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Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park 5/26
Del Norte Redwoods State Park 5/27
Myrtle Creek Botanical Area 5/27
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park 5/28
Mackerricher State Beach 5/29
Jug Handle State Reserve 5/29

Summer 2015 Trip Chronicles:  Page 8

Redwood National Park road trip

As one that usually wakes at dawn, I rose early on Tuesday May 26, rearranged gear in the Forester, then drove off for the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park headquarters area that is part of Redwoods National Park where I was the first person in the parking lot on the day after the holiday. Skies were nicely overcast with a marine layer as forecast and I hoped that diffuse light condition would at least last through midday hours. It was also dead calm necessary to sharply image tree branches and vegetation so my optimism was high. The unknowns would be whether I would find any colorful elements within these forests to complement the otherwise limited greens, browns, and blacks. For that my strategy was to hike trails where wildflowers are more common. The most sought after situation is to find blooming rhododendron near redwoods however few areas about Prairie Creek have those understory trees. There are generally few showy wildflower species in redwood forests with western trillium the more showy species but most of those plants bloom in later March and April so expected any I saw would have already gone to seed.

The heavy chilly fog air and overcast push inland up stream canyons from the Pacific during night hours and then burn off from warming evaporating sunlight above by late morning. On days when low pressure troughs are passing to the north in Oregon, overcast may remain all day. Fog generated over the ocean waters is initially at sea level but evolves over daily cycles of sunlight heating to rise above the sea as a low overcast layer which often is about at elevations as highest hills and trees of the north coast redwood forests. Generally the best light for redwood photography providing dramatic illumination is when trees are at the same level of the cloud fog with only a thin cloud deck above that. In other words when a cloud deck is too thick, light within trees tends to look dull and dim but fog itself immersed between trunks adds a dreamy quality. An additional need for those wishing to make large detailed images is for a lack of breezes much less winds lest the branches of redwoods and understory plants wobble about impossibly that results in blurry elements. And that was something I'd carefully surveyed the wunderground.com 10-day forecasts with before pulling the trigger on the road trip. The usual situation is breezes are minimal at sunrise then with heating over land an air mass warms making it lighter. That causes colder heavier marine air to be drawn inland beneath the lighter air which increases till about mid afternoon before the cycle repeats. On clear sunny days, once sunlight beams down through forest canopies, light becomes much too hopelessly contrasty for serious photography. On such days there is a brief period from dawn through sunrise or at the end of day at sunset on tree tops where images via sky light can be made.

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I chose to explore up a trail I won't name herein following ridge top areas because that is where there tends to be more wildflowers. About a half hour into my journey I reached ridgeline areas where indeed wildflowers were more common. The thin fog cloud deck was nicely coming and going within the upper canopies of the redwoods. I set up to image a branched solomon's seal, maianthemum racemosum, with flash that resulted in a striking contrasting graphic. In the enlarged vertical slice view one can appreciate the white branching stem structures holding flowers with dainty white filaments and yellow anthers. Do you see the 2 spiders and their webs? Here and there are little white water drops from the fog mist.

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Further along found a section of trail with more red clintonia aka red bead lily, clintonia andrewsiana, than I've seen anywhere else in my travels. That was particularly fortuitous because they have wonderful deep red flowers in an environment where most wildflower species are white. Adding to their beauty are large shiny leaves in the 3 basal leaf lily family tradition. In redwood forests views including trails themselves are more often the most aesthetic subjects because otherwise the understories are too dense and high with plants. So a strategy is to use the shape of the brown trail as the base of other frame elements. In the above image I chose a section with 3 short back and forth sinuous bends. Given the redwood forest matter made up primarily of fallen needles and their small branches, the trail surfaces add a rich reddish brown element with many small roots on the surface for graphic interest. Unlike their relative the Sierra's giant sequoia, most coastal trees do not have a red outer bark but rather bark is dull browns and grays due to weathering topped with greens of moss, fungi, and lichen. Notice the yellow green hued moss just outside the footpath at frame foreground. Behind the first bend are the same branched soloman's seal plants per the previous image above. The scene also shows quite a number of trillium with one visible in the enlarged vertical slice view right slice. The trillium is the plant with 3 large leaves. In the center slice below the soloman's seal are white hued starflower, trientalis latifolia. At frame top right are shiny leaves of one of the most common redwood understory shrubs, California huckleberry, vaccinium ovatum the new leaves of which tend to be a reddish orange.

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This next image above has similar elements including a red clintonia plant right in the center of the trail which shows the wonderful design one often finds in these enchanting pathways. Again notice how the color of the large redwood trunk at right is not at all red? One sometimes see photos of trees of the park where misguided photographers have manipulated trunk bark color via Photoshop hue sliders. The short small green plants all about the forest floor are redwood sorrel. After my 8 miles morning ramble I drove north into Del Norte County where I found familiar areas with rhododendron appearing about a week away from peak bloom and in any case there were considerably fewer blooms than in 2014 when they were unusually abundant. That night was spent parked along the Smith River at a familiar location.

