Friday, March 30, 2018

Exploring Portola Redwoods State Park

I love trees. So much to the level that I even got an inked caricature of a cottonwood, tattooed on my left forearm. This strong admiration for these towering arbor beauts is the reason I had to get out to Portola Redwoods State Park, because I've never seen a sky-high redwood tree before. And that needed to change.

Portola Redwoods is located 58 minutes from the metro San Jose area (also about 1 hour and 15 minutes from San Francisco) and getting there in its self is a curvaceous drive. At 2,800 acres, there are 18 miles of hiking trails, a lodge-type visitor center, and a 55 site campground (there are also backpacking sites). Established in 1945, Portola Redwoods is home to grove after grove of monumental redwood trees, protected species like the Dudley’s lousewort plant and endangered marbled murrelet, waterfalls and....the infamous banana slug! How adorable is that? Wait till you see the video down below.

I barely made it past the park entrance, constantly distracted by the abundance of redwoods that shot upward to the point you can't even see their tops. I parked an hiked towards one of the park's claims to fame, "Old Tree." The half-mile hike there into the lush woods was gorgeous, passing redwoods on either side. At the terminus of the trail sits "Old Tree," which stopped me in my tracks as my jaw dropped to the forest floor. Certain things in nature can be so beautiful that they make you freeze, sending chills up your spine. That's what this 300+ft tall redwood did as soon as I saw it. It's believed this elderly giant is 1,200 years old! The base, some 12-feet in diameter, wood so curved and sculpted embossed in hues of gray and red. Pure art, everywhere.  I couldn't stop smiling in awestruck as I slowly circled my way around it. Peering up, I could see the charred scars from past wildfires. Fierce scorching flames that had attempted to damage "Old Tree" and failed. Redwoods are one of the most resilient flavors of trees.

Following the trunk alllllllll the way up, from whatever angle and direction I still couldn't make out its canopy top due to its monstrous height. Fascinating. I sat down at its base for a few minutes, head up, taking in all its mighty. Just, so, impressive. You can't help but fall in love with a creation like this. I gave 'Old Tree' a firm hug before heading back to the trailhead.

Riding on a high of nature-provided adrenaline, I was craving a few more hours at this perfect state park. I set out for a distant waterfall called Tip Toe Falls  I had seen on the map. About thirty minutes of wandering the trail through the lush, quiet woods, and over a few rocky outcroppings, I arrived at the base of a clear, cool catch pool in the middle of a moss-covered ravine that Tip Toe Falls cascaded into. It appeared out of nowhere, like a utopia in the middle of the woods. I ducked my hands in the water, you could see down to its sandy bottom, and had a granola break, before scrambling up the side of the falls to venture deeper into its source. I just keep thinking to myself "This is paradise," and I was hesitant to leave. But there were more miles of trail to scamper and an endless amount of redwood trees to geek out over! Onward.

Looking back at my memory card, probably 98% of the photos I took at Portola Woods are of the redwoods. No shame. I couldn't go more than a few steps without looking up at one of the trees, wowing and taking a coupe pictures. I was in heaven, and sitting on this bumpy flight to Phoenix (on my way back home to Wisconsin) I can't help but daydream back to the day I spent at this state park.  It's really left a strong impact on me.

The path crosses a logging road at one point, and as I made my way to the next trail marker, I spotted this 6-inch (minimum!) long yellow slimy thing crawling across the center. Yes, a banana slug! I hurried over to it and got down on the ground to watch it up-close. These creatures are an icon to Portola Woods State Park, with (four) tentacles, each with an eye on it, extending and retreating into its body, as it slithered slowly in front of me. Fun fact, the banana slug helps decompose and break down plant materials, which is crucial for a forests health. They also eat a lot of mushrooms.

I kept on following the trail and eventually returned to the parking lot, and plugged in the coordinates for Pinnacles National Park into Google Maps. Leaving the state park, I coasted my way slowly along the exit road, soaking up the last few glances of this dewy, quiet pristine redwood forest before heading west to a more arid, dry swath of terrain in San Benito county for the next two nights.