Redwoods, the Stone Lagoon, and the Smith River along California’s Highway 101

Stone Lagoon on the north coast of California is part of the largest lagoon system in North America.

The Stone Lagoon along Highway 101 on the North Coast of California provides a unique environment that supports a wide diversity of life. The distant barrier beach separates the lagoon from the Pacific Ocean. Winter storms breach the barrier and allow sea water into the lagoon.

Back before Peggy and I flew east to be with our kids and grandkids to celebrate the holidays, we made a brief trip up the North Coast of California. I’ve already posted three blogs on the trip: one on Mendocino, one on the coast, and one on Roosevelt Elk. Today I will wrap up our journey starting at Stone Lagoon State Park on Highway 101 north of Eureka and working our way up to Highway 199 out of Crescent City.

The North Coast of California is one of my very special places. I’ve returned there again and again. From rugged coastlines, to majestic redwoods, to picturesque towns, and interesting history, the region is both beautiful and magical.

Highway 101 traces its history back to 1769 when the Spanish explorer Juan Gaspar de Portola followed what would eventually become El Camino Real (The King’s Highway) and connected some 21 Catholic missions from San Diego to the Bay Area. North of San Francisco, the road becomes known as the Redwood Highway as it travels through grove after grove of redwoods.

Giant redwood tree at Redwoods National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Towering Redwoods give the Redwood Highway its name.

Massive root systems that can extend out 100-feet from the tree provide hundreds of gallons of water per day to a giant redwood.

Massive root systems that can extend out 100-feet from the tree provide hundreds of gallons of water per day to a giant redwood. Root width rather than depth provides the tree with stability.

Redwood roots on display along California's Highway 101.

I find the twisted roots quite beautiful.

Salmon carved from redwood along Highway 101 on California's North Coast.

A number of places along Highway 101 sell carved redwood featuring everything from bears to this salmon.

Highway 101 follows a path inland through various river valleys until it reaches Eureka and then it follows the ocean to the border. Occasional views of the Pacific are provided along the way and several county, state and national parks provide opportunities for camping and exploration.

Waves come ashore along California's Highway 101.

Highway 101, seen on the right side of the photo, parallels the Pacific Ocean north of Eureka, California providing occasional views of the Pacific Ocean.

Looking out toward the Pacific from the same location on Highway 101.

Looking out toward the Pacific from the same location on Highway 101. The point has character.

Sea foam created by a storm along the Pacific Coast.

While the skies were blue for our drive up the coast, a storm had chopped up the water the night before, creating sea foam.

Sea foam beat into whip cream type consistency along Highway 101 on the North Coast of California.

The result was this whip cream like sea-foam I included in an earlier blog.

Stone Lagoon, which is part of the largest lagoon system in North America, is one of the views along Highway 101. Separated from the Pacific Ocean by a barrier beach, the waters of the lagoon are neither fresh nor salt. Fed by fresh water for most of the year, winter storms fill the lagoon with water until it breaches the beach barrier, allowing ocean water to flow in and establish a unique environment that supports a great diversity of life. When Peggy and I arrived, Stone Lagoon was the picture of tranquility with calm waters reflecting the surrounding hills and trees.

Stone Lagoon State Park on Highway 101.

The calm water reflected trees and hills surrounding Stone Lagoon.

Reflection shot on Stone Lagoon ion Highway 101 ion the Northern California coast.

A close up.

In Crescent City, Peggy and I picked up Highway 199 and followed the Smith River up and away from the ocean on our way into Southern Oregon.

The Smith River as seen from Highway 199, the Redwood Highway , in Northern California.

The Smith River crosses Highway 101 north of Crescent City and is the largest free-flowing river in California that hasn’t been damned.

Another view of the Smith River flowing along Highway 199 in Northern California.

Another view of the Smith River flowing along Highway 199 in Northern California.

Rapids along the Smith River next to Highway 199, (the Redwood Highway) in Northern California.

A final photo of the Smith River.

NEXT BLOG: A somewhat crazy 100 mile backpacking adventure across the Sierra Nevada Mountains with 60 people aged 11 to 70. Part 1

There’s an Elk! There are 300! …The North Coast Series

This magnificent fellow was probably the bull of the herd, and proud of it!

This magnificent fellow was probably the bull of the herd, and proud of it! He was surrounded by some of his lady friends.


A blog quickie…

Peggy gets excited when she sees elk. So it’s not surprising that she multiplied the number she saw by 10. I can also get quite excitable. Roosevelt Elk are the largest members of six subspecies of elk in North America. Bulls can weigh up to 1100 pounds! Once, they were close to extinct in California. Today, there are seven herds in and around the Redwoods. The largest herd numbers 250. Most are closer to the size we saw. It was conveniently located in someone’s yard. I drove in so Peggy could take photos.

