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Boy Scout Tree

August 27, 2011 Leave a comment

August 26/Day 40. There is a photograph dating from the 1920s that depicts a troop of Boy Scouts, neatly dressed in their uniforms, standing in front of this tree. Hence the name: Boy Scout Tree. The Boy Scout Tree Trail begins about halfway down the Howland Hill road, so narrow in places my truck’s mirrors nearly scrape giant redwoods standing across from each other.

The trail is 2.8 miles long and leads deeper into the forest than did the Mill Creek Trail. It’s also somewhat hillier, but otherwise virtually indistinguishable from Mill Creek. At 8:30 a.m., I’m the first person in the parking pullout at the trail head. I strike out on the path, which runs uphill at the beginning. Notwithstanding the initial ascent, it’s an easy trail; about half of it is smooth-packed dirt and the rest is partly rocky or rough because of protruding roots.

Slowed somewhat because of my painful heel, I wind for about an hour through the verdant ferns, mosses and tangled understory, and among numberless great redwoods before reaching the tree for which the trail is named.

I try to climb the tree

And it is huge. It stands out among its giant brethren, an unmistakable behemoth. I take a few pictures of the tree, aware that they can’t possibly convey its size. I even try a couple of self-portraits by balancing my camera on a log and running to the tree while its timer ticks down.

Then, finding a place to sit, I simply remain motionless awhile. There is almost no sound in the forest. No chirping of birds or skittering of little creatures on the forest floor. All I hear is the hooting complaint of a distant owl, no doubt upset because I’ve disturbed his domain so early in the day. Soon he falls silent too, and all that remains is quietude so absolute it muffles my ears unnaturally, as if they had cotton balls stuffed in them. Nothing, not even the most delicate frond bowing to a breeze, moves. Perfect stillness.

After a while—I couldn’t count it in minutes—another hiker appears and the quiet is broken. The usual trail chatter ensues: where ya from, how long ya been here, where ya headed, blah, blah, etc. Unlike anywhere elsewhere, I find it easy to make conversation with fellow travellers, whether in camp or on the trail. It’s a big part of why I love this lifestyle: because, well—it makes me feel normal. Nobody here wants to talk about sports scores, who’s been traded to what team, the latest scandal in Washington, which celebrity is married to whom, or who’s winning American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. None of that.

I try to hug the tree

Among the peculiarities I notice along the way are burls, nurse logs, and iterations. Burls are growths, often massive, that sometimes form on a tree where it’s been injured, perhaps by lightning or a collision with a fallen neighbor. They are similar to benign tumors and can take on any shape; some people see faces in them, or animals, like one sometimes sees in clouds. Nurse logs are fallen redwoods that have begun to decay. Because for centuries they’ve been sucking up an concentrating  nutrients from the soil, they’re an ideal medium for supporting newly sprouted seeds from many species that inhabit the forest. And iterations, perhaps the strangest of all, are differing species whose seeds have somehow found a resting place way up on the side of a tree, where they sprout and become trees themselves. Typically an iteration will grow straight out from its host tree for a foot or so, then turn 90 degrees upward, reaching for the sun. There can be iterations upon iterations; up to eight have been counted by scientists who study them.

My new friend leaves after about 20 minutes. I give him a respectful head start and turn back down the trail myself, at a strolling pace, not hiking. By the time I reach my truck it’s approaching mid-afternoon. I drive the second half of Howland Hill Road to its end in Crescent City, by the sea. Stopping at McDonald’s, I try to catch up my last two or three blogs, but their wifi is unbearably slow so I give up. At Safeway I stock up on more fresh produce; I haven’t opened a can since I started the trip. Camping with a fully stocked refrigerator is quite the luxury.

NOTE: Sunday morning I start the two-day drive to Burning Man. Unfortunately, I’m unlikely to have any internet access for the next week, so I’ll be incommunicado until I reach Lake Tahoe. Thanks for coming along…

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Mill Creek

August 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Mill Creek trail

August 25/Day 39. I’m off to a slow start this morning since Ranger Debi doesn’t go on duty until 10:00 a.m. At ten o’clock I’m at her door; she hands me the poles and I’m off for a hike on the Mill Creek Trail.

