Posted by: kerryl29 | February 6, 2023

The Story Behind the Image: Redwoods, Rhododendrons and Morning Fog

The image highlighted in this post was more than two years in the making. When I visited the southern Oregon Coast in early May, 2015, I carved out a few days to head a little bit farther south and spend a bit of time in the coastal redwood groves of far northern California. I was hoping I’d get lucky. The ideal time to catch the rhododendron bloom in these groves is roughly from mid-May to mid-June, with a reasonable best guess for peak opportunities the last week or so of May. I was about two weeks early, but I hoped I’d get lucky, and I scoured all four of the parks with redwood groves in northwest California.

I don’t play the visualization game all that often, truth be told, but this was an exception, because I had an image in my head of a redwood grove with a plethora of rhododendron bushes, immersed in coastal fog. I found none of it Well, that’s not entirely true. I found plenty of redwood groves. And, though I was too early for the best of the flowering shrubs, I managed to find a couple of spots in one of the parks with a semblance of blooming rhododendron. And when I say “a couple,” I mean that literally…as in two spots. Both were in the early stages of blooming and one was totally unphotographable; the other was nearly so, but I persevered and managed, with difficulty, to produce a frame that I was mostly pleased with. Fog, however, was nowhere to be found. And while the groves themselves were mesmerizing places to be, I found myself less than fully satisfied with the photographic experience.

Fast forward two years. On a trip to California in May, 2017 that was mostly about Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierra, I shoehorned another visit to the northern California redwood groves into the itinerary. It was not convenient, as it took two days to drive to Crescent City, just south of the Oregon border, from Lee Vining. But that’s how badly I wanted another crack at those groves. I timed the redwood portion of the trip for the end of the two weeks I was on the ground in California; that would put me in Crescent City over the final week of May, two full weeks later than my visit in 2015. I was pretty confident that I’d get better rhododendron blooms and hopeful that I’d get more fog…or any fog.

I couldn’t help myself on the drive up to Crescent City and stopped at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. There hadn’t been a single rhododendron bloom in sight when I visited this park in 2015, but this time…bingo! It was mid-day and the light was awful so I didn’t bring my gear, but I hiked a trail I had traversed two years earlier (the aptly named “Rhododendron Trail”) and within minutes I spotted my first blooms. And as I moved along I saw more and more and became convinced that my timing for rhododendron was, if not necessarily perfect, pretty damn close.

Now I just needed some fog.

Fog on this part of the California coast, at least in spring, tends to be a morning phenomenon, but for the first four days of the (parts of) five that I was to be in the area, I saw none at all. I did, however, late on the afternoon of the fourth (and final full) day, inadvertently stumble across access to the best stand of rhododendron I’d ever seen. I referred to it as “the mother lode.”

With one more morning prior to a full-day drive back to the Bay Area in preparation for a flight home, I kept all of my fingers and toes crossed that I would finally be treated to morning fog, something I had been told was ubiquitous in that area at that time of the year.

I woke up the next morning long before daybreak and made the 15-odd minute drive to the mother lode location. It was dark, of course, but there was no evidence of fog visible…until I got to within about a mile of the Damnation Creek Trail parking area, and then I was enveloped. I changed plans on the spot and shot along the Damnation Creek and Coastal Trails first….and then I returned to the mother lode, where the fog was thicker than it had been anywhere else all morning. Without a breath of wind, the conditions were absolutely perfect and I photographed for at least two hours at the same spot I had visited the previous afternoon. The subject matter, technically, was the same, but everything looked completely different due to the fog–the great equalizer.

Many, many images were made that morning, and I can’t say that I have a specific favorite, but the one below is representative of the Mother Lode Experience.

Rhododendrons and Redwoods in Fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California


  1. So beautiful…and, once again, proof that doing your homework to understand the potential of a location and perseverance pay off mightily.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  2. Perfect conditions and wonderful light! So nice when planning and persistence pay off. Makes all the time and effort feel worthwhile, and almost makes one forget all the frustrations of previous attempts.

    • Thanks, Steve.

      Yeah, being able to ruminate over that morning’s payoff made the very long trip back to the Bay Area that day a lot more tolerable. And it’s made for quite a number of pleasant memories ever since.

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