Prairie Creek State Park

Editors note: Due to half a bottle of wine and some earlier rum, I managed to overwrite my description of the Fern Canyon walk we took in Prairie Creek State Park. Following the first paragraph of this post is what should have been included instead of the repeated 1st paragraph. Just proves you should blog THEN drink!
1605_camp1We moved another 30 north to Prairie Creek State Park, part of Redwoods National Park apparently. I say apparently because the state park is actually within the national, and because of this we were able to use our National Parks seniors card for half-price on our camping fees. It is really nice in this case because of the $35 per day state parks charge (same as outside RV parks). So, $17.50 is a lot better. Still pricy in public park terms, but it is so much nicer to be in the park than in some outside RV park and paying half price makes the choice easier. The downside is that even with our Wilson cell booster, the Verizon signal was only 2 bars of roaming – to week to use for effective internet beyond checking email via cell phone. Not a big deal though. So we pulled in and got ourselves set up. The park has a couple of loops open right now. One was in deep forest. All the sites were pretty roomy and very pretty with some backing up to a stream running through the campground. But we really needed full sun for as long as possible to get our batteries charged. I’ve suspected one of the 2 house batteries might be bad, since Van Damme SP, because it seemed like even though the solar charger read full, the batteries would discharge way too quickly. To the point where we couldn’t even get the Direct TV receiver to stay on for more than 20 minutes at a time without resetting – something it does when there isn’t sufficient charge. Fortunately, loop 2 was wide open in full sun. It only had about 6 sites in the entire loop, but 3 were available when we arrived and I picked an ideal spot where I would get sun all day. This did the trick and now I know our batteries are fine. I really need to install a battery monitoring system.
1418_fern1We got in early enough that we decided to check out Fern Canyon in another area of the park. Fern Canyon is reached by taking a narrow, twisty, pot-holed gravel road named Beach Road, 8 miles through forest first, then along the beach to the Fern Canyon trailhead. Before reaching the trail though, there is a nice, rustic campground. Unfortunately all the sites are pretty small and the road to get there, while doable, I really wouldn’t want to. It was pretty much all tents or small vans occupying the sites. I don’t think the park recommends anything larger out here, but it would have been great to be so close to the beach.
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1432_fern3Once out of the car and onto the trail, we discovered pretty quickly that half of this short .6 mile loop trail actually goes right up the stream canyon. There really is no trail per se. We just had to sort of pick our way up the stream bed, hopping over shallow parts or walking over rocks poking out of the water. Sometimes we could just walk through the stream without getting very wet. A pair of shin-high rubber boots would have solved any of the crossings. But Mary’s biggest fear is crossing water over rocks – no matter how shallow. Swinging through trees? No problem. Stepping through 3 inches of water over rocks? Ahhhhhhhhh! She did bring along her walking sticks, and they helped greatly in getting over.
1436_fern4The canyon was every bit as amazing as was advertised. We quickly moved into it and saw how the sheer 80′ walls of the canyon were covered in fern of every kind imaginable. It was pretty easy walking except for the occasional need to leap a stream. While it was pretty hot outside the canyon, it was cool inside. Cool enough I wish I’d brought a long sleeve shirt. But the ferns and moss covered canyon kept me distracted most of the time and it didn’t bother me much. Photographing was a little difficult because of the deep shadow everything was in. It was the breath of a breeze that caused the problems. Long exposures of between 3 – 10 seconds were necessary to really get the depth of field for sharp images and the breeze caused these featherweight ferns to sway just enough to blur in the pictures. Lots of waiting for calm moments and lots of blurred images later we came to the end of the canyon section.
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1472_fern6We came to a point where large logs had fallen across the stream which kind of complicated matters. The water pools were a little deeper and the path, what there was of it, was unclear. Some Germans came along and hopped up on one log, then leapt over to another. Mary got one look at that and decided she’d had enough, even though that wasn’t actually the way to go. I eventually did find another route that didn’t require any tree leaping, but it did involve jumping over some deeper pools. Mary wouldn’t go on even though I was pretty sure the trail would soon rise up to the surrounding forest. She decided to turn back while I moved on. Just around the next bend, about 30 yards more, was the trail that lead back to the parking lot. It was an easy stroll back through a very pleasant forest. I eventually hit the stream entrance again and met Mary part way back up the canyon. A truly wonderful (and mostly easy) hike I would highly recommend.
1466_fern7Coming back into camp, we discovered some elk had decided to graze the grassy area all around us. It was a nice way to end our busy day. The one big damper on the day was my discovery just as we were leaving for Fern Canyon, that one of my new hearing aids was no longer in my ear. Somewhere, either in Fortuna or here, it had popped out and we could find it nowhere. I even went back the 30 miles to Fortuna to look for it the next morning, but no deal. It is lost.
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1490_elk2Saturday morning we woke to a warm sunny day. We decide on a 7-mile James Irvine Trail hike – our longest to date on this trip – to get us in better hiking shape. It was all in the thick shady cover of the forrest and we thought it would be cooler. It was still very warm – hot even. If not for the heat it would have been a terrific hike. Moving through the Coastal Redwoods is very interesting. Large drapes of Spanish Moss clings to many of the trees, lots of views of the big trees, major burls of uprooted redwood all along the way. It sounded quite breezy up high, but down on the ground it stay vey calm. This is deceiving though. From time to time, a branch or two would fall somewhere near us, and once we heard off in the not too distant distance, we heard a huge cracking and smash as a large tree apparently came to earth in a big way. This was just a little nerve wracking. We finished the hike and were happy to shower and enjoy another cold Cuba Libre as the day finally began to cool off.
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1526_irvine3My friend Don M sent me this quote when he read about my difficulty photographing the Redwoods:

