Meandering trail traces the Chetco
This sunny November Saturday was supposed to take us to the
northernmost grove of redwoods. The ones Michael Fay of National
Geographic found at the end of his 700-mile "redwood transect"
documented in the magazine's October edition.
Even though I'm an Oregon native, the idea of traipsing through
redwoods in that state brought out my California pride. The world's
tallest trees are a Golden State icon, after all. So I was wearing my
Redwood National and State Parks hat and my blue Triplicate work shirt
as we turned east in Brookings and headed for the Beaver State's
version of the redwoods.
Unfortunately, we arrived to find the 1.2-mile Redwood Nature Trail closed due to the detection of the sudden oak death in a tan oak. A water mold that causes the disease is easily spread, and the Chetco Ranger District is looking to prevent that during the removal of possibly infected plants.
All that is explained in a press release I belatedly found from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Before going, I had pulled up the Web site for the adjacent Loeb State Park, and there was no mention of the closure there. In fact, it notes that "the northernmost redwood grove in the U.S. can be reached by a .75 mile self-guided River View Trail adjacent to the Chetco River."
The River View Trail, as it turned out, saved the day as far as hiking goes. It's short but scenic, and is definitely worth the 7-mile drive from Brookings, especially if you happen to already be up there to skirt California's gas and sales taxes.
A sign at the trailhead informed us redwood aficionados that we were about to encounter another type of grove. This one was full of Oregon myrtles (known farther south as California laurels). They were up to 200 years old and 128 feet tall. Another sign said the grove had been preserved partially through the efforts of an organization called "Save the Myrtlewoods." Sound familiar?
We took a free brochure that turned out to be a walking guide telling us what we'd find at signposts A through L. Then we hit the River View Trail, which turned out to feature a lot more than just myrtlewood. The Chetco River down to our right was the one constant visual as we meandered through hemlocks, Douglas firs, red alders, tan oaks, maples and redwoods.
Ferns were a big part of Mother Nature's landscaping, occasionally giving way to exotic English ivy. The latter, our brochure informed us, is a good-looking but invasive species.
This was a level, low-impact stroll, but it was still slow going because of all the sights that inspired close inspection. Shards of moss dangled from horizontal branches like drapes. The dirt path gave way to rocky steps rounding one especially lush bend that had us speculating about the possibility of a leprechaun encounter.
Tenacious myrtles were the stars of this show, however. Even some of the fallen ones were still growing upwardly mobile branches, occasionally creating miniature groves from a single tree. The handy brochure encouraged us to crush a leaf and release its spicy aroma, and educated us to the fact that myrtle leaves are used in tea, soups and sauces.
Too soon, we emerged into the autumn sunshine, crossed a road and discovered the closed signs at the entrance to the Redwood Nature Trail. We felt only a little like the Griswold family arriving at WallyWorld at the end of a cross-country trip in the "National Lampoon's Vacation," only to find the amusement park shut down for maintenance.
Maybe Californians just aren't meant to walk through out-of-state redwoods. Besides, we still had the return trip on the River View Trail awaiting us.
THE HIKE: The River View Trail, three-quarters of a mile each way, from Loeb State Park to a connection with the 1.2-mile Redwood Nature Trail loop that is unfortunately off-limits for now due to sudden oak death.
HIGHLIGHTS: Myrtles are the stars, with even the fallen ones sprouting new growth. A variety of other foliage, plus ongoing views of the Chetco River below.
SWEAT LEVEL: This one's short and easy. The only thing that will slow you down is the scenery andndash; and the need to step carefully in a few spots to avoid falling toward the river.
GETTING THERE: From Brookings, go east on North Bank Road a little over 7 miles before turning right into Loeb State Park. Instead of taking a second right toward the campground, continue on to nearby trailhead parking.