grace + gravity

Tall Trees

Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek State Park, Humboldt State Park, the Avenue of the Giants and Jurassic Park (no, really) are all covered in this post. 

It's really hard for me to talk about this place, and that says a lot considering it's not often that something renders me speechless. Alas, I will at least try to explain how much this place meant to me by giving some context and background to how I approached it: 

I left west from Arizona into California through the Mojave National Preserve. I spent a night disperse camped out in the middle of a hot hot hot desert (36 degrees celsius hot) with no shade. For what felt like the millionth day in a row. I was disappointed leaving Arizona, and was stuck in a bit of a funk, so listening to critters climbing all over my car and inside my engine had me more on edge than I like to admit. In the morning, I set out for Kelso Dunes, looking forward to a day of squishing my way through the sand. 

I set out early enough that it was still quite cool, but by the time I got to the dunes, the sun was starting to heat up. I jumped back into my car after investigating, hoping for a quick five minute cool down before I set out, and discovered that... my air conditioning wasn't working. Cue panic. 

I learned on this day, in the Mojave desert, that there are not one, but two fuse panels in my car. Inside of the panel under my hood, exists a really clever little fuse puller. Have you ever tried to pull out a fuse with only your fingertips? Opposable thumbs only provide so much of an advantage to this activity. This little puller was genius, and I was really excited about finding it. I also learned that the fuse for my air conditioning system is #13 of the panel below my dash. And finally, I learned that my fuse was not blown. (Although, at this point, maybe it was figuratively blown.) The only other rational thought I could summon was that the same something that created all of the cute little footprints on my dusty engine cover was also responsible for chewing wires or system components somewhere that I couldn't see or access, and that I was going to melt there, that day - my trip and my life ending in the Mojave National Preserve. At least it's a beautiful place to call it quits? (Did I mention how hot it was? Or that I'm not built for desert heat?)

I huffed a little; I looked and looked again at everything I could - I pulled out my glove box to have a look at the air system that I had become familiar with a few weeks prior (thanks to some industrious Nevadan mice), to reassure myself that no wires had been chewed in there; I popped my hood more than once to poke around and investigate; and I browsed through the index and troubleshooting pages of my car manual, desperate for answers. Of course, all of this happened where I had no cell service and was miles off of highways, traveling dirt roads. 

Eventually, I resolved that I couldn't stay where I was. I had to find cell service or get to a major road way where I could find a service station. Or, really, I just needed to get out of the desert, because it was starting to make me crazy. And I needed to do it ASAP, before my vehicle started getting too hot. My next planned destination was Death Valley National Park, but could I really handle another desert at that point? Worse, with no air conditioning? I needed trees.

So, I changed course, and I headed towards Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks! Treeeeeeees, I told myself. Shaaade, I reassured myself, flying down the dirt roads with my windows cranked and everything in my car firmly tied down so it wouldn't blow away.

Three things happened, then: 

  1. I discovered that my AC was NOT broken, I was just a moron. The night before, I ran my car for a bit to charge my phone and scare the critters out of my engine. For the first time in a month of traveling, I turned my AC to zero so I could listen for movement inside/outside of my car. Then I turned the car off and went to sleep. So yeah, the next morning, the little red light of my AC didn't light up; no matter how many times I tried to press the AC button, it wasn't going to turn on because the system was turned to ZERO. I actually pulled over to LAUGH at myself. Hard. For a good ten minutes, I killed myself laughing. I'm still laughing. I was so stupid and so lucky.

  2. When I got to Sequoia National Park, I found that the the trees I wanted so badly to hug in my glee were mostly behind fences and protective barriers. It was heart break city. All I wanted was to find a giant tree to curl up under the shade of, and paint. It was also still really hot. 

  3. I decided that I really wanted the ocean for my birthday. I thought I would be in the Lake Tahoe area for my birthday, but since I wasn't going to go through Death Valley on my way back north, I had to reevaluate. I hadn't seen the west coast in a while, and I decided that's where I wanted to be.

Deadfall; Avenue of the Giants scenic route that runs parallel to Hwy 101; a fire-damaged tree in Founders Grove.

So, I boogied on through to the coast, and arrived on the boundary of Redwood National Park (and its adjoining state parks) the day before my birthday. I snuck into the visitor centre ten minutes before closing and met an incredible and enthusiastic parks employee who was more than ecstatic to discuss my options for the next day (well past closing time).

