Redwood National Park

Trip Start Aug 13, 2010
Trip End Oct 14, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Redwood National Park in very northern coastal California was another pleasant surprise. While in central California last year, we saw what we thought at the time were coast redwoods, and were sufficiently impressed then.  The redwoods in northern California, however, were impressive on a whole different level.  We hiked a trail in one of the state parks (Redwood is actually comprised of 3 state parks and one national park, and the state of California and the federal government have a cooperative agreement to manage the entire area.)  Unlike several of the other parks we've been to, there’s no particular destination when walking through Redwood – all you need to do to get a sense of the park is to surround yourself with the trees.  Some of these trees are over 300 feet tall and close to 2,000 years old, and there was something awe-inspiring about standing in their midst.  Despite Rachel’s best efforts, we were unable to capture any one redwood tree within the frame of the photo shot, but tried to take some photos that show the massive scale of these trees.  We were fascinated by them, and apologize for this long entry, but wanted to share some of what we learned. 

Coast redwoods are gentle giants.  They are not the largest trees on earth (that honor goes to the giant sequoias), but are among the most resistant to threat and, therefore, among the oldest living things on earth.  Whereas other trees in this area are affected by insects such as pine beetles, bugs don’t seem to like redwood bark.  Redwoods also seem pretty adept at healing themselves.  For example, we saw a coast redwood and Douglas fir that had both been hit by a truck.  The truck took a large chunk out of the fir, and insects had bored significantly into that vulnerable area of the trunk.  As a result, the fir wasn’t expected to live beyond 700 years (it was already about 400 years old), but the redwood had completely regenerated its bark along the impacted area.  Redwoods also have a neat ability to grow in unconventional ways.  Most of the coniferous trees in the forest can only germinate when their seeds find open soil with access to sunlight.  Because there is so much forest undergrowth, however, finding open soil is pretty difficult.  Redwoods, though, can basically clone themselves in addition to germinating seeds.  The root of an existing redwood will begin to grow a genetically-identical tree once the root senses that the parent tree is weakened or in distress.  The "new" tree sprouts from the root system and grows side-by-side with the parent.  That way, the new tree doesn’t have to worry about open soil – it’s using the root system that already is in place   

The coast redwoods fall victim only to wind, fire, or loggers.  Even with fire, we saw some redwoods that had been completely hollowed out by fire, yet continued to grow.  Logging, however, was far worse, and in the early 20th century, threatened to completely wipe out the redwoods.  Federal and state government efforts, as well as efforts by local conservation groups, led to a massive replanting effort to replace the tens of thousands of acres that had been logged.  The park service estimates that it will take at least 250 years for the replanted redwood seedlings to grow to modest size.

Apart from logging, redwoods often die when, after having been weakened by fire, are blown over.  A park ranger told us that in the early 1990s, a redwood that was well over 300 feet tall blew over, and its impact actually measured on the Richter scale. 

We went on a rainy afternoon ranger-led hike to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove.  This hike was about 2 miles long, and focused on life in the forest other than the redwoods.  This actually turned out to be better than a redwood-focused talk, because on our own, we would have been unlikely to notice anything other than these trees.  Among other things, the ranger showed us the 5 different types of edible berries in the park, and let us try several, including red huckleberries and salal berries.  Both of these berries taste like very tart blueberries.  (She also showed us the only poisonous berry in these forests which, fortunately, look very different.)  After this hike, we made our way over to another area of the park to see the Big Tree.  (This is the tree’s official name, not just our way of describing it.)  The Big Tree is 304 feet tall, almost 23 feet in diameter, and 66 feet in circumference.  Oh, and it’s about 1,500 years old.  We took some photos by it and, predictably, looked very, very small in comparison.  While driving around the park afterwards, we came across a meadow that had a large herd of elk.  We pulled off and got some nice photos; some of the elk were only about 20 yards away from us.  A very large buck seemed to be in charge, and watched us suspiciously until we drove away.

That night, we ate dinner at Samoa Cookhouse near Eureka, CA, a restaurant that until the 1950s, used to provide local mill workers with their 3 daily meals.  It no longer serves lumbermen, but these meals were, and continue to be, served family style on long, communal tables.  The restaurant has a fixed-price menu that rotates every few months; that night, we had soup, salad, roast beef, fried chicken, and dessert.  The  next day, we drove through Avenue of the Giants, a scenic bypass off of Highway 101 where the road is flanked on both sides by coast redwoods and other large trees.  While none were as large as the Big Tree, the drive was beautiful. 
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Abuela on

Your enchanting descriptions are delightful. I'm finally accepting the experience through your eyes. Look forward evert night to your new entries. Lov you very, very much.

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