Our Totally Awesome Redwoods Vacation Part 1

A month ago me and Tuyen took a few days to vacation in the Redwoods of Northern California. It was our first trip of just the two of us since Tuyen arrived here in the US. We had an awesome time, and really fit a lot into the time that we had.
My first surprise was how quick the drive was to Crescent City, CA. Going down I-5, you detour through Grants pass on Highway 199, which is basically a straight shot to Crescent City. I was expecting a long 7 or 8 hour drive, but the six hour drive was really quite pleasant. Highway 199 goes through some beautiful countryside in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Your first taste of the Redwoods comes as the Highway narrows near the Smith River and snakes through a part of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. In places the edge of the road is literally against a huge redwood tree. It makes for a stunning entrance to the area. We arrived at our hotel in Crescent City, a mostly unremarkeable town for the area that it’s located. Our hotel was right across from the marina, so we went for a brief stroll in the silence of the evening coastal fog.
The next morning we stopped at the local Redwoods Tourism office. Since the Redwoods are a hodge-podge of National and State Parks and Conservation lands, the tourist offices are also a combined operation. From there we headed out for our Redwoods adventure. First stop was the Lady Bird Johnson grove, an easily accessable one mile loop of impressive Redwood trees. When you stand among these fat pillars reaching to the sky, you feel very small. Your neck is constantly craned up, trying in vain to see the tops of the trees. It feels almost Jurassic, like at any moment a dinosaur will emerge from behind the huge trees. It’s so quiet there, only the sounds of hikers. Tuyen noted the exceptionally clean air that we were breathing in. Sideways picture--Morning fog @ LadyBird Johnson grove
As you probably know, Redwoods can reach a very old age, often around 500-700 but as old as 2000 years, and can grow as high as 360 feet. They require very special climatic conditions, constant moisture to fuel their huge growth and cool conditons. Instead of a giant tap root to anchor them and reach down for water, they develop a web of a root system just beneath the surface of the forest floor, absorbing the coastal rains and mists.

Tuyen at the hollow base of a living Redwood tree

Tuyen at the hollow base of a living Redwood tree


Some of the trees were hollowed out at the base and had charred interiors, like they had burned, yet the tree was still alive and growing via the outer trunk. You can literally stroll through some of the bases of these trees.
Taking it all in

Taking it all in


Our next stop was Fern Canyon on the coast. A dirt road leaves the highway and weaves through an impressive grove of Redwoods and Spruces on the way to the State Park entrance. The road is hardpack mud for several miles, a very smooth surface for a dirt road. For it’s importance as a tourist destination I don’t know why they have not paved it yet, but thankfully it was decent enough for the Cadillac to drive on. After several miles you get to the coast, where the state rangers charge you $8 to drive into the state park on a more questionable gravel road. I might add that virtually all the areas of the Redwood parks are free to the public. After paying the fee, the Ranger told us we would have to cross three streams before arriving at our destination, and that we should have no trouble. I was a little nervous about this, as I really have never done much stream crossing in the Cadillac. We went over three little trickles of water, and I thought, oh, no problem. Then we came upon the first real stream, one that the Ranger was talking about. It was about six inches deep, and the road dipped down to the stream that way that roads do when a stream cuts through them. With trepedation, I angled our big boat of a car trough the first stream. I was worried about high centering on the banks of the streams, but we got through them all, with some considerable caution.
Fern Canyon is a creek bed that has cut a path through the surrounding rock straight to beach. The trail basically goes up the creek, and getting wet is part of the experience. After consulting with a family coming back from the hike, we changed to shorts and sandals.
Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon


It’s a short hike up the canyon through a clear, cold stream, but the experience in etherial. The carpet of ferns lining the verticle walls is truly a spectacle to behold. The felling is like being in some sort of outdoor cathedral, almost like you are in some kind of holy space. I must not be the only one who feels this way, as we eventually passed by a group of people gathered in a circle holding hands and chanting peacefully. There were little colored bottles on the ground in front of them.
We stopped to have our picture taken by a guy with a very serious camera set-up, either a professional or a very serious amateur. He agreed to take our picture against a wall of ferns, but as we were hiking across the stream to our destination, he snapped this action picture of Tuyen and I that I just love. It’s even better than our smiling portrait, which actually came out a little dark. I didn’t know about the action picture until later when I was scrolling through all the pictures. What a nice surprise from a very talented stranger.
Tuyen and Rick in action

Tuyen and Rick in action


At the end of the canyon we hiked up and out, which reavealed an impressive view down into the canyon from above. This has to be one of my all-time favorite hikes.
We ended our Fern Canyon experience on the beach, collecting rocks of all different colors and patterns. Wow, what a great day!
Collecting Rocks

Collecting Rocks

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