Elk herd near the Redwoods in Northern California.

There were probably 30 elk altogether.

I was impressed by the antlers shown here...

Peggy was impressed by the antlers shown here…

elk with large racks near the Redwoods in Northern California

So she took a close up. Given the season, I figured that Santa could turn to these fellows if his Reindeer refused to fly.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on strike. Xmas card by Curtis Mekemson.

Red-nosed reindeer goes on strike. (card by Curt Mekemson.)

The real deal: Alaskan Caribou. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The real deal: Alaskan Caribou. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

If this guy were a blacktail deer, we would call him a spike. I don't think I would want him mad at me!

If this guy were a black tail deer, we would call him Spike. I don’t think I would want him mad at me! The marks on his back suggest he has been nibbling at itches.

This doe was quite beautiful...

This cow elk was quite beautiful…

So we will end this short post with a close-up.

We will end this short post with a close-up of her. Lovely eyes!

NEXT BLOG: The Christmas lights of Shore Acres State Park

A Tall Trees Tale: Shake Down Cruise to the Redwoods… North to Alaska

Moss covered tree in Redwoods National Park.

When we think of the Redwoods, it is usually about the giant Redwoods. But the Redwoods also have an incredible greenness that is long remembered.

A long trip, especially a long trip where services are few and far between, means you prefer not to have breakdowns along the way. I dutifully took Quivera in to the Ford Dealer and spent the usual obscene amount of money to increase my chances she would behave herself on the way to Alaska. The drive to Alaska isn’t as challenging as it once was (I made my first trip in 1986 over frozen dirt), but it is still challenging.

To further increase our chances of a worry-free trip, Peggy and I– along with our daughter and two grandkids, took Quivera on a shake down cruise to the Redwoods National Park in Northern California, about three hours away. We had introduced our son Tony’s kids to the Big Trees last summer and were eager to have Tasha’s children share the experience.

We dutifully took the kids to see the Big Tree. It is 304 feet tall (92.6 mtrs), 21.6 feet in diameter (6.6 mtrs) and 68 feet (20.7 mtrs) in circumference. The estimated age of the tree is 1500 years. Afterwards, Ethan and Cody along with our next-door neighbor’s son, William, went charging off to look for Ewoks and banana slugs. Star Wars was filmed nearby.

Big Tree in Redwoods National Park.

The eight year old Ethan on the left, our nine-year old next door neighbor William, and the five-year old Cody pose in front of the Big Tree in Redwoods National Park.

Big Tree at Redwoods National Park.

Looking up at the Big Tree. It is impossible not to feel awe.

A pair of giant trees in Redwoods National Park.

Of course Big Tree is just one out of hundreds of the giants found in Redwoods National Park.

Firn with rain drops in Redwoods National Park.

It had rained just before we started our visit and this fern was still holding rain drops.

Banana Slug at Redwoods National Park.

A bright yellow Banana Slug makes its way along the forest floor. The Banana Slug, BTW, is the school mascot for the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Redwoods National Park

Another view of how green it is at Redwoods National Park. I told the boys to look out for Ewoks. The boys are avid Star Wars fans. “You know Ewoks are make believe,” the five-year old Cody primly informed me. Darn. I thought they were real.

Redwoods National Park

The light grey clouds against the dark tees provided an interesting view looking up.

Leaves at Redwoods National Park.

I also liked this shot looking up at leaves.

Pacific Ocean

We also camped out on the Pacific Ocean. This is our daughter Natasha. The tracks you see were made by the boys, running back and forth between the ocean and their driftwood forts.

Harris State Beach Park

We spent our last night at Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon

Fog rolls in at Harris State Beach  near Brookings, Oregon.

The fog was rolling in when we packed up to leave. Quivera was ready to head north to Alaska.

NEXT BLOG: You’ll meet our traveling companions, Bob and Linda Bray. Bob and I have been hanging out together and causing mischief since the First Grade… a long time ago on a far and distant planet.

On the Banks of the Klamath… Redwood National Park

We found this beautiful redwood stump with its twisted roots on the beach near where the Klamath River flows into the Pacific Ocean.

In my last blog, I wrote about experiencing the Redwoods through the eyes of our two and four-year old grandkids. There is still some question about whether they were more impressed by the big trees or the yellow banana slug.

“Can we eat it,” the four-year old asked? Peel away boy.

Two years ago, Peggy and I visited the same area along with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake out of Sacramento. We camped next to the Klamath River near where it flows into the Pacific. I have a special affinity for the Klamath. I was conceived on its banks.

