Salt Point State Park: Hike to the Pygmy Forest
There is a pygmy forest at Salt Point State Park between Jenner and Mendocino. Pygmy as in dwarf coastal redwoods, pines and miniature cypress trees. Pygmy as in too much salt and iron in the ground and not enough nutrients for the trees to grow full size. Pygmy as in large slabs of graywacke sandstone 18 inches below the ground and hardly any room for a root system to develop. This forest grows on an ancient seabed, an uplifted marine terrace that’s now lush hills and slopes. And it’s only a few hundred yards from a pristine rugged coastline where waves batter the shore with loud resounding booms.
We visited the park after two weeks of rains and some of the paths were still interconnected puddles – to our daughters’ delight. Salt Point SP may not be the star of the California state park system but it features one of the only underwater reserves of California, a bull kelp forest, grassland, forests and a Rhododendron reserve – plus beaches and shoreline. Pretty good if you ask me.
Starting on Central Trail next to the ranger station, the path is wide and rises through groves eucalyptus trees, Douglas firs and tan oaks. Trailside, gorgeous red branches of madrones were covered in white bell-shaped flowers ready to bloom for their springtime show. In the summer, they would be replaced by clusters of edible berries.
As we went up the trail – it rises steadily over 2 miles or so – we heard water trickling down the forest on all sides. Sure there were creeks indicated on the map, but these gurgling brooks were the result of the storms. We were glad we saw the forest just then, as oposed to at the end of the dry season.
However right in the middle of the trail – or should I say, over the trail – was a pool-size puddle blocked by a fallen tree. One of us had rubber boots, the others not. We decided to give it a try and negotiated our way in the somewhat dry thicket until we could just hop quickly to the other side of the stump and cross over. Done.
We were free to go on to the prairie which was straight ahead. And what a prairie it was. It was lovely – wild west style and all.
Bordered by tall pines, its center was covered in yellow grasses that sway gently in the breeze. If I blinked to see far enough in the distance, I could discern a low-rolling fog licking the slopes of deep green hills. We walked a while along the prairie, just taking it all in, savoring this tranquil place that only wild hawks swooping by disturbed.
Soon enough we saw the trail we had missed on the way in (it’s a pretty sharp curve coming the other way) across from the sign that says “Prairie” and veered right on North Trail, the top of our ascent. From now on, it was only going to go down. The vegetation changed abruptly and before we knew it, we were in mushroom country.
Salt Point State Park is a popular hangout for mushrooming enthusiasts.For a good reason. It’s the only state park that allows mushroom foraging in California. Naturally, mycological societies from all over and until the Bay Area plan big parties there. Except we weren’t privy to the world of Salt Point mushrooms so we just admired their shiny caps, fancy colors or slimy appearance.
Beyond the pygmy forest, we entered a full-grown forest with normal size coast redwoods and more mushrooms. There was a majestic coastal redwood feel all around, with very little underbrush and a slightly green light accented by the mossy trunks.
Of course on the way, more mushrooms crossed our path. Makes a girl think. It might be time to join a mycological expedition. How would they taste, I wonder?
The high point of our hike to the pygmy forest ended up being the prairie, with the mushrooms a close second. You just never know what the trail will offer.
One thought on “Salt Point State Park: Hike to the Pygmy Forest”
We love Salt Point! We camped there for a week for my son’s first birthday, and it will forever live in my mind as a special place… I posted a link to this fantastic article on http://www.sono-ma.com to ensure Sonoma County families remember this resource in our backyard!