed park covers about 5000 acres of prime Pacific Ocean shoreline and houses "some of the finest wetlands habitat on the California coast" according to the brochure.  The area is an ancient sand dune complex that has evolved into many different ecological communities including ocean beach, river, open and vegetated sand dunes, wooded ridges and wetlands, according to the brochure.  It's an important birding habitat, and while I heard a wide variety of birdsong everywhere I went, I didn't see very many. The fellow above was roosting in a tree along a side trail.  That's almost full zoom on my 24x zoom lens, so forgive the hand-held lack of total focus. I find it really hard to hold it perfectly still at that focal length.

A small, unnamed marsh/lake on the west side of the loop trail.  Very peaceful.

I only touched a small fraction of the park.  A woman in the visitor's center directed me to the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, at the southern tip.  From here, I took the Cadre Point Loop Trail through meadows and wetlands and forests, although I never actually saw Lake Earl.  The loop trail follows the edge of it for some distance, but too far inland to actually see any of the lake.    I'd like to return someday, try a different section.  The loop trail is well-marked, but most side trails are not.  Most simply have a sign that says 'trail'.  I did take one trail that was marked "Alder Marsh Trail, 0.4 Miles'.  I'd been hiking for a couple of hours at this point, and was hoping for a log or rock to sit in the sunshine and have a snack -- but there's literally nothing out there but marsh grasses and plants and birds.  Very nice side trail, however.

Alder Marsh

The trail followed open meadows....

Wooded lanes....

and the occasional wetland area....

Although there were no signs, I'm fairly certain this is Lake Tolowa.  I'm guessing there's far more water here during other seasons.  In the distance are the dunes and the ocean.

Those of you in colder climes can eat your heart out -- you can see the sunshine, and I was hiking in lightweight cotton capris and t-shirt.  On the first of December.  And I'm not one with a lot of cold tolerance.   When I returned to my car around noon, after walking for about 2.5  hours, the temp was 58 -- and it felt much warmer because of all that sunshine and lack of wind. It's days like this when I know why I moved to this area!