Hiking Trails of Humboldt, California

STAFF, USA MAINLAND, WALKING/HIKING — By on August 10, 2011 at 01:16

Story by staff writer Judy Clement Wall. Photos Copyright © Judy Clement Wall.

WHENEVER I VISIT Humboldt, California, almost 275 miles north of San Francisco, I think this: Do people who live here walk around constantly stunned by the beauty that surrounds them? When they’re stressed, do they simply step outside and let the earth and sky cradle and soothe them? Can they feel their messy insides shift into place whenever they walk the trails that wind through forests, along coasts, and over marshy wetlands?

Because I do. I’ve spent two weeks in Humboldt over the last four months, and I’m in love. Never has a geography so completely stolen my heart; though, to be fair, the list of places I haven’t seen is quite long, and I’ve never visited Humboldt in the cold, gray dead of winter. Still, in the rainy spring and almost-warm summer, Humboldt affects me on a soul level, deep inside, where not everything that stirs (or quiets) can be put into words.

Both times I’ve been to Humboldt recently, I went with my husband who works with some superhero planet-saving scientists at the university. He works during the day, and I walk. Or more accurately, I wander, a sort of kinetic meditation over spectacular – sometimes tricky – terrain, inside and out.

In Humboldt last week, I spent some time wandering the trails of the Arcata Marshes, which are actually part of the city’s wastewater treatment facility. I know. Marshes. Wastewater. Treatment Facility. Sounds like just the place to go, right?

While I think it’s beyond cool that treated wastewater has been turned into a resource – a 307-acre sanctuary of fresh and saltwater marshes – I have to admit that I didn’t visit it because I thought it would be gorgeous, or even wild in the alligator-water moccasin way that swamps tend to be. I didn’t expect much, but I was pleasantly surprised. The marshes are beautiful, rustic, at once serene and teeming with life. . . .

Arcata Marshes, Humboldt, California

Arcata Marshes


Arcata Marshes, Humboldt, California

Arcata Marshes


Arcata Marshes, Humboldt, California

Arcata Marshes


Arcata Marshes, Humboldt, California

Arcata Marshes

On another day, I hiked along the James Irvine trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where I stumbled upon Fern Canyon. I can’t even begin to describe the beauty of Fern Canyon, except to say that it’s the kind of place fairies might go to fall in love. A bubbling creek flows through the center of the canyon and, on either side, 40 foot walls covered with thick, giant ferns tower over hikers.

There’s no real trail through the canyon. You walk along side the creek when you can, and when you can’t, there are planks set in the shallow water, and logs and rocks and felled trees to climb over. I can honestly say I have never been more dazzled or had more fun hiking in my life.

Fern Canyon, Humboldt, California

Fern Canyon


Fern Canyon, Humboldt, California

Fern Canyon


Fern Canyon, Humboldt, California

Fern Canyon

On another day I took my younger son, The Boy, to see Wedding Rock at Patrick’s Point State Park. It’s named Wedding Rock because the park’s original caretaker got married there in the early 20th century, and now it’s a popular spot for weddings.

That’s not what I told The Boy, of course. I told The Boy about how it looks very medieval, with tiered platforms and stone retaining walls. “It looks like the kind of place where Wesley and the 6-fingered man might have a sword fight,” I said, because Princess Bride references are always welcome where I come from. And of course, there’s the view over the edge of those stone walls – waves crashing violently against jagged cliffs in the endless dance of land and sea.

 Wedding Rock, Humboldt, California

Wedding Rock


Wedding Rock, Humboldt, California

Wedding Rock


Wedding Rock, Humboldt, California

Wedding Rock

I once read an article that included the phrase “sacred spaces.” I loved the term though I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. I wondered if I had any. I worried that I might not recognize one. Even if it magically formed itself around me, I might miss it. How terrible would that be?

And then I discovered Humboldt and I knew: A sacred space is sacred because of what it does to me, and it’s absolutely impossible to miss.

Judy Clement Wall at Patrick's Point, Wedding Rock, Humboldt, California

j at Patrick's Point


———

Judy Clement Wall (aka j) is a freelance writer who lives, works and plays in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read and link to more of her work through her blog, Zebra Sounds.



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    18 Comments

  • Betsy
    Twitter: betsy_v
    says:

    The beauty of Humboldt shows in your pictures!
    I especially love the Fern Canyon, and wedding rock!
    You are a very colorful writer, and I have enjoyed your articles!
    We love The Princess Bride in our family, and I totally knew just what you were referring to.

    • j says:

      Thank you! And yes, Fern Canyon and Wedding Rock are breathtaking. I’d probably get no work done if I lived there. I’d just be out wandering all the time.

      Yay for Princess Bride love!

  • Ann
    Twitter: AnnHolly
    says:

    Stunning pictures! I can hardly fathom the fern canyon. I love the Princess Bride reference – one of my favorites!

    Please tell me you had Humboldt Fog Cheese while you were there? It’s an award winning cheese named for the fog that rolls in….delicious!

    Your words painted a lovely picture….

    • j says:

      I didn’t! Grrr! And I even recently read about Humboldt Fog cheese. No other choice but to go right back!

      Thank you!

  • Estrella Azul
    Twitter: EstrellaAzul
    says:

    The combination of your wonderful words and gorgeous pics left me speechless – but I’ll say at least one thing: I so wish I could pack up and visit right now!
    Maybe you can be my tour guide if I ever manage to fly over 🙂

    • j says:

      I wish you could too. We’d have a blast hanging out around Humboldt. (Our day will come!) xo

  • LunaJune says:

    such a wonderful place… magic of nature blows me away
    thanks for taking the wonderful walk and sharing it with us
    fern canyon.. OMG I could just sit on a tree and just be

    will that those images with me today

  • C. Fassett says:

    Beautiful, soulful article. I’ve captured the scent of the forest and marshes, as if I’m there with you. I know that if the day comes I visit Humboldt, I will remember your presence there, with words and images, and I’ll whisper a silent hello, and a thanks for sharing such a beautiful, sacred space.

  • Taryn says:

    I understand just what you mean by sacred. I had the same reaction to Olympia, Washington, when we went last year.

    Now I want to see Humboldt. Your pictures and description are gorgeous.

    • j says:

      Thank you. I’ve been thinking I’d love to do a trip along the whole west coast – a sort of hiking/camping/exploring kind of thing. I’ve never been to the Puget Sound area… Adding Olympia to my list. 😉

  • Lisa Carter
    Twitter: intralingo
    says:

    Judy,
    Just magical! Not everyone finds that sacred space; how wonderful that you have. It does sound like a breathtaking place, not only because of your connection to it but your beautiful words.

    • j says:

      I actually think there are many sacred places for each of us. This is my first. I’m on the lookout for others. (I suspect you’re about to find many.)

  • Jon Jochims says:

    Great reading, I enjoyed your descriptions of the many places you’ve been to. We are a family of six who love the out doors. We’ve been to Fern Canyon and Prairie Creek and look forward to going back up to Mendicino. Do you have any recommendations for camping and sights to see?
    Jon Jochims

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