Updated: Sep 27, 2022
When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels turning in the cages of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don't know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in. — D.H. Lawrence
Wednesday, 27 July 2022, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
We'd covered both Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks, and had two more 'sub-parks' to go. Since Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP lay just south of Crescent City, we would hit it first. This park has the fewest hiking trails of any unit of Redwood NSP (and is the only unit without a Visitor Center). In fact, during recent budget crises in California, the state proposed closing portions of the park - and got roundly shouted down.
Just because this park is less developed, don't think it has nothing to recommend it. In fact, Ron's state-park guidebook says its Damnation Creek Trail is 'the most celebrated trail in the park'.
I thought, The celebration must come when you find the trailhead. The guidebook says it lies "4.1 miles south of the campground" in Del Norte park. Let's assume that means Mill Creek Campground, the big campground in this unit.
Aiming for 4.1 miles exactly when the odometer only displays full miles proved difficult. (Neither of us could figure out how to switch modes to a display with tenths of a mile. I hate renting cars that are smarter than I am.) We drove over four miles, looking for a sign or trailhead, and ended up passing through another one-lane, flagged stretch of US 101. Turn around, go back through the one-lane section, find the Mill Creek Campground turnoff, and try again.
We drove slowly when the fourth mile rolled over. Finally, just before the flagged section, I noticed a wide dirt pullout on the shoulder - big enough for at least 5-6 cars. Absolutely no sign, and no obvious trail. "Damnation, why couldn't they mark this trailhead?" I cursed.
Though we found only one car parked there, we assumed (since the park map showed no other trails near here, and a faint trace of a footpath headed into the trees) that we'd found our trailhead. Since the ranger had warned us that the trail grew steep as it neared the beach, I changed to my hiking boots, grabbed my walking stick, and set off. With no confirmation of where we were (besides in the vicinity of Confusion Hill, I suppose).
In any case, we had chosen a great trail.
It rose moderately from the roadside, soon trading the noise of US 101 for the silence of the forest. The big trees kept us company, towering overhead, muting our footsteps. Wisps of fog began slipping into the air as the trail quickly crested a slope and worked its way down the other side.
The hike - and the day - now turned mystical. With fog permeating the woods, the sun began pushing its rays into the fog. Eventually that work would burn the clouds off - but until then, it lit up lines in the mist. Scientifically, the phenomenon is known as crepuscular rays. Informally, people refer to them as Jacob's Ladder, Buddha's Rays, or the Fingers of God.
I've used 'Fingers of God' (conveniently, the acronym is FoG) since I first tried filming them in Norway on a 1989 trip.
The trail continued its moderate downhill trajectory. Every few minutes another FoG shot would present itself, slowing my progress to a crawl. Finally we came to a trail fork, with the right branch turning slightly uphill, and the left immediately dropping onto a flat trail - one with a trail sign!
It only identified the new trail as the Coastal Trail, not mentioning the trail we left. We took a chance and turned left (south).
This level trail provided easy walking, much of it in a light fog, but with a small bit sun-lit. Ten minutes into our amble, I noticed a well-formed spiderweb glistening with the dew.
The spider was off somewhere making his own memories for the day.
This Coastal Trail, according to a ranger we talked with later, is the last remnant of the original US 101 road up the coast.
"They re-configured it to a different routing 20 or 30 years ago," he told us, "and nature is slowly reclaiming it." We did see a few patches of pavement, but others (like here) looked like it had been reverting for far more than only 30 years.
After 30 minutes on this wonderful walkway,
we headed back. Once we hit our junction point, we stayed on the Coastal Trail. In no time, it reached the official junction with our original trail, now with a sign identifying it, indeed, as Damnation Trail.
We turned left at this junction to try a bit more of it. The trail quickly displayed a sign stating that the trail would soon turn steep - and that a bridge out near the bottom meant you could not access the beach beyond at this time.
Satisfied with our spectacular morning - Heaven forbid we should overdose on scenery so early in the day! - we turned back, following the now-confirmed Damnation Creek Trail back up the slope. If anything, the FoG had grown even more impressive, with the rays streaming in all around us.
One more park unit to check out: the original Redwood National Park. This site includes the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, where the former First Lady officially dedicated the park when it opened in 1968. We considered driving to that grove, but noticing that the park map showed a few miles of a steep, twisty road to get there, we passed, instead taking the trail along Redwood Creek.
After the incredible, scenic adventures of the last two mornings, I knew any 'normal' trail would pale in comparison. Still, we gaped at views of the cloud-shrouded coast as we drove south,
and enjoyed a totally flat trail along the creek. Upstream of this area had seen extensive logging and industry, and floods years ago had deposited tons of gravel along the stream bed. The land still struggles to recover from such abuse, though progress continues.
The trail, with many bridges over side brooks, does have coast redwoods mingled in with coastal Douglas firs (which can soar to the same heights as the redwoods, but without the girth) and maple trees with wild, spindly masses of branches.
This trail actually runs eight miles to the Tall Trees Grove, where some of the tallest redwoods reach to the sky. (Not that we had any intentions to hike another six hours to see them and return.)
For people wanting to immerse themselves in the park, they can take that trail into the back country. The walk involves crossing Redwood Creek twice; bridges are only in place seasonally.
I walked ~1.5 miles to the first crossing, which takes you across the gravel-festooned creek. Then I tucked it back to the car; we had a long drive ahead of us.
We headed down-coast to Arcata, where we made a short stop at the town square. The square - with a park in the center - featured a variety of eclectic shops and restaurants. I ducked into one thrift store, but didn't find any treasures to bring home to Sue.
We then left temperatures in the low 70s for a three-hour drive to Redding, temperature: 104°. The drive included a few more road-construction stoppages on CA 299. Our reward for making the long drive: a delicious Thai restaurant across the street from our hotel. Now we have a night off to prepare for park #19, Lassen Volcanic NP.