Ménage à trois in the Redwoods

We coasted into the campground at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park about 11 one morning last week and what a welcome sight to behold – Judy and Tom, journalism friends from 30-some years ago in Phoenix, seated in the sun at a picnic bench next to their “Epic Van” holding the neighboring camp spot for us.

Such a joyful reunion!

About an hour later, as the four of us emerged from a shady stroll through the rest of the Elk Prairie campground, we spotted new friends Bob and Alison from Ontario, Canada pulling into the sunny side of the campground in their Casita. Yes! They took the third spot in our little campsite circle and our ménage à trois in the Redwoods was complete!

We started with the champagne you see in this photo. We later enjoyed the Ménage à Trois wine that Bob and Alison brought to share with dinner….

Happy times all around.

It had been nearly two years since we’d seen Judy and Tom, though we’d kept in touch via our travel blogs. (Hers is called New American Nomads.) They’re the gutsy ones, having quit their jobs nearly five years ago while still in their 50s, sold their home in Scottsdale and bought a sleek Mercedes Roadtrek van. They’ve lived in it full-time ever since, traveling all over the United States, wintering at her mom’s in Scottsdale for a couple of months each year over the holidays.

They’ve been to every one of the Lower 48 states in the Epic Van except Maine – most of them multiple times.

We met Bob and Alison last month when they pulled into the Fort Stevens State Park on the northern tip of the Oregon coast. It’s not every day you meet Canadians in a tiny Texas-made comfort egg. Here’s a shot of our twin Casitas at Cape Lookout State Park further south along the Oregon coast a few nights later.

They’d been traveling in their Casita since June, nearly paralleling our trek across the northern tier of the United States – except on the Canadian side – and had only recently turned south to experience the Olympic National Park, the Oregon coast and beyond. We’d invited them to join our rendezvous the following week with Judy and Tom in the redwoods, but we weren’t sure they really would.

Judy and Tom didn’t know Bob and Alison; Bob and Alison didn’t know Judy and Tom. No matter. It was an instant love triangle.

We spent the next 48 hours hiking, eating and drinking together. We’re a varied group, all recently retired – three journalists, a chef/tour guide, a firefighter and a non-profit leader. The six of us share many interests and values; the camaraderie was instantaneous and deep.

And it was enriched by the fact that Judy and Tom were volunteers in this park – the only in the nation operated cooperatively with a national park – for three months in the spring of 2017. They know the best hikes. They tutored us on the felicity of ferns, the majesty of coast redwoods and the wonders of the area’s wildlife.

Area’s wildlife

One morning, four bachelor elk came calling in our small campsite circle. This is the end of breeding season and these young males apparently weren’t mature enough yet to snag a mate. One grazed so close to our Casita trailer door that I could hear him ripping the grass from the ground.

He was beautiful; I particularly loved his butt. Elk hindquarters are accentuated by the lighter colored fur there than that on the rest of their bodies.

As impressive as the elk were – and wonderful to watch for the several hours they spent lollygagging around the campsite, impervious to the dozens of campers who gathered with cameras – their nonchalance made me sad. Now I understand how easy it is for poachers to (illegally) kill these magnificent animals. They’re so comfortable amid humans that poachers can walk up to within a dozen yards of them. How hard is it to shoot an elk from that distance?

Here’s a view of the four of them, lying in the grass, from across the other side of the campground with our two Casitas and the Epic Van in the background.

Three days later, as we were headed out of the state park, G and I came across another duo by the side of the park road. This pair were especially elegant, with huge racks perched on their heads like a kingdom crowns. I snagged this seven-second video from the car as we crawled by. (The voice you hear softly in the background is that of a cyclist behind us, paused by the side of the road, trying to determine the prudence of proceeding past the giant elk or waiting it out a bit to avoid inviting an inadvertent antlered challenge.)

Coast redwoods

Tom and Judy took us first on a four-mile walk through the redwood forest and then, the following day, on a 12-mile loop hike out to Fern Canyon and the Pacific Ocean and back. It was the best way to experience the majesty of these gentle giants.

Here’s a photo of Bob and Alison, with G in the background, along one of the lovely, tree-canopied trails.

Check out this giant redwood. That’s G, the tiny guy with his arms up at the base of the trunk.

This redwood’s trunk makes me think of an elephant foot.

Here’s another view upstream from one of our hikes.

Don’t you expect a Tolkien character to jump out from one of the tree trunks in this photo?

I wish I knew which mushrooms are edible and which ones aren’t. These are beautiful.

