It was funny. I had been living in California for the past two years and yet, I had never so much as thought about visiting the Redwood National Park. I remembered learning about this forest in school. It was second grade. We had pushed all of the rickety desks to the side and linked our hands together, creating a big circle.
“This is the size of the tree trunks in the Redwood Forest,” my teacher would say, as we all dropped our jaws and said a group, “Wooooow.”
What I Remember Learning About The Redwood Forest
Back in Wisconsin, we could simplify the tree trunk process down to one person. We didn’t have the Redwoods, we had the red pines. These trees were skinny and tall, but no where near as tall as the trees in the Redwood Forest. My teacher made this very clear. Now, at 24 years old, I was finally going to see this mysterious place for myself. Though my textbook lessons were ages ago, there were a few things I never forgot:
- The Size: Obviously, hearing about a mythical tree trunk the size of your classroom tends to stick with you.
- The Climate: For some reason, my teacher drilled into the whole environment thing because that was how half of these cool creatures were able to survive. I remember wishing my neighborhood had the same climate.
- Banana Slug: Come on, it was a giant slug that looked like a banana. We didn’t have those around there and, of course, with a name like that, us seven-year-olds were obsessed.
The plan was to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to my accommodation and then reserve the entire next day for hiking through the trees. However, after waiting almost two decades, I didn’t want to wait a single moment more. The exit to my home-for-the-night appeared on the left, and I flew by it. My maps rerouted to the next exit, but I flew by that one, too. I drove for another hour until I arrived at the place where I’d soon watch the most magical sunset of my life: Redwood Creek Overlook.
Visiting The Redwood National Park, Alas
There was only one other car in the small parking lot as I approached. I parked next to him, grabbing nothing but my keys and walking a skimpy twenty paces to the official Redwood Creek Overlook.
The owner of the other vehicle was here, setting up his tripod to capture the phenomenon we were about to witness. I looked out into the distance. This might be one of the few times I could look at the Redwood Trees and not feel like a banana slug myself. Now, I was the one towering over them. The thick trees rippled across the valley like moss taking over a rock. Every once in a while, the forest would disappear, blanketed in the dense mist rolling off of the waves. The Pacific Ocean was ahead, taking up space as far as the eye could see.
I didn’t know what to expect. Not only was this my first time visiting the Redwood National Park, but it was also my first time watching the sunset from this high in the sky (no, airplanes don’t count).
Watching The Sunset Over The Valley
It was golden hour now. The plants around me seemed to blossom, bathing in the amber glow. The dewey grass dripped like honey, rolling down the stalks as they swayed in the breeze. However, I wasn’t the only one enjoying this moment. Slaps and claps began to ring through the air as the other photographer and I swatted at our knees…and our ankles…and our necks. The mosquitoes were feasting in the tiger sun.
The sky transformed into a wildfire, with the clouds echoing the vibrant color through the woods. I wish I could slow the sun down. As it neared the clouds, I swear I could witness every inch of the twilight twitching.
“Ten, nine, eight,” it wasn’t hard to match the pace of light anymore.
As the smoldering sphere dipped below the billowing blanket, the jagged outline of the Sequoias scattering along the coastline seeped out. The colors of the sky shifted. The tiger was going to bed and a peacock was taking its place. Orange faded to red, red to purple and purple into a deep cobalt blue. The blue would soon fade too, sucking the colors out of the sky until nothing but a blank canvas was left, leaving room for the stars to have a chance at splatter painting.
Leaving The redwood Forest
I didn’t want to leave. In fact, I never wanted to leave. However, the sooner I would go to bed, the sooner I could wake up and come back to this mystical forest. Even so, there was one thing that I hadn’t accounted for on my drive back home: Bigfoot.
I know, I know, he’s a mythical creature……but what if he’s not? As I rolled through the pitch black forest with trees casting enormous shadows above me and mist that spiraled in small tornados through my high beams….I was terrified. Like, OF COURSE, Bigfoot would choose to show himself to me, the solo traveler on her first skip through the National Park.
I squinted at every cloud, waiting for his haggard figure to appear, debating whether to flip it in reverse and drive backward up the spiraling hill, gun it into the abyss, or take driver’s ed seriously and just plow through Bigfoot while maintaining control of the vehicle. To fight or to flight, that was the question. Although, in retrospect, I don’t think I would have much of a chance at winning on either side.
Home Sweet Home
I was five minutes from home now and began to feel a sense of relief. I don’t think Bigfoot would go this far out of his stomping grounds. Flipping on my turn signal, I exited the highway, circling the roundabout back to my AirBnb when it flashed in front of my car. I slammed on the brakes, letting out a bloodcurdling scream, as the unavoidable thump knocked underneath the vehicle, shaking my toes.
Bowing my head in shame, I pulled over, trying to get it together. I had just killed a cat, and I had a feeling it was not just any cat. It was the cat that belonged to my AirBnb host for the night. As I scrolled through the kitten-themed pictures, I looked face to face with my new enemy: A fluffy, striped orange tabby.
Glancing back in my rearview, I scanned the road. I didn’t see anything, but I also couldn’t remember exactly where the catastrophe had happened. Maybe the cat just did a little tumble and he was hiding in the tall grass and licking his wounds now. Perhaps the cat was totally fine after all…or at least that’s what I tell myself so I can sleep at night.