Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rhinestone Sneakers and Redwoods

There’s a lot that can go awry with camping. Pouring rain. Blazing heat. Damp chill. Wet wood. Burn bans. Rude neighbors. Sloppy neighbors, which often leads to another problem: wildlife ransacking the site (my favorite comeuppance on this, ever, was watching a troop of baboons make off with pretty well all of the left-out gear and food of the slatternly site a couple over from ours. One baboon held a plate over its head and hooted in baboon-y triumph as it loped into the scrub.). Filthy, reeking bathrooms. Wet gear. Faulty gear. Lost gear. Forgotten gear. And teenagers. Despite cold (which I’d expected), filthy bathrooms and a teenager (also expected), we had a fantastic time in the redwoods. We stayed at a campsite on the ocean, the sound of wind and waves (and it being a campground, other people) in our ears as we fell asleep at night. The sea-fog that rolled into the hills, while cold, was also, in its bone-chilling way, gravely beautiful. The cold was not to be discounted - particularly if, say, you were a teenager who thought his aunt was daft in saying a warm sweatshirt would be required (in California. In July. You can kind of see his reasoning, even if I wished he’d just bloody listened) and brought only t-shirts. On the bright side, gift shops usually stock plenty of sweatshirts. The eerie, silent beauty of the chill fog was much easier to admire once everyone was warm enough. Just a mile or two inland (or even at a spot a couple miles up or down the coast), we’d slip into brilliant sunshine and wide blue skies. I loved looking back as we headed out, seeing the sunlit mist trying to claw its way over the hills; I wish, now, that I’d taken a picture of it. There are worse regrets to have about a trip. The network of parks that composes what we think of as Redwood National Park is a patchwork of state and national parks (the state parks in the patchwork are all at risk for crippling cuts in their budgets because of California’s budget crisis). The network sprawls down the coast, from just east of Crescent City to well south of Mendocino. It’s amazing, how many bits and pieces have been stitched together over the years (not contiguously), but it’s also remarkable how fragile it all is.
Walking through the groves, though, it’s hard to think of much but the ancient, craggy trees themselves. They are literally stupefying. The number of people (including me), stumbling along syaing "woooow" with their necks craned upwards, trying to capture with their camera lenses the placid, massive beauty of the trees was testament to how astonishing the trees are. Also: it's pretty funny watching people stumble about, looking up.

Our stay began with some good luck. We nabbed a campsite at a terrific but busy first-come, first-serve campground. As we unloaded the gear, we looked up and saw:An elk having a little lunch graze. All three of the kids were excited, and a little nervous. Elk are big. And it was close. When there's no fence or glass between you and a large animal, you have a sudden and deep appreciation for just how big they are. We stepped out onto the beach that the campground lay along and saw a seal sunbathing, brown pelicans swirling around one another and plunging from the air into the sea for food. The kids were, as one would expect, delighted. And dirty. I had some grubby, grubby people with me. I couldn't bring myself to insist that they bathe, because the showers were solar-heated, and about the temperature (I took one) you would expect a solar-heated shower to be when you're enshrouded in chilly mist, which is to say: FRIGID. It's possible that my speed-shower was accompanied by a non-stop parade of expletives and a fervent prayer for room service and hot showers (fat chance, lady), despite the fact that I have had plenty of previous disappointing experiences with solar showers, which may have improved over their previous "heat your water to almost tepid in a hefty bag" but still basically... hmm, what's the word? Oh, I know. They suck. I decided better that the kids were really, really dirty, dirty people than subject them to the joys of an unheated shower in a dingy concrete room. We did a few hikes and walks, and, um… a drive-thru tree. It is tacky, but… sometimes tacky is also fun. And it was fun. One of the groves we hiked through was the Tall Trees Grove (it’s probably wise to consider that in a park dominated by massive trees, designating a particular group as “tall” might mean they are staggeringly gargantuan, which they were), breaking for lunch on Redwood Creek, where Curly and my boy spotted tadpoles in the gin-clear waters, and the Incredible Eating Nephew perfected his stone-skipping skills before we finished admiring the grove. As we hiked back up, I felt a twinge of sympathy for the young men coming down the trail in hiking gear, clearly feeling like rugged adventurers (the grove is reached by a long-ish drive down a dirt road, and requires a free permit to unlock the gate, for a not-quite 4 mile hike), because when they laid eyes on Curly, in her seersucker skort and bedazzled, sparkly pink rhinestone sneakers (they might not be tasteful, but again, sometimes tacky is a total blast), their faces fell. Curly was unfazed by their stares and gratifyingly thrilled by the trees.

I don't know what else to say, other than to recommend that you find a way to see the redwoods. The sections in northernmost California are not easily accessible without a car and a bit of time. Like most amazing places, you’ll get a flashing, tantalizing glimpse of how wonderful it is if you only spend a day, but longer will allow you to absorb the startling, serene beauty of the place through your skin and into your bones.

Also, despite being in possession of pink rhinestone sneakers, Curly says "leather" instead of "leath-uh."


M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

Your post is the day before my birthday. I was down that way July 1st with my son. Been back a few times since. Prairie Creek is where I usually camp. The restrooms are pretty clean there for the more part. And showers. Once I stayed in Trinidad at the private RV park campground Emerald Forest.

Like that elk shot. The antlers look great. I like looking at the tadpoles too. They are there quite a bit.


M. D. Vaden of Oregon

Meg said...

MD- I should have been fairer about the bathrooms at Gold Bluffs. We were there when the campground was jam packed; someone was in there once a day to clean the bathrooms, but when a campground is completely full, it's hard to keep up. Also, the filthiest campground bathrooms we dealt with were NOT in the Redwoods system.

What are your favorite hikes in the redwoods?