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”

1611_camp3I was saying much the same thing but in a much less elegant way. Part of the problem is the harsh light we’ve been experiencing this whole trip. To photograph in the forest requires, I think, soft even lighting to see into the deep shadows bright sun creates. Sunday promised to be just that kind of lighting, so we decided to stay another day and do more hiking. We chose the Cathedral Trees hike for today. It was supposed to be a 1.4 mile hike, but because of unclear maps, it actually turned into a 2.3 mile hike. We were really wiped from the day before, but this hike was pretty easy and the day was much cooler due to cloud cover, so it turned out really well.
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1544_cathedral5I was hoping for conditions exactly like this all during the trip. I may be the only guy in the world who prefers cloudy skies to sun drenched, but it makes for such better result in the forest. The light becomes soft and even, and with the very still air, I could do long exposures and expect good results. This trail had a great mix of Redwoods and Broad Leaf Maples all along the way. Lots of Redwood Sorrel too, and a few stream crossings (with bridges).
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1579_cathedral13We finished the hike, had lunch and decided to do a short drive on a scenic road  called, Coastal Drive, that runs through the park. Along the way we came upon a beach where there was a Pow Wow was going on. This is May Day and I guess the nearby tribe decided to celebrate here. We moved on a bit up the road that rose sharply above the beach to some nice overlooks. We were pretty bushed by this time, so went back to camp for the afternoon.
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1598_coast2I was up early on Monday because I wanted one last hike before we left. The clouds were persisting and I wanted to take advantage of it while I could. Mary opted to stay in bed. I know it’s Northern California and soon Oregon, but it has just been too sunny for me. I wanted to hike the Prairie Creek Trail at least partway. A low ground fog greeted me when I got out of the LD so I photographed at out campsite as well as a few places along the road to the trailhead. The trail itself was as nice as I had hoped. It was even calmer than yesterdays hike so once again I could photograph in great conditions.
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1621_camp4I hiked in about 1.2 miles, crossing over the stream from time to time and giving me the opportunity to photograph from bridges which gave me nice open views before dipping back into the forest. I left the LD at 6:30 AM and walked until 8:15 before zipping back to the campground. I think I made a few really nice images on this walk and I’m glad it did it. After breakfast, we packed it all up and headed for Crescent City where we will be for the next couple of days.
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