"Environmental" Camping in the Redwoods + The Blackest Black Bear I've Ever Seen

Matt and I tried a new camping experience this month when we stayed two nights at the Baxter Environmental Camp in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  Previously I had never heard of anything called an "environmental camp."  Turns out, that's because it wasn't all that dissimilar to the style of camping I'm familiar with up here in Montana.  It was some rustic solitude.

It was a lovely grove in which to pitch a tent.

The environmental camps are billed as a backpacking-style experience for those who desire something a little more rustic or primitive--and private.  The Baxter Camp has only two sites.  The other environmental camp nearby has only three.  All sites involve a short walk-in from the parking area, 60-300 yards depending.  There is water available, but it needs treated prior to consumption (though you can fill up with potable water at the Albee Campground a couple of miles down the road).  The bathroom facilities are simple outhouses (in comparison to the flush toilets and showers available at every other state park campground that we stayed). 

Baxter Camp is nestled in a second-growth forest so, while the redwoods were certainly majestic, they weren't the big honkers that make the postcards and documentaries and stuff.   That said, the drive in to the campground was like an even smaller, more intimate version of the Avenue of the Giants.  It was a fantastic drive and made us all the more eager to get to camp.

The road into camp wound through the trees with little wiggle room.

We found Baxter to be absolutely stupendous accommodations for us, just perfect.  We were in site 1 which was closest to the parking area.  This was rather convenient as far as carrying gear and accessing our car, though the trade-off is that it was closer to the road, too.  We could occasionally hear vehicle traffic during the day.   Not much, but some.  At night it became nothing but crickets and treefrogs though.  Once they ceased their night song the forest fell into a pure silence that is increasingly rare these days.  I slept so well under that blanket of quiet.  

A view of the distant mountains, blurred with smoke haze, from the trail that ran above camp.

Our reservations at Baxter occurred about two-thirds of the way through our megavacation and we quickly decided it was a keen opportunity for a "lazy day" at camp.  A good day for taking it easy.  We had a tiny morning campfire and lingered over our tea and breakfast.  I wrote some postcards and updated my journal.  Matt colored and I drew some redwoods-inspired art.  

I had two creative visions to bring to life and Matt colored an abstract flower motif from one of my travel-sized coloring books..

Matt initially called it a "zero day," but we ended up doing a spot of hiking in the late morning so it was really a near-zero day.  We took a mellow wander up the trail that departed from near site 2 in the hopes we could watch birds and admire trees--which we very happily did.  There was a carpet of fallen leaves and lots of fabulous curls of papery bark.  The trail wound around and passed above our campsite and was overall fairly level and broad, trafficked by a lot of equine users.  It was one of the smokier days of the trip, the distant hillsides getting that fuzzy Russell Chatham-style treatment.  

Taking a walk in the woods.  This particular trail was mostly not redwoods.  We found that very interesting as we hiked about the various groves we visited.  There would be a dense pocket of redwoods and then a grove almost devoid of them and then more redwoods.  There were a lot of rhododendron groves alongside the redwoods, bigger than any rhododendron I'd previously seen, too.  

When we returned to camp Matt made an incredible (and incredibly spicy) stir-fry while I hung our hammocks.  Afterwards, with full bellies and content hearts, we spent the afternoon swinging and reading our books, watching the redwood canopy dancing overhead.  Talk about relaxing!!  It was incredible! Ultimately we were both lulled into late afternoon naps.   

We bought bottled Szechuan sauce, pre-cooked rice, and a load of fresh veggies to make for easy and delicious stir-fry meals at camp.

(Side note:  We learned, via a sign in one of the campgrounds, that redwood bark is surprisingly sensitive to abrasion--great at dealing with fire, but not so much with being roughed up.  It is recommended, as a result, that you put something between the bark and the hammock straps to protect the tree.  A towel or sweatshirt or something.)

