There is something magical about the sea crashing up against the mountains. These two remarkable wonders of the world are so rarely found coexisting together in one place that it creates something truly awe-inspiring. I found such magic when I arrived in the Redwood Forest. But let me start from the beginning.
I was making my way through southern Oregon, heading to California, when I looked over and caught a glimpse of a woodworking shop with a colorful sign displaying “It’s a Burl Gallery” on its face. I hit the brakes after merging to the side of the road and I made a quick u-turn to return to this intriguing place. I’m not sure what exactly caught my eye initially. It could have been the life size wooden unicorn on the front porch, the brightly painted classic car alongside the road, several expertly crafted tree houses, or maybe it was all the intricately detailed wood sculptures scattered throughout the property. Whatever it was, it looked fascinating! I parked my car in a space between some trees and I got out to inspect what they had. There were several different buildings on the premises including two different buildings for working on the wood, two separate buildings that served as an eccentric indoor gallery for various finished pieces, several sheds that contained sectioned wood of all shapes and sizes from an array of different types of trees, and finally the main house which appeared as though it was also crafted out of wood by the same artisan; having a wrap around porch littered with more completed works of wooden art.
I walked around the grounds for at least an hour trying to envision what I could build with the beautiful pieces of rough cut wood. I started off with an interesting slab that I considered transforming into a coffee table. I looked at it several times from every angle before setting it aside and looking for something I could use as a base for the table. I inspected every piece of wood, trying to visualize how I could make the pieces work together. After spending an embarrassing amount of time doing this, I ended up negotiating a price for a small slab of maple that I intend to turn into a side table once I do a little work on the wood and either find or make just the right base for it. I use the term “negotiated” loosely, as my initial offer was twenty-five dollars and my new friend, Lynn, smiled at me and said he would take twenty.
I entered into the Redwood Forest soon after crossing into California. I passed by the heads of several trails where the giant trees dwarfed the cars parked nearby. I did not do any hiking initially because I wanted to drive through the area and get my bearings. I hit U.S. 101 and the network of side roads attached to it and toured the coastline. The lush forested mountains on one side of my car met up with the ocean on the other side. The roads took me high up on cliffs overlooking dramatic drop offs and gave me unparalleled views of the rocky coastline filled with sea lions playing in the gentle breaks that seemed to go on for miles.
Around four thirty in the afternoon I found myself high atop one of the many magnificent cliffs and I pulled into a clearing off the roadway. I backed up to the edge in order to create the best panoramic view of the ocean as possible. I decided to set up camp for the day because I had been traveling at a pretty good pace and I needed a little down time. The cliff side was thick with bright flowers and a variety of green plants. Tall trees growing at an extreme angle to keep upright bordered my vision on either side. The drop off ended abruptly at the rocky start of the ocean waters. A pointed rock formation almost qualifying as a mountain in size jutted out of the water at the base of my view. I could see for miles across the vast ocean and would occasionally see something large breach the water in the distance which had to be the whales who were still migrating this time of year. The sound of sea lions barking at each other as they played in the waves below soothed me as I took it all in. As if the moment could not get any better, a bald eagle flew overhead on two separate occasions before the sun began to set, creating an orange glow over the horizon.
The next morning I made my way to the visitor center in order to pick up a map and plan out the route I would take. I spoke with a young man behind the counter and asked him where he suggested I hike for the day. He took out a large map, unfolded it across the table, and began rattling off information about areas located in every which direction. I had to stop him at one point to regain focus as I explained once more that I was not familiar with the area and was looking for a route to see the best sights in the park. We finally decided on a large loop that promised to take the majority of the day and cover several different trails. The young man then asked me to excuse him so he could grab a marker in the back room in order to mark the map. When he returned he was holding a green highlighter and proceeded to give me more directions. The more he talked the more apparent the volunteer patch affixed to his chest became. He went on saying that I should start at such and such a trail, follow it to the right and then make two lefts, cross by the tree with a notch in it, come to a creek which you make a right turn directly before and not after reaching it, followed by a creek you make a left turn directly after and not before it, reaching a fork in the road named such and such that once had a sign marking it but no longer does, until this trail turns into that trail and that trail turns into this trail. I stared at him with a blank look for what seemed like all morning and watched as he used the green highlighter all over a map of a national forest, which just so happened to be tinted the same shade of green. I am convinced this individual is either color blind or a significant amount of inbreeding is taking place here.
After leaving the visitor center slightly more confused then when I arrived, I found a trailhead nearby and began my hike. The forest surrounded me with enormous redwood trees growing well over three hundred feet tall. These giants appear as if they have been growing for hundreds of years, having weathered the unforgiving forces of both time and elements, they stand tall as patriarchs of the forest. The mind simply cannot process the sheer size of these trees when first coming into contact with them. You have to walk up to them, touch them, and sit starring at them before you can start to comprehend just how big they are. After spending hours walking among them, you adjust. These trees become the new norm and it starts to feel as if all trees should be this big.
Flying insects constantly made their presence known by buzzing around me. Sweat dripped from my forehead as the backpack I was carrying became increasingly heavy. It suddenly dawned on me why the price of backpacking gear sharply increases as the weight minimally decreases. When you are in the wilderness, dollars don’t mean anything, ounces do.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir
Once I completed the long loop I made it back to my car and headed towards Fern Canyon. The poorly maintained dirt road leading to the trail hugged the coast and had several areas where rising water levels had created deep creeks across the roadway. Between crossing over water, trying to miss large potholes, and avoiding elk crossing the roadway, I wasn’t sure if my vehicle was going to get me where I wanted to go. The SUV begrudgingly chugged along and I made it to the entrance of the trail. I followed a swiftly flowing creek back into the forest where it opened up into fifty foot canyon walls on either side. Water trickled down from the top feeding thousands of green ferns and mosses which blanketed the walls. Branches and stones were scattered in the cold clear water to provide a crude pathway through the valley. Large trees had fallen into the canyon, over the creek, adding obstacles to the hike. The area was absolutely beautiful and the challenging drive in was well worth the effort.
I returned to the cliffside I had camped at the night before and settled in for one more breathtaking sunset. After another good nights sleep on what felt like the top of the world, I made my way back down through the forest to U.S. 101 and headed south for San Francisco. About an hour in to this extremely pleasant drive along the coast I saw signs for Avenue of the Giants and I swerved over the empty highway to make the exit, as it sounded like somewhere I needed to be. I checked my GPS and confirmed that this road headed south, parallel with U.S. 101. The drive was spectacular with the giant timbers lining the narrow two lane asphalt. It was not long into the detour that I suddenly saw basketball sized boulders rolling across the road in front of me. I looked out my passenger window and watched in disbelief as a rock slide was coming down the bare cliff face beside me. This was something I had heard of and seen pictures of but never thought that I would find myself in the middle of such an unlikely timed event. Without having enough time to stop before reaching the falling rocks, I swerved around the reasonably spaced balls of rolling destruction and came out the other end surprisingly unscathed. It was one of those rare special moments that gets you firing on all cylinders and delicately teeters on incredible and incredibly bad.
It’s your life. Demand adventure.