By Tom Nichols
After almost 2½ years of shirking, I went back to work as a volunteer.
The terms: Twenty hours of work each week, split with Judy, in exchange for a campsite with electricity, water and sewer. After two years of freestyle travel, we committed to spend March, April and May as information center volunteers at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, a U.N. World Heritage site about 40 miles north of Eureka, California. To upgrade our campsite from the maintenance area to a beautiful spot on Prairie Creek, we agreed to cabin hosting, which meant light housekeeping for four utilitarian units with bunk beds and living space but without kitchens or bathrooms.
In the ancient forest at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in northern California, you walk beneath some of the tallest trees on the planet, immersed in a green-on-green world dripping with ferns, their amazing fiddleheads unfurling in the spring. Ferns cover the forest floor, drape from the branches and trunks of the trees and line the 50-foot walls of the world-famous Fern Canyon.
Waist-high sword ferns surround our campsite, delicate deer fern and lacy lady fern line the sides of the trails. The deer fern has two types of fronds, sterile ones with broader leaflets, and reproductive fronds with much narrower leaflets that contain spores on their undersides.
Leather fern form mats in the redwood canopy, creating hanging gardens with up to six feet of soil and blooming blackberry bushes. Bracken ferns cover the prairie, nearly hiding the reclining elk munching there. And in Fern Canyon, a World Heritage site and an International Biosphere Reserve, five-finger ferns flutter from canyon walls.
In the three months that we were volunteering at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, we had three sets of guests. First, Corbin, one of our son, Nate’s, former college roommates, stopped by for almost two weeks in his months-long tour of the West, then my mother, step-brother and sister-in-law, came for four nights, then my former colleague and always friend, Jen, and her partner, Reg, came for four nights.
We loved all of them, and each visit was unique. They enriched our sometimes solitary lifestyle. And they brought a feeling of home to our traveling abode.
A quick update on our elk, the four (former) “bachelors.”
Bachelors no more. Over the past month or so, the guys attracted more guys and, hooray, two females, one of whom is very, very round and, I suspect, very, very pregnant. The elk herd is called a harem, and these lovelies are fetching enough to do a dance of seven veils.
Now, the gang of 11 wander the prairie, munching and, occasionally, people watching. The males’ new antlers are growing quickly, up to an inch a day, covered with luxurious gray velvet.
I often stop to watch as they lie in the tall grass, chewing at leisure, and I anticipate the babies to come.
Here are a few new photos.
Then: Arizona 202 to The Arizona Republic in downtown Phoenix, where I was a reporter, 8 a.m. returning at 6 p.m. Tom took the same route off-peak, 2 p.m., for his evening shift at the paper, returning at 11 p.m.
Now: Volunteering at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in northern California, Tom and I walk from the campground to the Visitors Center on the Redwood Access Trail, a half-mile rise of nine feet through old-growth redwoods, ferns and blooming redwood sorrel, leaving at 8:45 a.m., returning at 12:45 p.m., three days a week.
Well, give me a high-five.
Yesterday, I hiked nearly 10 miles, one of the longest hikes I’ve ever done, and although my feet and legs hurt last night, I’m still standing this morning.
I want to know. Have you ever seen the rain comin’ down on a sunny day? – Creedence Clearwater Revival
I love the sound of rain. Especially on the roof of The Epic Van. And in our current spot in California’s redwood forest, I’m getting to listen to lots of it.
We have arrived at our new “home” for the next three months. We will be volunteering at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in northern California. It has the largest remaining expanse of ancient redwoods in the world, a canyon with walls of fern, a pristine wild beach and herds of elk.
We are beginning to explore the 75 miles of trails and to learn about the park’s flora and fauna. In addition to the elk, there are black bears, mountain lions, bobcats and black-tailed deer. I am happy to report I have only seen the deer and elk, which graze on the prairie outside our window.
With more than 70 inches of rain and wind this winter, there are an unusual number of massive trees down. One registered 2.0 on the Richter scale at a nearby cabin and damaged the road on the scenic bypass, off of U.S. 101. Crews are working to repair the road this week, and hope to have all the trails cleared by the end of the month.
Earlier this week, we took The Epic Van down the bumpy road to Gold Bluffs Beach, an amazing wild stretch of the Pacific Ocean, white with foam, just like in the song. Epic even got to do some stream fording along the beach road.
Anyone planning to be in our area should stop in for a visit and a walk among the oldest living things on the planet, the trees, not me and Tom.