Actually, it isn’t so much a hike as it is a stroll. The easy path runs 2.8 miles through old-growth timber to intersect Howland Hill Road, a one lane packed-earth road that winds through the heart of the woods, ending in Crescent City, ten miles away. I say it was a stroll because I take it at a slow pace, marveling every step of the way at the forest and stopping frequently to take pictures and/or change camera lenses. Reaching Howland Hill Road, I loop back via the road to the Stout grove near the campground. About 5.5 miles in all.

Good pictures are technically difficult to take because of the intense chiaroscuro of light and shadow in the forest. Nor do other photos I’ve taken fail so utterly to convey the sense of scale necessary to appreciate the size of these trees. In photographs, the trees could be in almost any forest. In person, they’re colossal to the point of disbelief. I may have overstated the forest at Beverly Beach, but there’s no overstating this one. It puts the “prime” back in primeval.

Looking up

Dozens of fern species carpet the forest floor, along with patches of redwood sorrel. Then, among the Douglas fir and white oak at the mid-story, the titans rise up, up—straight as soldiers. The most ancient are around 1500 years old and 325 feet tall. They each consume about 500 gallons of water every day, which takes a month to be pumped from the roots up to the crown of the tree. The ranger says there’s more biomass per acre (about 2,000 tons) in this temperate rain forest than there is in the deepest reaches of the Amazon jungle.

My plan for tomorrow, if my heel permits it, is to hike to Boy Scout Tree. At 30 feet in diameter (not circumference!) it’s one of the largest trees in the park.

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Last run down coast

August 26, 2011 Leave a comment

A lid of fog hovers over Oregon headlands

August 24/Day 38. By 7:30 a.m. I hitch up the 5th wheel and I’m carefully threading my way through the narrow interior roads that make up the campgrounds of Bullard’s Beach, eager, as always when I settle in behind the steering wheel, to hit the road. It’s only 113 miles down the coast to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, which is situated at the most northern tip of California.

Sea and sky

Sea and sky

I’ve been too harsh in my judgment of Bullard’s Beach. At first, following my stay in the enchanted forest at Beverly Beach, Bullard’s Beach seemed prosaic and uninspiring. But the longer I stayed, the more activities I discovered and it turns out the Bullard’s Beach is a perfect staging area for many adventures.

I intend to take my time driving south, stopping at some of the many scenic viewpoints and state parks along the way. Fog, however, intervenes. Sometimes it’s thick and impenetrable as gray gauze. When I stop, I can hear the pounding surf below the cliffs, but can’t see it; sometimes the fog sends wispy tendrils inland from the sea, tumbling in pinwheels as it moves like the delicate hair of a baby’s head. Other times fog hovers overhead, a heavy leaden lid that blocks the sun, or, teasingly, retreats offshore in a distant fog bank, ready to make another assault on the coast.

Big rocks

Only a few stops along the way afford me the chance to see the surf and the ocean beyond. I linger at these and often climb down the paths that lead from the viewpoints 200 feet above. I wander freely over the expanse of sand, marveling at how different each beach is from the others, yet how the same. One, called Arizona Beach, has black sand, unusual if not unique for Oregon. It’s a small crescent beach about a quarter mile long, anchored on each end by a bulwark of cliffs. You would not want to be stranded on a beach like this with an unusually high tide rolling in.

Hole in a rock

Hole in rock

The southern part of Oregon’s coast is much more rugged than farther north, and the small villages less frequent. The forest thickens and the trees rise taller; the mountains reach right down to the shore, the surf sometimes smashing directly into their bare, rocky roots causing huge plumes of spray to shoot skyward. The coast highway is chiseled into the mountain flanks, curving left and right, up and down, as the topography dictates.

Finally the road turns away from the coast. Jedediah Smith State Park is located in an old-growth grove some six or eight miles inland from the beach. The narrow highway to it snakes among prodigious redwoods, some rising eight feet wide directly from the edge of the pavement. They wouldn’t register even a shiver if a vehicle missed a curve and smashed into one, so massive are they. A few soar to over 300 feet; the average mature tree is over 250.

