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This hike in Redwood National and State Parks provides a rare and breathtaking California experience

By on September 11, 2021 0

Starting out on the Damnation Creek Trail in Redwood National and State Parks, about a six hour drive north of San Francisco, I got dizzy. This trail, I was told, offered the best chance in all of California to see a dramatic natural phenomenon that I have been pursuing for almost a year: light filtering through the trees.

You might have seen a version of it before, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time in the redwood forests or maybe Japan, where there’s even a special word to describe it: komorebi. But last year, during fire season, I saw the light through the trees in a more dramatic way than I ever imagined.

I had passed through Redwood National Park on Bald Hills Road and there was smoke in the air from a fire nearby. The sun was shining over my head, and I turned a corner, and suddenly, wham! Bright, thick bands of light beamed down the road as far as I could see. It looked like a hundred alien abductions were about to take place, all at once.

The hike was out of the question due to the poor air quality, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone to venture into the smoky forests. But after that day I started to wonder if it would be possible to see a light show like this again.

I scoured Instagram for photos tagged with #lightfilteringthroughtrees and #komorebi and Google searched a bit. Two hikes looked promising: a trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park leading to Stout Grove, and the Damnation Creek Trail in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, both located in Del Norte County, near from the Oregon border.

I had been to Stout Grove before, but apparently not at the right time. According to www.redwoodhikes.com, to see the filtering light, you have to go during the warmer months around 4 p.m. cathedral, ”and“ the sun’s rays tilt, often visible when passing through the dark, to stain tree trunks and ferns, ”the website says.

The Japanese have a word for this phenomenon: koromebi.

Mitch crispe

The other option – Damnation Creek Trail – was closer to my home and I had never tried it before. Unlike Stout Grove, this redwood getaway takes visitors up a steep incline to the ocean. On foggy summer days, when the morning sun’s rays start to descend from above, I’m told, the display would be the most spectacular. There was no promise, however, as coastal fog doesn’t always seep into the forest.

When we arrived at the trailhead parking lot, a small setback at kilometer 16 on Hwy 101, my partner and I marveled at our luck. There is only one place left. Starting with the trail, we wandered past 300 foot redwoods with meandering light gray colored trunks (apparently they are bleached by the salt filled air). About a mile and a half the trail started to descend through a lush understory of ferns. As we cruised through the switchbacks, we looked through the trees hoping to catch a glimpse of both the sun above and the fog on the way down.

A grove of redwoods on the Damnation Creek Trail, bathed in light.

A grove of redwoods on the Damnation Creek Trail, bathed in light.

Nate berg

The forest canopy was quite thick, which made it difficult to locate the sun. And while we could see a bit of haze down below, we were worried our timing might be out of place. It was almost noon, had the fog already cleared? Finally, we came to a bend in the trail, where a woman had set up a tripod. His lens was aimed at the sky behind us. We turned around and sure enough there was light.

It shot through the canopy in a circular pattern resembling explosive fireworks, with the light rays illuminated by the fog in all directions. A rainbow crown was barely visible in an inner circle, and we gasped. The woman with the tripod looked equally impressed.

“God speaks,” she said, and after a pause added, “whoever she is.”

The rays of light become spectacular when filtered through the trees and combined with the coastal fog.

The rays of light become spectacular when filtered through the trees and combined with the coastal fog.

Ashley Harrell

Nate Berg admires the light streaming through the trees on the Damnation Creek Trail in Redwood National Park.

Nate Berg admires the light streaming through the trees on the Damnation Creek Trail in Redwood National Park.

Mitch crispe

The woman turned out to be Kay Walsh, a landscape photographer and teacher who traveled from Bainbridge Island near Seattle just to capture this phenomenon. She had been there 10 years ago, she said, and since then she had never seen light filter through the trees as dramatically as it is here.

Walsh also teaches photography and is keen to tell his students, “You must paint with light.” At a time when technology occupies a large part of our attention, she said, it finds a purpose in making people appreciate the world’s wild places and parks and reconnect with the land.

” They lost [that connection], “she said.” So if you can touch their emotions … well, that’s why I’m doing this. ”

We met two other photographers on the runway that day – Nate Berg and Mitch Crispe. The recently married couple live in Arcata and like me they were also obsessed with finding a reliable place to see the light filter through the trees.

Mitch Crispe kisses a redwood tree on the Damnation Creek Trail.

Mitch Crispe kisses a redwood tree on the Damnation Creek Trail.

Nate berg

Crispe, a personal trainer, first experienced it in the Arcata community forest last September. “Everything was in order that day,” he said. “There must be fog, but then there must be a blue sky above the fog, then the sun must rise at such an angle that, as the fog dissipates and the sun’s rays can be seen on the cross and through the trees. “

The couple saw him in this forest several times, but it was unreliable, Crispe said. Then they saw him in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, but it was because of the smoke. Eventually they met another local photographer who mentioned Damnation Creek Trail. The first time they made the hour-long trip north the conditions were absolutely perfect.

The winding trunks of the sequoias are gray-white by the salty air near the coast.

The winding trunks of the sequoias are gray-white by the salty air near the coast.

Nate berg

“We couldn’t believe it,” Crispe said. “The shelves were all over the place. It’s a very surreal experience, so we decided to try it again.
They ended up coming back six times this summer. Each time, they returned home with stunning photos of the light bursting through the forest.

Berg is a wildlife biologist whose 88-year-old mother, an oil painter, taught him the importance of composition in art. On this trail, he said, all the elements line up for a perfect composition: ancient sequoias, Sitka spruce and Douglas firs on a mountain sloping towards the sea, a constant stream of coastal fog and rays. of the morning sun.

Mitch Crispe and Nate Berg have hiked the Damnation Creek Trail six times this summer.

Mitch Crispe and Nate Berg have hiked the Damnation Creek Trail six times this summer.

Mitch crispe

“My mom is too old to visit this place now, but I love to share the photos I take here with her,” he said.

As my partner and I walked further down the trail, we expected the fog to clear and the light show to end. Instead, it just got more intense. Taking photo after photo with my iPhone’s camera, I tried to capture how amazing it was.

If only I could somehow recreate what I saw, what I felt. Painting with light, I said to myself. Paint with light.

Steven Sparapani takes a photo of the light show on the Damnation Creek Trail.

Steven Sparapani takes a photo of the light show on the Damnation Creek Trail.

Ashley Harrell





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