Fern Canyon

The woods were made for the hunters of dreams,
The brooks for the fisher of song;
To the hunters who hunt for the gunless game
The streams and the woods belong.
There are thoughts that moan from the soul of the pine
And thoughts in a flower-bell curled;
And the thoughts that are blown with the scent of the fern
Are as new and as old as the world.

-Sam Walter Foss

I took a deep breath of crisp, morning air, my senses piqued by the scent of damp greenery and the rush of numbing water around my ankles. Bubbling creek water and the splashes of our own footsteps sloshing through the stream were the only sounds audible in this wild forest.

“This isn’t it, is it?” Vince asked with skepticism. The woods around us were peaceful, but they weren’t producing the wow-factor that I had promised for this hike. Of course, we weren’t even a quarter mile from the trailhead yet, so I had more faith.

“No,” I quickly assured him, “We just have to follow the creek a little farther.”

Vince, Jordi, Anthea and I clomped across a wooden plank that spanned the creek bed, rounded a bend, and found what we were looking for. It felt like being transported instantly to a different world where time doesn’t work in quite the same way that it does on earth. One moment we were in a normal forest, wading through a normal stream, and the next we were standing at the bottom of a canyon whose walls were so thoroughly coated in ferns that it was impossible to see the earth underneath them. My mind was reeling, conjuring up images of some long-slumbering green man that had been lying dormant for centuries. Biomass had piled up and grown over him as the world changed, and still he slept, his giant legs becoming what we now see as canyon walls. The forest wanted him to wake back up, almost as if it was waiting to exhale a long-ago held breath of anticipation.

My proclivity for melodramatics was getting the best of me again. I shook the images from my mind and tried to focus on what was actually in front of me. This was a real place and its existence was just as spectacular as any fiction I could dream up.

I wandered to one side of the green canyon and gently brushed some soft ferns with my fingertips as my eyes scanned upwards at the living wall in front of me.

I couldn’t shake the surreal feeling of finally living out a long-held desire. Fern Canyon is a trail I’ve wanted to do for years, but Vince and I never seemed to find the time to go to the west coast. I was gratified to find that it was every bit as beautiful as I always imagined, and I savored every second as we slowly waded through the river.

When we finally came to the end of the canyon, we decided to walk back through it instead of continuing on the loop trail. It was just so amazing that we wanted to see it again, so we backtracked through the icy water. We were fortunate to catch the hike with relatively few people around, especially on a Saturday. As it turned out, we had just managed to barely beat the crowd. By the time we got back to our car the parking lot had filled up, and many tourists were setting out on the trail.

Nearby Gold Bluffs Beach was completely deserted though, so we walked out onto the sand. It wasn’t your stereotypical good beach weather. A low-hanging fog was engulfing the coast, the white sky nearly blending in with the foamy waves that pummeled the shore. Despite the loud roar of the waves, the beach felt eerily quiet. There was an almost ethereal sensation of everything being muffled and blurry. I suddenly felt quite lonely even though I was only feet away from the others.

We wandered aimless along the shore, eventually circling back to the parking lot where we got in the car and planned to drive away. Almost immediately upon getting back on the road, we saw a large herd of Roosevelt’s Elk wading through dune grass. Vince pulled over to the shoulder and we got out to watch the elk as they grazed, and frolicked in a little stream of water. I had never seen elk on the beach before, so this was a happy surprise.

Once the herd was nearly out of sight, we finally got back on the road, and Vince and I took Jordi and Anthea back to see Big Tree, and then to hike the Prairie Creek Trail again. This time we turned around after we all ran through the tunnel log, and returned via the same path.

Next we visited the mouth of the Klamath River, where a cold prevailing wind and incoming tide made for harsh conditions. It was worth the discomfort though, because the river was teeming with harbor seals and sea lions, and we spent a lot of time just waiting to see their faces emerge from the murky water as brown pelicans flew overheard.

After a quick dinner, we ventured north to Crescent City since it was now one of the time windows when the road was open. With no specific plan, we ended up finding a marina where we scrambled on some seaside cliffs as the sun began to set. At the very last minute we found a bunch of plants that I thought were poison oak, which sent us retreating to the car. The day was coming to a close anyway, so we drove back to our cabin. Jordi and Anthea would be returning home the next morning, and Vince and I would be heading northward back to Portland. Our trip was nearly over, but we still planned to visit a few more sights before getting back on a plane to go home.

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