So is this one. (That’s Tom’s boot to the right, deliberately included for scale appreciation.)

Redwoods are tough. They can withstand fire and other abuse and still survive. Here’s a picture of Bob inside a nearly hollowed out redwood trunk that’s still supporting a huge and thriving tree.

We also learned:

… Coast redwoods are the tallest living thing on earth. They tower over all other trees in the world and can reach 370 feet. (Giant sequoias grow larger in diameter and in bulk than do coast redwoods, but they don’t grow as tall.)

… This redwood forest has developed the world’s greatest volume of living matter per unit of land surface.

… Redwoods grow from seeds the size of a tomato seed, but they can weigh 500 tons and stand taller than the Statue of Liberty. Their cones are the size of a large olive.

… Coast redwoods can live to be 2,000 years old. They average 500 to 700 years. (We saw both – the Old and the Very Old – on our hikes.)

… The foot-thick bark makes the tree all but impervious to fires and insects.

… Fossils show that relatives of today’s redwoods thrived in the Jurassic era, 160 million years ago. (Tom and Judy report that portions of the movie Jurassic Park were filmed here!)

… About 5 percent of the world’s old-growth redwoods exist today. Fully 95 percent of that old-growth is in California; 80 percent of old-growth redwoods is protected by parks and preserves.

Being in this forest brings back childhood memories of one summer week I spent with Aunt Clarice and Uncle Frank. I was probably 10 or 12 when my parents put me on a plane in Tucson and allowed me to fly – All By Myself – to San Jose, California to visit my father’s older brother and his wife, who lived in Saratoga.

Aunt Clarice took me to see the redwoods. I don’t remember which park we went to – probably one closer to San Francisco than Prairie Creek – but we actually drove her car through one of the tree trunks and I was amazed that a real tree could grow that big. (We also went to the beach. Aunt Clarice brought hot tea in a thermos because she knew it would be cold on the beach. I didn’t think I liked hot tea, but she sweetened hers. I’ve loved hot tea ever since.)

Aunt Clarice passed way 15 years ago. I thought a lot about her last week, warmed by the memories of how she made a 10-year-old in white knee socks and brown penny loafers feel so grown up and special.

On our first ménage-à-trois day together last week, the six of us walked to the famed Big Tree – 286 feet high, nearly 24 feet in diameter, 74.5 feet in circumference and believed to be 1,500 years old.

I particularly the Native American legend of How the Redwood Came to Be.

But truth be told, thanks to Judy and Tom, there are actually bigger and older trees elsewhere in the area.

Here’s one of them. It’s said to be one of the tallest five trees In the world. I couldn’t resist an attempted selfie.

Here’s a more artful attempt at a photo of another tree with an amazing array of branches.

Here’s G next to a fallen tree, not even one of the biggest we saw.

Some of the root balls of fallen trees are taller than a two-story building.

Check out the donut-shaped decay – and life – in this photograph.

This is called a nurse log, to the right in the photo below. The wood itself is dead but serves as the lifeblood for myriad plants (and animals) for decades, even centuries.

Some of the fallen trees look like intricate art statues. I particularly liked this one.

Amid a dense forest of giant redwoods, I feel small and inconsequential. What stories these trees could tell. Imagine, many of these were towers in the sky long before Christopher Columbus “discovered” America…..

Felicity of forest ferns

Judy is a fanatic of ferns. She taught us to distinguish the four most common kinds in this area.

The sword fern is the largest. Its “leaves” look like swords. The deer fern is similar but more delicate.

The five-finger fern is the most dainty, with branches leading off the main vine like fingers off a hand. And the leaves of the maidenhair fern stem from “spines” that sprout separately off from the main spine.

Here’s a short video of a dripping wall in the famed Fern Canyon.

That’s Judy, tiny and in the hat off to the right of this photo, amid the ferns along the canyon trail.

At one point, on the way back from the long hike to Fern Canyon, we encountered a fellow with his wife who had run his rental car into the ground at a water crossing. Here’s a short video of several hikers in the area trying to dislodge the car – that’s G in the blue hood helping to lift the car out of peril, barefoot in the ice-cold water.

The effort succeeded.

Gastronomical delights

Yes, we ate well.

We started with some fresh oysters from Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston, Oregon. We’d never seen oysters so huge.

They were so big we decided to grill them with a bit of spinach and cheese. Some we couldn’t pry open, so we grilled them, as is, in hopes the heat would prompt them to yawn.

Here’s another shot of our hors-d’oeuvres on the flame.

