As a park ranger I am often asked which, out of all the abundant wonders of the parks, is my favorite place.
That’s easy! For me, it’s got to be the Crescent Beach Overlook area — partly because it’s just a beautiful place and partly because it’s rather historic.
The overlook is one of the prettier coastal viewing spots in Redwood National and State Parks. Atop a 200-foot cliff, it commands a view that stretches from Point St. George to the bluffs north of Damnation Creek.
If you walk 100 yards to the north of the parking lot there is a viewing platform over the cliff. Below to the right is the northern end of the long, flat, crescent-shaped South Beach, with Cushing Creek coming out of the bluffs below. To the left, the rocky southern end of Enderts beach and Nickel Creek glitter in the sunlight. Enderts was once written up as one of the 10 best secluded beaches in the country and is certainly one of the best tide pool areas around.
But what I like is the history. There is a story here. The trail to Enderts Beach is actually the old Redwood Highway. Opened in this area in the early 1920s, it lasted about 10 years before landslides forced the building of today’s more inland route. Look south at the bits of road in the landslides and you can see why they moved it. Walk to Enderts Beach on the trail, and you are walking that old road —a half-mile stroll through decades of time. Start the journey by letting your imagination roam, it’s 1930 and a Model A with redwood tourists just rolled past you.
The Nickel Creek campground was the site of the old Enderts Beach cottages, still advertised as late as 1947. This and the Pozzi Family’s Cushion Creek Auto Court at the Cushing creek side of the hill were the first places you might have stayed. Once they moved the highway nobody came anymore. Today, there’s not much left but some pieces of concrete and landscape bushes now grown into trees.
Look for a line of rocks blocking an old driveway before you drive up the hill. That’s the auto court. Can you imagine a row of eight camping cabins there?
There are a lot of people who still remember the Pozzi family. Santiago and Delphina Pozzi were immigrants from Switzerland. They and their children farmed the area starting in 1914 and it stayed in the family until 1974. Their slaughterhouse sat on the flats below you and the road used to be called Slaughterhouse Road. An old line of trees below you marks the location of their homesite.
They were not the first farmers here. Back in 1890, H.H. Alexander started buying up 400-plus acres of the flatland below you and started the H.H. Alexander Dairy ranch. They would have been part of Crescent City’s robust dairy operations that provided butter to inland mine camps.
Turn away from the overlook and look at the cliffs behind you. Prior to the old Redwood Highway, there was a previous road that descended those cliffs. The hill was so steep the horse wagon drivers would tie logs to their rigs before coming down just to slow down. What a sight that must have been! They called it Ragged Ass Hill back then. Good name. I would not want to drive a wagon down that hill. It was the vital link that enabled trade to the south.
Take another look at the hill and step back in time to June 12, 1828. Jed Smith and his band of mountain men have just pushed in from Damnation Creek and tonight they are camped on the hill at the head of Nickel Creek. On June 13 they walked down that hill and stayed the night at a Tolowa camp at the base of Cushing Creek. Yup, they would have walked within eyesight of where you are standing today. Imagine that.
Take one more step back in time and hear the echoes of the voices of the Native American fishermen as they fished the surf with nets. This was Tolowa country and they inhabited and fished the coast from here north for thousands of years. Persecution, disease and forced removal almost decimated the tribe during the mid-1800s, but the operative word is “almost.” The people persevered and their customs and ways are still alive. When I asked what I could say about them, they said, “Tell people that we are still here.”
We’re lucky they are still here, because we have much to learn from them.
I’ll end with the really distant history: the geology. These cliffs were formed as part of a collision of two giant crustal plates. The full story is complex, but if you walk the trail down to Enderts Beach, turn to the left and look at the rock with a hole in it. It’s a layered mix of black and gray rocks. The layers are twisted and bent and it’s a place you can see a fault line going right through the rock.
Want to see something else interesting? Look at the sand with a magnifying glass or, better yet, drop a magnet into it. The iron tells us even more about how the land formed.
Why do I like the overlook? This is a crossroads of time: a place where one might stand in one spot for millions of years and see it all, from the birth of the ground to the birth of a national park.
If you are local, you might already know a lot about the area from your youth. So, what I really would like to say is Redwood National and State Parks are not just for visitors from far away, it is Crescent City’s park as well. If you have a story to tell or would like to know more, I invite you to find me in the park. Let’s share and maybe bring back some of your special memories.