By Inez Castor
For the Triplicate
The road that runs through the California State Park between Kellogg Road and Pala Road is a hiking road, a meandering road. Its a road that can lead you through a maze of ponds and marshes where silent great blue herons and noisy kingfishers feed in water ablaze with bright yellow waterlilies.
This is the northern section of the lakes Earl and Tolowa Project, and since its restricted to official vehicles and those with special permits, the road is a safe place for walking, jogging and horseback riding. Near the Kellogg Road end are half a dozen secluded walk-in campsites, each of which is available for rent through either Jedediah Smith or Mill Creek State Park campgrounds.
The road branches, with one branch winding past ponds to Horse Camp, where there are corrals as well as the usual camping amenities. The other branch leads along the high ridge of the land, dipping to pass through marshes. If you dont have a map of the area, pick one up at any park office or the Chamber of Commerce.
As geological time is measured, this land was recently stabilized from the sanddune state, and it still undulates like a rollercoaster through dozens of discrete ecological communities. Drop from a ridge between sunlit ponds down into a dark, cool, boggy area where skunkcabbage grows, shaded by old trees and thick brush.
When you approach the split-rail fence that surrounds the Tolowa burial grounds at Yontocket, walk softly. A prayer for the peace of the Tolowa long dead and those still living would not be out of order. Several hundred Tolowa were murdered here 150 years ago.
Written reports are sketchy, but there is no doubt the tragic incident occurred. One other thing that is absolutely certain is that not one of us was there. Not one of us could have prevented what happened there, and not one of us is guilty. Therefore, tread softly on this hallowed ground and pray for the healing of the land, the people who walked it then and the people who walk it today.
In the spring the wildflowers of Yontocket are many and varied. Tiny pink geraniums and bright butter n eggs lap at the edge of the road in waves. Cream cups and the rare coastal nemophila are fading and false lily-of-the-valley is beginning to bloom in its turn. Huckleberry bushes are blooming, and delicate pink-edged white bells hang from the salal brush.
Salmonberry blossoms have fallen to the ground like bright pink confetti, and the berries are developing, still small, hard and green. In a month or so theyll be the size of acorns and the color of the bright orange flesh of the fish for which theyre named. Wild blackberries and thimbleberries thrive here, as do tart huckleberries and bland salal berries.
While flower picking and mushroom hunting is forbidden, berry picking is allowed, and children make tiny flowers of salal berries before popping them into their mouths. In the summer, when the fat, round berries are black and soft, grip them gently at the base between thumb and forefinger, and slowly squeeze. The berry will split open to reveal four perfect petals and a juicy, purple center.
There is no better breakfast during a hike than sweet salmonberries in one hand and a good bagel in the other. It can make reaching for your binoculars difficult, so you might want to find a spot to sit and peacefully watch the morning while you eat.
Whether you look out over a pond or a tiny meadow, youll hear no honking horns, no traffic, no city noises. Instead, theres the sighing of the wind through pine trees, the rustle of small animals in the brush, the song of the frog, the call of gulls and rare birds like the Virginia rail. In case youve never heard a rail, it sounds a lot like a banty rooster trapped in a rusty tin can.
If you sit still and watch for a while, youre likely to see chestnut-backed chickadees or woodpeckers building nests this time of year. Often they return to nests they used the year before, so stake out a snag with an obvious hole and youre almost sure to see someone setting up housekeeping.
Those hikers who want a a 6 or 7-mile hike can begin at either end and make the round trip, while walkers who prefer a shorter hike can walk a while and then turn back, or bring two vehicles. Meet at either end of the trail, leave one vehicle, carpool to the other end, and walk through. Like all the park roads around the lakes, this one is perfect for walking in tandem rather than in single-file.
In any case, should you drive Lower Lake Road to Pala Road to meet the trail, remember that youre driving through dairy ranches and front yards. Drive slowly, smile and wave at those you encounter, and watch for children and animals in the road. Youre likely to encounter everything from turkeys to toddlers.
You may want to pull off the edge of the road to see the bison at Alexandre Dairy, or watch red-tailed hawks and falcons hunting in the fields. Bring your fieldguides and your camera, because youre almost certain to see a first among wildflowers and birds.