Trip Report, Part 7: Wildlife

When I scrapped my plans to head to Sequoia-Kings Canyon and to the redwoods, I skedaddled from my friends’ house in Bishop to get as far as I could that day en route to Prairie Creek. I made it 445 miles to Weaverville.

With the exception of the area around Reno, it was a beautiful drive. It felt strange to head up the east side of the Sierras and past Lassen National Park without stopping to explore.

I was driving through Lassen National Forest when I spotted animals off to the right. Even at high speed, I could tell they weren’t deer, but I wasn’t sure what they were. Always ready to pull over for another nature moment, I stopped the car on the shoulder. Pronghorn antelope!

This was a rare sight for me. I watched them for a while with my binoculars, then got out of the car as quietly as I could to take photos. They were pretty far away–and got farther once I showed up and I felt a little bad about spooking them–so this is the best shot I could get.

I’ve long been an admirer of band-tailed pigeons–wild forest birds, not the urban kind–but they tend to be shy and I’ve never been able to get a photo. At Prairie Creek, I lucked out because the elderberries were ripe and attracting the pigeons all around my campsite. They are enormous birds. It was funny to watch a pigeon crash-land on a slender branch. That whole part of the tree would bend way down while the bulky bird flapped noisily until s/he was in a stable enough position to eat the berries.

I had hoped to see the resident Roosevelt elk at Prairie Creek, and lucked out on my last morning. I was headed to an area they are often seen in the early mornings on my drive back home, and there they were just hanging out beside the road in front of some unused cabins. This was the primo grassy area and several bulls shared the area, eying each other warily among the cows during the rutting season. Periodically this dominant bull would chase off one of the other males

And last, no account of a trip to the redwoods would be complete without including the ubiquitous banana slug.

Trip Report, Part 6: Prairie Creek Redwoods

Officially surrendering to altitude sickness, I high-tailed it across the state. I spent five days living in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the most spectacular old-growth redwood forest I know of. The park was saved in the 1920s, long before other redwood areas, so it has big tracts that have never been logged. With only about 3% of old-growth redwood forest remaining, you can find much of it here. I’d been here before but never had such a big chunk of time to explore.

It was quite the contrast going from the dry Great Basin at the base of the Sierras to the moist coastal forest. In the Buttermilks, I was slathering lotion on my hands several times a day to keep my skin from cracking. At Prairie Creek, I poured a little water on my tent fly to remove some bird scat and two days later the ground was still wet in that spot.

I was impressed by how far this park has come over the years in preventing wildlife from being habituated. When I first visited Prairie Creek many years ago, bears ran through the campground looking for food. This time, not even the Douglas squirrels or gray jays were habituated. Birds and squirrels were all around me at my campsite, but all were focused on their natural food of tree cones and elderberries.

Late September was the ideal time to visit. The weather was great and I had lots of solitude on the trail. It was the perfect place to spend my birthday, diving deep into the company of wise ancient trees.

I am awestruck every time by just how massive the ancient redwoods are. I felt like an elf there.

This shot gives little sense of scale, but this was an enormous grove of redwoods on the James Irvine Trail. To get a sense of its size, see the previous photo. In this picture, you can compare the trees to the trail and ferns below. I parked myself in a hollow here and just took it all in for a while. I felt so connected to everything that it seemed like I could easily have just dissolved into that spot.

And here are images that show the intricacies of what’s going on at a small scale.

I was struck by the contrast of the red undersides of the redwood sorrel against the green of the upper surface and the color of the fallen log.

Here’s a close-up of a redwood sorrel leaf and a forest inhabitant.

Redwood sorrel flower

Blue-bead lily

The cones of the Sitka spruce are delicate.These evergreen trees grow beside the redwoods.

I’m too lazy to learn the species of fungi, but here are a bunch that were interesting.