Saturday, September 11, 2010

California Redwoods

After hugs and handshakes all around we departed Port Orford in a fog. Literally. The coast was severely socked in with fog as we drove south along Hwy 101. A hoped for view of offshore rookeries at Harris Beach SP was nixed due to fog shrouded rocks, although we did manage to glimpse a few Tufted Puffin in flight around Goat Island. A stop at Crescent City to scan Castle Rock NWR met with a similar fate - fog. We also missed seeing the remains of the SS Emidio in the Crescent City harbor, the first victim of Japanese submarines off the California coast during WWII. But, lunch at The Chart Room was well worth our effort (long line waiting for a table).
Pulling away from the coast, Hwy 101 wove through the Del Norte Redwoods SP, our first indication of just how big giant redwoods could be. We'd seen tall Douglas firs before but these redwoods seemed noticeably taller - taller like the gas prices we'd been forewarned about once we crossed into California.
By afternoon we were settled into the Klamath Camper Corral. Perhaps it was our stay at Port Orford that had spoiled us but we were mystified as to how the latest Trailer Life ratings for this park could be so high. However, as with many of our overnights, we were not there for the park's amenities. The location was a convenience to allow us to explore the nearby Redwoods National Park.

remains of the Douglas Memorial Bridge

Up early the next morning we lit out for the park's north entrance located west of Klamath. It began with the "bridge to nowhere" which was a bridge to somewhere when it was dedicated in 1926, the last gap which filled in the Redwood Highway and provided an uninterrupted route from San Francisco to the Oregon border. When the Klamath River flooded on December 22, 1964, the original Douglas Memorial Bridge was washed away by a massive logjam of redwoods and other debris pressed against the abutments. A portion of the bridge still remains on the south bank of the river, complete with the original 8-ton California bear statues and an overlook of the river. Following the flood both the bridge and the town of Klamath were rebuilt on higher ground. The new span is replete with statues of bears. You can't miss them as they've been painted gold.

Coastal Drive overlook

The Coastal Drive loop started out as a paved road with an option to take an unpaved gravel road section that hugged the coastline. However, we have to say that the scenery (again fog impeded) simply didn't measure up to the coastline of Oregon. Perhaps we had become somewhat jaded or simply too used to the views? Lovely enough but it didn't bowl us over. Nope. Oregon has a nicer coastline. Although, what cannot be seen in the Coast Drive overlook picture are hundreds and hundreds of Western Grebes in migration.

Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy

The coastal loop eventually reconnected with the paved Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy. Drury was the fourth director of the National Park Service and former executive director of the Save-the-Redwoods-League.

2-story tall wall of ferns in Fern Canyon 
and beach lunch break

We elected to try another road, a dead end road, which took us back to the coast and down to beach level. The rough and tumble dust-bucket road squeezed through woodlands until breaking out at sea level. A nasty road to be sure. It ended at a parking lot filled with weekenders and where the trail head to Fern Canyon was located. The canyon walk was relatively short and mildly appealing. It reminded us a lot of the popular Parfrey's Glen in Wisconsin. Following our canyon walk we headed out to the ocean to eat our packed lunch and to get away from all of the people, dogs and children running a muck in the canyon. Maybe on a day when the area wasn't so crowded it would have been worth the drive.

views from Bald Hill Scenic Drive

There are numerous side roads and groves to explore in the park. With what time we had left we opted for the Bald Hill Scenic Drive. Inland from the coast the road rose over 1,000 feet at a 15% grade and offered broad views of forested valleys. At its crest, large patches of prairie. Bald Hill is the main access to numerous wilderness hiking trails, many which require a park access pass.

Ladybird Johnson Grove

On our way up Bald Hill we had noticed a parking area to access the Ladybird Johnson Grove. As with Fern Canyon the parking lot was packed and offered no place to park. On our way back down we got lucky and found a spot along the road to pull off and park. As it turned out, the best place in the entire park happened to be the loop trail at Ladybird.
Early on, we encountered a small group of hikers gathered at a clearing. Some with binoculars, all looking at the ground. They were trying to identify a bird. As we approached, the bird came into view. A Varied Thrush. The thrush was busy walking/hopping in search of food and could not be bothered by people. It was by far our best look at a Varied Thrush and we were delighted to share the ID. By the time we had finished our walk at Ladybird, we had wished we had stopped sooner. If you're ever in Redwood NP, by all means make this a priority.

On our drive back to the RV park we came across a small herd of elk grazing along the side of the road. We also stopped briefly at the Redwood NP visitor center which not surprisingly, was crowded with people. All in all a pleasant day in the redwoods. Kind of like the Grand Canyon. You cannot capture or appreciate on film just how big the redwoods are until you experience them in person. Oh, and we skipped the "drive through" redwood portion. Our truck wouldn't have fit anyway.

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