You would think trees of this size would be visible, but no, it’s not always so. At my new campsite  I attempt again to shoehorn the trailer into location  that was designed, I think, by an avid tent camper. With no one to spot for me I get out of the truck and try to memorize what’s behind me and which way the trailer must point as I back it. I back very slowly, getting in and out of the truck to spot many times. As I roll back the last few inches I feel a slight hesitation, as though a tire was running over a small rock.

Nope. I have backed directly into a tree big as a house, the protruding bicycle rack hanging on the trailer’s ladder making just enough contact to bend the ladder inward

Trailer parked next to the tree that insulted my ladder

about 3 inches. I pull forward a couple of feet and call it good enough, pissed at myself for making these stupid mistakes. A good spotter is invaluable when maneuvering a big rig like this. Luckily I have a six foot length of 2×4 in the truck bed; I use to pry the ladder back into position. When I finish, I can’t see that any harm was done. I’ve been pulling this trailer for eight years without making a mark on it, so what’s up? Two hits on the trip so far and I’m only at the half-way point.

I go to the fireside program in the amphitheater at 8:00 p.m. to listen to a talk called “Old Growth.” From the title, I expect it to be about me. To my disappointment, however, it’s about old growth forests.

After the program I chat with Ranger Debi, the evening’s speaker, about various trails in the park. The subject of plantar fasciitis comes up, along with my lack of trekking poles. She generously offers to bring hers in tomorrow so I can borrow them for a couple of days. Offer graciously accepted.

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Simpson Reef

August 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Bald eagle standing on his fish. (Click to enlarge, you'll find him.)

August 23/Day 37. I’m standing on a high promontory overlooking Simpson’s Reef, gazing out to sea when suddenly—it takes a second or two to register—a bald eagle swoops into my field of vision, just at eye level, with a large fish, still wriggling, clutched firmly in his talons.

My camera dangles around my neck, useless; the moment is gone. The eagle lands below me on a small group of rocks at the edge of the surf, standing on top of the still writhing fish. After a quick look around to see if he has any challengers, he begins tearing at the hapless fish with his hooked beak.

Simpson’s Reef is an archipelago of rocks, just offshore, that is home to Oregon’s largest colony of sea lions, harbor seals and similar marine mammals. The slope of the rocks and the shallow water makes it easy for them to haul themselves out of the ocean to catch the warming sun. The cacophony of their

Simpson Reef

barking is loud and constant: arf, arf, arf, arf. I’m spellbound by the display. In some places they cover the rocks completely, a squirming carpet of fur.

Someone at the viewpoint mentions that last week they spotted a gray whale from where we’re standing. Several minutes later a woman, pointing, exclaims, “I see one!” All eyes follow the arc of her finger and there, just beyond one of the lower rocks I see his spout. This time, I have my camera ready and manage, over half an hour, to catch his spout several times, as well as see his back and his flukes when he dives deep.

I find it easy to spend more than three hours at Simpson’s Reef, but after a while hunger rules and I drive the 20 miles back to camp for lunch. Following lunch I wander on the beach for a few hours, wanting to absorb all I’ve seen today, wanting to somehow own it, deeply—to possess it with my soul.

I spend the rest of the afternoon in a more mundane pursuit:  readying the rig for travel. My goal tomorrow is Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in Northern California, a short drive down the coast.

Flukes, center top

Spout, center left

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simpson Reef headlands

Seals rock!

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Blackberries, starfish and nice real estate

August 22, 2011 1 comment

August 22/Day 36. Along Highway 101 in Oregon there are so many state parks they do the familiar brown park signs in plural like this: “State Parks Next Right—->” instead of “So and So State Park Next Right—->.” There are so many of them there’s no room on the sign to put all their names.

Note the people for a sense of scaleThere’s something called the Oregon Coastal Trail, which runs the full length of the state. Hikers can walk the entire coastline and be assured of a park to stay in every night. Even when a campground is marked “Full,” there are always special sites available for hikers, no reservations required. Same for bicyclists using the 101.

After a slow start this morning, I drive south on 101 to the nearest town, Bandon, which is six miles and one drawbridge from Bullard’s Beach. An moderately sized village, Bandon sits on a ridge about 200 feet above the ocean and has some of the most breathtaking beaches I’ve seen anywhere. Every few hundred yards are stairways leading down for public access. I become completely mesmerized, wandering up and down the fog-shrouded beach for several hours lost in thought, the only constant being the rhythmic roaring hiss of surf upon the shore.

