Before buying Kamp Klamath, a secluded campground two miles off U.S. Highway 101 on Northern California’s Wild Rivers Coast, Aaron Funk lived a life of adventure in Mexico.
After studying geology and archaeology at Oregon State University, Funk spent several years in Baja California, where he did his own research and excavation work, sometimes venturing for days at a time deep into the mountains on mule back.
He subsequently bought a 22-room hotel in downtown Mulege and honed his skills as a tour guide by taking bus loads of American tourists into the mountains, where they could venture into caves along Baja’s only all-year stream and see ancient Cochimi pictographs.
Funk enjoyed the tour guide lifestyle so much he later bought a 55-room resort near Ensenada and provided similar types of pictograph tours until the security situation in Mexico deteriorated to the point where he felt compelled to return to the United States.
Funk isn’t doing archaeological work anymore. But if you happen to visit with him at Kamp Klamath, as we did, you’ll hear him talk about everything from the history of the redwoods to the latest Bigfoot sightings with the intensity and enthusiasm of a young boy reading his first book on dinosaurs.
“I love to do research. I like to learn and to discover things that other people have not discovered and to share them,” Funk explained, adding, “If it’s important enough for me to pursue it, then it’s a shame to waste it on just me.”
Visitors to Kamp Klamath often make prior arrangements to book one of Funk’s Fun Bus tours, which take them to the most popular scenic and historical points of interest in the Klamath area.
So what exactly is there to see on a visit to Northern California’s Wild Rivers Coast? For starters, some of the lushest forests in the Pacific Northwest.
While California is notorious for its growing population and perennial water shortages, you won’t find either in the Golden State’s sparsely populated northwest coast, parts of which receive more than 100 inches of rainfall a year.
All that rain, combined with mild temperatures, frequent cloud cover and fog from the Pacific Ocean create ideal growing conditions for California’s coast redwoods, the world’s tallest trees.
In fact, the 10-mile-long Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway takes travelers through redwood groves with the greatest biomass of any ecosystem in the world.
And while only about 5 percent of California’s original redwood forests remain compared to roughly 2 million acres of ancient or old growth redwoods that covered the region before the arrival of logging industry, you’ll still find enough redwood forests to visit to keep you occupied for days at a time.
California’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service jointly manage roughly 133,000 acres of coast redwoods, or about 35 percent of the remaining redwood forests, including the famous corkscrew tree, which has four intertwined trunks that weave around each other as they shoot toward the sky.
Walking through these forests, you’ll not only see thousand-year-old redwoods, but massive, chest- and shoulder-high sword ferns that harken back to the age of the dinosaurs.
It’s no accident that Steven Spielberg filmed “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” here in a place called Fern Canyon, a hidden gorge in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park whose walls are adorned with thousands of ferns that receive constant moisture from miniature waterfalls and underground springs.
These forests are a nature photographer’s paradise with massive redwoods alternating with California big leaf maples, both of which rise above five different varieties of ferns. When it’s cloudy, the forests take on a mysterious aura, with the mosses seeming to glow bright green and tan against the dark — and often wet — trunks of the trees. But when sun peeks through, its rays light up the forest, further intensifying the contrasts between light and dark.
You can even get a feel for the height of the redwoods by visiting Trees of Mystery in Klamath, which operates a 1,570-foot-long tram that climbs through a forest of redwoods to a viewpoint overlooking the forest.
Trees of Mystery also has a free museum, which boasts one of the world’s largest private collections of Native American artifacts. The End of the Trail Museum not only features baskets, pottery, arrowheads and other implements of the local Yurok, Karok and Tolowa tribes, but sizable collections of historic artifacts from Native American tribes across the United States. The museum also has several original goldtone photographs by Edward Sheriff Curtis, who spent 30 years photographing Native American tribes.
History buffs will be surprised to find that Klamath also has California’s last remaining World War II early warning radar station and anti-aircraft battery, which was camouflaged to resemble a farm building.
Just north of the radar station is the Klamath River itself, a 250-mile-long river famed for its Chinook or king salmon, steelhead trout and red tailed perch.
Professional fishing guide Steve Huber runs a guide service at Kamp Klamath from May to September — a critical service for novices unfamiliar with salmon fishing or the parts of the Klamath River that offer the best chances of success. Huber said August and September are peak periods for salmon, when the fish make their way up the Klamath River to spawn.
Wildlife enthusiasts will also enjoy Klamath River’s jet boat tours, which take visitors on two-hour trips 20 to 25 miles up the river. The tours include visits to the Klamath Beach, a sandbar that separates the Klamath River from the breaking surf of the Pacific Ocean. The sandbar is a favored resting site for pelicans, seals, sea lions and sea otters. The biggest surprises, however, occur upstream when jet boat passengers catch their first glimpses of American bald eagles, osprey and giant blue herons soaring overhead.
Of course, those who take Funk’s Fun Bus tours not only have a chance to enjoy the scenic and historical sites of northwest California’s Wild Rivers Coast, but to see several of the locations where local residents claim to have seen, heard or smelled Bigfoot, the legendary 7- to 9-foot ape-like beast that has been reported in news accounts for decades.
In fact, when we visited several Klamath area attractions with Funk, he introduced us to Marilyn Strasser, who reported her own Bigfoot encounter to local news outlets in 2008.
Strasser said she was traveling home on Highway 101 late at night when she had alternator trouble and pulled over to wait for friends who were a few minutes behind her in another vehicle.
Shortly before her friends arrived, Strasser said she heard a horrible screaming sound and smelled something terrible; tell tale signs that Bigfoot is nearby, according to scores of people who have reported Bigfoot encounters.
Strasser said she left the area as soon as her friends arrived.
“I heard him and smelled him,” she said. “That was enough for me.”
For More Information
Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground
Redwood National and State Parks