Exploring Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
After our own big 'day of discovery' with the Grove of Titans, the next day we moved on to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, home of some of the tallest Coast Redwoods. My hopes were not very high as the location of this grove is even more secret than the Grove of Titans. In addition, it is relatively easy to spot the huge misshapen behemoths that are the Titans when they are so much larger at ground level. In comparison, one of the tallest trees in the Atlas Grove is barely nine feet in circumference! Without our own expensive laser range finder or LIDAR unit it would be next to impossible to find this grove.
I did hope for a glimpse of the Arco Giant which was supposedly visible from the meadow in front of the visitor center. I looked, but I did not find. In the meantime we checked out some park maps and decided to hike some of the trails. We started with a nice little half-mile loop that was supposed to be a simple nature trail. Unfortunately it wasn't so simple.
After crossing a small bridge, the trail was supposed to curve to the left then cross back over the creek again and lead back to the visitor center. So we crossed the bridge and came to a sign which seemed to indicate that the nature trail went both left and right. I just assumed that perhaps the trail went a bit further than the map indicated so we turned left and marched on. The further we went, the more I began to notice some things. First, this trail did not seem to be as wide or well-worn as the other parts. Second, some downed limbs and even small trees had not been cleared from the trail. Third, we met no other hikers along the way. However, we did continue to see informational markers with various messages on them, so we continued on. Eventually we spied an RV on the other side of the creek. I knew that there was a campground over there, but I thought it was past the bridge we were looking for. Nevertheless, onward we pressed.
Eventually we concluded that we had hiked for a good mile and a half, perhaps two miles. I consulted the map again and discovered that the bridge we were looking for crossed the creek well ahead of the camping area. We had flat out missed it somewhere. But rather than turn around, we decided to continue toward a bike trail that should have been just ahead. But it was not to be. The trail became fainter and more overgrown until it eventually just died out. It was an eerie feeling. We were deep in the woods, all alone. The large ferns spread up the hillsides among the giant hemlocks, the redwoods now conspicuously absent. We were wearing light jackets since the air was a bit cool and misty and the plants were shoulder high and sporting the occasional spider web, but inside we were drenched in sweat. We turned around for the march home. We tried one last shortcut at a spot where the creek was shallow and had just enough rocks and gravel to hop over, but there was no obvious trail there either.
So we retraced our route. I was more than a bit upset at the park for leaving this trail off the maps, yet not blocking it off at the entrance or somehow warning us off. But eventually we got back to the trailhead where we had first turned off, and that was when I looked at the sign from a different angle, and it all made sense. What had appeared to be a sign pointing right and left was actually a sign pointing down the trail and back up the trail in the direction we had originally come from. The trail we had taken actually had a signpost right in the middle of it, but the sign itself was missing. I'm betting it said something like "Trail Closed." To further confuse matters, we had entered the nature trail from a completely different direction than I had intended. I thought it proceeded counter-clockwise from my position when in fact we were taking the clockwise route.
[NOTE: As it turns out, the trail we took is an abandoned section of what used to be a longer Nature Trail loop]
So we went ahead and finished the nature trail. It was actually only one-half mile in length and took us back directly to the visitor center. After we got to the car, I changed shoes and I think shirts, then we had lunch on a bench and laughed at our stupid adventure. I decided I was done with trees for now, and we drove back to camp.