Place: Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Humboldt County, California
Coordinates: 41.40091, -124.065440
Length: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: easy to moderate, involves scrambling on fallen logs, may involve walking in the water.
The first time I visited Fern Canyon, over 10 years ago, I didn't have any expectations. Not having done any preparation research I arrived there without having heard any stories or having seen any photos of that place. It was Thanksgiving time, it was cold and wet and I had the elder (then only) chika strapped to my body in a baby carrier.
The short segment of trail connecting the parking lot with canyon is nice but reveals nothing of what's to follow. And I was completely mind-blown by that hike.
The canyon itself with the stream, the ferns and the surrounding forest was very impressive, but what I remembered most were the mushrooms. It was a fungi spectacle like I have never seen before: the variety, the abundance, the richness of it. I was completely overtaken.
|Questionable Stropharia (Stropharia ambigua)|
Finally, on 2014 Thanksgiving break we were going there again. And this time I was equipped with a suitable camera.
We stopped a couple of times along the way so Papa Quail could chase a flock of little birds that teased us, flying back and forth across the dirt road. As it turned out, that chase was well worth it because it was the first time Papa Quail got the pine siskin on camera.
|Buttercup (Ranunculus sp.)|
And then we got to the canyon itself.
Unlike the fern canyon we hiked at Van Damme State Park, this Fern Canyon is truly a canyon, with sheer walls rising perpendicular to the ground and a narrow passage for the stream (and the hikers) in between. And the canyon walls - as expected - were completely covered by ferns.
Sure, one could walk around or under most, but that meant going in the water.
And I was just a month after having a knee surgery, waddling in a large, stiff brace and leaning heavily on my hiking poles. For me, this was going to be much more challenging than I had expected.
The chikas had no problems. They viewed the logs with sheer joy and were soon off, charging the surprise playground that Nature had provided them. Papa Quail was after them, trying to keep them from disappearing. Grandma Quail and I lumbered behind.
I walked slowly and carefully, testing each step with my poles and stopping frequently to ease my leg. That gave me ample chance to look around and to closely examine the fallen logs.
Rainforest plants don't wait for the giant deceased to decay. The huge logs were grown with ferns, fungi, lichen and also higher plants, like these cold-blighted sorrels we passed under.
It was doable at first. Slowly and carefully I was able to pass the first set of barricades without to much trouble. But then we arrived at a big wood castle that looked totally impassable to me.
I sat on a lower log and weighed my options. There were only two of them - to go back or to go on. And the only way I could go on was to stoop under the logs, in the water.
I took off my shoes and slung them over my shoulders. Then I rolled up my pants, took a deep breath and entered the water.
After about 30 seconds of agony I stopped feeling my feet and could go on. Still slowly and carefully, but on much more stable ground.
At some point though, I had no choice but to climb a log. It was perhaps the most precarious moment for me in that hike, and when I stood there atop that log, waiting for my pulse to settle back to normal pace, I noticed some big, white bracket fungi and clicked my camera at them.
"Not these," scolded Papa Quail, who had returned after reining the chikas in, "these!" and he pointed at a dark lump that was hanging from the big log I had just passed under.
I nearly fell off the log as I swiveled. There, above me, was the larges mushroom I had ever seen. Dark, spiky, woody, and huge! I do nit have a proper way to show the scale but I hope you belive me it was about a yard long.
|A polypore, I haven't identified the species.|
We continued by the stream a little but more until we met with the trail for going up the hill and looping back to the beginning. I sat on the first stair, wiped the mud off and put my shoes back on. It took a while before sensation returned to my feet.
It was up there on the hillside, in the woods, were all the best mushrooms were. And indeed it was a spectacle. There were in huge numbers and varieties, and I did photograph a lot :-)
I begun this post with a good sample of these mushrooms, but later I had realized that many of them I met in previous or following hikes during that vacation.
Fern Canyon mushrooms display was very impressive. But I chose to post here only a sample of them and focus on the other beautiful sides of Fern Canyon.
And moss, which was so large, almost fern-size.
|Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), with a fly|
|A grove of firs|
Suddenly the trees opened up and we were in a meadow of grass and rashes.
|Common Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)|
|Fern Canyon, view from above.|
I called Papa Quail, and with him came Grandma Quail with the chikas, the younger one still grumbling.
The figures walking between the lagoon and the ocean were elk. a small herd of bulls, young and old, walking slowly by.
The chikas were already asleep. We still had a good drive ahead before we would wake them up for dinner at Crescent City, where we had planned to stay for Thanksgiving ant to explore the Tolowa Dunes.
And yes, if you make the trip along the NorCal coast, don't miss Fern Canyon. THE Fern Canyon, at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.