More Than One Way to Carve a Canyon

…or is there?

Water is known to be an amazing force. It sustains life, takes life, removes and deposits rock. Yet, with all this power, sometimes the artist behind the work is hidden to us, our perception working like a snapshot of an incredibly dynamic, drawn-out scene.

Fern Canyon is usually brimming with water in the winter. By summer, the creek that spans from wall to wall withers down to a trickle, allowing for foot bridges and less of a wet walk thanks to our Marine West Coast climate [or “Csbn” (Mediterranean/summer fog) if you want a more technical Köppen classification. Don’t be fooled, by the way, by the Mediterranean part!! I’m not sure what part of the actual Mediterranean is this chilly; the only part I’ve been to was really, really hot! None of that here.].

Fern Canyon

The interesting thing about Fern Canyon, as small as it is, is the fact that the walls are vertical [and covered in ferns, although brown this time of year]. Of course, these walls lend themselves to all sorts of ‘myths’ about their creation, the most pervasive being that they are man-made [!]. Again [!][!!!]. According to such generalist sites like, Fern Canyon was a result of the frenzied California gold rush and miners using hydraulic rock removal methods [I see a future post on how it’s not wise to fully trust major travel guides [no endorsements from them here, eh?]]. Au contraire!

While there were miners present at Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach, they were never capable of hydraulically mining the canyon due to the lack of dams [they tried and failed]. Oddly, they occasionally focused their efforts on sucking the gold dust off the sea floor, at times thinking its origins were ocean-based and not from the bluffs themselves.

Fern Canyon Dribble

Indeed, the tool of choice to sculpt Fern Canyon was water, but by the hand of nature, not man. If you ever get the chance to go, *cautiously* check out the walls, or even the bluffs as you drive out there. They are nothing but pebbles! Sand and pebbles, lightly cemented together, ready to crumble at the first rain shower, or prying finger. Couple this soft ‘rock’, laid down by the ancestral Klamath River, with Home Creek [and perhaps a dammed ancient river that broke through?], and you get an easily carved canyon. Again, lots of water + soft ‘rock’ = natural canyon!

Speaking of water, we were lucky to see some in Sabino Canyon in Tucson, Arizona. Only 12 inches of rain falls a year.  Much like Fern Canyon, Sabino Canyon is amazing in that water is the sculptor, but unlike Fern Canyon, Sabino doesn’t have water year round. When it’s time to remove some rock, nature does it violently and quickly, almost like a woodworker wielding a chainsaw, hacking off bits and sending them flying.  Walking on the canyon floor, the drama of flash flooding is hinted at by the new restroom facilities [made of stone, replacing the old ones that were washed out–also made of stone!], broken bits of bridges, and boulders the size of small houses strewn about.

Sabino Canyon

Water is an amazing artist, even when only present a few times a year. Much like a museum that houses the works of great artists for the rest of us to admire, it is important for us to recognize the correct artist of our natural works, be it rain, wind, or ice, so that we may better understand the natural processes that occur around us. And much like a museum that asks you not to touch the works so they are preserved for future generations, it’s becoming critical that we work to preserve our natural places and allow the natural processes to continue uninhibited, creating the marvellous and mysterious works that they do. /soapbox

Fern Canyon

We hiked Fern Canyon today, nearly the most un-redwood part of the redwood parks.  I didn’t take any pictures, but our drive out to Fern Canyon was highlighted by a fellow, father of two young children apparently, who rode the whole road after the fee kiosk on the roof of his van, holding his legs in the air and whatnot…

Anyway, we hiked just a wee bit down the trail and found this lovely fellow:

It didn’t take long after watching the elk to find ferns. It did take longer than anticipated, though. The seasonal footplanks aren’t in yet…but we quickly came on this scene:

We admired the fern-clad canyon walls for a good while, or at least until we couldn’t take the mosquitos anymore.

All over the canyon–even in the water, were the cyanide millipedes. In the shot below, the one on the left has just newly hatched; the other is slighly older. Eventually, they will turn black with bright yellow spots.

Although the redwoods weren’t a feature of the loop trail, the Sitka spruce were very large!

After leaving the canyon, we went for a walk on Gold Bluffs Beach.

Yellow Sand Verbena

Not a bad walk to break in a pair of new shoes!

For more Fern Canyon photos: