If our road trip could be said to have a destination, this would be it: the giant coastal redwoods and mountain sequoias of Northern California. I’d always wanted to see them, but before this trip the farthest north I’d ever been in my home state was San Luis Obispo in upper SoCal. When the KNP Complex wildfire raged for four months through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks last fall and winter, I wondered if I had missed my chance to ever see those ancient trees. Luckily most of the biggest and oldest ones survived, at least for now. But that fire was the motivation I needed to start planning this trip.
We got a latish start on Thursday. There was plenty of stuff on the day’s itinerary, but for some reason there was no hurry in us that morning.
We took our time breaking camp, and dawdled to admire this absolute unit of a banana slug.
Pic on right courtesy of Elizabeth’s phone, which handles close-ups much better than my GoPro.
From the campground we detoured down Howland Hill Road, an unpaved scenic byway that rambles through the heart of the redwood forest.
The day was bright and clear, but inside these groves is a perpetual twilight. The trees are so tall and dense, direct sunlight never reaches the ground.
Wild spring rhododendrons bloomed profusely in the shaded woods.
Photos don’t convey the size of these giants at all.
You can’t hurry on Howland Hill Road, it’s too rough and narrow. We enjoyed the scenery and accepted that we would have to make up the lost time later in the day. We stopped to walk the Stout Grove Trail, an easy half-mile loop.
The kids and I each hike at our own speeds: Luke jogs tirelessly ahead, I’m usually in the middle and Elizabeth saunters leisurely, inspecting every leaf and bug. It’s too bad we were so far apart on this trail, because I could have used some humans for scale. The trees in the next pic don’t seem unusually large until you realize that the one lying on the ground is still taller than me.
GoPro at eye level:
This really is a “forest primeval.” You half expect to see colorful dinosaurs come shrieking out of the underbrush.
The coastal redwoods didn’t make me sad the way the Hoh Rainforest did, but I didn’t exactly feel at home among them either. They are a natural wonder, like the Grand Canyon: spectacular to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. The dinosaurs might get me.
Stout Grove ended up putting us even further behind schedule, because Elizabeth wandered off on a side trail and Luke and I spent over an hour trying to find her. Stressful AND late-making. Reunited at last, we crawled along the rest of Howland Hill Road without stopping, got back on the 101 and may have driven just a tad over the speed limit trying to make up lost time.
Even so, we stopped at a beach that wasn’t on our itinerary just because it looked so striking from the highway.
You can’t really tell from the pics because I lightened the exposure to bring out the details, but the sand of this beach is a very dark gray. Almost black.
A rather dramatic effect in person. Very pretty beach.
We stopped at Trees of Mystery, walking in past the enormous statues of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. Luke for scale:
We weren’t at all sure what to expect there, but it was a pleasant surprise. Lots of great wood carvings, poetry, folk-style art, and a wonderful canopy trail that lets you walk through the redwoods 50 to 100 feet above the forest floor.
There’s also a gondola that you can take up to an observation platform.
It doesn’t show up in the pics, but you can see the ocean from this platform.
Lots of wood and metal depictions of events and characters from the Paul Bunyan legends.
And of course this guy, because apparently you can’t walk ten feet in the Pacific Northwest without bumping into him.
More to come!