In a cave

There is a number of huge jutting rocks just offshore as well as some, at low tide, that seem fixed between the world of water and land. Many sea caves, grottos and shoots lend themselves to easy exploration—while the tide is out. But around here they have a saying: “Never turn your back to the ocean.” It’s printed on a sign at the access way to every beach, along with such encouraging warnings as, “Watch out for sneaker waves,” and “Beware of strong undertows.”

The water is so cold—upper 40’s I’m told—that  my feet ache when I stand in it only ankle deep. I see two surfers, both wearing body suits, but I can hardly imagine anyone getting pleasure from being immersed in this cold broth. And yet, life abounds, in perfect harmony with death. For every starfish I see clinging tightly to a barnacle-encrusted rock, there’s the carcass of a dead seagull being picked at by turkey vultures. For every piece of translucent green seaweed holding fast below the waterline of a rocky giant, there are thousands of crumbling shells littering the sand. I can smell it on the air—life in death, death in life—the pungent ocean odors of decay and rebirth.

Another planet?

But a while longer and I’m lost within myself, or rather…the boundaries of my self melt away and I feel a surreal sense of calm and oneness, the likes of which are only experienced in the most rare and precious moments of a hectic life. A wave of cold water washes across my feet and I’m jolted back to this world. I leave the beach slowly, with the sense of having experienced something extraordinary.

I continue driving south a mile or two and pull into the drive to Bandon Beach State Park. It turns out not to be so much a park as an overlook to a part of the beach that’s a nesting ground for an endangered species, the plover. The plover is a bird that has the bad habit of laying it eggs, plop, right on top of the dry sand above the tide’s high water mark, making them vulnerable to all kinds of misfortune. At this beach, a retired couple, volunteers for the park service who receive a free camping spot for their services, watch over the sandy field of plover eggs, gently reminding visitors to cross the dry sand in a straight line, to keep their dogs close-leashed, and generally to be aware until they’ve reach the wet sand at the surf’s edge.

Seaside cottagesThe couple is a wealth of knowledge about the area and I learn much from them, including where I’ll probably go tomorrow: Simpson’s Reef. They’re from Missouri, but have volunteered in Alaska, in Texas (Rockport) and will volunteer this winter at South Padre Island. North in the summer; south in the winter. It’s become a lifestyle with them. They study and learn all they can about an area so they can be good interpreters and guides. I can see by their eagerness to overwhelm me with information that they love what they’re doing.

Among other things, they show me the basket of wild blackberries they just picked this morning, offering me a handful. They’re more than willing to tell me exactly where the bushes are and what to look for. I linger and talk with them for almost an hour before bidding farewell.

On the drive out of the park I spy a thicket of tangled, leggy bushes with reddish woody stems and enormous thorns. Blackberries! I pull over and carefully (I’m wearing shorts, a T-shirt and slaps—inappropriate gear for such prickly work) reach in among the thorny branches and pinch off a dozen berries, sunwarm and juicy.

It’s been a good day in paradise.

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See the starfish. These are large, meaty fellows, all at least 14 inches across. Click to enlarge.

       

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What’s the plan?

August 21, 2011 2 comments

Dunes with ATVs

August 21/Day 35. The day begins with a brooding, low, overcast sky, but at least no fog or wind. I’ve been reading about the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area just north of here; in fact, I passed through parts of it on my way down the coast but didn’t see any dunes from the road because of the thick forest. I decide to backtrack and take a closer look.

According to what I’ve read, these are the biggest dunes in North America, and were an inspiration for Frank Herbert when he wrote his classic science fiction novel Dune. Well, I drive 50 miles north and ask several locals along the way but no one can seem to direct me to a place where I can actually view the dunes. I do at last find an area with massive dunes lined with mots of pine trees, rather like the runs on a ski slope, but the place is overrun with ATVs and dune buggies tearing around at top speed. Not what I’m seeking today. I ask the camp host of this area, but even he’s not sure where to go see dunes in their natural state.

