PARK: Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Features: A shaded stream canyon and a pioneer woman’s grave.
Distance: 2.3 miles round trip
Elevation gain: 600 feet
Open all year for the basic hike.
HISTORY: A lost lamb originally led the way to the peaceful ridge-top spot where this hike concludes. Now you can take a shaded park trail to the gravesite of the lamb’s long-departed owner.
THE HIKE: You start in the fabled Rockefeller Forest, the largest grove of old-growth redwoods in the world. While staring skyward at their soaring trunks you’re likely to miss another red-wooded tree—a small, moss-covered Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) that stands forlornly just to the right of the path a few yards from its start. It is hard to believe that such an unassuming specimen is part of a proud heritage; however, yews have long made important contributions to humankind.
After 50 yards the path meets the Horse Trail, an equestrian/hiker route that runs along the northern edge of the flat. The hiking route turns right, following the Horse Trail until mile 0.1, where you branch left at a fork. At 0.2 miles you head into the canyon of Harper Creek. As you gradually climb the slope the creek sends its splashing sound upward, raucously noisy in winter and spring, more subdued during the dry months.
The trail rises along the hillside through mixed forest until it reaches a flat at 0.7 miles. The small-leaved shrub that fills much of the area is evergreen huckleberry, one of the most common plants in the redwood forest. Look also for the dusty green leaves and grayish bark of tanoak, another common under story resident.
At 0.9 miles you pass a second Pacific yew, this one overhanging the trail from its perch on the bank to the left. A switchback then takes the route south. Just ahead the path is bordered by one of the park’s earliest blooming flowers. If you are lucky enough to be here in February, you’ll see the delicately pointed, cream- and wine-colored petals of the fetid adder’s tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii), whose forbidding name refers not only to its shape but also to its distinctive smell, which some beholders have likened to rotting meat. The odor is actually part of the plant’s survival strategy. Since fetid adder’s tongue blooms too early for the normal pollinators to be present, it needs to attract flies to do the job, and, as we all know, the scents preferred by flies are quite different from those preferred by most other species, including humans.
By way of compensation, the next plant you meet along the trail has a far more pleasant aroma—the California bay is sometimes known as both pepperwood and laurel, and its sharply pointed, dark green leaves suffuse the air with a strong but strangely appealing scent.
You then make a switchback to the right and come out on a ridgeline. To the left are intermittent views of a steeply sloping prairie and, at 1.1 miles, of Grasshopper Peak. Both Oregon white oak and California black oak border the path, while French broom, an invasive alien, encroaches the ridge top from the down slope prairie.
The trail then reaches a shaded knoll, where a low picket fence surrounds a grave marker and a pair of tall cypress trees. Buried here is Addie Johnson, who homesteaded on the nearby prairie with her husband Tosaldo in 1872. One day, while searching for a lost lamb, Addie hiked to this promontory, which looked down on the family homestead. She fell in love with the spot and told her husband that she would like to be buried here when she passed away. Only a few months later a grieving Tosaldo had to honor her request after Addie died in childbirth. The trail ends, like Addie’s story, at her gravesite.
The way back follows the same route, returning you to the parking area at 2.3 miles.