The Jurassic Jungle

Imagine being transported back to the Jurassic age, where the forests are lush and verdant, with giant trees and ferns growing everywhere, and of course dinosaurs romping through the woods. Well, that’s kind of what it’s like in the Redwood National and State Parks, minus the dinosaurs, and with smaller ferns. When you step into these forests you almost expect to see a pterodactyl flying through or a brontosaurus threatening to step on you, or some other large reptile roaming around munching on the plentiful greenery. Alas, these reptiles are no longer around, but we’re lucky that the forests still are – they were just barely saved from the axe in the nick of time. It’s rather unfortunate, as there are several parks in the northern end of California, but they’re all disconnected and have roads running through them everywhere (The parks: Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek State Park, Del Norte State Park, and Jedediah Woods State Park, in addition to others further south along the coast). The most incredible of these, in my opinion, is Del Norte State Park, though it certainly lacks one vital aspect, which is the silence and solitude you really would hope to have in such a magical place. The highway runs straight through the woods, and there’s only a few miles before the coast, so there’s not much space. In any case, we’re lucky some of these woods were saved before they were all chopped down. Of course, this park is also on the Governator’s list of state parks to close down, though I can’t honestly see how you close a park that consists of a highway, a few pullouts, and some miscellaneous trails.. there’s just not anything to close down.

Why were these woods in such danger until the early to mid 1900’s you might ask.. Redwoods have long been prized for their near magical quality of wood – the Native Americans long ago used them for canoes and roof planks due to their resistance to rotting and warping. Currently, loggers prize them for similar attributes, as well as insect and fire resistance. The wood is simply very resistant to any kind of damage, even that of the red ants in Indonesia, which will apparently eat through any other kind of wood! They also take forever to grow, or, if you look at it from their perspective, they have a long time they can grow for, because nothing seems to kill them. Some are as old as 2,200 years, and up to 379.1 feet tall (well, that’s the tallest one). Some even come close to rivaling their related cousins, the Giant Sequoias I explored in my last adventure, in width (getting up to 24.4 ft in diameter).

The main characters in the these forests are of course, the redwoods, but that’s only the beginning of the magic. The ground cover is primarily clovers and sword ferns, which help set the prehistoric tone.

Sword Ferns
“Fern Fingers” ~ Sword Ferns in Del Norte State Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, Canon 24-105L f/4 IS, Polarizer, Tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/14, 0.6 sec
Notes: For this image, as you can probably tell, one of the key factors is the presence of the water drops. Rain, mist, and water of any kind really brings the woods alive.

Scattered about the woods, at various times of year, are a number of wildflowers. Most notably the giant pink Pacific Rhododendron blossoms. The Rhododendrons (from here on out affectionately referred to as Rhodies) bloom in late May to early June, and their flowers only last a week or two before they deteriorate and fall off. The wonderful thing about the Rhodies is that there aren’t just a few scattered here and there, they’re everywhere! They grow all throughout the Redwoods, generally the size of a very large bush, or small tree, covered in lichen beards, and (when the time is right) showing off their beautiful pink blooms. It must be no surprise that I timed my visit to this time of year… (I will have to return again some time to see the little three petaled white Trilliums, however). Make no mistake, while there may be tons of blooming Rhodies, it is near impossible to find one that is actually photogenic, with a clean surrounding fore and mid ground, and a few attractive redwoods in the back. This place is a veritable jungle – there’s vegetation everywhere, which makes my life as a photographer pretty tough.

Jurassic Jungle
“Jurassic Jungle” ~ Del Norte State Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 24-105 @ 35mm, Tripod & Panorama Head, Polarizer
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 15 sec
Processing: This is a 4 image panorama, stitched in Photoshop CS 2 (I would be using PTGui if I had my real computer).
Notes: This is one of those images that needs to be big.. you can click on it (and any image) to see it a bit larger, but of course there’s so much to see that it just needs to be a big print 🙂 I included the leaves at the top of the frame to add the sense of wandering through the jungle with greenery everywhere, I hope it has that effect for you.

Of course, as with any forest, cloudy days, particularly in the morning and evening, are the times to visit (and photograph) the woods. In fact, I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing forests under these conditions that going for a hike in the woods on a sunny day is unfortunately no longer really all that pleasant. This is one of the drawbacks of becoming someone so attuned to finding the perfect light – you’re forced into a kind of crepuscular existence. And it means I’m quite often a little bored during the day (particularly when on these solo adventures).. sure I’ll spend my time scouting out new locations, maybe hiking 10-15 miles a day, but it’s just not the same when the light’s not right!

