Monday, November 12, 2012

Richardson Grove/Chinook Salmon

 Grandfather Tree (above)
Yesterday I decided to spend some time walking around Richardson Grove. The grove is located right near the Humboldt/Mendocino county line, along highway 101. I have driven past this grove numerous times on my way to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Highway 101 actually meanders right through the heart of the grove. If you may recall, Richardson Grove had been in the news this past year. There was a highway widening project that was proposed, that had the potential to seriously alter, or impact the giant trees that currently grow right next to the highway. The project has been defeated for now.
 My immediate impression of this grove was its fragility. It was a strange sensation to be walking in the unique redwood ecosystem, but to be so close to the human influence. The noise of the highway was constant, the park seemed almost desolate, paths in disrepair, plastic taping laying on the ground, garbage laying here and there, small construction projects unfinished, educational signs corroding. Parking areas and park roads empty of vehicles. It is officially "off season."
 A sign with a quote from John Muir really hit home, except the last sentence was omitted. Perhaps it should have been included. It read:
"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools."
Despite the fragile nature of the grove, there are some fantastic trees growing there. Some of the largest trees remaining were the ones growing right next to the highway. After walking around for a while, I decided to walk down the Eel River, which flows right next to the highway and the grove.
 The thought occurred to me that this is the time of year one could expect to see salmon heading upstream, or at least in the old days. In my mind, I imagined watching the Eel squirming with life, as the salmon were beginning to spawn. However, after five minutes of staring into the river and seeing nothing, I concluded that the river was dead, that another sad chapter of these redwood forests was being written.
Chinook salmon (above)
 I was wrong. I walked to a section of the river that was quite shallow, where the current was moving at a rapid pace. All of a sudden, I heard a splash, and saw what appeared to be a tail fin thrashing about in the river, the fish fighting the current as it was swimming upstream. The fish had a pinkish tint to it, and was ENORMOUS! Just then, I started to see a few more, all of them hanging out in places where the current was really moving, all fighting to swim upstream. More thrashing and splashing. The salmon! They are back!
 There is something extraordinary about witnessing these huge salmon returning to their spawning grounds. Other than the Kokanee salmon in Tahoe, which were introduced to the lake in the 1940's, the only other salmon I have seen were near the Columbia River on the Oregon/Washington border while hiking the PCT. That was an incredible sight to behold as well. As far as I know, these salmon are the real deal, spending their lives in the Pacific Ocean, and returning to the river to reproduce and then die. They definitely had the size to prove it. I'd imagine one fish could feed a person for a few days.
 Here is an article describing the return of the salmon to the Eel River that I found yesterday. Thanks to restoration efforts, the fish are making a comeback. We need to hear good news, and this is good news in my opinion. It is my belief that the health of these ancient cycles are necessary for the overall health of all living organisms on this earth.
 After spending an hour or so observing the salmon, I returned to Richardson Grove and found a hiking trail. Eventually, I found a trail called "Lookout Point."
As the trail began to wind up the hillside, the traffic noise began to lessen and the silence of the forest returned ever so slightly. The hillside contained a nice mixed forest of madrone, redwood, and Douglas Fir, amongst a few others.
 I scoured the ground for mushrooms and found a few new types making their first appearance of the year. Below is a type of choral fungi.
 The sun appeared to be setting, and I was getting pretty hungry so I decided to call it a day and hike back to my car. My overall impression of Richardson Grove is this: It's a great place to see some incredible trees if you happen to be passing through the area and have time to spare. I'd also imagine its a comfortable grove for someone who prefers elements of civilization. The Eel River is awesome, and the parking areas give one a chance to get out of the vehicle and explore the river banks a bit.
If you want an authentic redwood experience, I would not suggest Richardson Grove. The comfort that aspects of civilization give a person, take away from the silence and feeling of eternity that a more remote grove has the potential to give.
Nonetheless, any day with the redwoods is a good day. Redwoods, salmon, and mushrooms makes for a memorable experience.

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