Living like the Ants

Coming out of Crater Lake we had a looooong drive to the NorCal coast to meet friends at the Redwoods.  Yay…friends were coming to visit!  As much as we were looking forward to seeing the Redwoods, that paled in comparison to our excitement to see the Conovers.  

We needed 2 days to make it down to Garberville, so we squeezed in a visit at Redwood National Forest on the way, taking a quick hike through some of the big guys, and then making our way to Fern Canyon.  Dennis and I had been to Muir Woods when we were dating, so we were really looking forward to the kids seeing just how big these trees are.  The drive in was an amazing preview filled with  “wow look at that one” and “oh my gosh there’s an even bigger one!”  We pulled over to see the “big tree” and walked a loop that had us craning our necks in search of the treetops.  

Each individual tree is a marvel, but a collection of them together has an awesome effect…as in it truly produces awe.  We all talked about how little they made us feel and that we felt like the ants on the forest floor.  And the quiet is nearly spiritual.  Almost no wind comes through to the ground and the needles that carpet the floor also serve to deaden noise.  There really aren’t even many bird noises either, so it’s very still.  A peaceful, calming stillness.  (At least when the kids aren’t chattering and jumping all over fallen trees and climbing tree roots and squealing with delight because they found a hollowed out tree “room”.)

We found out later that you don’t see many birds because they mostly hang out in the high canopy, where there is a whole unique ecosystem complete with plants and insects that only live in the canopy.  In fact, the ranger told us that the very tops of the tree trunk has dirt made from decomposing needles, and plants, etc, so that is what allows the plants to grow on top of the tree.  They have even found huckleberry bushes up there!

While we were at Redwoods, we wanted to check out an area called Fern Canyon.  It’s a 50 foot deep ravine with a creek in the bottom that flows out to the Pacific.  The walls of the canyon are completely covered with ferns, so you are walking between two high walls of soft, green ferns.  It’s magical.  The canyon was used in one of the Jurassic Park movies, and it makes sense…my only question is why they didn’t shoot scenes in the redwood forests, too, because they also have such a prehistoric feel.  Maybe because the forests might make the dinosaurs less impressive?  We made great use of our rainboots and splashed through the creek back into the canyon — again craning our necks the whole way.

After Maya turned in her Junior Ranger book and was sworn in, we hustled on down to meet the Conovers.  The inn they were staying at had a KOA attached right to the property, so we got to spend all kinds of time together.  But best of all they had a lot of open fields for the boys to play football, a basketball court, and a big playground for the girls.  We were so happy to see them….sitting around the fire catching up on things while both Wyatt and Maya had friends to run around with made our hearts feel full.  Wyatt was also pleased to have an opportunity to show of his newly acquired wood chopping skills.  

Our first day with the Conovers we headed up through the Avenue of the Giants and into Humboldt State Park, which is actually supposed to have even better (bigger, older) redwoods than the national park.  We pulled over at one of the first trails we saw and it turned out to be an area with quite a few fallen trees…making nature’s jungle gym for the kids.  Fallen tree trunks that were 300 feet long and 10 feet tall on their side were irresistible to climb on and run across, like balance beams for the giants.  It took us over an hour to cover a mile long trail because there were so many interesting distractions to explore.  

Along the Avenue of the Giants are all kinds of pull-offs and roadside attractions.  Some are managed by the parks, and some are commercial sights, like the famous “drive through tree.”  Who can resist trying to drive their car through a tree?  Emily’s rental was great for seating eight people…but that also meant it was big and Emily was a bit hesitant to explain to the rental company that she had scraped it up trying to drive it through a tree.  She dared to pull about a third in and her intelligence outweighed her daring and she backed out.  I can’t say I blame her.

We visited a second trail in an area the rangers promised to have some of the largest old growth trees in the country, the Rockefeller Loop/Bull Creek trail.  We had lunch alongside the trailhead and took off down a trail that reached a river with a footbridge where the kids skipped rocks, climbed (more!) and we sat and soaked in the sun.  The trees here were also spectacular, with some having hollowed out trunks large enough for all of us to sit in.  I loved that we spent several days in the groves….I feel like the impression of the forest (or any other amazing feature, for that matter) is so much stronger when you have several visits spread out over a few days.   We capped the day with a visit to a cute Victorian town of Fernwood and forced the kids to tag along while we looked in all the adorable shops.

When we were talking about what to do with the Conovers when they came out we knew we wanted them to see the Pacific Coast.  It’s so rough and beautiful and different than the east coast waters and we’ve loved it so much that we want to share it with all our visitors.  We got a recommendation for Shelter Cove, which was a mere 25 miles away….but turned out to be an hour drive because you had to go over a mountain and the roads were WINDING.  Which is pretty much the story of this whole trip, but I digress.  

One digression worth sharing, though, is a fantastical wooden and concrete building with floral stained glass windows that we spotted along the road and made a U-turn to go back and figure out what the heck it was.  Turns out it was meant to be fantastical, and was designed by Bob McKee who is part land baron, part specialty lumber baron, part designer, and whose family was one of the original homesteaders in the area.  He had created the building some years ago and his wife crafted the windows.  We got lucky in that we met a local who offered to knock on the door because Mr. McKee’s truck was there and see if we could meet him.  He graciously showed us around the building and shared his long term vision to finish it with concrete arches that would be open to collect water from what would be an undulating concrete roof.   It was definitely a worthwhile pit stop.

Shelter Cove, when we finally arrived, was as advertised.  First we went down to the beach under the lighthouse, where dozens of seals and sea lions were just off shore and were close enough to be watching us warily.  Then we headed over to a few other dramatic overlooks where we got a great look at a sea otter.  Finally, we stopped in at a black sand beach, which turned out to be a black pebble beach in reality, and the kids jumped off one of the big boulders over and over and over again.  Other than the winding road that nearly made us all want to be sick, the day was practically a perfect capsule of what we’ve gotten to see on the coast.  

We were all sad to see Emily and Parker and Porter and Maggie go, but so, so grateful for our time together and all the laughs we’d squeezed into the few days.