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Over the Ridge 

Hiking Stone Lagoon

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Twenty short years ago, a friend and I chanced upon the trail that leads from Dry Lagoon to Stone Lagoon but our exploration was quickly thwarted by an expanse of thick, black mud. That trail continued calling to me, and a few months ago, after our recent long drought, I had a notion the trail might be passable. So on a fine morning I strode north from the Dry Lagoon parking lot toward the beckoning ridge.

The trail up was clearly used, but I was grateful for my long-sleeved shirt as I ploughed through the sharp leaves of pampas grass that crowd the first 100 yards or so of climbing. Five minutes later I discovered that the mud was still there despite the drought, but had been made passable by plastic honeycomb embedded in the goo, giving the walker tenuous ridges to walk on. Someone had thoughtfully strewn skunk cabbage leaves across the deepest part where standing water overflowed the honeycombs, so I made it across easily and safely with my feet still dry.

The trail followed a gentle contour line through a dark, silent stand of old Sitka spruce to a bright sunny stretch where chickadees flitted in the bushes, dispelling the silence with their persistent chatter. Descending the north face of the ridge, the trail wound in and out of sunshine through a mixed alder forest, and I caught glimpses of Stone Lagoon sparkling below.

This side of the ridge hosts several more springs, and their beds were also still wet despite the lack of rain. But unlike their unruly counterpart on the south side of the ridge, these all crossed the path in fairly narrow channels, which are spanned by simple, sturdy wooden bridges. Each shady grotto supported a variety of ferns, and old stumps hosted many more.

Near the bottom of the trail I encountered a smaller path heading uphill to the west. Immediately in front of me the main trail was in poor shape. Was the uphill path a detour? I didn't know, and correctly decided to stay with the main trail heading down. In a few minutes I came to the last bridge, this one clad in mosses and lichens, missing a few boards and a bit lopsided and twisty. I crossed it carefully.

At my ambling pace, it took me an hour and 45 minutes to reach Ryan's Cove at the end of the trail. I ate lunch in a shady spot looking out at Stone Lagoon, which had little white caps dancing across it. I then checked out the six campsites, each equipped with fire ring, picnic table and bear box. Two of them offered lagoon views and even came with stacked firewood.

On my way back, I decided to follow the trail I had bypassed earlier. I climbed through a stand of alder where the sound of wind rustling the leaves mixed with the crashing of waves on the beach in the distance. Traffic noises were washed out. I stopped to listen to the leaves and waves and then continued at a slower pace. The trail had several muddy spots and, aside from a single foot-bridge, showed no sign of maintenance. In about 20 minutes I arrived at a tiny cove close to the ocean, and headed toward the beach. The land soon opened out, and I ventured along a secondary route toward the ridge where I could just see the top of a wooden structure. I was surprised to find a ceremonial hut of hand hewn wood as well as a fire ring farther along the trail. I later found a map of this area showing a Yurok town called Tsahpek at this location.

I generally don't mind returning on the same path, as I always see things that I missed going the other direction. This was true here, too, as I noticed the profusion of berry bushes — native blackberry, huckleberry, salmonberry — that bordered the trail.

By the time I started back across the beach at Dry Lagoon, the late afternoon sun glinted off the leaves of beach morning glories and sand verbena growing on the low, flat dunes. I explored the area east of the trail, which was a fascinating illustration of local ecology. Hundreds of large driftwood pieces were scattered there, and next to them a bonsai Sitka spruce valiantly clung to life. Scat of rabbits, deer and elk were evidence of a healthy animal population.

My rambling trek had taken almost seven hours. The main trail is about 2 ½ miles long, and someone out for a brisk hike could cover the entire distance in half the time. I plan to return in less than 20 years, next time during berry season.

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Susan Penn

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