Redwood National and State Parks protect over 138,000 acres of far northern California coast, old growth Redwood groves, second growth coastal forest, and watersheds large and small, including the mouth of the Klamath River. Interest in protecting the fantastic groves began in earnest with the creation of the Save the Redwoods League in 1918 (only two years after the creation of the Park Service). In a pattern that mirrors the creation of Indiana Dunes National Park, first National Park Service director, Stephen Mather, was involved in some of the early protection efforts, but corporate lumber interests blocked creation of a National Park. Also like Indiana Dunes, the state stepped in, creating four California State Parks in the late 1920s and early 1930s to protect the trees: Jedediah Smith State Park, Del Norte Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and (a bit further south) Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Again like Indiana Dunes, federal protection would not come until the 1960s when Redwood National Park was established by Congress in partnership with the Johnson administration. Ten years later, in 1978, 48,000 acres were added to Redwood National Park to protect the watershed of Redwood Creek before it entered the Park. Unlike Indiana Dunes, in 1994, the administrative functions of the National Park and the three northernmost state parks were combined.
Journeying from San Francisco to Redwood National Park was our adventure for Tuesday, September 10. It’s a long drive (some five and a half hours) even going the most direct route. We intended though, to take the opportunity to drive up the California coast on Highway 1. This would at least double the driving time. But here the journey was absolutely the destination.
Thursday, November 15 was our day of transition from Guadalupe Mountains National Park to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. With the backpacking trip as part one, car camping with Phil, Adam, and Sylvan as part two, we were now going to embark on part three and be joined by John, Catherine, and Mariana down from Chicago. But we wouldn’t be checking into our AirB&B in Carlsbad, New Mexico until the evening, so we still had much of the day to see a few more wonders in the Guadalupe Mountains.
Devil’s Hall is a short, narrow chasm a few miles up Pine Canyon from its wide mouth. It is accessible via a two-miles-and-change hike from the Pine Springs Trailhead. After the crazy events of the previous night and morning, our afternoon’s adventure on Wednesday, November 14 was a hike up to Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s only accessible slot canyon of note.
Before dawn on Wednesday, November 14, Sean nudged me awake. We were curled up in a nest of pillows and comforters left behind by Adam, Phil, and Sylvan who, not keen on another night of freezing temperatures, had decamped to a nearby hotel. “Nearby” is relative here. Adam had texted Sean the night before that there were no available rooms in Carlsbad, New Mexico an hour away so they’d continued on and found “the last available room” in Artesia, New Mexico an hour and a half away.
Lying there in the blankets, Sean nudged me and handed me his phone. It took me a moment to understand what I was seeing in the texts from Adam. Around midnight, a truck had driven through the wall of their hotel room.
After lunch on Tuesday, November 13, Phil climbed into the tent with Sylvan for the little guy’s nap. Meanwhile Sean, Adam, and I decided to get in a second short hike for the day, this time one a bit more ambitious than our walk through the foothills with the baby that morning.
We chose to check out at least part of the Permian Reef Geology Trail near the entrance to McKittrick Canyon. The entire trail is a 4.2-mile out-and-back 2,000 feet up onto Wilderness Ridge near the Texas-New Mexico state line. We wouldn’t be able to do the entire trail, but we figured it would be worth it to see some of it. We were particularly keen to see fossils.
The morning of November 13 was cloudless and cold. The pre-dawn low temperature was eighteen degrees, which would have been a camping record for Sean and me had we not beaten it by at least ten degrees the previous morning up in the mountains. Nevertheless, we anticipated a day of adventure with Adam and Phil, and particularly Sylvan, who would go on his very first hike in a National Park.
The morning of my fortieth birthday, November 12, 2018, dawned cold. Very cold. Single-digit cold. Sean’s and my plan was to complete our third and final day in the backcountry with a 7.6-mile hike down from McKittrick Ridge into McKittrick Canyon and then out to the trailhead at the McKittrick Canyon Contact Station, where Adam, Phil, and Sylvan would pick us up.