Friday, June 11, 2010

Henry Cowell SP: Redwood Grove to Observation Deck

The Pipeline Road

There is nothing quite like the redwoods on a stormy day. The mist that filters down through massive canopy is soothing and cool rather than wet and cold. The forest radiates life despite its overpowering stillness. There is something primal and raw to be experienced among the giants. There are few better places to find that experience than on the redwood loop in Henry Cowell State Park. Add the power of a river forging its way down to the sea, swelling with fresh runoff and grand views of misty mountains the combination is tough to beat.

Rain drops on Redwood Sorrel.

By parking at the Ox trailhead the park entrance fee at the main gate can be avoided. Only one main trail leads out from the small parking lot on the side of highway 9 which runs directly to the Roaring Camp Railroad tracks. Opting not to follow the railroad tracks to the trestle I instead decided to follow a thin use trail along a small unnamed creek until its confluence with the powerful San Lorenzo River near Cable Car Beach.

The San Lorenzo River near Cable Car Beach

The shallowest crossing is about 1/4th a mile up river from Cable Car Beach quite close to the railroad trestle. In the shallowest spots I could stand above the water on rocks, the deepest steps were calf deep, enough to let water pour into my boots in a cold rush right over the top 1/2 way up my calf. Scrambling over the last few steps and up on to the bank is the toughest part of the crossing.


On the opposite bank a quick left on the paved Pipeline road towards the railroad trestle begins the real hiking loop. The Pipeline road fairly quickly turns into a wide dirt path which is the Redwood Loop. The Redwood loop runs through the tallest, oldest, and most majestic tress in Henry Cowell and is the centerpiece of the park. Most visitors won't see anything else besides this 0.8 mile loop through the tall trees. On the ground lies a thick bed of clover and the occasional fallen tree.

Redwoods just outside the old growth "Redwood Loop"

Rain on Redwoods on the River Trail

Completing the loop returns to the Pipeline road, the next half mile is a mess of trail junctions. Keep heading uphill and on dirt trails, first catch the River Trail, for a nice walk through a fairly deep cut creek drainage. As I trekked up the trail it started raining steadily, thanks to the thick canopy on a fine mist filtered down. The River Trail eventually turns into the Rincon Fire Road heading uphill. A left at the Ridge Fire Road leads back to the Pipeline Road. Crossing the Pipeline Road the trail eventually heads up towards the observation deck.

Rain on Redwoods off the Pipeline Road.

The trail quickly becomes a sandy mess, especially in the rain this stretch is the most difficult. The redwoods fade back leaving dry pines and chaparral along the trail. Sticky Monkey flowers were in full bloom. Eventually after roughly half a mile the observation deck appears. Though the rain stopped there was not much of a view. The clouds hung low in the valleys exposing only the tips of trees who's green points were the only color in an otherwise fully grey world. There is no cover at the deck, only a few steps leading up to a raised platform.

The Observation Deck on a cloudy day.

I hung around for just a few minutes, wolfed down my squished peanut butter and jelly sandwich and took off back the way I came. Instead of bothering with the many junctions on the way in I simply took the pipeline road back. The paved road is not ideal for hiking, but the rainy redwood forest was unique enough to make up for route. I eventually crossed back over the river at the same point, now a few inches deeper. My boots were soaked at this point and I felt water surge up between my toes with each and every step. The trail was relatively short, but quite satisfying and I was very happy to pour my soggy self into the car and get going home.

Damp Redwood Sorrell

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