Holding the Edge

Morning Commute

Rather than waking up this morning anxious to see new things, I awoke only wanting to spend more time in the trees of the Humboldt Redwoods. So, happily, my morning commute as it were, started with about 24 more miles of them as I followed the Avenue of the Giants north to its terminus at the 101. They played their role as stately sentries guarding close the shoulders of the road, and I played mine as deeply awed interloper.  It was a great way to start a day.

The 101 basically follows the coastline from here to the Olympic Penninsula, so there isn’t much route finding to do.  Oddly, unlike the areas further south on the western edge, there are many times up here where the ocean may be only a couple of hundred yards off to the west, yet there is no evidence of it.  So deeply wooded and steeply graded is the topography that the sense of being near the ocean is often completely absent.

The first change comes at Humboldt Bay, and it is equally surprising.  Thanks largely to the Elk and Eureka Slough Rivers, a broad alluvial plain begins about 2 miles east of Humboldt Bay.  This means that when you top the last ridge to the south and get a view of it, it looks like, well, it looks like anywhere on the Gulf Coast.  A wide open, flat, marshland dotted with shorebirds and waterfowl and criss-crossed with the remnants of each river now ebbing and flowing with the tides.  The bay itself is as calm as an evening bath.  Nothing at all like the raging torrent I’ve grown accustomed to. With a great long sweep, the 101 follows the bay around to the east and back north and west where you get a sense it’s all coming to an end.  The northern end of the bay is a sheer wall of dense redwood that must be switchbacked to ascend.  North of the bay, the old Pacific is back, spoiling for a fight.  This time, however, there is a new ally for our besieged western edge.

Stomping like so many Goliaths right to the shoreline are the redwoods. Having planted themselves they now need this ground to survive, so this battle is personal.  All along the way to Redwoods National Park the ocean seems to realize the game has changed.  Gone are the washouts and cliff faces and in their place is a steady truce — the ocean is no less powerful, but that power seems to have decided not to show off quite so much.  

At Redwoods National Park (or really National and State Parks, as this is a series of connected parcels of protection that have various controlling entities) I swing by to meet with the Ranger and decide what to do. First thing, the main road — basically the only road — through the center of the park is closed.  Completely.  Not because of a mudslide or a upheaval or anything like that.  It’s closed because on the giants, my old and proud sentries, fell.  Across the road. When one of the tallest trees in the world falls, all sorts of stuff goes wrong.  They’ve been weeks trying to get the section covering the road cut out and expect to be more trying to make a road out what is no doubt now a deep trench where it fell.

A little sunlight goes a long way deep in the redwoods

With many of my options precluded, I elect to follow a narrow, rutted, almost impassable road over the ridge, through a state wilderness area, and out to a beach called Gold Bluffs.  Here I find a minor victory for the edge. The 250 foot or so bluffs were clearly taking a pounding, they are sheer and slides are frequent.  But with redwoods growing right to edge — and sometimes over it as young ones sprout in the slides — the edge won. A thousand yards from the base of the bluffs if the ocean, peacefully polishing stones deposited by all the nearby rivers and depositing them back out on the broad, long, beach.  In place of the once crashing surf at the base of the bluffs is a thriving dune system of marine grasses and conifer shrub.  There are elk from the Roosevelt Elk herd that graze here and the edge is firmly re-established.

Gold Bluffs Beach

As I ride further north tomorrow, we will see if it can hold.

The Gold Bluffs

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