Week 24. Wednesday, August 28, 2013. The Tanbark Trail is a canyon hike, starting squarely in a redwood forest. It begins along a river (creek, really) and coaxes you up a hillside via redwood bordered switchbacks.
While we know Big Sur is populated with many different animals and birds, this may have been Woodpecker Wednesday. They were everywhere: in the trees, in the sky, making calls, and hammering on tree trunks. A woodpecker’s paradise.
The first half of the hike is dominated by the redwoods, but the trail itself is named after the tanbark oak tree. Not “really” an oak, at the turn of the 19th century the bark was used to tan animal hides and this canyon was harvested for it.
These days the tanbark oaks are ailing. A disease called Sudden Oak Death has ravaged this canyon (and long stretches of California). While the trail is (mostly) well maintained, downed oak after downed oak create an obstacle course of sorts.
- The burned coast redwoods from the 2008 Basin Complex Fire
- The optical bear illusions I kept seeing
- The Tin House
The walk down
Where most of the walk up is under a lush canopy of redwoods, the walk down is along an exposed dusty fire road. When you read that word dusty I want you to read it as DUSTY because I have never been so filthy dirty after a hike in my life and it was mostly due to this part of the road. While the remnants of the 2008 fire are easy to see in the forest, they are harder to determine on this part of the trail, but it’s all there in the form of ash. The ash is part of the soil, part of the path and the path is thick with dust.
Walking back to the car on Highway 1
The last mile of the hike is on Highway 1 itself. This is dangerous. Here is my advice: walk against traffic and stay off the road as much as possible. Common sense I know, but at times there is barely a shoulder — there’s barely a neck. It’s better to walk in the weeds than on the road, so just get yourself over and make it quick. You will experience at least one blind curve. Be careful.
He reminded me of Greg Junell, an old friend who passed away from lymphoma just a year before. David greeted us with a big smile and showed us his paintings and gave us each an orange for our walk back to the car.
When we finally did make it back to the car we were glad for some provisions on hand. We knew we might meet poison oak, so we wore pants for the hike but brought shorts to change into afterwards (and this is where we saw, despite wearing heavy jeans, we had dust and dirt up past our knees). We had soap and water to wash away the dirt, lotion to make us feel fresh, and snacks and a gallon of water to refuel and replenish. Bonus points: I brought an extra hat and a pair of sandals. It’s the little things.
So far the Tanbark Trail is my favorite hike of the year. I would do it again in a heart beat. What would I do differently? It would be nice to avoid hiking Highway 1, but I can’t really see a way around that. Other than that, the hike was perfect.