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A big year in Redwood country.

AND SPRING'S THE TIME TO TAKE A WALK WITH THE WILDLIFE

Think of Redwood National Park, and the first things likely to come to mind are tall trees. Indeed, three of the world's six skyscraping champs--including number one--are found there. But the park, which is located along 55 miles of Northern California coastline between Eureka and Crescent City, is also home to an astonishing variety of wildlife, including Roosevelt elk, black-shouldered kites, and--offshore--gray whales.

To get there from the Bay Area, drive north for about 6 hours along U.S. Highway 101. Hopland and Willits are good stopovers to break up the drive.

This year, the park turns 25. While most of the official celebrations are scheduled near the anniversary date, October 2, we think spring weather and wildlife-viewing opportunities are too outstanding to pass up.

In early spring, for example, you can see herds of Roosevelt elk in meadows, flocks of waterbirds in marshes and ponds, and pods of gray whales hugging the coast as they migrate north. Spring days are warmer than you might expect and, unlike summer, are usually fog-free.

GET ORIENTED AT THE REDWOOD CENTER

Because of the park's size (106,000 acres) and the diversity of its wildlife, it's a good idea to begin your explorations at the Redwood Information Center, which is at the southern end of the park, off U.S. 101 about a mile south of Orick. There, you can pick up a free park map and get the latest wildlife-sighting reports from rangers. The center is open 9 to 5 daily. (There is also an information center at park headquarters in Crescent City. It's open 9 to 5 weekdays, 8 to 5 weekends.)

Besides being a repository of information, the area around the Orick center is a haven for birds. A 500-foot ramble along a boardwalk leads to a freshwater marsh, where you can see black-shouldered kites, egrets, nesting marsh wrens, and ospreys competing with river otters for fish in Redwood Creek.

SHOOT ELK ON A PHOTO SAFARI

To see elk, drive north on U.S. 101 into the heart of the park. Last year, thanks in large part to the work and donations of the Save-the-Redwoods League, 100 acres of pastures and meadows--Roosevelt elk habitat--were added. You can get close enough to the elk to take pictures without a telephoto lens. But while the elk don't seem to mind the presence of autos and may appear tame, remember that they are wild and can be dangerous. Do not approach them closely on foot, and never let your dog near them.

Park elk can also be found on grassy beach dunes such as those at Gold Bluffs Beach. To get there, take Davison Road west off U.S. 101 for about 7 miles. Early or late in the day, you'll see herds of females and young males (larger, older bulls travel by themselves) grazing in the tall dune grasses. Newborn calves can be seen in May and June.

Although Northern California's Roosevelt elk were nearly exterminated by hunters at the turn of the century, officials estimate that now the park has some thousand animals, most in small herds of a dozen or so. To see a larger herd (30 or more), drive north on U.S. 101 and take the newly designated Elk Prairie Parkway, a 10-mile section of old U.S. 101 that's less traveled now that a new 12-mile bypass routes most traffic away from the park. As a result, viewing at Elk Prairie meadow is easier.

For the park's best whale-watching, continue north on U.S. 101 to Requa Road and head west. Klamath Overlook offers views of coves and the mouth of the Klamath River, which is frequented by gray whales. Now through April is peak migration time.

TO EAT, PERCHANCE TO DREAM

With so much ground to cover, you may want to spend a few days discovering all the park has to offer. Backcountry campers have five free campgrounds to choose from. Three state parks within the national park also have campsites. For reservations (necessary only in summer), call Mistix at (800) 444-7275; ask for information about Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, or Prairie Creek Redwoods state parks.

Eureka has the usual assortment of motels, as well as a good choice of bed-and-breakfast inns. We liked the 1886 landmark "An Elegant Victorian Mansion," at 1406 C Street. Rates run from $65 to $115; call (707) 444-3144. Pricier is the opulent Carter House Inn, at 1033 Third Street. Rates run from $79 to $295; call 445-1390.

For seafood, try the venerable Lazio's (443-9717), which moved about four years ago from Eureka's unpretentious waterfront to its current home at 327 Second Street. More elegant is the Hotel Carter dining room (444-8062), at 301 L Street.

In Crescent City, your best lodging bet is a new motel called the Bay View Inn, at 310 Highway 101 S. Rates run from $45 to $85; call (800) 446-0583. For dining, we enjoyed the fresh seafood (and beachside location) at the Beachcomber Restaurant (464-2205), 1400 Highway 101 S.
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Title Annotation:Redwood National Park, California
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Publication:Sunset
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:846
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