At least that’s the story my parents told me. They were living in the small town of Copco, which is located just south of the Oregon border and east of Interstate 5. My mother always claimed she had the flu and it was a weak moment. It’s good to know where you stand with your mom.

After Ken, Leslie Peggy and I had explored our campground we headed for the ocean. We walked through a Yurok ceremonial site to reach the shore. The Yuroks have lived in the area for numerous generations and today constitute the largest tribe of Native Americans still living in California. The site includes several structures made of fallen redwood including a traditional sweathouse.

The Yurok ceremonial site on the edge of the Klamath River and next to Redwoods National Park includes this traditional sweathouse.

The Yuroks considered the giant redwoods sacred living beings. A comment from Zantippy on my last blog about Redwood National Park came close to capturing how the Yuroks must have felt.

“Oh man, these photos are gorgeous!!! How could Mr. Reagan have not felt these trees spirits? When I was ten, we went there, and my dad parked the car and we were going to walk the trail, but I wanted to stay by myself near the car, and just BE with the forest. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. Then I felt bad because my mother was worried about them walking too far away from the car where I was all alone, so they didn’t get to really explore. I think I told them to just stay still and listen. It is silent voices.”

It is easy for me to understand how the Yurok regarded the redwoods as sacred beings.

A recent storm had deposited driftwood on the beach including a large redwood stump and roots. Smaller pieces of driftwood displayed unique personalities. Waves crashed against the shore. Mist touched the ocean and the trees.  A bald eagle watched us from the distance.

Our friends Ken and Leslie Lake stand next to the redwood stump we found washed up on the beach.

Driftwood can inspire the imagination. I saw a wood duck in this piece.

Waves crashing against the rocks, mist and driftwood are typical of California’s North Coast in Redwood National Park.

A lone bald eagle in the trees on the left watched as we wandered along the beach.

Just up the narrow, winding Coastal Road, we came on another interesting site. It looked like an old farm. Appearances can be deceiving. It had been disguised to look like a farm. Once upon a time it housed an early radar warning system and two 50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns. Its purpose was to guard against invasion from Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II.

This seemingly innocent farm building found in the North Coast Redwoods overlooking the Pacific once harbored an early warning radar system and two 50 caliber anti-aircraft submachine guns to guar against invasion from Japan during World War II.

Continuing on, we visited the big trees of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. I kept expecting to meet up with Ewoks. But there are scarier creatures about. Scenes from Jurassic Park were also filmed in the area.

I kept expecting to meet up with an Ewok. George Lucas used North Coast Redwoods to film his Ewok scenes. Portions of Jurassic Park were also filmed in the area. (Photo from Google images.)

The only strange creature I found was the Peripatetic Bone who insisted on having his picture take with one of the Big Trees. He considered it a humbling experience. Can you spot him?

Even my favorite Tree Huggers… Peggy, Ken and Leslie, were made to feel small.

Reaching for the Sky: California’s Redwoods… The National Park Series

A magnificent redwood on California’s North Coast reaches for the sky.

Ronald Reagan once commented about the Redwoods, “There is nothing beautiful about them. They are just a little taller than other trees.” He was serious. Why save a tree that has been around since 500 AD, stands 305 feet tall, and has a circumference of 61 feet when it can be used to build decks that will last for 30 years?

A view of the Redwoods canopy.

My wife Peggy provides perspective on the size of a giant redwood tree.

Reagan’s statement about the Redwoods is totally beyond my comprehension. Fortunately, thanks to groups like the Save the Redwoods League, we can still visit the rugged coast of Northern California and see these magnificent trees reaching for the sky.

Peggy and I were there last week along with our son Tony and his family. We scrambled to keep up with the grandkids as they rushed down the trails at the Big Tree Wayside. A yellow banana slug, school mascot to UC Santa Cruz, caught their attention and gave us a rest. Hollowed out trees served as perfect caves that demanded exploration. Other redwoods were obviously made for climbing.

The four-year old Connor demonstrates his tree climbing ability as he works his way up a redwood in pursuit of his dad Tony.

The two-year old Christopher is caught up by his mom Cammie for a photo-op while exploring a hollowed out redwood cave.

We were camping at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is one of several areas set aside as state and National Parks by California and the US Government to protect the forest giants. The area is famous for it’s Elk herds as well as the Redwoods and the scenic California North Coast.

At two and four, Chris and Connor may be a little young to remember the experience. But they will have photos. More importantly, they will be able to come back. Hopefully their children and grandchildren will as well.

The Peripatetic Bone hides out in the clover at Redwoods National Park.

Peggy shows just how large the clover in the Redwoods can grow.

A final view of the 1500 year old rightfully named ‘Big Tree’ in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.