As I said in my previous post, our January hike amidst the big trees of the Columbia Gorge inspired me to come home and plan a trip to see the REALLY BIG TREES in Northern California. I had a particular memory from my childhood when our family drove to San Fransisco from our home in the Portland suburbs, and on our return trip we drove THROUGH A HUGE TREE. I was pretty sure I still had a physical snapshot of this memory and so went looking…….
I have long thought we would take our boys down to see the Redwoods at some point — this drive-through memory representing the magic for me — but in fact, living in Alaska for a decade has meant that a lot of things have not turned out the way I thought. Yet, here was my chance to still pull this one off! I got busy making a plan…..
After hiking the Silver Creek Trail of Ten Falls in January (putting a pin here to come back and write that post later), I came home and listened to an episode about it on the Explore Oregon podcast which is put out by the Statesman Journal. This podcast sent me down a trail of additional interesting listening, including several episodes about the Northern California redwoods. And that is how I found this really interesting article about the Grove of Titans in the Jedidiah Smith State Park, and through that article, I learned about the book The Wild Trees, which turned out to be a really good read about the relatively recent discovery of the Grove of Titans — this ancient grove of HUGE trees, some of the largest in the world.
One other tidbit here is that on the same day I was out on the Eagle Creek Trail starting to imagine a trip to the Redwoods, my sister sent a picture from Nashville, saying, “This is an interesting story!” My dad then got the book from the library and we passed it around, learning this remarkable story about the Japanese pilot, Nobuo Fujita, who managed to pull off the only aerial bombing on the contiguous United States during World War II – dropping bombs in the woods near the coastal town of Brookings, Oregon, in hopes of igniting a forest fire. (It did not.) The story includes reconciliation and ongoing relationship between the town and the pilot in the years following the war. In our bit of reading and research, we learned that Fujita donated his family’s 400 year old samurai sword (which he had taken with him on every flight, including his Brookings Bombing Missions) to the town of Brookings where it is now on permanent display at the Chetco Community Public Library. Summary story here: The unlikely bond between an Oregon town and the man who bombed it.
Brookings, Oregon, is just 26 miles north of Crescent City, California, where I reserved an airbnb for our adventure, and so we included a stop in Brookings on the front end of our trip so we could see the sword and other miscellaneous information about the story that they had on display.
We arrived at our airbnb in Crescent City on Saturday evening of President’s Day Weekend. It was a lovely evening. We walked over to the beach and then ate dinner at nearby SeaQuake Brewing.
The next morning, a little before 10a, we left Crescent City, following Howland Hill Road into the Jedediah Smith State Park. A few miles in, we parked at the trailhead for the Grove of the Titans.
Onto the trail and deeper into the forest we went – Exclaiming often! and LOOKING UP.
We stood in the heart of the forest – We, so very small.
Walking among giants that had been standing in that place for more than 1500 years served up perspective —
Maybe these trees can teach us something about ourselves….We’re little snapshots in time, and we’ll soon be gone. This grove has burned in huge fires during the past millennia. Redwoods don’t die if they burn. A redwood can be burned to a blacked spar, and afterward it goes, ‘Woo,’ and just grows back.…… These trees can teach us how we can live. We can be hammered and burned, and we can come back and be more beautiful as we grow.” – American Botanist Steve Sillett, in The Wild Trees (recorded as he sat way up in the canopy of these trees).
The hike to the Grove of Titans was just a couple easy miles round trip, but we took our time, stopping often to **marvel. And so when we got back to the car, we changed our plans. We had thought we would backtrack on Howland Hill Road to the trailhead for the Boy Scout Tree, but instead of also doing that 5-mile hike, we chose instead to drive on and connect with Highway 199 which would take us to the Hiouchi Visitor Center. This proved to be a good and interesting stop. The Ranger on duty there was full of answers to our questions and then when I asked the lady working in the gift shop what her favorite thing in the area to do was – she said to hike along the Smith River. She told us where we could get quick access from the visitor center, so we followed her directions and hiked down to the river where we skipped stones in the sunshine for awhile.
**verb – be filled with wonder or astonishment
From there we decided it would be a good time to make the 35-40 minute drive further south on Highway 101 to Klamath, California, where supposedly we would find the same drive through tree featured in my Redwood memories from 1982.
It was a gorgeous drive down the coastline and when we got to Klamath, sure enough there was a roadside sign for the Tour Thru Tree! We took the exit, and just around the bend we came to a funny little station with an honor system for entry payment. We plunked our money through the slot, drove up a small hill, and around the corner to find the TOUR THRU TREE.
There was one car ahead of us, but no one after us so, after driving through, we got out and explored a bit more thoroughly. My engineers did have some thoughts about that hollow tree! After about 10 minutes, another car showed up for their turn and so we piled into our car and headed back to Crescent City.
We arrived back in Crescent City about 3:30p, which was still in time to catch the last tour of the Battery Point Lighthouse. We had originally thought it was not a huge deal if we missed the tour because surely we could get a lighthouse tour somewhere else some other time, easily enough, but in fact – this turned out to be quite a unique tour because volunteer caretakers still live in this lighthouse and keep the light as private aid to navigation, while also preserving the historical details of the lighthouse. There are only a handful of other Kept Lighthouses around the United States. The family living at the Battery Point Lighthouse during our visit told us they had been coming down from their home in Washington state for one month/year for the past nine years (if I remember right) and boy, did they love it! They were excellent hosts, showing us around, telling history, as well as current tales of lighthouse keeping. I kept thinking, YIKES. Who are these people, happy to live on a rock in this tiny space and welcome strangers after strangers into their home all day! They were really good at it and it was a fantastic experience.
The next day we checked out of our airbnb about 11a. We had intended to explore Pebble Beach before we left Crescent City, but we’d missed the low tide timing for that activity and since the tide was high as we were leaving, we decided to just drive north along Highway 101 for awhile and stop at a beach when the tide was out. So, we stopped in Port Orford, Oregon, about 1:30p and had a really good lunch at the Honey House Cafe just before it closed for the day. Then we went over to Agate Beach and spent about an hour looking for treasure.
From there we headed home. Wait – First! a stop at Cranberry Sweets in Bandon, the small coastal town considered the “Cranberry Capital of Oregon”. Further up Highway 101, we turned east at Florence, and rain began to fall for the first time all weekend as we headed over the mountains to Eugene where we caught I-5 north for the rest of the drive home. The weather had been remarkably sunny and warm for this randomly chosen weekend in February. The very next week we saw reports of snow on those same beaches!