My wife Julie and I headed out to a favorite mushroom hunting spot today in the hopes of reaping the bounty of the past week's rains. As we wandered the thickly forested mountainside looking for chanterelles and other edibles, it quickly became clear that we were not the first two people to have this idea. After searching for some time we had found only the cut stalks of two large cauliflower mushrooms and a handful of chanterelles. As we continued to search, we heard the loud popping of twigs breaking somewhere nearby. We stopped, standing silently with our heads turned in the direction of the sound. Three humans came into view about 50 yards upslope. Satisfied that the breaking twigs needed no further investigation, Julie and I slipped quietly away in the opposite direction.
We continued traversing the wooded slope and eventually crossed a small stream. Not far from the stream I noticed a familiar musky smell as I passed a large cedar stump. Thinking I might have discovered an uncut cauliflower mushroom I followed the scent. Approaching the stump I did not find a cauliflower mushroom, but I did find something much more exciting. A long, shiny body mottled with shades of dark brown and an almost golden color sat in the shadows at the foot of the cedar remnant. I felt the same kind of excitement that I felt in my childhood when making this kind of discovery. I blurted out something like, "Julie! Come quick! It's a salamander!" Moving toward me Julie inquired, "What kind?", to which I replied, "It's a Giant! Pacific Giant I think!"
Julie made her way to my position and pointed out some overripe Chicken of the Woods mushrooms that were likely the source of the smell I had detected. We then both looked at the salamander that was seemingly unaware of, or at least outwardly nonreactive to our presence. Because we were on a slope, and the ground rose up around the base of the stump, we did not have to bend over very far to be right at eye level with the large amphibian. We spent several minutes just looking at him in awe, amazed by his colors, his markings and his striking eyes. I took a few photos to remember him by, and then we left the salamander as we had found him. We walked out of the woods in high spirits despite the mostly empty mushroom bag that we carried with us.
More photos of the Pacific Giant Salamander can be found on goatislandimages.com.