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The next morning Wednesday May 27 up early, I drove south into Del Norte Coastal Redwoods State Park that is also part of Redwood National Park and stopped roadside at a well-known rhododendron area just north of the Damnation Creek Trailhead. I recognized web acquaintance Michael who was surveying prospective subjects for an upcoming photography workshop with his wife Claudia. A few other photographers were also well at work there. After exchanging a few tips on what I'd seen the previous day at Prairie Creek, I declined to take any images because I already had better images with more blooms taken with my 4x5 in 2014. Instead drove south to the DeMartin section of the Coastal Trail that I was familiar with from past years and headed south with hopes of better rhododendron subjects. Like Tuesday, the sky was nicely overcast. The area is close to the ocean and lush due to the frequent moist fog thus is a good trail to find fungi and moss subjects. The below image is a fascinating shaped species that was growing out of a down trunk.

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Further down the trail below took out my Sony SEL55210 telephoto zoom which I don't use often and shot the below modest image of rhododendron unusually high up in tree canopies with fog in the background.

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Then saw the below large patch of striking slime mold called witch's butter, tremella aurantia growing atop another small moss covered trunk. An opportunity for extra magnification, so pulled out both extension tubes to add onto the 60mm Sigma.

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After a couple miles of mediocre rhododendron conditions, turned around. Along the way got really close again below on a redwood sorrel leaf atop moss full of fog droplets. The wonderful triple heart-shaped leaves have a surprising red to reddish purple hue underneath facing towards the ground.

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In the afternoon further inland in Six Rivers National Forest hiked another few miles up the fascinating Myrtle Creek Botanical Trail that did have numbers of both Pacific rhododendron and its cousin western azalea. Also along the trail found the rare endangered trillium species, brook wakerobin, pseudotrillium rivale, the fifth image above and numbers of the deep purple douglas iris, iris douglasiana below.

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The rest of the day working areas along the Smith River were relatively unproductive until near sunset whence I found myself back roadside north of the Damnation Creek Trailhead. US101 has a north to south orientation in that section with views of redwoods due west thus the fog was pushing in through the trees with filtered sunlight sourced from that same direction. The resulting light between trees was stronger than usual overhead overcast. The image at page top, OG04108-04124-1x2.jpg, a 1 by 2 stitch blend composed of 17 focus stack blended shots, of a single Pacific rhododendron, rhododendron macrophyllum, tree in front of redwoods is one of my best ever images of these subjects. Also in the image are California huckleberry, vaccinium ovatum, with orange hued leaf tips and thimbleberry, rubus parviflorus, showing white flowers and are much more distinct on the enlarged vertical slice view.

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This next image above is from the same area along US101 as the noted image at page top and was shot just after that work in darkening dusk light. The large redwood at center has a burned trunk and is indeed tilted so. The large rhododendron bush in front of the trunk had dozens of blooms when I visited in 2014. Photography complete I drove back down US101 to the Orick area at the same location used to overnight on Monday. I could not help but think that these last two dark environment images would have been very difficult to have worked with my 4x5 view camera thus was a verification of expectations I had using the A6000 for the first time in these forests.

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The next morning Thursday May 28 drove north into Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and took the horribly dusty gravel Davidson Road out to the coast then embarked up into the park's most famous feature, Fern Canyon. Once again I had fine overcast light and worked 4 subjects, one of which above, a 2x2 stitch blend, using 30 focus stack blended shots, is similar to a 4x5 image I'd shot in 2014 but at a different spot in the unique plumb vertical wall canyon. These are five finger ferns, adiantum aleuticum, with Home Creek running below. The stream runs through the relatively level stony bottom of the canyon and dripping seeps flowing out of the sides of the strata splashing down add to its charm. Note those visiting will be wading through ankle deep sections of the stream at several spots so wear appropriate footwear when visiting.

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I continued up the trail out of the canyon east then explored north onto the lightly traveled Friendship Trail. Instead of redwoods the dominant conifer along immediate coastal locations is sitka spruce. The species with interesting trunk bases is nearly as large as redwoods and the bark on the trees is in fact slightly red while the bark of the redwoods is not red at all though the inner wood is quite red. Soon the spruce disappeared and I was once again in a sea of ferns and redwoods. Given the cool foggy marine weather, there were still a few western trillium, trillium ovatum, blooming. Above trillium with fronds of a sword fern.

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Along the ridge top where the trail routed between two large redwoods, set up the above shot. By late morning was back down to the trailhead with numbers of vehicles now parked at the trailhead.

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Before leaving the redwood parks I wanted to capture some close-up images of beach flowers so near the south end of Bluff Beach Road ventured out into the sand dunes and was surprised to find a patch of coast sand verbena, abronia umbellata, per image above. Note the dark black salt and pepper beach sand one finds along these coasts. The beach along Gold Bluffs runs for miles and even on weekends long sections are empty of people. These surf cleaned dark beach sands readily absorb sunlight even on cloudy days adding infrared heat to what otherwise may be coolish temperatures. Back at the Forester I found my left rear tire totally flat. Just a few weeks before I had new tires installed at a Firestone Tire shop. A potentially very disruptive situation in a remote location.

