#271–Remembering Big Basin . . .

Hiking the trails in the woods among towering redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a fond memory.

The oldest state park in California. We used to visit many years ago.

On a map, you can see that the park is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains between the ocean and the Santa Clara Valley on the other side of the mountains.

We lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Summit Road just a mile off Highway 17. That’s the highway that still connects Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. We lived there in a one-room cabin from the mid-60s to the mid-70s––my hippie years.

It was easy to get to Big Basin from where we lived. Just head north on Summit Road, pass over Highway 17, continue north a few miles, and turn west at the intersection with Highway 9. Before reaching Big Basin, the two-lane, windy road passed through Felton, Ben Lomond, and Boulder Creek.  I remember them as villages. They, too, were impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire that ignited last August.

I loved hiking the trails in Big Basin.

That fire was one of many that were started by dry lightning strikes, and windy, hot weather conditions helped spread them. The CZU fire burned nearly 90.000 acres through most of Big Basin and destroyed between 600-700 structures in and around the three towns along Highway 9 and Scotts Valley near the western end of Highway 17. Within a couple weeks of that fire, Oregon was also beset by numerous fires. And I forgot about the California fires. . . .

. . . . until last week when NPR aired a major feature on California’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park. They gave a brief history, covered the fire damage, and marveled at how new growth is already sprouting at the base of the redwoods. Some of the redwoods in Big Basin are 1,000 to 2,000 years old. Those giants have survived many fires. As the oldest state park in California, Big Basin dates back to 1902. And in 1904 it survived a major fire and recovered. But CZU was much worse.   

Almost all of Big Basin burned to some degree, but with varying intensity. Some areas only saw burning in the understory, but the core of the park, which included the headquarters and nature center and much of the forest canopy was destroyed. At least one campground was also destroyed. It will take time, but Big Basin will recover. However, It won’t be in my lifetime.

Some of the giants are 250 feet tall and 1,500 years old.

But I have my memories.

I remember hiking the trails and marveling at huge Father of the Forest, about 250 feet tall and 1,500 years old, and other giants. I remember the quiet and majesty that a redwood forest imparts. When you meet others on the trail, it isn’t long before their sounds are totally muffled.

I remember tent camping in the campground. I only remember one campground.  We were having breakfast at our picnic table. The Coleman stove was set up, and we were cooking bacon. Without warning, a brazen Steller’s Jay plucked a crispy piece of bacon right out of the frying pan and flew off. It happened so fast and was such a surprise that we couldn’t prevent it. But we didn’t let it happen again. I kept an eye on all jays and had a stick handy.

I remember picnics where a curious raccoon untied my shoelaces under the picnic table while I ate, totally unaware until he was on the second shoe. Another time, a really brazen raccoon hopped up beside me, poked its nose under my arm, and reached for my food. I shooed it away before it got anything.

Here’s my most amazing memory. To avoid weekend traffic on Highway 17, we sometimes took a longer, scenic route to the beach with our two dogs, Eric the Irish Setter and Pepper the English Setter. On one visit, on the way back, Pepper let us know that he needed a pit stop. So, we stopped in a clearing in a heavily wooded part of Big Basin where no people were around, and Pepper did his thing.

Pepper loved to run.

But our timing wasn’t so good. Just as he was about to jump back in the car, a deer zipped by. In a flash, Pepper was off after it. Eric just jumped back in the car. We called and called and kept it up off and on for a couple of hours. As it was getting dark, we left our name and contact info along with a description of Pepper and his name at the park headquarters. Dejectedly, we headed home.

I was sure that was the last we would see of Pepper. But my husband, Alden, had more faith. After dinner, he called a friend, Tony, who used to be our neighbor when we lived in town. And he talked him into helping him find Pepper. But first, he asked Tony to stop by a market and pick up a roast. This was just the kind of adventure the two of them would enjoy! Sort of a mission impossible.

Finding the same spot in the woods of Big Basin in the dark of night, would be hard enough. Expecting a dog last seen there hours before to still be around––not likely. But miracles do happen!

Here’s how it played out. They stopped at a dozen places before Alden felt it was the right one. They got out of the car, and Alden called Pepper’s name only once. Then the darn dog came running out of the woods with tail wagging––really glad to see them. Alden simply couldn’t believe it. What Tony couldn’t believe was how quickly Pepper ate the entire roast.

One of the historic buildings that were destroyed in the fire. And this is where we reported Pepper as lost in the woods.

It was after midnight when they got back. And I had been worrying about all of them––Pepper as well as Alden and Tony. I could just picture the two guys getting lost in the woods of Big Basin wandering around with a flashlight calling Pepper’s name over and over. I was so relieved to see them and to find that they actually did find Pepper.  I couldn’t believe it, until I looked out on the porch. There he was, all stretched out sound asleep, totally unaware of all the fuss he had created.

So, these are some of my memories of Big Basin.

Note: The park will be closed for at least a year. And the Sempervirens Fund, an organization whose sole purpose is to protect the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains and buys land with redwoods when available, has set up a recovery fund where !00% of donations go to recovery efforts and are tax deductible. To date, they have raised more than $443,000.

BIG BASIN RECOVERY FUND – https://bit.ly/bigbasinrecovery #BigBasinRecovery

About crossingsauthor

Judy Fleagle spent 22 years teaching 1st and 2nd grades and 21 years as editor/staff writer with Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines.Since 2009, she has written five books: "Crossings: McCullough's Coastal Bridges," "The Crossings Guide to Oregon's Coastal Spans," "Around Florence," "Devil Cat and Other Colorful Animals I Have Known," and "The Oregon Coast Guide to the UNEXPECTED!!!."
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