Only spread a fern-frond over a man’s head and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in.
The first campground on our recent trip to the redwood forests was at Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
It is a beautiful setting on the beach with a backdrop of high, gold-colored cliffs. The setting sun showcases the yellow-gold color that gave these bluffs along this stretch of the coast their name. And, it turns out, there really is gold in them thar hills. There was a gold mining operation in the area, off and on, from the 1850’s to the early 1900’s, with many attempts to extract the extremely fine gold dust embedded in the hillsides along the coast. Eventually, the operation ceased and land was donated to the Save the Redwoods League in an effort to preserve the adjacent coastal forests.
This park is home to a large herd of Roosevelt Elk. They can be found in an inland prairie area, in the forests (where they look tiny in the setting of the huge Redwoods), and, surprisingly, along the beach. We started our morning at Gold Bluffs Beach by hiking down the gravel road to the trail head for Fern Canyon. A couple of hormonal-charged bull Elk greeted us as they made their way along the dune line, thrashing the bushes with their antlers in preparation for a possible duel. We let them pass and then headed out on the trail.
Our 10-mile hike started at one of the more popular sites in the park, Fern Canyon. I had seen photos of the site, but they don’t really prepare you for the magical nature of the place. We were lucky as there was no one else in the canyon when we entered, giving us a chance to walk in silence and to try to absorb the beauty of this place.
Fern Canyon is a narrow, long, canyon cut by the weathering action of Home Creek through the soft sedimentary rock. The walls rise straight above the flat creek bed for 50 to 80 feet and are festooned with a carpet of green – ferns, mosses, and small shrubs. As you stroll through, you can hear the water gurgling in the crystal clear creek waters, and you can catch the dripping sounds of water trickling down the canyon walls.
There are at least seven species of ferns forming a living wallpaper, the most common being the Five-Fingered Fern, a relative of our Maidenhair Fern.
The canyon is also home to some interesting amphibians including the Coastal Giant Salamander and the Pacific Chorus Frog. While we missed seeing any salamanders, we did find a chilled chorus frog slowly climbing a moss-covered trunk at the base of the canyon.
Fern Canyon is certainly a place you could revisit many times, in many seasons (be prepared to get your feet wet in all but the driest months). I would love to go back at different times of day to witness the play of light on the canyon walls. No wonder it was chosen as one of the backdrops for the movie, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and a couple of other dinosaur-related films. It does make you feel as if you are in a different place, a different time, a world with the green filter turned all the way up.