Sunday, October 9, 2011


Great News! Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park - along with Tomales Bay and Samuel P. Taylor State Parks - have been removed from the closures list! In a press release last week, California State Parks announced that these three parks will remain open for an additional year on a trial basis in a partnership with the National Parks Service. And! Governor Jerry Brown has signed AB42 which allows some state parks to form partnerships with other non-profit organizations. Here's hoping a few more parks get a reprieve!

Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP is located six miles south of Crescent City - at the northern most part of the state - right on the ocean. Mist, moisture and fog envelope the old growth Redwood Trees, ferns, moss, mushrooms and other living things that enjoy a dense, dark habitat. Damnation Creek Trail - so named due to the "devil a time" early settlers had making their way through the thick forest - is a five mile round trip walk through the redwoods with a 1000 foot elevation gain. Even early trailblazer Jedediah Smith, (who has his own State Park named after him 15 miles up the road) had a dickens of a time in 1928 making his way through the foliage.

Having spent the past three days in Redding's triple digit heat, Patty, Roxy and I welcomed the drastic drop in temperature. Although we had only traveled 130 miles west, it was cooler by 40 to 50 degrees. Sweatshirts replaced tank tops, while gooey trees under gray skies hid the sun.

Damnation Creek Trail is actually about five miles south of the official state park entrance and campground, with only a small sign in a turnout right on Highway 101 that accommodates a half dozen cars. We whizzed right by it... and right by the state park as well, ending up in Crescent City. Luckily the large visitors center was open, so we popped in. I asked the friendly folks behind the counter for directions to Del Norte Redwoods, pronouncing the "e" at the end of the word "norte" as per Spanish pronunciation. But, before I could finish my question they both interrupted me and said firmly, "Del Nort!," eliminating the "e." Then they smiled and said, "We're just simple folk here." Alrighty then! When in Del Nort.....

The hike begins on a red earth path with ferns galore. The descent comes first on this trail, with lots of downhill switchbacks through virgin redwoods. If you visit in late spring, pink and purple rhododendron blossoms climb 30 feet overhead giving the impression of a tropical forest.

Just before reaching the cliffs above the beach, two "triangle bridges" cross Damnation Creek. The first bridge is in competition with the blackberry vines for dominance. The second bridge has a tree resting her heavy limb on it's apex. I could almost hear the tree sigh and the bridge moan in this enchanted forest.

The park brochure warns that the final length down to the beach is a tricky descent on the sometimes muddy and slippery bluffs and should only be undertaken by those confident in their abilities. But somewhere along the way someone has built a crude staircase. That's the route I took! And thus we were rewarded for our efforts in hiking down Damnation Creek's sometimes slippery 2.5 mile trail with our destination of ... Damnation Cove!

A narrow rocky beach, tidepools, driftwood, succulents and climbing offer exploration while the tide is out.

Allow extra time going back since you'll be climbing 1000 feet on the 2.5 mile return. After crossing back over the triangle bridges I stopped here and there to appreciate some of the smaller life forms living in this majestic forest, such as wild oxalis and variety of mushrooms.

As we neared the end of our journey, a hint of sunlight poured through the redwoods. I was pooped, feeling a bit like the old Oak resting her branch on the bridge. A giant tree trunk seemed to be offering support, but it was still only mid-afternoon. Restaurants, a fantastic Indian Museum, and a giant blue ox awaited down the highway.

I must return in spring - now that the park is staying open - to see the rhododendrons. Until then, there's another 58 parks to visit.

Hope to see you there.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011


A short hike with a huge pay-off is how I would summarize Castle Crags State Park. There are spectacular, gorgeous views and it's only five miles round trip.

We made our best efforts to get an early start so as to beat the August heat. Although it's only a 2-1/2 mile hike each way, it has a 2200 foot elevation gain. While Patty is a regular hiker, I hike only occasionally, so a cool morning climb seemed preferable. But I'm a night owl, so in spite of good intentions, we didn't arrive at the park until 9:00am... still the crack of dawn by my standards, and early enough to get one of only two parking places right at the trailhead.

The park is 40 miles north of Redding, right off Interstate 5. We could see the "crags" while driving, looming 3500-4000 feet overhead. "Look," I said to Patty. "That's where we're headed. Of course, we won't get all the way to the top." I assumed we would merely be hiking to a point that would give us a better view. Well, you know what they when you "assume,"...

