The Milky Way Over Redwoods

Elk Prairie Milky Way

Douglas-fir and coast redwood as the curtains, redwood forest as the stage.

Elk Prairie, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Redwood National and State Parks, California

What to Hike Instead: Redwood National Park/Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Since Redwood National Park is currently closed due to the shutdown, the world-famous trails are technically off-limits. But if you’re still looking for legal, awe-inspiring redwood hikes, there are as many options as there are stars in the sky–it is actually hard to narrow them down!  Ranger Cathy outlines some great areas near San Francisco in place of Muir Woods National Monument.

If you find yourself six hours to the north of San Francisco and driving through Redwood National Park [which has no gates, by the way], there are some great alternatives to get your hike on in the redwoods:

Instead of Lady Bird Johnson Grove, try the comparable Prairie Creek/Foothill loop that starts right behind the Prairie Creek Visitor Center [located on the southern end of the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway between the towns of Klamath and Orick]. This flat, 2 mile loop skirts along the babbling Prairie Creek, waiting for the winter salmon arrival.  As a special treat, you might even spot an American Dipper in the creek. This grey, amphibious bird has an amusing bobbing tick that adds to the amusement of watching it search for invertebrates under water. At the first ‘Parkway’ sign, cross the Parkway and walk to Big Tree along the old roadbed of old Highway 101. After gazing at the hugeness that is Big Tree, take Foothill Trail back to the Visitor Center, but tread lightly–you might spot a banana slug or Pacific giant salamander under the Bigleaf maples and towering redwoods.


Perhaps a permit to drive down the Tall Trees Access Road and hike Tall Trees Trail was in your itinerary. Never fear! There is the Brown Creek/Rhododendron/South Fork loop just waiting to be discovered! This 3.5 mile loop climbs 700 feet through upland and lowland redwoods without the 45 minute drive down a gravel road. Just take the Newton B Drury Parkway and look for mile post 129.0. The trailhead is on the northbound side of the Parkway. The South Fork segment is the steepest, while Brown Creek offers glimpses of its namesake creek trickling through the understory.


Just like Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is fee-free [unless you go into the day-use areas past the campground gates] and does not allow dogs on trails. Unlike the National Park, Prairie Creek has been around since the 1920s, so to keep it in pristine shape like it has been for all these years, staying on the trail is encouraged to protect the fragile understory and shallow redwood roots.


Looking Up at Stars [and Over at Wildfires]

Star photography produces interesting glimpses of our skies, almost like pulling back a thick, dark curtain from your eyes. My favorite way to think of long exposure photography is, instead of unrealistically portraying a scene, it shows a world in which we live, but don’t see due to our perception of time.

Fires are at our pace–quick to burn, their duration is measurable within our frame of reference. This fire in particular might burn until winter, but likely we will be able to mark the end on our calendars.

On the other hand, stars are not as measurable. They may burn out during our lifetime, but our perception of those events are delayed. When we look up at the sky, we are seeing the past, not perceiving the present moment. An example is the North Star, known also as Polaris [a group of five stars, actually!], that currently serves as a pole star, ‘around’ which the Earth’s axis of rotation currently spins. The star group is 323 light-years away, meaning the light from those stars is 323 years old by the time it reaches us. Not only is it old light, but its role as pole star has not always been so. In 100 years or so, the axis will shift to another star, as it has in the past. In fact, somewhere around 300 BC, the axis rotated around an area of space without visible stars!

It is amazing to think that, as a free natural resource that inspires wonder, awe, and provokes us to think about the possibility of life off of our planet, the night sky isn’t seen by nearly 80% of Americans due to light pollution from suburban areas! [from:] And on a more altruistic level, our light pollution affects many species of wildlife, from lightning bugs to sea turtles.

Flower Flurries

Nothing marks Spring’s arrival like flowers do!

Here in this part of California, even though we are not warm, we see a long growing season, like that of the Deep[er] South. Flowering starts in February and doesn’t often end until November or some such month, but it is possible to find flowers all year long, especially since we have a huge selection of non-natives that love this area. Out of the native group, the trilliums, currants, and Cardamines [toothworts] are the first to pop up.

Below are some of the current bloomers around the redwood area: [Click to enlarge]

Lucky Dog: Redwood National Park

Lucky Dog: Redwood National Park

I’ve never been there, but I claim with certainty that there are no redwoods in the Pyrenees Mountains. I can proclaim this solely based on my dog’s fur; the amount of redwood duff [and even a few cones] that lodges into her Pyrenees hind end each time she sits down is infinite. I’m not sure which she is more bothered by: the forest that spooks her field-loving nature, or the forest debris that tugs and causes her to be tugged on as we try to remove it. Luckily, she puts up with our redwood-filled, gawking-instead-of-walking, stroll.

You can take your leashed dog several places in Redwood National and State Parks. Trails are off-limits, but anywhere a car is permitted, so is a leashed dog. This includes campgrounds and scenic drives [just watch out for cars–the drivers often are looking up!]. Any beach that you don’t have to hike a trail to get to is also dog-friendly–including right by the Kuchel Visitor Center. Of course, your dog has to be leashed at all times [6 feet or shorter].

There are a few places I’d be wary of taking my dog. The Bald Hills Road during tick season is one; but more importantly, anywhere there are elk, I’d leave my dog in the car. It’s not unheard of for a dog to forget how big is too big and give chase or at least bark at elk, and elk usually don’t forget how big they are and willingly throw their 500-1,000 lbs in the direction of any dog, no matter how cute or tough-looking.

The one redwood-lined place I like dragging my dog [she is not a fan of forests] is Cal-Barrel Road.  This narrow gravel road, most days open to cars, climbs up a ridge for about 2 miles as it winds through the redwoods. Once an easement for logging trucks to access their timber during World War II (so I’ve been told by a knowledgeable ranger), this road allows your dog to accompany you on a serene, forested walk.

Road Closed. This is actually not a redwood, but a Douglas-Fir. Note the difference between the bark of the fallen Doug-fir and the redwood standing behind it. Husband for scale.

While not all parks are quite as dog-friendly, Redwood National and State Parks, a unique cooperation between three state parks and one national park, offers a chance to stand under the tallest canooy in the world with your four-pawed friend.  Something on both your bucket lists, I’m sure!

Fire Cave [Redwoods in high-key, nothing wrong with that!]

Large Log

Winding Up


If it were possible to sprout wings and fly between my place of employment and my husband’s, it would be about 30 miles in linear distance. Driving, it’s about 40 to 55, depending on where you are in the park.

From atop School House Peak looking all the way to Humboldt Bay and Woodley Island

Cropped version of the above photo

Happy New Year!