Matt scoping out some pretty trees on our hike.  
We roused ourselves from the hammock slumber around 5pm and drove back to the Albee Campground to refill our water jugs and purchase firewood. Back at Baxter we decided to play Yahtzee and skip dinner since we were both still so full from our amazing lunch.  We enjoyed the sunset and, much later, the moon rise--both were extra orange and fiery because of the smoke in the air.  Watching the shifting colors of the fading day on the bark of the redwoods was quite mesmerizing.  The bark color from tree to tree can have such variation--some solidly red, some burnished with silver, some bright, some dark.  The shifting, dappled light peeking through the canopy high above plays across the bark, highlighting the unique beauty of each individual tree.  

The picnic table had a bookshelf-like addition that I really enjoyed.  It was a handy place to stash a headlamp or a jug of water and a convenient height for cooking.

Around dusk we built a fire and were sitting in quiet, comfortable contemplation (of the trees, the fire, the universe) when the sounds of the forest brusquely changedFootsteps crunching on the fallen leaves.  Big-sounding footsteps on the fallen leaves.  Big-sounding footsteps on the fallen leaves coming toward our camp site.  Without a word spoken, Matt and I simultaneously stood up and turned, peering into the forest in that direction.  Matt was the one who spotted the bear first.

There was a hook inside the rim of the fire ring that proved a very handy holster for my fire-tending poker stick.  It was really there to hold up the grill part of the fire ring, but I found it much more useful this way.

It was a black bear about 40 or so yards up the hillside from our camp, ambling in our general direction along the trail we'd taken earlier that day.  Matt hollered and the bear stopped dead in its tracks and stared at us.  Even in the growing twilight I could see the light brown contrasting fur around his snout and eyes quite clearly.  It was the blackest black bear I've ever seen.  Black like midnight.  The bear carried on staring at us for a looooooooooong beat and then started walking again.  Matt gave another holler.  The bear sorta cocked his head and resumed staring, like "What is that guy over there going on about?"  When Matt opened and closed the metal bear box with a few resounding clangs the bear finally got the message that we weren't interested company and wandered up a draw away from us.

This is some of the paper bark from our hike.  I think it is from a rhododendron tree.

Intellectually I know that black bears aren't really dangerous to humans.  Still, I was a little unsettled for a while afterward.  Perhaps it is all the time I've spent hiking in grizzly country.  Or the fact that I am used to black bears who run away when you clap your hands together loudly or make noise, in general.  This was a bear that struck me as quite accustomed to encountering humans, not to be readily discouraged from checking out the area campsites for some easy grub.  

The grove of trees between the campsite and the outhouse/water spigot made for an enjoyable walk to the facilities.

In Yellowstone, the Rangers like you to report any bear sightings in the campgrounds.  It seemed like a different story in California.  When we told the Ranger the next day he was basically like "Yeah, we have a family of 'em that go back and forth between the campgrounds.  Just remember to keep a clean camp and use your bear box."  

It was "only" second growth forest, but the trees were still mightily impressive.

[Sidenote:  That is good advice even when not in bear country.  Keep a clean camp and secure your food/garbage so critters can't get at it.  It isn't healthy or safe for racoons, skunks, birds, and other wildlife to get acclimated to human food.  Most of the time it might not be a risk to the humans, but as the wildlife slogan goes:  A FED animal is (often) a DEAD animal.)

Moss art.

When the bear went on its way (and we stopped hollering and banging things), the forest quickly resumed its usual evening chorus and we resumed our fire contemplations, albeit in a slightly more alert state.  After a spell of encountering bears (grizzly and black) left and right as we became Yellowstone junkies, Matt and I reflected that it had been years since we'd seen one.  I really wasn't expecting to on this trip either, I must say.  So, that was cool.  Unexpected and cool.  

Another snapshot from easy, little hike.


  1. Hi Beth,
    ...what an amazing camping trip...thanks for taking us along...
    ~Have a lovely day!

    1. Ha! Yes! Thanks for coming, Teresa!! :) I hope you have an amazing day!


Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!

Popular Posts