I woke on the day of my birthday in the most divine little rest stop, feeling ELECTRIC. I had spent the day prior romping my way through roadside trails along Avenue of the Giants, and I obviously didn't get enough. Coastal Northern California is heaven in my heart. I love the roads that carve through dense forest, the sunlight that filters through the canopy, the zillions of shades of green, the rich smell, and the contrast of vivacity with sublime quiet and stillness. And lord knows I only found more of it on my 28th birthday in Redwood National Park.

A majestic redwood from the bottom-up; my birthday morning view from the most magical rest stop.

I practically broke down the visitor centre door that morning to claim my permit for the Tall Trees Trail. This literally is a National Geographic gem. The Tall Trees grove is home to a previous record-holding tree for world's tallest, and it was discovered by a National Geographic survey team. Traffic and parking is limited in order to protect the grove. I got a lock combination to access the gate, and traveled a long, winding, narrow road down to the parking area. It's a steep climb down to the loop, which I hardly noticed on the way down, in the face of sheer excitement.

The Tall Trees Trail loop itself only took me about 20 minutes to cruise around. It was so beautiful that I did it twice - once counter-clockwise, and again clockwise to see all the things I may have missed the first time around. I ran into two other pairs of people in my first lap, but didn't see a single soul on my second lap. Those 20-30 minutes of quiet solitude in one of the oldest groves of trees... well, this is where I lose my words. Photographs can't do any of it justice, either. On my way back up, I chose a bench (there are many, because the elevation gain on your way back up is relentless) to rest at, and soak everything in. I had a really difficult time leaving this trail. I didn't want it to end.

But it did, because I had another little treat in-store for myself! I watched Jurassic Park as a kid, and if I'm being honest, I remember very little other than how terrified I was of those nasty velociraptors. BUT, the enthusiastic park employee who helped me map out my day said I absolutely had to see Fern Canyon, which was filmed as part of the second movie. And, I mean, if Spielberg thought it was good...


Getting to the parking lot for Fern Canyon required driving my little Matrix like an off-road vehicle (literally, there were at least two or three stream crossings that had me praying I wasn't going crazy). From highway 101, I traveled the deliciously green Davison Road towards Gold Bluffs Beach and campground in Prairie Creek State Park. Fern Creek is just a little ways further north of the campground, and a short hike from the parking lot. But Mr. Enthusiastic was right - I would have been disappointed had I missed this little gem.

The canyon walls are entirely covered with ferns. The whole way down the canyon, it's just lush green and clean streams. The water that creeps down from the forest above is filtered down through the ferns. There's so much of it that if you stand close enough to the ferns (because if you're like me, you have to run your hands through them), it feels like you're in a gentle rainstorm - they drip constantly. In some areas, the ferns are skirted open to mossy rock faces where streams of water trickle down to the creek in the canyon floor.

The mossy waterfalls of Fern Canyon; a treat on the trail back from Fern Canyon - my mom calls them banana slugs?

To top it all off, I stole a shower on the beach that afternoon, and then made it to the nearest Denny's to practically swallow whole some free birthday pancakes and hash browns. I hunkered down in a Wal-Mart parking lot that night, feeling beyond satisfied, whole, and oh-so happy. I missed a few birthday phone calls while I was off the grid, and I wasn't showered in gifts or companionship, but I would spend any and every birthday the same way that I spent this one in Redwood National Park and Prairie Creek State Park. 

You know the National Parks Service campaign that suggests you "find your park"? This is mine. I loved my time in the desert - despite all of my complaining about the heat, I have no regrets. Bryce Canyon's Fairyland Loop had my eyes popping out of my head with delight over all of the colors and foreign (to me) landscapes. Zion easily makes my top 3 for favourite places. But the forest is my home; the forest is where my heart lives, and this collection of coastal parks had me like woah. 

Have you been to Redwood National Park or surrounding state parks? Do you have a favourite trail, tree or nook in and around the park? Give me a shout via the contact page or Instagram - I'd love to hear from you!

Photos are my own. Please do not reproduce without my written permission.

First: Avenue of the Giants 2017 | Second:  Mojave National Preserve sunset 2017 | Third: Avenue of the Giants montage + Humboldt State Park 2017 | Fourth: Fern Canyon 2017 | Fifth: Fern Canyon 2017 | Sixth: Spreading love on the Tall Trees Trail 2017


Coming soon; please hang tight for all the sweaty, dirty and exploratory details!

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