Trip Report - Prarie Creek Redwoods

Ossagon Creek Sunset (Matt Pritchard) More photos below.

By Jody Pritchard

This year's Memorial Day Weekend adventure wasn't quite as monumental as last year's engagement story, but having said our I do's, and enjoyed a week's worth of beach bliss in Belize, Matt and I were ready to tackle our first backpacking trip as "The Pritchards."

Exercising our patented 'Three Day Weekend Alpine Start', we beat the Friday traffic mayhem and left Saturday around 2AM, bound for Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park - about 45 minutes north of Eureka. By 7am we were napping in the parking lot and waiting for our friendly park ranger to take care of permits and fees.

The National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation co-manage a group of parks that contain 45% of California's remaining redwood old-growth trees. But here's a jaw dropper: Only 4% of the redwood old-growth trees from 1850 still exist in the state. That's right, 96% were logged to support post Gold Rush progress. Fortunately, due to some forward thinking environmentalists during the turn of the century, efforts began to save what was left. Although logging continued in much of this area up to the 1960's and 70's, Washington has set aside these parcels to be enjoyed by generations to come.

After coming to and getting our papers in order, we were off and up the Miner's Ridge Trail headed for the coastal backcountry camp by the same name. Walking in a redwood forest has a calming effect that is difficult to describe. It reminds me of wrapping up in a thick blanket to close out the sounds of the world. Our footsteps were barely audible as we tread on the deep cushion of composting organic material. Only our clearly-out-of-shape wind sucking could be heard through the stillness of the morning as we worked our way up to the ridge. (That whole wedding thing really bit into our conditioning this year.) The air was damp and cool, and everywhere we looked, foliage had intertwined with its neighbor, each dependant on the other for survival. This would be a great place to come if you have some serious thinking to do.

As it was, all I could think of is, "Wow - I can't believe we're married!" over and over again. The ridge slowly dropped as we approached the Pacific Ocean and the distant roar of waves crashing into shore began drowning out my thoughts.

Occasionally there are campgrounds that make you wonder why people drop hundreds of dollars on a room with an ocean view. Miner's Ridge is one of them. Between the shade, space, picnic table, and knockout view of the Pacific, you have to wonder if there is any better way to spend $3? After setting up camp, Matt and I walked down to the warm sand and proceeded to catch up on the Z's we missed the night before.

Occasionally there are campgrounds that make you wonder why people drop hundreds of dollars on a room with an ocean view. Miner's Ridge is one of them.

The next day we hiked north on the Coastal Trail and discovered Fern Canyon. Stepping into this green jewel is like walking through a prehistoric portal. In fact, this space hosted the film crews of Jurassic Park, although it's hard to imagine anyone in Hollywood having a clue of its remote whereabouts. The small canyon features a narrow, winding creek bed with 50ft. fern lined walls. High above, towering redwoods allow only filtered light through the foliage and back to the shallow water. The various intensities of green and lushness of the ferns are absolutely memorizing. This park has a not-so-subtle way of hinting how delicate it is and makes you feel very small.

As we wound north, the muddy trail grabbed at our boots and we were reminded that Spring was enjoying her stay. We came upon an earthy, barefoot group of early twenty somethings who recommended we lose our boots before trying to cross the last meadow to the Ossagon Creek campground. Dodging unforeseen obstacles below the tall grass while mud squished through our toes wasn't our idea of fun, so we kept our boots on and picked our way trying to keep the damage to a minimum and met up on dry land.

The second night's accommodations weren't nearly as luxurious as Miner's Ridge. Since the campground was below the dune, we didn't have a view, our picnic table was a catapulting death trap, and the pit toilet was more than a little scary. Times like these, it's better to go without and enjoy what nature provides - not what tax cuts can't maintain. We admired the soft grassy bed we would have for the night and enjoyed another afternoon of napping on the beach and watching the local residents: sea lions, crabs, and pelicans.

During our midnight drive, Matt mentioned to me he had never seen an elk before. I had read that Prairie Creek was home to a few hundred Roosevelt Elk, but didn't have the heart to wake him up as we passed a herd grazing in the early dawn mist. However, while cooking dinner that night, I glanced at Matt and saw his jaw drop and his eyes fix on a young buck who had decided to come and check out what was on the menu. As he walked towards us, we had the split thought of how close is too close. We fumbled for our cameras to capture the photo op staring right at us munching on a mouthful of grass.

We packed up early in the morning and headed home. Again, the lack of conditioning thing came and kicked us square in the ass. The hike back to the car was long and to cap it all off, we had not packed enough food for this portion of our trip. Hungry and exhausted, we followed a portion of the trail that appeared to be a very old road of some kind. Then we saw them.

Colossal gray stumps huddled on the east side of the ridge bellowed a dark note in California's history. The solitude and silence made us feel as though we were walking on sacred burial ground for these 2000 year old giants. Covered in ferns, cobwebs, and debris, we estimated the last loggers left this old-growth grove with all they could carry about 50 years ago. The 'road' was nothing more than a wide, rugged trail and it was hard to imagine how they hauled out portions of these trees that were at least 10-15ft. in diameter. Touched, and determined, we continued.

We reached the car before noon and treated our empty tummies to a healthy dose of pizza and beer in Eureka. While we were able to beat the traffic on the way out - there was just no getting around it on the way back. We took turns at the wheel and were able to glide on home just before dark. Another packed three day weekend was chalked up on the board, but the first of many as husband and wife.

Questions or comments about this trip report? Let us know.