19 February 2017

Elk River Trail

Headwaters Forest Reserve



I almost got away with showing the northwest coast of California without rain in winter, but with my days growing short and the weather feeling uncooperative for one last hike, I am out in the rain. The weatherman claims there will not be all that much of it and it should stop pretty soon. Perhaps it will be good to see if my rain jacket is still any good. There is no one in the parking lot as I arrive a bit late in the morning. The rain is coming down harder than I expected and looks settled enough to keep on doing this all week. I just pull on my rain pants and jacket, outfit the pack with its cover, and zip the camera in under the jacket and go. The first mile of this trail is paved anyway.

paved path and detailed signs
The first mile is a paved trail past detailed interpretive signs and a citizen science project.

The climb along the trail beside the river is imperceptible. Redwoods are sparse at first, but increase quickly. This is all second growth with a scattering of gargantuan stumps about. Big signs along the way describe the town of Falk that once housed loggers here. Logging, area plants, and the ultimate effort to conserve the area are all subjects along the way. A second set of tall, thin signs identify a few of the local plants and ask visitors to record the state of it, budding or flowering, in a booklet. Some have soggy protective bags that seem to be meant to hold the booklet, but none actually has a booklet. Most the plants are either leafed out or dormant right now. The weather seems to have won out over this citizen science project for now.

tall sign to record nature
Big leaf maple looking pretty dormant behind a sign asking the public to "help keep a record of nature".


Crumbling foundations and pipes to the side of the trail look like they might be part of the old town, but they are a bit more recent. The sign by it identifies this as the caretaker's house which was occupied into the 1980s. Two yew trees by the walkway from the road may be the last marker of this home eventually. Other homes are similarly marked by odd plants for the area.

big pipe in the forest floor
A pipe in the ground and covered over concrete slabs mark the home for now.

A building like a barn sits beside the trail. Signs explain that it was the engine house which has been moved from the other side of the river and repaired. It is now an educational center, but it is not open today. Nearby is a sand drier. The sand was used to increase friction on the tracks on the hills. Any other artifacts from the old train system are presumably on the other side of the river.

engine house
The former engine house, moved and rebuilt.

surging in mud
The South Fork Elk River.

cut boards in moss
Squared wood with long bolts almost visible under the moss are remains of erosion control along the river bank.

large pipe with weld seam
A large pipe is the most obvious remnant of Falk although a sign nearby shows a picture taken at the spot and notes to look for a concrete platform that is not obvious.

One last sign shows Falk from when it lived, then the pavement ends. It is still raining. The gravel trail continues beside the river with a little more slope to the gentle rolling.

puff of white
Some of the very few flowers.

gravel path and redwoods
The gravel path through the redwoods in the rain.

stag with a hawk resting
Movement and a flash of red tail alert me to a hawk just before it lands on a tall stag.

While the south fork of the Elk River is easy to hear along the way, there have not been a lot of places to see it. Where I do, it is a muddy bulk of water. It is deceptively calm, but details show it is really a fast moving mass surging down the canyon.

waterfall emptying into the river
Hard to see through the trees to the waterfall plunging into the river below.

new growing leaves
Not everything that sleeps through winter is dormant along the path today.

rivetted metal piece
The forest tries to take a few more artifacts.

A bridge across the river marks the end of travel for leashed dogs and bicycles. All who continue on must do so plodding on two legs. From here, the trail begins to climb a ridge. The rain is still mocks the weatherman's predictions. My rain coat has not been passing the test all that well and the material is soggy. It has been comfortable enough, if a little warm, with my fleece underneath. Once I start climbing, it will be far too warm with the fleece. I pull them both off and pull back on the soggy coat. There was a moment this morning when I thought I would pull on a long sleeve shirt. That would have made this a little more comfortable. I start to climb, finally actually feeling like I am within the forest as I do.

layers of white fringe
Mushrooms do their thing.

giant stump among big trees
The trees seem big, but not compared to the stumps left from logging over 100 years ago.

The trail has less gravel on it here, but footing is still generally good. There are a couple trees down across it, but nothing that is difficult to pass. The ghosts of old roads traveling up through the trees can be seen here and there. A couple look as though people follow them sometimes, but most have been left alone.

trail with little steps
Climbing up along the ridge. There are often little steps on the slope here.

bright yellow mushrooms
Such bright colors can be found here.

There is a split in the trail. I have finally arrived at the loop through old growth. To my left is yet another big stump. I had expected to actually be in the old growth by the time the loop through it started. I turn left and start to climb up past a few more stumps. Around another turn, the trees more than quadruple in size. There really is some old growth around here.

tree tops
Oh, there you are. One of you is quite big.

fire scar
A large scar decorated by ferns.

redwood sorrel
Redwood sorrel and ferns on a log.

more trees
A little splattered by rain drops as I look up into these trees.

seedlings beside something much much larger
It takes a long time to grow up that big.

I climb a little way up the hill and past a few more trees, then all too soon they seem to change character again. I look up the hill to see another stump. The old growth part of the hike is already done. Around another corner and I am back to the start of the loop. It is time to head down.

three layers of trail
Tight switchbacks down the trail.

far side trees
The far side of the canyon through the trees.

There are a few people on the trail now. The rain has about stopped by the time I get down to the river again. I explore down a few mysterious trails on the side as I go back. Some lead to something interesting, but most do not. One in particular is very tempting, but it is long and steep and in this weather is probably a long slide down with no way back up. It has a warning about not disturbing artifacts stuck in the middle of it just before the slope.

South Fork Elk River
River from the bridge.

wet gravel line
Back on the flat and open trail near the river.

iron scrap
It would take quite a bit of work to get this truck up and running again.

banana slug
A banana slug looking for a meal.

sign posts or something else
If these were sign posts once, they are quite large.

It is an interesting trail, but it sure is a long way to go for a tiny piece of old growth forest.




©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 27 February 2017

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