We started our 6th day on the California Coastal Trail on the north side of the Klamath River, where Oregos, a helpful Yurok spirit, is embodied as a large rock at the rivermouth. Oregos and her sister, another stalwart rock on the south side, help to guide the salmon up the Klamath to the Yurok people.
The Klamath River is the lifeline of the Yurok people, who have fished ney-puy (salmon) from the Klamath for thousands of years by respecting the connection between a healthy, abundant salmon population and their own wellbeing. Today, Yurok culture is still strongly linked to the salmon’s annual migration. Salmon are anadromous fish, which means they live in both fresh and saltwater. Salmon hatch in the Klamath River, then travel to the ocean to feed as adults. They then return to the river, making an incredible journey upstream to lay eggs in the same places that they were hatched.
We had to get from Oregos on the north bank to her sister rock on the south side of the Klamath River mouth. The river was peaceful that morning and we were so happy to see Ken and Kathy Cunningham, who run a salmon fishing guide service, pull up their boat to the small dock.
They jetted us up the Klamath River, giving us a quick tour of the area. Around each bend, an epic scene of forested redwood mountains awaited us, highlighting the pumping lifeblood that is the Klamath. Bald eagles and golden eagles nest in the redwoods, sometimes needing to duke it out with ospreys to steal their catch. Bears visit the river often, and lots of other wildlife too. Ken told us a crazy story about a mountain lion swimming across the river right in front of his friend’s boat. (Proof of this cougar story can be watched here)
Once we reached the south side, we hiked up and over an old coast-ridge road enjoying the scenic vistas, spotting whales in the distance! We finished the day by hiking some intense sandy miles down to Gold Bluffs beach.
Gold Bluffs Beach tells an important part of California’s gold rush story. In 1850, miners found flecks of “gold as fine as flour” in the sand. Rumors spread, and soon it was said that the sands of Gold Bluffs Beach were one half pure gold. Miners flooded the area, only to discover that the sands contained little gold, and extracting the small quantities of gold proved too laborious. The Gold Bluffs bubble burst, and miners were ashamed to have believed such tall tales of sand worth millions. Today, visitors can see a different kind of gold when the dune wildflowers bloom in spring, and yellow sand verbena shines in the golden sunlight.
Near Gold Bluffs Beach is Fern Canyon, which we explored on our layover day. Fern Canyon’s 50-foot walls are draped with lush ferns, moss, and other moisture-loving plants. The canyon resembles a hanging garden, and is home to seven kinds of ferns, including five finger, deer, lady, sword, and chain ferns. Ferns have a unique life cycle that involves spores rather than flowers or seeds. Spores are found on the underside of the ferns’ leaves, which are called fronds. New fronds unfurl from the classic fiddlehead shape, unrolling from base to tip.
The next day was quite a long one. We headed south along the beach, but unfortunately had to backtrack our steps to find the Skunk Cabbage trailhead sign, which was cryptically hidden among the many miles of dunes.
We walked the length of Skunk Cabbage Trail through forest and fern until it dropped us at Highway 101.
This is where the most brutal part of the trail began. The highway was busy with cars, with no shoulder and lots of blind curves. We were forced to the outside of the guard rail so as to escape the fast cars. There was a bit of room to walk on this side, but it was overgrown with thorny blackberry bushes and other prickly plants. Our time on the highway was thankfully barely a mile, but we were so thankful when we arrived at the gravel road that led to a levee along Prairie Creek. The levee path was our savior.
We were running late for our boat ferry across Stone Lagoon to our environmental campsite, so we had to speedwalk! This section of the California Coastal Trail follows the lagoon shore inland to avoid an impassable rocky point at Sharp Point. However, the trail was underwater due to high water levels from all the rain storms this year.
Bert Taylor, Coastwalk Humboldt coordinator and trail angel, informed us of the tricky trail conditions and arranged a canoe ride with fellow Coastwalkers and other blessed trail angels, Bertie and Jo. Without the canoe ride, we would have been in big trouble! Bert, Bertie, Jo, Jo, and Mo set off on a canoe/kayak adventure. We paddled away from the shore and into Stone Lagoon.
The lagoon was calm and lovely. Stone Lagoon sits in a low valley surrounded by redwood forest. As we paddled toward the other side of the lagoon, we glided past cormorants nesting in the trees. The bows of our boats cut through the brackish water, and it calmly lapped the sides of our vessels. We were so happy to be sitting down yet still making forward progress, especially after the grueling 13 mile day with super heavy packs. Bert, Jo, and Bertie are the coolest adventure ladies! Our hearts were glowing after visiting with these awesome and generous women. Thank you to these wonderful women for transporting us across the lagoon to our boat-in camp. They dropped us off on the bank and paddled away, towing the now empty kayak behind them.