Land of the Giants

Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods.

~John Muir

The original plan for the recent California trip was destination Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks, in part to see the Giant Sequoia trees. With the fires, partial closures, and air quality issues, we changed plans and headed for the other big trees, the Redwoods. I had seen Redwoods once before on a visit to Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco. They are mesmerizing. But we wanted to see more, to walk without crowds in the company of these giants. So, the first part of the trip we headed north, up the Redwood Highway (Rt. 101).

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Avenue of the Giants (click photos to enlarge)

One of the highlights that is easy for anyone traveling north on 101 is a slight detour onto the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile side road that runs through magnificent groves of Redwoods. It is hard to imagine how tall these coastal Redwoods really are unless you have something for scale. As you drive through the towering trees, the road ahead looks more like a paved path than a highway.

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Redwood forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Avenue of the Giants passes through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to the largest continuous old growth Redwood forest in the world. Redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens, are an ancient tree and were once found throughout much of North America. They are now restricted to a narrow band (varying from 5 to 20 miles in width) that stretches about 450 miles from from just north of the Oregon state line to the Santa Lucia Mountains south of Monterey, California. Until this trip, I had not realized how close we came to losing these magnificent forests. As soon as they were discovered by Europeans, the Redwoods were being cut for timber. And no wonder – the wood is very rot resistant, a beautiful reddish color, and one tree can supply an incredible amount of lumber. In fact, Santa Rosa is home to the Church of One Tree, a church built in 1873 entirely from the wood from one Redwood tree (275 feet tall and 18 feet in diameter). And a single tree in Humboldt County has an estimated 361,336 board feet, enough to build 22 five room houses. It was primarily through the efforts of private citizens, especially the Save the Redwoods League (created in 1918), that the coastal Redwood forests were saved from destruction. Of the estimated original 2 million acres of old growth Redwoods in California at the time of European discovery, only about 5% (120,000 acres) remains today.

Redwood log

Redwood log display at Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitor Center

The more I learn about these trees, the more I understand how magical they truly are. This log that fell in 2006 at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, is about 6 feet in diameter. The cut was made at a point on the tree 70 feet above the ground, and the center ring is dated 912 A.D., making it 1,094 years old.

Below is a quick summary of some of the amazing facts about Redwoods:

Coast Redwoods are the world’s tallest living things – the current record tree is 379 feet tall

They can live to be over 2000 years old

They can be up to 27 feet wide (Giant Sequoias are somewhat shorter, but can be wider)

Redwoods can usually survive natural forest fires because of their thick (up to 12 inches), protective bark

A single old growth Redwood is capable of producing an estimated 10 million seeds in one year, but only a small fraction survive to germinate

A fallen log may take several hundred years to decay, but may support a few thousand species of organisms over that time

A single, large tree may weigh over 1 million pounds

The greatest accumulation of plant biomass ever recorded on Earth was in a Redwood stand in Humboldt Redwoods State Park (1400 metric tons of biomass per acre)

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The Dyerville Giant, a former world champion Redwood, that fell in 1991 (note the two people walking next to the tree far off in the distance)

But, beyond the factoids that boggle the mind in the Redwoods, there is a feeling you get when standing among the giants, a feeling that is hard to express, perhaps because I have never experienced anything quite like this before. But others have said it well…

But more impressive than the facts and figures as to height, width, age, etc., are the entrancing beauty and tranquility that pervade the forest, the feelings of peace, awe and reverence that it inspires. ~George McDonald

Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven. ~Rabindranath Tagore

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. ~John Muir

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

So, I leave you with some images from the land of the giants, images which cannot convey the majesty of these forests. For that, you must walk among them…

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Redwood bark

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Though this tree has been through many fires, it continues to live

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Sword Ferns are a common understory species in the Redwood forest

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Looking up through a burned out stump

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Old and fresh shade needles and cones from a Redwood tree

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Trail through the Redwood forest at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

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Trunk sprout

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Sunlight streams through the giant trees at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

4 thoughts on “Land of the Giants

  1. Magnificent and breathtaking!! I saw these trees many, many years ago. I must now put it on my bucket list to see them again!

  2. My heartfelt thanks for your pictures and the memories they stir, Mike. I know how difficult (near impossible) it is to take photos that truly represent the majesty of this forest, but you have accomplished what I and most others fail to do. But as you say, no picture can portray the majesty, invoke the awe or generate the deep emotions of these big trees. That’s the memories your pictures recover. Rich

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