One of the glorious native shrubs that grows along the coasts of California and Oregon is the western azalea. It is really not an azalea, but rather a rhododendron, a deciduous one at that. When in bloom, the shrub is very prolific. Since it was late spring, our road trip coincided with its peak blossoming period. We didn’t plan to seek it out, but as we pulled into Prairie Creek State Park, we noticed a number of them just outside the visitors’ center. As we approached, we caught their characteristic heady perfume well before we got a closer look at the flowers. It was an unexpected treat.
Steven Spielberg saw its primeval potential for Jurassic Park 2, the backdrop for the T. Rex chase scene. Fern Canyon is an impossibly verdant gorge, carved out millions of years ago by a retreating sea, its vertical walls literally covered with walls of ferns, five species of them, and mosses. Water seems to seep out of the sides throughout the year, providing a very moist environment for these plants to flourish. The stream that cuts through the canyon sometimes gets high enough that wooden planks must be placed down at strategic points to prevent hikers from getting their shoes too wet. It’s worth the diversion off Hwy 101 to take this short but spectacular 1-mile hike.