Guests welcome: Marshmallows, Marbled Murrelets, Fern Canyon, scotch

  • Corbin sitting in his very cool trailer.

Who says nomads can’t have house guests, or Epic Van guests, or actually, campsite guests. Just because we don’t have a house, or extra beds, doesn’t mean we can’t have people “over.”

In the three months that we were volunteering at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, we had three sets of guests. First, Corbin, one of our son, Nate’s, former college roommates, stopped by for almost two weeks in his months-long tour of the West, then my mother, step-brother and sister-in-law, came for four nights, then my former colleague and always friend, Jen, and her partner, Reg, came for four nights.

We loved all of them, and each visit was unique. They enriched our sometimes solitary lifestyle. And they brought a feeling of home to our traveling abode.

Corbin showed up after just having lost his wallet, and hung around for 12 days waiting for the state of Colorado to send him a new driver’s license. His misfortune was our great fortune. It was like having a Nate-like human around to commune with.

Corbin arrived with his very cool lightweight trailer, big enough for him and his fiancée, Acacia (not along on this trip) to sleep in, and small enough to haul easily with his Subaru Forester. It fit neatly onto our site.

He was camping, but he’s no slacker, and he brought along his coffee roaster, set it up under our coast redwoods and roasted some coffee for us. He even has his own labels. I’m impressed.

It was April in the temperate rainforest and pouring rain a lot of the time, so we spent most evenings inside The Epic Van discussing the state of the world, the state of our lives, Buddhism, economics, ecology and solving the problems of the world.

We’d meet for breakfast in The Epic Van, Corbin, of course, making the coffee, and during the day, when Tom and I were volunteering, Corbin would tag along with Tom as he “roved” the trails through the old-growth forest, including the nearly 12-mile loop along the James Irvine/Miner’s Ridge trails, where they spotted a hiker illegally carrying a sidearm and alerted the rangers.

On the nights when the rain let up, we’d have a campfire and take our philosophical discussions outside. During these deep dives, we invented a new form of toasted marshmallow, stuffing them with post-Easter, on-sale, peanut-butter eggs. Exquisite is the only term that applies. Oh, and we toasted Peeps, too, which improved them immensely. And Corbin cooked for us, making his delicious family recipe, Mexican Hat Soup. (Stay tuned for the recipe coming soon.)

Field trips with Corbin included a stunning drive on Howland Hills Road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, north of our park, a hike through Stout Grove, something we’d always wanted to do, but hadn’t yet gotten around to, and a visit to Wedding Rock at Patrick’s Point State Park, just south of our park, with panoramic vistas of the ocean. Tom and Corbin also attended the science march in Eureka, where talks about global warming hit home after our time in the forest.

I admit that, when Corbin’s license arrived, and he drove off, I knuckled away a tear.

But shortly after Corbin left, Mom, Barry and Leslie arrived. They had reserved one of the four cabins that Tom and I regularly cleaned, and we all moved in for an adult sleepover. The cabins have wooden-platform bunks, and we all had inflatable mattresses and sleeping bags, or bedding from The Epic Van.

We hiked the James Irvine trail, including the 4.5-mile hike to the beach for Barry, Leslie and Tom, while Mom and I drove Barry’s car down the bumpy Davison/Beach road to pick them up. Barry and Mom read while Leslie and I caught up on our latest knitting projects. We had a barbecue for all the volunteers, with mountains of slaw that Leslie made. Four camp hosts and two visitor center colleagues joined us, as rangers searching for a delayed hiker stopped to discuss with Barry the local herd of Roosevelt elk grazing nearby.

In two of the other cabins were students learning to count the endangered Marbled Murrelets, a seabird that nests in the canopies of the old-growth redwoods, and they instructed us in the calls to listen for, so at 5:30 in the morning, we got up, hauled our camp chairs to the deck, wrapped ourselves in blankets and listened for their distinctive kir-kir-kir overhead. We heard them, and it is a moment I will always remember.

I am always amazed at my mother, now 87, and her capacity for adventure, accommodation and enjoyment. She hiked about a mile and a half on the Prairie Creek Trail, showered in the camp showers, helped cook, truly enjoyed talking to all the other volunteers, and never complained about anything. She is my role model.

And a big thank-you goes out to Barry and Leslie, my knitting sister, for gathering Mom from the Portland airport and bringing her down to the park. It was a blast hanging out with all of them.

Our last visitors, Jen and Reg, came the last week we were volunteering at the park, and ushered us out in style. They rented a Jucy van, complete with slide-out kitchen in the back and sleeping for four inside and in the pop-up.

The weather was perfect that last week of May, and we hung out by the campfire every night, cooking outside, chili, chicken, bell-pepper-potatoes for breakfast and pancakes. We discovered that scotch tastes great in our nighttime tea, or just by itself, that sleeping until 11 still leaves time for hiking, and that true friends take up the conversation just where it left off the last time.

We showed them hidden gems in the park, huge redwood fire caves that all of us could stand in comfortably, anonymous giants, measured and declared among the tallest in the world but not marked to protect them from loving visitors, and the piece de resistance, Fern Canyon.

Fern Canyon, one of the park’s highlights, was featured in the movie, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. But we had only peeked in from the top and the mouth, waiting for the seasonal footbridges to be installed, which happened the week Jen and Reg arrived. Tom and Reg started out on the James Irvine Trail and Jen and I drove to the mouth of the canyon and hiked in to meet them halfway.

Jen and I oohed and ahhed our way through the canyon, hiked inland until we found Tom and Reg, then led them back through the fern-lined gorge.

By the time we were back in the canyon, it had begun to mist, giving the experience a surreal touch, and increasing our exclamations of amazement. Another life moment. Shared with wonderful friends. And a perfect ending to our three-month adventure as park volunteers.

We had so much fun with all our guests, we are convinced we have to encourage more. Let us know when you’re coming. We’ll leave a lantern on for you. And buy the marshmallows and scotch.


  1. Reply
    Corbin Shouse June 6, 2017

    Thank you so much for having me! It was the highlight of my trip. I am excited to see you both when you arrive in Phoenix! I love you both!

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols June 8, 2017

      Corbin, We both adore you, too. Your visit was wonderful, and we look forward to more in the future.

  2. Reply
    dstabler June 7, 2017

    Great hosts, great friends, in a great setting. Love your descriptions of the place and people. You’re going to miss that place.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols June 8, 2017

      Thanks, David. We absolutely will. We’ll probably be back next year.

  3. Reply
    Reg June 8, 2017

    That trip was such a wonderful adventure for both of us, and we were made bolder in it by you and Tom getting out there first to receive us and “show us the ropes.” And the trees! You were marvelous hosts – let’s do it again!

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols June 8, 2017

      We loved every minute. You guys are welcome anytime. We’ll pick a spot and create a happening!

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