Jeff's Old Growth Forest Expedition: Day One
Day 1: Drive from Portland to Trinidad, CA
Well I’ve hardly begun and have already seen sights to take my breath away. The drive from Portland was far pleasanter than expected – I suppose I had imagined that I-5 would be basically down an interior valley similar to that of California: flanked by mountains, but otherwise flat and unremarkable. But that was not the case. While there was certainly much agricultural land south of Portland, the Willamette Valley is verdant and beautiful. But eventually, as I passed Eugene, the terrain became increasingly mountainous and forested. Soon I had left behind the rich farms and wineries of the valley and was surrounded by the source of a different agricultural product: forest. Everywhere you looked there were rich, rounded mountains of forest – cut by decidedly unnatural swaths of clear cuts that looked as if a giant scythe had sliced away the mountain’s coat. While logging is, in a way, the subject of my project, I hadn’t expected to see so much of it so soon. It felt like a signpost for what’s to come.
I left the I-5 at Grants Pass, a pretty little town at the junction of the interstate and U.S. 199. Known as the Redwood Parkway, the road winds its way through the Smith River National Recreation Area to the coast, where I picked up U.S. 101 and headed south to my destination for the next three nights: Trinidad, California and Redwood State and National Parks.
For much of the Parkway, it was “merely” winding road through stunning Western river valleys. Anyone who’s spent much time in the mountain west would not have found it remarkable, except for the matchstick-straightness of the massive fir trees that were at every turn. The valleys were far too steep for logging, but most of the hilltops were in various states of clear-cuts and re-growth. But then, quite suddenly, when I was about 10 miles from the coast, the road narrowed, the forest darkened, and I was surrounded by enormous redwoods. Grove after grove of them, many wider than the width of my car. I was unprepared for this; I guess I thought “Redwood Parkway” meant it was the parkway to the redwoods. But I had entered the northernmost part of Redwood State and National Parks, a patchwork of California state parks surrounding and butting up against the National park.
It was hard to keep my eyes on the road, but I was well-advised to do so: many of the trunks came right up to the edge of the pavement.
And then, after a few miles, it was over: I was at the coast. The redwoods, I said to myself, must be a picky lot. Perhaps they require a very specific balance of coolness and warmth. Perhaps they don’t care for the salty air, and so don’t grow too close to the ocean. Perhaps, in the hopelessly jumbled geology of the coastal ranges the soil had changed ever-so-slightly, to their displeasure.
But my speculations were premature. South of Crescent City the road climbed up above precipitous, tree-covered bluffs that plunged down to the water’s edge. And as the road wound upward again, just out of sight of the sea, the redwoods returned. Grove after grove, each one their own state park. Their slender stems glowed silver in the later afternoon light, as mists rose up from the water and climbed the forested slopes.
My home for the next three nights is a lovely little complex of cabins with a beautiful view of the ocean. Tomorrow I head back to the forest for a closer look than that from my car window. Here are some pictures of the sunset, as seen from the porch to my cabin.