The mighty redwoods of central and northern California were definitely on our list of things that we didn’t want to miss. After sleeping until 8am and the usual Travelodge breakfast, we hit the road again.
Our original idea had been to visit Muir Woods north of San Francisco, but we somehow mis-interpreted were it actually was, and missing the exit to Highway 1 right past Golden Gate Bridge we sort of screwed ourselves by going to Point Reyes, especially in combination with the fact that we had to go so much further north to find lodging. Muir Woods became sort of out of reach because of that – from Ukiah, it would have been almost 2 hours back to the south. So instead, we continued north, more inland on Highway 101.
This was were the landscape finally really changed, from grassy rolling to densely wooded hills and real forests. 🙂 We planned to be in the Fortuna/Eureka/Arcata area around noon, and on the way there, Highway 101 would automatically take us to more redwood areas as it more or less meandered along Eel River (a pleasant but quite curvy drive). In our cluelessness, we neglected the scenic byway of the so-called “Avenue of the Giants” (which is a 31 mile long section of old Highway 101 that parallels the new “Freeway” 101), and while we did see redwoods here and there along the road, we didn’t feel compelled to stop – which was also partly due to the once more bland and boring, cloudless blue skies, of course.
When Highway 101 however directly goes through Richardson Grove State Park (which is threatened by expansion plans for Highway 101) and the trees shot up right into the sky left and right of the road, we decided it would definitely be a good time to stop, stretch our legs and our photographic senses with a walk on the short interpretive loop trail in the grove.
Walking amidst these giant trees is special. They are a presence that has an effect on you. It is impossible to not be rapt in awe by their sheer size, the beautiful color of their bark and it’s texture, the moss and lichen growing on it, and the soaring heights they reach as your eyes follow them skyward. Standing in a redwood forest, surrounded by these trees is surely one of the moments that make you feel blessed being able to experience it.
The trees are quite difficult to adequately photograph however, because it’s not easy to put their size into the right perspective without adding something to help put their size in relation, by adding a person, or a car. I couldn’t help but make a self-portrait – see photos below. 🙂
But, happy with our first close encounter with redwoods, we continued to Eureka/Arcata to get lunch and stopped at Adel’s Restaurant, which had a certain (nice) “classic diner” flair to it.
The area and coast north of Arcata is packed with smaller State Parks so we tried our luck and entered Patrick’s Point, which has some nice rocky heads that are protruding out into the sea. The California Coastal Trail goes through it as well and we walked a little bit on it but weren’t too impressed (again, midday sun and bland blue skies… my gosh, these photographer types are a picky folk aren’t they?). We didn’t stay too long and continued driving.
What sure is nice about the central and northern coast of California is that there’s so little development. The towns and villages are small along the coast, and there’s miles of empty and beautiful beaches with nothing but sand and pale driftwood – quite soothing for the eyes when you’re coming from the LA/OC/SD metropolitan area, where most of the coastline is packed with “prime real estate”, noisy railroads and freeways span the lagoons, and golf courses crawl up on tiny little State Parks with precious vegetation (I’m talking about Torrey Pines obviously, which I find all the more shameful in the way it is now that I’ve seen northern California; though thankful we must be that at least a tiny portion of it has been preserved, only to get trampled by thousands of visitors and joggers every day…).
A bit further north, past Humboldt Lagoons State Park (which is surely a nice area, especially when the weather plays along;-) we noticed another “scenic byway” sign and this time, we sure didn’t want to miss it, so we made a left onto Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and soon found ourselves driving through a fantastic redwood area, backlit from the west by the sun that was thankfully a bit lower now – I yelled “stop stop STOOOOOOOP!!!” from the passenger seat when I saw that beautiful light, and Doug pulled over right at a nice little trailhead with inviting paths left and right of the road that led into the dark and quiet woods. The area is Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and if I want to see redwoods again, this is probably where I’d go.
We geared up and began to wander around, mostly aimless since it was just totally enchanting, and soon lost sight of each other – which was totally ok and one of the reasons why it’s so awesome to travel with someone who’s just as crazy about photography as yourself – and just when my conscience told me that I probably should check up on Doug now, and went back towards the trailhead, he was nowhere to be seen (or probably was but made no sound;-) and I continued on another little trail, back into the redwood forest. 🙂
At some point we did reach a certain level of content and saturation, and completed the drive up to Crescent City, where we had no problems finding a place to stay for the night. We didn’t realize how late it already was however, since the sun sets an hour later in the north than in San Diego, and so we had to hurry a bit to get dinner because many restaurants closed at 9pm. At the Good Harvest Cafe we had food and excellent Eel River Brewing Co. Earth Thirst Organic Double IPA. 😉
I want to close mentioning two more things: 1. Rhododendron grow naturally all over there, and it’s incredibly beautiful how they seam the road with their soft pinkish blossoms at the foot of giant trees. It even made driving a real pleasure, and 2. Elk! There are elk herds in the area, and I saw one in a riverbed not far from the road. Definitely something that might be worth spending more time on during a future visit.