The giant redwoods of California dwarf anything a Wisconsin wanderer might find in the woods. (Contributed photo by Gregg Jennings.)

On one of my days off, it was sunny and somewhat warm for a change on the California coast. I decided to take the motorcycle to the Headwaters Forest Reserve for a photo workshop I read about. I also decided to wear a light motorcycle jacket just in case it got cold. As it turned out, I should have worn one more layer, because it was just a little too cold for the windbreaker at 55 mph.

When I arrived at the parking lot for the Elk River Trailhead I saw quite a few cars parked. It was 11:43 a.m., so I thought I should see a number of people standing around waiting for the photo workshop to start at noon — but not a soul was in sight. Maybe we were supposed to meet at the Visitor Center about a half-mile up the asphalt-paved trail? Some people came and began hiking the trail. None had any kind of camera gear. I, too, began to walk the trail. The main reason I came to the Headwaters Forest Reserve was to hike the trails. The photo workshop was the secondary reason. I saw a sign warning that the trail was closed in about two miles, because of a couple of “dangerous landslides.” I planned to hike at least that far.

Sunlight filtered through the towering redwood trees and dappled the sword ferns, thimbleberry bushes, blackberry brambles, big-leaf maples, Indian plum trees and other vegetation.

After a short distance I saw cement steps leading into the trees — puzzling. An interpretive sign nearby explained that a lumber mill closed in 1937 and the Falk community, named after the founder, became a ghost town. In the 1970s a caretaker was hired to keep the squatters and artifact hunters away. The steps had led up to the caretaker’s dwelling. Only a cement slab where the front porch used to be, a pipe sticking up out of the ground and a small shed remained. The Elk River could be heard nearby, so I went to it. Signs asked people to not let dogs run loose in the stream because salmon were spawning.

I passed the restored engine house where the log-hauling locomotives were parked. A replica of the sand shack was nearby with a real sand dryer in front. Dry sand was used on wet tracks to give the train wheels traction.

Farther up the trail I met an older gentleman, a camera with telephoto lens around his neck.

“Is there a photo workshop going on around here?” I asked.

“Well, yes, but it started at 10 a.m.” he said, “There are still a few people up the trail.”

I saw more and more people with cameras walking towards the parking lot. One woman told me the instructor was still farther up the trail. I came upon three men talking.

“Are you Bob?” I asked the fellow that looked like he was the instructor.

“Yes, I am. If you are here for the photo workshop we are just finishing,” he replied, “but Ricardo and I are going to go look at the landslide if you want to join us?”

“Great, that was part of my plan anyway.”

Bob, Ricardo, and I set out up the trail, while the other fellow started towards the parking area.

“Where you from?” Bob asked.

“Wisconsin,” I replied.

“I could tell by your accent. What are you doing here?”

“I have a seasonal position with the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). I am a wildlife technician.”

“Do you know if there are any spotted owls here at Headwaters?”


2: Fellow Bureau of Land Management employees scramble over trees down in a mudslide in California’s Headwaters Forest Reserve. (Contributed photo by Gregg Jennings.)

“I don’t know.” I was not at liberty to share that information with the public, even if I did know.

“I’ll ask David,” Bob said.

“What do you two do for work?”

“I work for the BLM in GIS,” Ricardo said, “I work out of the state office in Sacremento.”

“I work for the BLM in wilderness,” Bob said, “I work for the Washington, D.C., office, but from Sacremento.”

I immediately felt a connection and camaraderie. We talked shop until we reached the second landslide. Since they were in the area to teach the photo workshop they wanted to do reconnaissance of it. Both Ricardo and Bob were drone operators and were going to use one to surveil the mudslide. That information would be relayed to other BLM personnel who would plan how to reopen the trail. The hike back we continued conversations about many different topics. We met children on bicycles, parents backpacking their babies, and elder persons enjoying the walk on a sunny day.

Giminadan Gagiginonshiwan (It was nice talking to you.)

Gregg Jennings is a reader, biologist, artist and writer from Washburn who is working for the Bureau of Land Management in California for the summer and sending dispatches of his adventures there.


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