The redwood forests are particularly magical when the fog rolls in around the late afternoon and before it’s burned off in the early morning. Generally this is the standard kind of weather for the area, and a large reason why the redwoods do so well there (they really like moisture, and pump hundreds of gallons of water through their trunks every day). Of course, when I visited, over the course of about 5 days, there were only rare moments of fog, and mostly patchy fog and not where I wanted it to be. The morning in the image above was a drizzly and slightly misty morning, which helped create the rainforest feel that it shows. Then, because of high winds and what seemed like would result in little fog (according to the ranger and weather predictions), I made a trip up to Bandon Beach in Oregon for the evening, hoping for a good sunset/sunrise. The sunset was alright, but I’d scouted out a composition that I really wanted, and the sunset colors weren’t in quite the right spot for it. Next came a place to sleep for the night, and coincidentally the first Saturday of every June in Oregon is come and play in state parks for free day.. so I didn’t even have to find a remote National Forest Road to get free camping! The following sunrise gave me exactly what I was hoping for too, which made the visit worth while.

Bandon Beach
“Morning Zen” ~ Bandon Beach, Oregon.
The Tech: Canon 5D, 24-105 @ 60mm, Tripod, Polarizer, 2x 3-stop Lee Neutral Density Filters
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 30 sec
Processing: Simple dodge/burn in the sky to balance the exposure. I also blended in some detail to the rocks from other longer exposures using layer masks. The detail is subtle, but will make a big difference in the final print, as there won’t be a mass of pure black that might lose your interest.
Notes: For this image I used my Neutral Density filters to increase the exposure time to smooth out the ocean, creating a sense of calm. In this case I found 30 sec to give a nice balance of smooth water, which still maintaining some of the structure of the ocean waves.

The pinnacle you see is called a sea stack, and is formed through erosion of the coastal cliffs. The waves will gradually pound a cave into the bluffs, preferring fractured or more fragile rock, like the one I was sitting in to take the photo, eventually forming an arch. Then the arch may collapse, and continued erosion will shape the new island into sometimes bizarre pointy shapes. The rock on the Oregon beaches is primarily mixed sedimentary and volcanic, and when they contain shear fractures that separate weak from stronger rocks, impressive sea stacks are more likely to form. Bandon Beach has a number of very interesting formations. For more information see the Forest Service Website. I’m not sure if this is entirely true, but from my experience it seems that the size of the sea stacks increase as you move up the coast, with primarily smaller rocks in California, moving up to these odd shapes in Oregon, then in Washington there are large enough stacks that trees start growing on them (you’ll see these in weeks to come).

That morning was, of course, also the one when fog appeared in the redwood forests.. well, I managed to get there in time to still enjoy some of it. The best part of the fog is when the sun just starts to break through, creating dramatic beams of light. I was lucky enough to have a chance to shoot some of these, one even with a cooperative Rhodie.

Rhodie Beam
“Light of Life” ~ Del Norte State Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 24-105 @ 29mm, Tripod, Polarizer, 2-stop Singh-Ray GND filter
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 1/5 sec
Processing: Very little, the filter did most of the work for me 🙂
Notes: Be at the right place, at the right time..

Prehistoric Woods
“Prehistoric Woods” ~ Del Norte State Park
The Tech: Canon 5D, 17-40 @ 21mm, Polarizer, Tripod, 2-stop Sing-Ray GND Filter
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 0.5 sec
Processing: Light burn/dodge, the filter again, did most of my work
Notes: Same as above 🙂 Don’t you just feel like there should be a dinosaur sauntering through these woods?

As the Redwoods are big, you’d hope the wildlife is big too, otherwise you wouldn’t really notice it. And while there’s no giant dinosaurs, there are Roosevelt Elk. These Elk are huge, almost like enormous cows with huge antlers. In the spring, the males and females separate from each other and you can find herds of males with their huge antlers peacefully grazing among one another. Meanwhile the pregnant females go off and hide in the bushes to give birth to their young. At this time the males’ new antlers are just finishing up their growth, and are still covered in a fuzzy felt like material. This antler velvet contains blood vessels that provide the calcium and minerals needed to form the antlers. As the season progresses they’ll rub off that velvet to reveal the not so cute, rather large and scary, antlers they were trying to pass off as cute and fuzzy.

Elk
“Roosevelt Elk” ~ Prairie Creek State Park
The Tech: Canon 20D, 500mm f/4, two 1.4x teleconverters stacked, Tripod
Exposure: iso 400, f/11, 1/200 sec
Notes: I did not dare to get as close to this guy as I did the bear.. those antlers are scary lookin’ ! So for those of you who feared for my life with the bear picture, don’t worry, I won’t put myself in real danger…

I hope you enjoyed this adventure, stay tuned for the next.. which will be a collection from the drive along the coast up to Olympic National Park, and a trek into the enchanted rainforests that grow there! Many of the forests and valleys actually bear the official name ‘enchanted’, so hopefully they’ll live up to that name!

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