• Thu. Nov 26th, 2020

Memories of Big Basin Redwoods State Park

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Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Good Friday morning.

Today, we’re starting with something a little different — melancholy in some ways, but also comforting, we hope: a sampling from the recent outpouring of memories of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

While most of the towering redwoods withstood the flames from the massive wildfires that have swept through the area, many of the park’s buildings, which were historic in their own right, were destroyed.

My colleague Sona Patel compiled the responses, and Shawn Hubler, a California correspondent who reported on the damage, wrote this introduction:

As word spread last week that the California wildfires had reached Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, social media erupted. The state park, California’s first, has the largest stretch of old growth coastal redwoods south of San Francisco, with trees that are, in many cases, more than 1,000 years old.

“Big Basin is the place that many have their first chance to experience redwood forests,” said Sara Barth, president of the Sempervirens Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of Santa Cruz mountain redwoods. So it’s not just another scenic, inspiring California roadside attraction.

“For many,” she said, “this park is about memories.”

[Track the California wildfires with these maps.]

Memories — of parents, of children, of beloved spouses — were what people shared when we asked about the park’s importance.

“My husband met our son the first time there,” tweeted one reader. “My mother and I visited this park in the 80s,” wrote another.

And: “The last day I got to spend with my husband, we toured these redwoods.”

Here are more responses from readers:

Credit…Kristy Martin

I have been there twice with my family, in 2004 and in 2018. We took photos of our kids in front of the same fallen tree, one that I hope has survived. When my mom was young she camped there in the 1950s with her parents and brought her pet chicken that she walked around on a leash made of string. The loss of the infrastructure and the park as we know it is very sad, but knowing that redwoods are fire-resistant and that fire is part of a forest’s growth gives me hope for the future of this great park.
Kristy Martin, 47, Novato

Credit…Pam See

Several of our family camping trips were at Big Basin. Back in the day, you were encouraged to feed the deer. They sold a bag of oats in the camp store, as well as Borden’s ice cream sandwiches. We always fed the deer, and the chipmunks and raccoons. We were eating canned ravioli for dinner once. My brother was sitting on the log and got up to get a drink — when we turned around, the chipmunk was eating the ravioli. He decided to sit down with him and share. It’s a beautiful park and I have taken my children there to see those trees, banana slugs and chipmunks.
Pam See, 67, Arroyo Grande

Credit…Paul Hsieh

In summer 1991, a bunch of neighborhood friends and I took our kids camping in the park. There, we played our version of “Kick the Can,” and the sound of the metal echoed in the woods the entire afternoon. I was so tired, but the kids had a good time. Later on, some of them learned what it meant to “kick the can down the road.” They said they recalled the game we played that afternoon and always alerted themselves not to kick the can when facing challenges in their lives.
Paul Hsieh, 70, Orinda

Credit…Jason Saleh

My girlfriend and I flew to California from the East Coast in 2009. We visited the coast, San Francisco, wine country and Big Basin. This trip made us fall in love with California, and we ended up living there (now as husband and wife) from 2013 to 2016. Two dogs and two kids later and we couldn’t stay away. We just moved back to the Bay Area in 2019. During the pandemic, I’ve been taking my kids to all of our favorite places, including Big Basin, after not having visited since 2009. After 11 years we found the exact same spot that cemented our love for the outdoors in Northern California. I’m glad my kids got to see it.
Jason Saleh, 40, Menlo Park

Credit…Ron Wolf

Most years, when the late fall and winter rains arrive, Big Basin turns into a Garden of Eden for fungi. I’ve heard that more than 3,000 species have been observed in the park and adjacent parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I’ve been going there for two decades to photograph the remarkable winter flora and fauna.
Ron Wolf, 76, Palo Alto

Credit…Jan Schwartz

My daughter took her first steps here during a camping trip. My nephew proposed to his (now) wife here. I took my 85-year-old father here on his final camping trip and he painted two wonderful watercolors for our lasting memory. We became friends with the camp host, and returned year over year to visit with them. So many fond memories.
Jan Schwartz, 70, Costa Mesa

Credit…Megan Musolf

I’m currently a student at U.C. Santa Barbara, but I grew up in San Jose. If my life was a coming-of-age movie, I feel like Big Basin would feature prominently. My mom texted me a few days ago with a photo that sincerely broke my heart: the ranger station, completely burned to the ground, surrounded by charred trees and rubble. I wanted to cry thinking about all the times we had pulled up in front of that building, car jammed full of camping gear.

I wish I could have given my mom a huge hug, but I’m living in Isla Vista, taking remote classes. I’m majoring in Environmental Studies and know that fires have always been a part of the redwood forests of California and that they help make way for new trees and life. But I worry for the forests this year more than ever. I hope to see photos of Big Basin bouncing back soon, full of saplings and people exploring the beauty of the redwoods. Yet, this destructive fire definitely won’t be the last. Will I be able to camp there when I’m an adult?
Megan Musolf, 19, Isla Vista

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  • After the shooting of Jacob Blake by the police in Kenosha, Wis., more games were halted in basketball, baseball and hockey, and the messages from athletes reverberated beyond the sports world. [The New York Times]

  • Many of California’s police reforms have stalled. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • Representative Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield spoke at the final night of the Republican National Convention. [The New York Times]

  • A state senator who has been critical of the state’s coronavirus restrictions tested positive for the virus, adding confusion to the final days of the legislative session. [The Sacramento Bee]

  • The Merced County Health Department ordered a Foster Farms facility to shut down after at least 358 employees tested positive for the coronavirus and at least eight died. Public health officials visited the plant before anyone died, but their recommendations went ignored. [Merced Sun-Star]

Track coronavirus cases by California county.


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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.