I left Bandon and headed down the coast bound for the California Redwoods. When I was in junior high my family went on a vacation driving down the coast, and I remember stopping to see the strange and massive trees along the way. While I don’t remember exactly where we stopped, I’m fairly certain it was at the Trees of Mystery. The name may have eluded me, but I certainly remember the 49-foot-tall talking Paul Bunyan statue out front, with matching Babe the Blue Ox. I pulled over to take some photos, and an eight-year-old boy was talking to the giant statue.
“What’s your name little boy?”
“No,” he laughs. What a silly mistake to make. “Jaden! J-A-D-E-N!”
“Jaden, my mistake.”
“Does your bull talk?”
“It’s an ox, and no he doesn’t.”
“Have you ever been to Canada?”
“I did once, but I didn’t much care for it. They talk funny up there.” The adults all laugh.
“What does your bull eat?”
“It’s an ox.”
“Can I ride your bull?”
“It’s an ox. And no you can’t.”
This went on for several more minutes, and included more repetitions of the dry statement “It’s an ox” before Jaden’s mother intervened to suggest to him that perhaps someone else would like to talk to Paul Bunyan for a while.
I went to check out the Trees of Mystery ticket prices. While the idea of reliving my old family trip was intriguing, the prospect of doing it alone wasn’t. Neither was the prospect of being around that many screaming children, or paying $15 to do so. Besides, I didn’t have reservations at the campground I wanted to stay at, and since it would only be my second attempt at camping I wanted to be sure I had a spot in plenty of time.
I got to the Elk Praire Campground around 3PM, and picked out my spot (as it turns out, the spot across from me was never filled, so I could have arrived at any point and still gotten a site). Elk Praire is great, because despite being a fully developed campground, you’re surrounded by huge old trees and all the trappings of the forest. There was even a small, slow-flowing creek right by my tent.
With so much of the day left, I decided to go on a hike through the surrounding trees. There are many hikes around Praire Creek Redwoods State Park, ranging drastically in length and difficulty. I knew I didn’t want to go too far, and I knew that I was most interested in seeing the biggest, oldest trees I could. So I picked a three mile hike called the Cathedral Trees Trail, which seemed to fit my qualifications. I drove over to the trailhead and filled my backpack with some light hiking gear: water, a few snacks, a sweater, camera, small journal for notes, and a whistle. The whistle is for safety, since I’m hiking alone. For those interested in doing anything similar, keep in mind that your whistle should be on your body, not in your bag. The times in which you’ll really need it are the times when you might not be able to reach your bag.
The trailhead for the Cathedral Trees Trail is at the home of what’s known as “Big Tree.” It’s absolutely huge, and anywhere from 1500 to 2000 years old. I overheard the ranger explaining that they can’t know for sure, since tree rings aren’t reliable on very old trees due to breakage, internal rot, and new growth. I snapped a few photos and headed off on the trail.
The forest was beautiful and serene. You can hear the trees creaking under their own weight. The park is so large and there are so many trails, it doesn’t matter how crowded it is, you still won’t see many people. I was hiking for two hours and only saw four people on the trail.
I got back to camp to find a large high school group had taken up residence not far from me. Nothing makes a person want to have children less than being forced to be around other people’s kids on vacation. It’s difficult to keep your tranquil reverence for the beauty of the forest over the sound of screaming 16-year-olds. At least my campfire was a success.