There is big, and then there is truly big. You’ll be able to discern the difference easily enough if you travel north from San Francisco on U.S. Highway 101. It won’t be long until you discover you are heading straight into northern California’s Redwoods National and State Parks. The sheer height of the trees will leave no doubt that you have arrived among the giants.
Indeed, it’s difficult to describe in words, or even in photographs, just how tall the world’s tallest trees really are. With many of the old growth tree reaching more than 100 meters into the misty sky, and a few topping 110 meters, they seem to defy physics with their ability to stand at all. And the term “old growth” isn’t just an affectation. Many of these trees have survived for more than a thousand years; the most ancient is at least 2,500 years old.
The Redwoods of coastal California can be found in scattered small pockets and huge groves beginning just north of San Francisco, at Muir Woods National Monument, and continuing up the coast and many miles inland, all the way to the Oregon border, 200 miles north. Redwoods National and State Parks is actually a combination of many federally managed and state managed Redwood groves all cooperatively maintained and protected by the State of California and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Once there, you may choose to follow the main thoroughfares like the aptly-named “Avenue of the Giants” in Humboldt County. Or you can meander on countless smaller roads that will lead you to the “Founder’s Grove”, the “Women’s Grove”, and the “Pioneer Grove.”
Better yet, find one of the many established walking trails through the sultry ferns and moss-covered detritus. On foot you can visit individual trees; sky-scraping behemoths with names like “Hyperion” and “Helios” and “The Giant.” You can even visit “The Star Wars Tree.” Yes, fans of the Science Fiction movie series will recognise at once that scenes from the mythical planet “Endor” were filmed amongst the redwoods (specifically in the Cheatham Grove.)
While the lush, verdant rainforest is full of animal life, seeing the fauna amongst the flora is no small task. Most of the creatures there are small and inconspicuous. But rest assured, there is animal life all around you. Quality binoculars will certainly help you find the birds, mammals, reptiles, and even the absurdly huge and ubiquitous Banana slugs.
And yes, there are still trees you can drive your vehicle through, like the world-famous “Chandelier Tree” in Leggett, California, but the Redwood experience will more rewarding, and more humbling, if you take the time to walk among the giants, quietly, alone.
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Keith Crowley, www.crowleyimages.com
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