I grabbed my hand tire pump and managed to pump the tire up to about 22 pounds per square inch without any obvious leak. Drove out over the dusty dirt road back to US101 stopping every short while to check the condition of the tire. Continued on to the Redwood National Park main visitor center at the beach at the mouth of Redwood Creek. With my small pressure tire gauge, I measured pressure was down to 18 psi. So indeed it was still leaking but not grossly and pumped a bit more back in. Eureka was about 40 miles to the south and would have tire businesses able to take care of the leak so headed south while continuing to monitor the tire getting out every few miles.

In Eureka stopped at the Les Schwab Tires store and though they were quite busy, soon began performing the tire patch process. What appeared to be a stone type puncture was found. However after removing the tire found the inner wall had been damaged. My suspicion is the flat occurred on the gravel Davidson Road and because of all the bumpiness, I had not noticed the tire going flat so drove it at least a half dozen miles so. Against the rim that was enough to ruin it. For warranty reason they would need to put 2 same model tires on at a time. Instead I made the unwise decision for them to sell me just one vaguely similar tire putting it on the bad tire's rim, and mounted my spare. The small spare is only fit to drive short distances and not on freeways. I drove off a half mile to a park and ride lot where I got out the jack, removed the spare then installed the new tire. Of course all the above totally disrupted my tightly packed vehicle full of gear that had been stacked to the ceiling in the more forward vehicle areas. So unloaded all the gear onto the asphalt then put it all back in that took time. By late afternoon I continued south on US01. I didn't notice any weird drive train issues and eventually reached Humboldt Redwoods State Park out about $120 bucks total. A couple months later the same axle developed a bad wheel bearing so a few hundred dollars more down a rathole. Coincidence? After mulling over the situation some days went back to Firestone and replaced both tires on the axle for another $250. Thus in hindsight a rather unwise costly embarrassing choice on my part.

After surveying conditions at that park including taking a couple short hikes and noting its droughty look, I decided spending time there the next morning would likely be unproductive. So instead continued south on US101 then at Garbersville vectored off over the mountains on California highway 1. By time I reached the Westport area it was dark. On the sly pulled over about a coastal pullout that didn't have any NO PARKING signs and spent a quiet night.


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Awoke dawn Friday May 29, and didn't waste time motoring south down Highway 1. At Mackerricher State Beach got out and hiked dunes for an hour unproductively. Another day of coastal overcast without sun but now breezes had picked up. I explored a paved road over the Coast Range a few miles to find where the edge of sunshine reached that turned out to be well inland. Continuing south was soon at Fort Bragg where I went out to well known Glass Beach I'd always managed to not find time to visit during previous coastal road trips. Mackerricher State Park had expanded annexing northern shore areas within the city limits. The coastal bluff meadows had fine areas of usual coastal wildflower species instead of being beat up by decades of foot traffic that surprised me. Also the shore areas were rather more scenic than expected though that would not be something I'd bother with given the overcast. Despite being just a Friday and overcast, the large parking lot was nearly full. A new set of fancy paved shore pathways and steps down onto the beach had recently been built. Down into the cove were a couple dozen people walking about looking at a mix of stony surf smoothed stones and areas of smoothed polished glass.

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The aesthetic quality of this kind of subject was even better than I'd expected that left me with regret that I had not checked this out years earlier as I have a large body of work of surf polished stones close-ups that I have never made public. These subjects would complement that work nicely. After returning home and web researching, I was surprised to find surf polished glass pieces had a significant base of enthusiasts artisans across the world. As the site of the decades old Fort Brag city dump in which the natural stone grinding phenomenon takes decades to shape and smooth up raw broken glass, it is now one of the best locations in the world for such glass. Accordingly glass in this limited area is continually picked over for anything of unique shape or color (especially blue) although such being a state park that is illegal. A gal picking glass related the white glass per my image above were milk bottles. The dark orange brown were likely Coke bottles, and green wine bottles.

South of Fort Bragg, stopped at Jug Handle State Reserve, and hiked out onto the bluff meadows to work some wildflower close-ups despite now strong winds because part of those meadows are sheltered behind trees. Below shot, a 9 image focus stack blend with my 60mm and extension tubes under a diffuser are witches teeth, lotus formosissimus.

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The meadows have large clumps of douglas iris, iris douglasiana, so I took my time locating a most well shaped specimen, and then carefully captured this deep purple beauty below that required 7 images for focus stack blending. Before this software era getting such deep depth of field for subjects with this much 3-dimensional form was utterly impossible. Please look at the detail in the enlarged vertical slice view.

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Northwesterly winds continue to increase in the afternoon so I didn't linger much as I made my way further south. I checked out familiar areas at Salt Point State Park that looked disappointedly droughty for late May with large fields of quite brown rattlesnake grass and continued on through Sonoma Coast State Beach into Bodega Bay before parking out on a familiar rural road inland overnight.

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Saturday morning May 30 visited a familiar beach while hoping overcast would clear. Found an up-side-down crab shell missing some legs that humorously looked like some alien head. By late morning the overcast was still hugging the coast so made the final white knuckle freeway leg home into Marin areas, over the San Rafael Bridge, down into the ugly traffic about the I80 maze in Oakland and down I880 to my home in the Southbay.

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2015 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

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