We pulled up to the Ranger Station where the goofy grin of a taxidermied mountain lion greeted us through the glass.

“We’re hiking today,” I informed the ranger. “Anything we need to know?” She told us that a mama bear and two cubs had been spotted several times recently. But it shouldn’t be a problem. "Just stay out of their way if you see them,” she advised. Will do! An example of how not to store your food and ice chest in bear country was on display. Bears are common throughout forested Northern California, including right in my own home neighborhood. Nonetheless, I’d prefer not to get any closer than a good zoom lens shot.

Castle Crag State Park will officially close on November 30. A locked gate will be installed at the station. From there it is still a 2-1/2 mile drive uphill on a winding road to get to the trailhead, so while anyone who would like to walk into the park to hike will be able to do so, they will have to add this additional leg to their journey.

As I am only an occasional hiker, I was mentally bracing myself for the 2200 foot elevation gain. The hike began on a dirt trail that did not initially feel any more strenuous than hikes around my home in Pollock Pines. In fact, the path was clearer and more free of tree roots than some. A moderate uphill climb through the forest began soon into the walk, with only an occasional glimpse of the “crags” through the trees.

The granite crags were formed by volcanic activity some 200 million years ago, and for the last million years have been shaped by rain, ice, wind and a few small glaciers.

In 1855, the area below the Crags was the site of a battle between native people and settlers, chronicled by the controversial "poet of the High Sierra", Joaquin Miller. The locals, armed only with bows and arrows, were driven from the land. For the next 100 years, mining and logging were the primary industries in the area. During the 1920s and 1930s, conservationists circulated photographs of the beautiful crags and included them in their promotion of a comprehensive California state park system.

About an hour into the hike – as the trail became rockier - we rounded a bend and gasped! Suddenly we were there, right in the middle of the lower crags! It was breathtaking! We stopped here for water, a snack and photos. It seemed to be a favorite spot for hikers to take a break.

Here the hiking trail became rocky and steep, more akin to climbing stairs than hiking. I began making it a habit to stop every twenty steps or so to turn around and look at the view - and to catch my breath - as the elevation gain was significant enough in that amount of space to give the view a completely new perspective.

The trail on this perfect summer day was not overly crowded. The hikers we met ran the gamut. There were backpackers with full gear, obviously out for more than just the day. Castle Crags is part of the 2600 mile Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Southern California to Canada. It is unclear if or how the closure of the park will affect it. We ran into a solo hiker who carried nothing with him, not even water. He was a local fellow, and this was the equivalent of his daily walk. From him we learned of abuses already occurring in this under-staffed state park such as the illegal cutting of firewood and ATVs in areas where they are prohibited.

We continued our climb until both Mt. Shasta and the crags – which had both been high above our view only moments before – became closer to eye level, until finally all but the highest crags were below us. The views are nothing short of spectacular. Rising beside the spikey peaks is the rounded Castle Dome. Many mountain-eers liken it to Yosemite's Half Dome. This is the end of the trail. Rock climbing is at your own risk. Unlike Half Dome, there are no cables or other manmade means of assistance. Today there were no climbers, although a couple of hikers had “near death” stories about attempts to climb Castle Dome.

We headed back down the trail, stopping for more photos and water breaks. We arrived safely back at the trailhead after five hours. The bears had steered clear of us. Birds and an annoyed lizard were our only wildlife encounters today. Once back at the car, we took the quarter-mile walk through the campground to a lookout that is wheelchair accessible and offers very satisfying views of Mt Shasta and the Castle Crags for those who choose not to hike.

Recently I heard State Parks Director Ruth Coleman comment that putting up locked gates and giving the impression that the park is unattended is a sure fire way to attract undesirable activities such as meth labs. Yet, that was the plan du jour for Castle Crags. On the way out we stopped at the ranger station again, and complimented the park. A koi pond behind the hut seemed out of place, but was enjoyable nonetheless as it trickled into a welcome cool stream as the afternoon heat took hold.

This park has a huge pay-off for a relatively modest effort. If I – as a “once in awhile” hiker with foot problems – can do it, so can anyone in moderate shape. It’s very worthwhile, but it closes in less than two months. And, as I write this in early October, the snows are already on their way in the high country. Get there if you can. You won't regret it.

Hope to see you at the parks.