Grace Wu

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Stop #15: Redwood National and State Parks

My dad and I drove south to the coast of Northern California. There I had booked a campsite at Redwood National and State Parks. It’s one of the last few places in the country where Coastal Redwoods still grow. The park is made up of some State Parks and a Nationals Park, so they work together to manage the collective Parks.

We set up camp at Mill Creek Campground, a campground 2+ miles from the main road and nestled among Redwoods and ferns. It felt like we had traveled back to dinosaur times! A moss covered Redwood tree grew nearby and multiple ferns filled in between the trees.

We decided to check out the northern park first; Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park. We took Howard Hill Road, an unpaved road the snaked through giant Redwoods that would lead us to an easy hike.

I drove about 15 mph, sort of because of potholes but mostly so we could gawk at the giant trees we were passing. It was unbelievable! The dust kicked up by the car illuminated the rays of sunlight filtering through the towering trees.

The air smelled faintly of dirt, but in a good way, it just smelled fresh! We eventually made it to the parking lot for a short hike that led us through more giant Redwoods and to Smith River running by. My dad oohed and awwed at the trees and I was glad he was having a good time. We looked at the river, of course my dad wanted to see if there was any fish in it. We didn’t see any but the water was super clear and plenty of people were taking a dip in the cold water.

We made our way back to camp, after more ogling at the Redwoods. Dinner was cooked up, Shin Ramen of course! With some extra veggies added in.

Our campsite had ranger talks schedule so we made our way to the amphitheater for tonight’s talk about wildfires. The ranger talked about the different types of fires that can occur and how the park was handling prescribed burns. He showed us a world map of all the fires going on at the moment and it was frightening to see, as we could see the Amazon fires and many in South Africa as well. The fire season for the west coast has been quiet, compared to last year, and hopefully it stays that way, knock on redwood. 😂

The next day, we had breakfast at camp and heard the birds that we had been warned about in signs and pamphlets. Stellar’s Jays look like larger blue jays with a darker blue coloring. They are in the same family as crows, which means they are wicked smart. We saw one pick through the bowls of our next door camp neighbor. Luckily no food was left out. The parks have a logo with the Stellar’s Jay on it that says, “Keep it Crumb Clean!” meaning exactly that. We could hear and see them flying nearby, just waiting for us to leave to scrounge around for scraps. Too bad birds, I’m making sure I leave nothing behind.

We started our day driving south, along Highway 101, a scenic highway that runs through the parks and to San Francisco and beyond. 101 led us to the coast where we pulled off at a parking lot. The mist was still rolling in and the waves were crashing loudly. Large rock islands loomed in the distance. We pulled right up next to a guy making tea out of the back of his SUV. I spotted a crash pad, so I had to talk to him. Turns out there’s climbing just a bit further down shore. Bouldering and some sport climbing. I wrote down the names; next time I’ll have to come back for a climbing trip!

We drove further south, to what I thought was a loop of coastal views, but it ended up to turning into a one-way half way through. We continued down, taking a turn to go down a gravel road that led to a ranger booth. I wanted to go see Fern Canyon, the ranger waved us through but warned us about a few stream crossings that the road cuts through. Stream crossings by car?! I was confident Betty the Subie could handle it.

Even though we were right next to the foggy coast, the gravel road was dusty and all the plants along the road were covered in a thick layer of dust. There were a few stream crossings, some just like a puddle, others much larger, with large dips in and out. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in car commercial. Weee, I’m off-roading in my Subaru! My dad shook his head at me the whole time.

We made it to the parking lot, still covered in dust despite the stream crossings. We did the short hike through Ferm Canyon, it is literally that, a small canyon covered head-to-toe in ferns along the walls. The original living wall. Turns out they actually did film a few scenes from Jurassic Park in Fern Canyon!

Back at the parking lot, we had lunch at some picnic tables on the beach. Where three crows watched us intently. They hopped to our table as soon as we got up but don’t worry, I had kept it crumb clean. Nothing to see here, birds.

Next, we drove to the Kuchel Visitor Center, which had some neat informational exhibits about the land, the Native Americans that used to live there and about the local geography. We tried to see the beach again, but it was still misty and dreary.

I saw lagoons nearby on the maps and decide to humor my dad and check out a State Visitor Center (again, to see if there was any fishing nearby). It turned out to be very much closed. The lagoon looked a sickly green and then we noticed a man swimming in it! There was a posted sign that warned of Algae Blooms and to not go in the water. The water near the shore literally looked like pea soup. Eek.

We headed back to camp to rest and have a snack. We had plenty of time before the next ranger presentation so I went for a quick trail run around camp. I was constantly terrified I was going to run into a bear but other than that, it was amazing to run though a redwood forest! I even saw my first banana slug right on the trail. I wondered if I would become super fit if I lived near a Redwood forest where I could run all the time.

Tonight’s ranger presentation was on bats! It was super fascinating as we learned that there were thousands types of bats and that their wings are actually more advanced than birds’! That’s because their wings are actually their hands, so they have extreme control in opening or closing part of their wings and can turn on a dime easily. And that whole landing upside thing is pretty cool. We learned how they are being affected by a fungus that can kill them while they hibernate and that you could build a bat box to help house them.

I went to bed dreaming of cute bat faces.

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