I had just finished walking to “The Big Tree” from the campground at Prairie Creek State Park. It was an easy hike, 3.75 miles round trip through some of the tallest and most beautiful redwoods. Outside the now-closed visitor’s center, a young woman with a few brochures in her hands approached me. With a look of frustration on her face she asked, “Is there anything to do here besides walk around and look at trees?”
I tried not to chuckle while allowing only my rolling eyes to be my laughter. I responded: “Basically that is what people from all over the world come here to do. But, if you want to see something else, there are a few herds of Roosevelt elk around the park – and lots of banana slugs once you start looking for them.” As I suspected, that was not quite what she was looking for.
“Oh yes,” I continued, “that sound that you are hearing is a Murrelet, which is an ocean bird that flies here to nest way up in the top of these redwoods. They need lots of ocean to take off, running for quite a while on top of the water before becoming airborne. Here they find the tallest tree so when they leave the nest they just drop out hoping to get up enough flapping speed before they hit the ground.”
The young woman didn’t seem very impressed although she perked up when I said the word “ocean.” So I explained how to get to Gold Bluffs Beach and that there were other accessible beaches on the way to Crescent City. Then I added, “And just 18 miles north at Klamath you will find a Casino.” She finally smiled.
I continued, “Down the road you might see the newborn elk calf,” but before I could give her the directions she was already heading out. “Don’t forget to look at the trees,” I yelled after her, “that is what most people come to see.” And no wonder: the Redwood National and State Parks encompass 106,000 acres of forest, prairies and coastal lands.
Many of the people in the campground were returning from their hikes of 10 – 15 miles. But I was proud of my 3.75 miles that day because I also took the time to look at the trees. Old growth redwoods have been growing here before recorded history. Awesome! Plants and animals have established intricate communities among the redwoods and formed interdependent relationships with the trees.
Even the snails and slugs are important. They are the decomposers who dispose of everything from bear poop to fallen limbs. Without them the forest would become one impassible heap of forest debris.
I didn’t get a chance to tell the young woman that Prairie Creek Redwood State Park has it all — roaming elk, towering redwoods, banana slugs, blooming Rhododendrons, fern-lined canyons and beaches galore. Maybe, instead of trying to find something to do, we need to simply stop and look and wonder.
(Don’t tell anyone – I go to the North Coast first of all for the smoked salmon!)