When I think about the way I travel and the way others travel, there are two extremes at the ends of a spectrum: on one side, we fit in everything we can see during our limited time at a destination; on the other side, we stick to a small area and get to know it really well. Where do you typically fit on this spectrum?
When we book trips to major destinations, there is extensive planning involved as well as the expense of the trip. On top of that, there are seemingly infinite places in the world that we would like to visit someday. So, trips to major destinations might end up being or seeming like once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Thus, we have the temptation to take advantage of our limited time at that location and see all of the sights. The advantage is that we don’t miss out on anything. The disadvantage is that we only get to dabble our toes in the proverbial waters. It can sometimes feel superficial.
On the other end of the spectrum, we could stay in one place and explore it deeply. Yes, you don’t get to hit up all of the touristy highlights, but what you get instead is a deep connection to that one local place. Maybe it’s getting to know the food and drink, maybe it’s really diving into the history, or maybe it’s getting to know the plants and animals and geology. I’m not making any judgments regarding any location along this spectrum. Sometimes the purpose of our travel dictates where we put that trip. And sometimes outside circumstances decide that for us.
Spring Break 2023
Back in October, my daughter told me she wanted to see the redwoods. She must have been learning about them in school and was inspired to see them in real life. I had never been and the northern California coast has been on my list of places to visit for some time. I couldn’t plan a trip over the holiday break. But I could plan one for spring break. So I looked into it. Mid-march isn’t the peak of tourist season. It can be quite rainy and cold, but not so cold as to make it unbearable. So I said, “Let’s do it.” I started looking at things to see and places to stay, and how long it would take us to get there and back. I planned a trip on which we would visit various locations within Redwood National and State Parks, including the Tall Trees in the south, some groves in the north, and some coastal play because you can’t go to the coast and not play in the tide pools or stroll along a Pacific beach.
This year has been an unusually wet and snowy winter for the west coast of the United States. It seems like Northern California has been battered by heavy storms on a weekly basis. A large storm came through at the beginning of January and closed down much of the park. By the end of the month, the roads and trails had been reopened, only for another storm to shut them down again. A week later, another storm. And then another. I was hopeful that maybe the Tall Trees grove would be open by spring break, but no such luck. Even on our drive down, the coast got hit again and I was concerned that we might not even get there, let alone have anything to do.
I ended up booking an AirB&B in Crescent City and was happy to find out that Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the northernmost part of the National-State parks complex, was completely open. So that’s what we did. We spent three days in Crescent City and got to know the local redwood groves quite well, and to be honest, it was nice that way. There was less pressure to drive up and down the coast to see it all and instead enjoy what was right there. Crescent City has a beach as well as a rocky coast with tide pools, and the trees in the park are nothing to scoff at.
It took us two days to drive from Moscow down to Crescent City. We left Saturday morning, stopping for some food supplies in Kennewick, and then stopping at Multnomah Falls outside of Portland. I had never been to the Columbia Gorge or Portland before, so I had to take advantage. We also couldn’t stay and hike much. This might be a trip of its own in the future. But it was good to get out and stretch our legs, and the kids really enjoyed seeing one of Oregon’s iconic scenes. We stopped in Portland for dinner and then found a hotel for the night. We’ll have to do a proper Portland visit another time, but already I’m hooked.
From Portland, we headed south on I-5, stopping in Eugene to pick up lunch and then in Grants Pass to stretch our legs. By then the rain had let up and we had a nice time exploring the town completing a Geocaching Adventure Lab.
It rained pretty hard on our first day. The kids didn’t really want to get out and hike, so we went to the visitors center and then drove Howland Hills Road, the main scenic drive through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The drive alone is impressive. But the next day, the rain let up to a mere drizzle and we got out to hike some trails. We started on the trail to the Grove of the Titans. These might not be the biggest of the redwoods, but they are certainly impressive.
After hiking among the Titans, we drove to the Stout Grove, had a quick lunch in the car, and then went out to play in the forest. Adam had a blast exploring behind the trees.
After two hikes, we were fairly wet and cold and done for the day.
The sun came out for our third day, and it was glorious. We spent the morning on the coast playing in the tide pools. Adam stayed on the beach playing in the rocks and sand, but Clara and I explored the diversity of life in the rocky intertidal zone. At first, all we found were some periwinkle snails and hermit crabs. But then we found our first sea star, an orange Ochre Star. After that, they were everywhere, glued to the rocks. Later we spotted a Leather Star. I found a few more in another pool closer to the low tide zone. We found some Green Anemones and some crabs hanging out under the rocks. In a few pools, we saw some Tide Pool Sculpin swimming about.
After lunch, we headed back into the park for one last hike among the redwoods. We hiked the Leiffer Loop trail which brought us to several groves of old-growth forest. The hike ended up being a bit longer than we expected. It was fun, but the kids were exhausted at the end of it. This hike will be showcased in an upcoming video on my YouTube channel, so stay tuned.
We only had time for three days on the Redwood Coast. On Thursday, we started our drive north to get the kids back home and to get me back home in time for the next week of classes. We took a different route, stopping in Bend. This allowed us to gaze upon the many Cascadian volcanoes along our drive. The kids weren’t as impressed as I’d hoped they’d be. They are fascinated with volcanoes and keep asking me to take them to one. But I think they want an actively erupting volcano. For me, it was an awesome spectacle to see Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters as we were driving into Bend. And the next day, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson appeared as we were leaving Bend. Then Mount Hood appeared on the horizon. And then Mount Adams, which made Mount Hood look like a dwarf. And finally, as we approached the Columbia River, I could see the top of Mount Rainier peaking up from behind Mount Adams. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop for any photographs of the mountains on our drive back, a mistake I won’t make next time.
This trip was everything I needed – mountains, trees, forests, time away from the drudgery of life, exploration, and photography. I don’t know if or when I’ll be back to see the Redwoods again, but it worked out well to not stress about seeing it all. I feel more relaxed than I have during any other trip with the kids. I dare say that three days in the old-growth forest among the tallest trees on earth may have had a profound effect on me. Or maybe it was having some spring weather and time outside. As we were driving back, North Dakota had another snowstorm that closed down the highways in much of the state. I jokingly thought about turning around and just not going back. But I had to. And I’m glad I did, for less than a week later, I had a second profound experience. But that will be for another post.