Coquille River lighthouse as fog envelopes it

Giving up, I turn south and head back to camp. By now the skies have cleared. I discover that I’ve overlooked another way to the beach: a paved road about three miles long. I pack my jacket and camera into my Camelbak and make the ride. Reaching the beach, I find the skies still clear and the breeze only a whisper. There’s a solid fog bank lurking several miles offshore, but that doesn’t concern me. I shove my bike over the dunes.

However, I seem to have hit the beach at high tide again, so there’s no packed sand to ride the bike on. I lean it up against a large driftwood log and wander around the area, kicking over small rocks and shells with my toe to see what’s underneath. I find a marvelous flat gray stone with a seashell embedded in it, fossil-like, and another small white stone embedded right where a pearl would be if it were an oyster. I wonder…. maybe it is a pearl? I pocket it.

Once more I lug my bike over the dunes to the road, pedaling an extra mile to an old lighthouse at the southern tip of the park, built in 1896 at the mouth of the Coquille River. Soon the fog bank that lingered offshore all morning starts to move in and the faintest mist begins to fall, a little more than fog but less than drizzle. Time to return to camp.

Offshore fog bank ready to move in

Simply put, I’m not as enthralled by this section of the coast as I was by Beverly Beach. My plan calls for me to stay another two full days and leave the morning of the third, next Wednesday.

I begin to consider a plan B.

Plan B would be to drive east about 190 miles to Crater Lake National Park, which would take the best part of a day on mountainous roads. Spend a day at Crater Lake. Then head back southwest to my next venue, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California, almost exactly the same distance, 190 miles. Actually, months ago when planning the trip plan B was on the itinerary, but I rejected it because of the additional mileage. Bad move.

The problem is I don’t have a reservation at Crater Lake. Ever since Rocky Mountain National Park my experience has been that every park is fully booked every night. This is one of those times when traveling with my Lance truck camper would come in handy, because I can sneak off and camp just about anywhere in a national forest. The 30-foot 5th wheel is just not that type of vehicle.

Plan B is a no-go. And there is no plan C.

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Of fog and wind

August 20, 2011 Leave a comment

August 20/Day 34. Today Hannah moves back to College Station for her second year at Texas A&M. I’m so proud of her! I wish I could be there, but it sounds like she and Jane had a good day fixing up her dorm room. The fact of the matter is, I would have taken this trip last year but I just couldn’t see being gone while sending her off to college for the very first time.

Foggy beach, very windy

Well, the day dawns with crystal clear blue skies and little breeze. After breakfast and coffee, I decide to head for the beach again, this time with my camera instead of the bike. I slog the long mile through deep sand—only to find that the beach is again foggy, windy and cold. It’s very strange. The fog billows over the first high row of dunes like smoke from a brush fire, tumbling and whirling wildly in the wind, but then immediately dissipates.

To seaward, it’s so thick I can barely make out the second row of breakers, let alone see any rocky promontories inhabited by seals. I can hear the fog horn in Bandon, six miles away; I can only see up and down the beach about a hundred yards. And, yes, it’s cold and windy. I’m learning, however, and I brought a heavyweight hoodie, though it hardly keeps the chill away.

I stroll up and down the beach about a mile and see some huge pieces of driftwood; some are whole tree trunks six feet in diameter and the length of a boxcar. Some are massive gnarled stumps, their bark weathered away and nothing but a white skeleton remaining. They’ll all be rearranged this winter when vicious storms pound the coast, lifting them from their sandy moorings and tossing them about. Oh, how I’d love to be here in a cozy seaside cabin to experience one of those epic storms!

This old stump is about six feet across

Yesterday as I was man-handling my bike along the beach trail, I noticed to my dismay that the tires were rotted and cracked through to the fabric binding underneath. I could just see myself coasting carefree down a slope and—BLAM!—a blowout sends me crashing to the pavement. There being no Walmarts in most of these small towns (the locals turn their noses up at them) I had to drive north about 20 miles to Coos Bay to find the nearest bicycle shop.

That chore done, I returned to home, rode the bike around the campground a few times to “break in” the tires, then settled in for some dinner and a good book.

A pretty uneventful day….

I’m missing those long day-hikes in the mountains. But at least I have the Giggle Family to keep me company again tonight.

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