Northern California offers a completely different California than does Southern California. The northern part of the state is generally sparsely populated and more wilderness. Our first trip to California this year was to the desert south, our second to the mountainous north.
Redwood in northwestern California is an unusual national park in several ways. One of the most obvious is that it is Redwood National and State Parks, encompassing Redwood National Park and three California parks: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Spread out in different locations primarily along the coast, it was rather hard to figure out if we were actually in the national park or not, especially when the first ranger we encountered at the visitor center emphatically told us this is a “state” park so we didn’t need our National Park pass for admission. However, they did have the national park passport book stamp available. Another ranger later strongly suggested the Avenue of the Giants as a must-see and it turned out that it is south of the park proper. Usually the boundaries of national parks are a lot more apparent.
Our first day, we visited the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. The one-mile loop trail winds through old-growth redwood forest and includes the 1968 dedication site of Redwood National Park. The establishment of a national park was proposed in 1879 and the first major effort began when the Save-the-Redwoods League was founded in 1918. It took fifty years and the destruction of approximately 85% of the virgin redwood acreage before the movement gained adequate support to come to fruition.
The sheer height of these trees is mind-boggling. You look up and up and up and still higher. Researchers have discovered trees over 370 feet tall and there may be taller trees in remote areas of the park. The title of world‘s tallest tree has changed more than a dozen times since 1990.
Often confused, there are three types of “redwoods.” The trees in Redwood National Park are Coast Redwood and are the tallest trees. The Giant Sequoias which are found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada are the largest of all trees by mass. The third redwood – the Dawn Redwood – was considered extinct until 1944 when a Chinese forester discovered a grove of large trees in central China. The Dawn Redwood is much smaller, being limited in height to 140 feet and, unlike the other redwoods, is deciduous. The Coast Redwood and the Sequoia have somewhat similar cones but differ in propagation with the sequoia reproducing only by seeds and the coast redwood reproducing by seeds and also by sprouting from dormant buds called burls.
Friends from Oregon joined us and we made our way to our lodging in Trinidad which had a view of the ocean from our decks. Great friends, great view, great wine, not-so-great Nebraska football game all added up to a fun evening.
The Avenue of the Giants has been called the finest forest drive in the world. Surrounded by the titan trees with pullouts and places to take short hikes in the numerous groves, it continued to impress. The majesty of these trees and the peace of the forest prevailed.
In planning this portion of the trip, Patty and I had decided that when we reached the south end of the Avenue of the Giants, we would take a different way back north. It looked like a perfectly reasonable route on the map we had. Little did we know that this was “The Wildcat” – 30 miles of twists, turns, dips, and rises. The Wildcat had its beginning well over a century ago as a trail across the coastal hills, peaks and valleys between Ferndale and the Bear and Mattole valleys. In the 1880’s it became a road for stagecoaches and wagons. At this point, I was driving, Patty was navigating and the guys were in the back seat wondering (out loud) where in the world we were and why we were on basically a trail, which was at one time mostly paved and mostly two lanes wide. Who knew there were several mountains, more curves than a roller coaster, and wild beaches on that innocuous-looking road? I think Steve had it about right when he said it reminded him of an “I Love Lucy” episode.
October is rutting season for the Roosevelt elk which make the parks their home. We saw several bulls with their harems. Roosevelt elk are a major conservation success story. Hunted nearly to extinction by North Coast settlers, there were only a few hundred animals left when conservation efforts began. Now the elk number in the thousands and they are being reintroduced to many areas of their original range.
A number of hikes originate near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. The meadows nearby provide prime elk habitat and we were warned one trail was closed because of an extremely aggressive bull elk. The Foothills Trail and Prairie Creek Trail took us past the “Big Tree” and curved back along the creek. As on most of our hikes, we were very nearly alone on the trail.
The effect of drought the past couple of years was apparent when we visited Fern Canyon. The high walls of this narrow canyon are covered with ferns. Not as verdant as I’m sure it would be in wet years, it was still an interesting hike from Gold Bluffs Beach.
Redwood National and State Parks may be a little hard to truly figure out, but it is certainly awe-inspiring.
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