Finding a place to backpack in the redwoods north of San Francisco, within an easy few hours drive, is no easy feat. I googled and read and bought books, and finally, picked a place called Humboldt Redwoods Park.
“Just come on up,” the visitor’s center assured me. “You can go next door and get a backcountry permit, and you’ll be on your way.”
We drove north, for what seemed like hours and hours, stopping to sleep along 101. I knew this area was ravaged by pot grows and shady activity, so felt a little nervous each time a pickup truck roared past.
The next morning, we headed to Garberville for breakfast. I’d always imagined this town would be quaint, nestled in with the gentle giants and alive with art shops, coffee houses, and brewpubs. But no, Garberville looked like a prison yard and a homeless camp in one.
I went into a grocery store to stock up for our backpacking adventure, and all I saw were creepy men. Men wearing NRA shirts. Men with tattoos on their knuckles. Men with tattoos on their necks and faces. And you know what they say about men with tattoos on their faces: Prison Break. I bought my food and did a prison break right out of that store.
What happened to Garberville? The pot industry up here has reached the billions, so a lot of weirdos dubbed “trimmigrants” travel to this heavenly slice of earth to make money picking bud. I know this town has a problem; I’ve heard it from the people who live here, and have even done a story. People inject drugs on street corners, set up encampments, and cause trouble. Some townspeople carry tasers. Others have set up neighborhood patrols. It’s sad that the locals have to deal with such a mess, all from an unregulated pot industry nestled within these beautiful forests.
After our depressing visit to Garberville, we drove north, to Humboldt. Ancient redwoods lined the road, and I breathed in deeply, finally feeling at peace. The redwoods at Humboldt State Park are some of the oldest remaining groves in the world. These magnificent trees used to span the globe, but only a few remain now in California. They were nearly logged from existence, now an endangered species.
We walked into the visitor’s center to see about getting a permit, and an older woman of about 80 smiled at us.
“Permit? You don’t need any permit. Everything here is free!”
I didn’t believe her, so headed to find a ranger at the campground next door.
“Actually, all the backcountry camps are closed this time of year. It’s too wet. You can do a day hike, though.”
I was bummed. We’d driven all the way up here to escape the roads and humans and to get into the depths of nature. Apparently, the visitor’s center at Humboldt doesn’t know what it’s talking about, and I fear its due to budget cuts that have hit all the state parks over recent years and have yet to be restored.
We cut our loses and drove to a short hike among the oldest stand of remaining redwoods in the world. It felt magical within these groves, with the earth soft beneath our feet, and these ancient beings stretching high into the sky. I loved being back amidst the ferns and moss and streams, reminiscent of the temperate rainforests in Oregon.
On our way back to the car, light was fading from the sky, so we opted for the road. Diesel truck after diesel truck spewed exhaust into the air, fishing poles affixed to the front. It felt like odd to be in such a beautiful place with such strange people all around.
At 5pm, we were ready to find a beer, but the only local bar had a bunch of pickup trucks parked out front with a sign in the window that said something about the tea party. We felt a little unsafe in this part of the world, in our hiking gear and Prius. We looked at each other, and decided to drive the four hours home.
I think heading up to the redwoods would be perfect if one had several days to go north of Humboldt State Park, to explore the National Park, Del Norte State Park and Jedediah Smith State Park. But all these are way too far north for a simple weekend trip from the Bay area.
We stopped in Garberville again for gas and snacks, and I refused to get out of the car. Weird men with backpacks and low-slung pants walked past, and I felt a sense of danger and urgency to escape the drug-infested Humboldt County.
I wonder if it will ever get better up there. All I do know, is that I am thankful the ancient redwoods still stand, those pillars of beauty, strength and longevity.