Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Big Basin Redwoods State Park

What: Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Where: 21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek, CA
When: October 2014

California had suffered from a drought that left the hillsides yellow and brown. The shade was cool but stepping into the sun left one sweating and hot. It was October and our third day in California. I had always heard about sequoias and redwoods, how large and otherworldly they were, and compared to the trees of the East Coast, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into when we piled into a car and drove away from San Jose toward Boulder Creek.

We zipped along the winding roads of California and said goodbye to the more populated area of San Jose and traded it in for the thick woods near Big Basin. The homes became more spaced out, smaller and older, and the temperature dropped as we climbed higher and escaped the full blaze of the sunshine.

Boulder Creek was a blink and you'll miss it town that reminded me of something from a movie. If a town were to be a former gold rush town, upgraded to the present day, this would be it. Apparently it has a logging history dating back to 1874.

It was here I had my first taste of how serious the dry-spell was in California. While getting gas, we caught the scent of woodsmoke and overheard a conversation between Californians--was the smoke from nearby? Yes, yes, it was, but just a part of a BBQ joint down the street, it wasn't wild.

The fear of forest fires were so prominent in California. We've had "fire watches" on the East Coast and occasionally a brush fire, but we've never had fires like what I've seen on TV. The sky view of forests and homes ablaze in the dryer climate as we hear reports of the wind's direction always has been something far away and removed. But being present in California and seeing the destruction of the fires in Yosemite and hearing the nervous chatter of locals was eye opening.

We made it to the entrance of the park and parked before exploring the visitor center and all the fun trinkets they had to sell. Rocks, pieces of wood, artwork, t-shirts, camping supplies. I would love to camp there one day! It was cool enough to warrant a light sweater and nearby were picnic tables if you'd be interested in catching a quick meal before heading out to the trails. But first, I had to stand in a fairy ring of redwoods. I know you aren't supposed to stand in fairy rings but I've always blatantly have ignored the rule. I think the fairies welcome me, although I was a bit uncertain about West Coast fairies, but they seemed ok with me being around.

In the fairy ring, looking up.

The entrance of the park certainly had the most information to see. Massive trees that dwarfed everything nearby, tree stumps with details indicating when different events happened during the lifetime of the tree, and bathrooms! With the most freezing cold water I've ever experienced and a lack of paper towels, but it's still better than squatting in the woods or using a portapotty. We hung out for a bit in that area, gathering some snacks and the likes before heading out into the woods. Of course, it's highly advisable that if you are going to go hiking you bring a little baggy to store your garbage in. DON'T toss any of your garbage out into the woods! Be kind to the trees, they've been here longer than any of us.

After gathering our snacks we headed out on the trails. There are a couple with varying degrees of difficulty and distance. I wish I was a skilled trail blazer and had the appropriate wardrobe for it, as I would have gone much further than I did, but the trail we opted for was smooth and easy. The trees are so high and covered in fir-like leaves, so we were in the shade all along. It was varying temps, I wanted to wear a sweater but with walking I was warm enough to generally stroll in my tank top without worry.

Everywhere you look, there are trees with scorch marks on them. Their outside shells, or the hollowed insides, are all but charcoal. Brittle and black to the touch. Forest fires from years ago still showed their destructive force on these trees. Even looking up feet above our heads where parts of the trees' old bark still was exposed you would see the burns. One neat thing was the pattern the burns created on the bark. Ripples, like water, stretching on wood up and overhead. It was like nature's artwork and the park was its museum.

We took our time for the walk and had the most fun with trees that had died (sorry trees!) but left behind the shells of their formal selves. They looked like chimneys and despite still lacking the leaves or tops of the trees, they were overwhelmingly huge. I think, if I was a child, I would have had a hard time staying on the requested paths and keeping off of trees. Even still, people were jumping the lines and climbing around trees, but I'd rather remain the cautious rule-follower.

And hugging trees is pretty much an ok thing to do (so long as they aren't roped off). Of course I had to hug trees that were larger than me. It was like hugging a grandpa, a very solid, splintery, sometimes covered in spiders, grandpa.

After heading down the first path, we decided to investigate another that was much less traveled by with tighter, smaller walkways and bridges that went over dry creek beds. This area was much more quiet. The silence of the woods was at times maddening until we heard the low groan of a airplane far off in the sky. While the first path had a lot of families on it, this was was much more solitary. So much so, that we spotted a few signs of bears from the area. Personally, when I see a sign of a bear in an area that I am not familiar with, I head back from whence I came. I've interacted with wild bears before and it has never been a pleasant experience. The beau, however, wanted to adventure more.

And lucky we did! We saw a lot of really neat trees and the woods spread out a little more and rolled into gentle hills. We were able to see the trees from different vantage points and even get introduced to our first banana slug. They are huge and very bright, if one is near you, you won't miss it.

This was a morning activity for us, something to check out while we were in the area, and I'm so pleased we got to have a good taste of the park. But, if I ever find myself back in Northern California with plenty of time to spare, I would prepare for a proper hike, complete with the appropriate clothing and devices necessary for a hike, and maybe if I am daring enough--even camp overnight.