I actually had to use a fork and knife to eat mine.

We quickly progressed to the fresh rockfish. These filets were outstanding.

The next evening, Tom made on the stove in the Epic Van a rice noodle Thai chicken dish for six. It was delicious. I was so enamored of the flavors and textures that I neglected to take any pictures. Darn!

Coastal views

And of course no post about Northern California would be complete without some ocean views.

Four of us drove to Patrick’s Point State Park one day and walked out to the “wedding rock.” Judy and Tom have a friend who has “convinced” his fiancé to get married here. I know I wouldn’t take much convincing. Here’s a view of where I’d position the bride and groom.

Isn’t this a nice perspective?

This is a shot G took from above of me, Judy and Tom scoping out the location.

And this is G on a precipice.

And another shot of the view from the wedding rock.

Later, the four of us drove up to picnic at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove for a touch of Texas amid the Northern California redwoods.

Lady Bird came to this lovely location on Nov. 25, 1968 to help dedicate the Redwood National Park. She returned a year later, according to the site’s informational plaque, to be recognized by President Nixon with a grove of trees named in her honor as a salute to her work to preserve and enhance “America’s natural beauty for the enjoyment of all people.”

We all felt a bit sad when Bob and Alison headed northeast to begin their trek back to Ontario, Judy and Tom headed north for a reunion of Stanford University journalism fellowship friends in Oregon, and we headed south to continue our Year on the Edges of America adventure.

But not too sad. We know we’ll get together again on the road some time in the future.

I’d put money on it.

16 thoughts on “Ménage à trois in the Redwoods

  1. What a fabulous entry! I enjoyed the photos of the magnificent elk. This was a delight to view and read. You make the most of every moment. You bring up so many wonderful memories of our travels. Thank you for taking the time to post and share. I do love all of the educational aspects. Enjoy – I sure am. Hugs to you and G.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Jane! So wonderful to hear from you. Can’t wait to see you in Tucson and then next month or so.

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  2. My two favorite bloggers together! Love it

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Judy. We showed them your magic pan and told the story!

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  3. So… we’ve had a weekend with all our kids and younger grandkids, I’m happily in bed early with a great mystery on Kindle, the Cowboys are playing, Buddy is curled up beside me, But what has me captivated? Your posts. You make me long to see those magnificent trees. And to know Judy and Tom. And to eat Georges wonderful food. And to not be immersed in politics, but nature. What a wise decision you’ve made to take this time off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cecilia. I so love hearing from you. Yes, this is a good time for us to be in nature! I’m so disappointed in certain lawmakers that I can hardly bear it so better to be oohing and aahing over the sea lions and oystercatchers we saw from Salt Point yesterday….

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  4. We had such a great time, and you captured it so well, in words and images! We loved sharing one of our favorite places, filling ourselves with fabulous food and spirits and meeting great new friends. And, yes, we’ll definitely do it again. Next year in ?????

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Judy! Maybe Waterton Natl Park north of Glacier? If A&B don’t mind a repeat. Or that harmonica festival?

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      1. Either would be fabulous!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Or maybe the Kentucky Derby next May?

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  5. Keven, I’ve been reading your travel blog since you started your trip. I stumbled across “New American Nomads” a couple of months ago and am enjoying catching up with older posts. It never occurred to me that you’d know each other! What fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! What a small world. So glad you’re enjoying multiple posts! Thank you, Judie.

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  6. Keven and Georges,
    Thank you for one of my favorite post- friends, food, nature, Elk, cycling, hiking, paths, waterfalls, oceans, integration of lifelong memories and impressions, adventure and serendipity. Enchanted by red wood statistics please add some more about the rich ecosystem plant life and other life high in the branches. Thank you for sharing your fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Doug, for the feedback. I so love hearing from folks who enjoy the blog! And thanks for reminding me about the rich ecosystem high in the branches of the majestic redwoods. The foliage up there is rich and indeed entire plant and animal communities live there, some of the animals never “stepping foot” on terra firma. We didn’t actually see any of it, but Judy and Tom told us all about it and we could certainly imagine it as we craned our necks to look so high into the sky….!

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  7. Elaine Duke - Dallas October 7, 2018 — 12:31 pm

    I get excited when I see your emails pop us in my email log. i really look forward to reading about your new adventures( and what adventures you have had!) I am envious of your ability to see so much of the beauty of this world. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Elaine! It’s so nice to know that you enjoy the blog posts, and that you actually look forward to them. Interacting with readers like you really enhances the pleasure of this trip and writing about it!

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