This is my favorite hike. Period. Now, we’ve hardly scratched the surface of all the places we can hike I know and I may find another lovely place that I can’tstay away from but this one is perfect. Imagine this: At the (often crowded on the weekend) parking lot everything seems busy, bright, and chaotic. There is some traffic going by, people packing their bags to start off in groups, chatting, cars circling the lot to find a spot…. Then we set off. Almost as soon as we step off the parking lot onto the trail the thickness of the trees changes the whole atmosphere. The beginning is a downslope, like the path is urging you to hurry because it knows you can’t wait to be there. After a few yards, the trees and undergrowth have muted all noise from footsteps to voices. No traffic can be heard anymore and the farther we go, the quieter and darker it gets. The trees filter the light and we feel our senses being soothed by blocking out the barrage of stimuli. We begin to notice the scent in the air, a damp, earthy scent and we inhale a little deeper. It smells like water and decomposing wood and a little like pine. The darkness lends to keeping moisture in and the earth is soft on our feet, the air is cool on our faces, refreshing. Breathe a little deeper. The low light makes the space feel intimate even though at the beginning we will pass quite a few hikers. Gradually, the sound of the forest becomes more apparent. The trees and bushes rustle a little, we hear a few birds and begin to hear the sound of running water. It is all peaceful. As we get closer, the sound of the water drowns out everything else and we are alone with our thoughts…or we can let them go and just be.
Now, doesn’t that sound nice? The farther we walk the fewer people we see and sometimes, we won’t see anyone for miles. That I like about this place also. The best thing about this hike, other than the feeling of peace (which I desperately need) is that the first 4 miles looks like the forests of Endor from “The Return of the Jedi”. One of the trails is actually called the “Lost Empire” trail…Ewoks may be hiding in the bushes for all you know and you may want to check behind you to see that a speeder bike isn’t coming up fast with a little man on it followed by a few more carrying Stormtroopers. For the non-Star Wars fan, E.T. could be riding up on a bike possibly. You want to pinch yourself because, especially when there is no one else in the way, everything looks perfectly staged for a scene from one of these movies. Because it is so quiet, you can imagine that the director has just called “action”! and everyone is holding their breath before their lines begin. It actually isn’t too hard to believe either. Both of those movies had some of their scenes filmed in Redwood forests of Northern California. Not this forest exactly but the overall scene is unmistakable. For a Star Wars geek like me, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to go to let go of…everything.
Besides a good part of the hike following the stream, the views and the peace, the hike is also challenging after the trail heads away from the stream. There, the hike goes up the side of a hill with some steeper sections and the trees thin out and look more like a forest from home. More oaks and young trees, more fallen leaves and a little more sunlight. At the top, we meet “Big Ben”, an impressive but fairly young Redwood. The decent from here is very challenging with a part of it being a narrow gully but eventually we end up back at the stream and follow it back out. Along the way there is an interesting historical site where they used to make wooden barrels (out of Redwoods! AH!) to transport lime in. The lime was dug nearby and some of the old equipment still sits there. Neat! The whole way around is around 9 miles, a little more really, so this hike isn’t one to start late in the day. It’s always an option to go out as far as you’d like and turn around to come back but I prefer the whole route.
Something else that strikes me about this place, though there could be litter the next time I’m there, but I rarely see any trash left behind. It is as if the forest impresses on people the special quality that makes it so nice, an impression that maybe unconsciously pushes people to put their litter in their backpack and not leave it behind. So many trails we hike have the evidence of uncaring, inconsiderate people left behind but not here. It isn’t because there are trash cans or Forestry Service people keeping it up either, I really think it is the atmosphere itself. You’ve been allowed into what amounts to a sanctuary, an intimate, peaceful place with the sense of things greater than yourself. A forest full of Redwoods where a single Redwood has lived on average of 500-700 years, trees that can continue to live up to 2,000 years, a place that is forever and timeless. (Show some respect and don’t mess it up!)
Writing this up has me wanting to go out there. I wish I lived close enough to go on a whim with a book and read by the stream. Take a snack and a warm jacket….I could be there for hours, blissfully happy and disconnected from the city.