We slept well, and I awoke around 7am in our tent at Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It was September 11, and we had a full day of exploring Redwood National Park ahead of us. It was the third September 11 anniversary that we’d spent in the National Parks after Theodore Roosevelt in 2014 and Bryce Canyon in 2016, and it always felt appropriate.
After our long drive up from San Francisco the day before, we decided not to do our big hike in the Park on this first of two full days. Instead we decided to get the lay of the land and a better sense of how the patchwork of state and federal lands interconnected with private ranches and forests and small communities in the area.
The heavy fog that had greeted us as we arrived the previous evening had slipped out to sea and now sat in the distance offshore.
Although the sun was well up, the ridge of the Gold Bluffs hid it, and we watched as its first rays burst through the ridgetop trees.
Down in the shade of camp, it was cool, but we could tell it would be a warm day.
As I sipped coffee and caught up on my notes, I did a little casual bird watching, spotting a couple White-Crowned Sparrows, several Common Ravens, and even a Peregrine Falcon.
Out in the water, we could see a distant, dramatic sea stack, which later we’d learn was Reading Rock. And we didn’t notice at the time that it boasts a lighthouse at its highest point.
Closer to shore we saw a commercial fishing boat.
We cooked up some breakfast skillet. And it was getting sunny and hot as we got our daypacks together and climbed into the car around 11am.
The only way (by vehicle) off of Gold Bluffs Beach is Davison Road up and over the ridge. It was far less mysterious in the sun-drenched morning, and quite beautiful.
We drove south to Kuchel Visitor Center on the southernmost bit of coastal Parkland. Midday on this mid-September Wednesday, the other visitors appeared to be mostly retirees. We stamped our passports, Sean selected a Redwood National Park scarf, and I picked up a nature guide. But they were out of patches and pins, so we’d have to get our standard souvenirs later.
After the visitor center, we drove back through Orick and turned east into the coast ranges and drove up Bald Hills Road to the parking area for Lady Bird Johnson Grove.
As in the hiking guide, there were warnings about theft at the trailhead. This was so rare in our experience of the Parks as to be notable. We’d see this throughout this Park.
After Redwood National Park was established in 1968, in 1969 President Nixon named the 300-acre grove after the former First Lady in honor of her conservation work.
The one-mile loop trail through the grove begins with a footbridge over Bald Hills Road.
The grove encompasses a section of old growth Redwood forest on the western slopes of Holter Ridge. It is surrounded by a patchwork of protected lands that are both old growth and regenerating formerly logged forest.
Sean has never met a numbered trail guide he didn’t like. And this one, with color photographs and illustrations, was especially fancy.
We ran into some visitors who were just overwhelmed at the splendor of it all. After I took their photo, they offered to take one of us. I didn’t realize at the time how “twinsies” we were dressed.
We walked clockwise around the loop, stopping at the numbered markers for Sean to declaim from the guide about the flora and fauna and its protection.
Although we saw other walkers, there were surprisingly few. The grove was quiet, tranquil even.
This oddly shaped burl was surprisingly large.
Sean remarked that this photo of Lady Bird Johnson looked like what he’d imagine a former coworker of mine would look like in drag. I was amused and texted the image and the remark to a clutch of other former coworkers and friends, thus initiating a rather epic text thread conversation about conservation non-profits over the last few months.
Although Redwoods are able to reproduce through the seeds in their tiny cones, they also reproduce asexually by sending up new trunks from existing root systems, rendering nearby trees clones of each other, or arguably the same tree with multiple trunks, not unlike Aspens.
The photos above and below are of the same pair of parent/offspring trees.
Near the end of the loop, we heard a fluttering and caught sight of a Chestnut-Backed Chickadee busily eating its lunch of seeds.
We took our time, and the one-mile loop took us just about an hour and a half to explore. It was a wonderful introduction to the ecology and history of Redwood National Park. But there was so much else to explore!