Timeline: December 25, 2016 – January 5, 2017
With a full day ahead of us that Tuesday, we were up and out the door 9:00am having breakfasted in the room and performed our morning routines of stretching and other rituals similar to those we all perform each day. Our goal for the day would be to drive the entire 32-mile length of the Redwood Highway or State Route 254 (a portion of the original Highway 101), also known as the Avenue of the Giants Auto Tour, and stop at every numbered pullout to walk the trail at each.
It’s been some time since we last visited the coastal Redwoods, going back to the late 1980’s when we did a bike tour in this area with the Sacramento Bike Hikers. My first real exposure was a month-long family vacation when I was fourteen, when we camped at Big Sur, Richardson Grove, and Prairie Creek State Parks and continued up the coast to Oregon with stops at Gold Beach and Astoria.
We’d spend the entire day in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, whose 53,000 acres of forests, meadows, and watersheds include about 100 miles of hiking, biking, and riding trails. Approximately 17,000 acres consists of old-growth coast redwood forests, including the 10,000-acre Rockefeller Forest– the largest contiguous old growth redwood forest in the world. These coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are taller than any other living thing. They can live over 2,000 years and withstand fires, floods and insects. Spending time in the park, we saw groves that have never been logged, containing ancient, or old growth, trees whose average ages are 400-600 years old.
Our first stop was just up the road at the Franklyn K. Lane Grove. Featuring a short, fifteen-minute loop trail, this grove of redwoods was set aside in 1928 to honor Franklin K. Lane, the Secretary of the Interior under President Wilson and the first volunteer President of Save-the-Redwoods League. This would be a good first stop for us, introducing us to the grandeur of these groves, this one impressive with even more to come.
Just up the road is the small town of Miranda, where we had wanted to eat dinner the night before with the only restaurant in town closed for the holidays. We stopped in at a coffee trailer, Sips, to get a latté and chocolate croissant. It’s situated next door to a school; good for its ongoing business I’m sure but there was a sign reminding school age customers about wait times at lunch.
Next up was Bolling Grove, with a small but impressive collection of a half a dozen huge trees with what once might have been a very short loop trail that wound through the grove, but is now cut in two by a densely vegetated creek.
On the riverside of the Avenue, sits a tree with many burls; which result from a tree undergoing some form of stress; we would see many more throughout the day.
Back in the car, six miles up the highway brought us to the park’s Visitor Center. Run by the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association, it contains a number of hands on displays, a pictorial history of the park, and bookstore/gift shop. We spent nearly an hour there viewing the exhibits and pondering which, if any, souvenir we might purchase from the store. We ended up with a coffee mug.
Just two miles up the road sits a thirty-five foot pole marking the high water level during the height of the 1964 flooding of the Eel River that obliterated the town of Weott. Just the pole stands there, no sign of any town ever having been there. Nature is indeed a cruel mistress.
Not much further up the highway was out next stop, the Mahan and Founders Groves. Our first short hike took us on a trail dedicated to Laura and James Mahan, who were early advocates of creating the groves that constitute the Avenue of the Giants.
From here, we hit the trail that took us to Founder’s Grove, the most-visited in the Humboldt Redwoods. It provides an ideal environment for big redwoods: sitting on a large alluvial flat at the intersection of two rivers, shielded from storms by 3,000-foot-tall mountains to the west, yet still immersed in the summer fog that flows up the Eel River Valley.
It was spectacular and humbling all at the same time. The loop trail has numbered stations and as we had entered in the middle, it wasn’t until we got to the first one that we could pick up a brochure which described each of the stops.
Where we did enter was right at station number 7, Fallen Giants and Forest Openings and number 8, the Dyerville Giant. This area contained several fallen trees, the most impressive being the Dyerville Giant which stood in this location for an estimated 1,600 years. Before it fell on March 24, 1991, it was at least 362 feet tall, 200 feet taller than Niagara Falls, comparable to a 30-story building. At 17 feet in diameter, 52 feet in circumference, it probably weighs over 1,000,000 pounds.
The events that caused the Giant to fall are common in ancient redwood forests. During the rainy season the soil becomes saturated with water. Another large tree fell one week earlier hitting a second tree causing it to lean. A week later the leaning tree fell, striking the Dyerville Giant causing it to fall. No one witnesses the incident, but a park neighbor who lived a mile away reported hearing a large crash. A tree over 50 feet away had mud splattered 15 feet up its trunk form the impact of the Giant hitting the ground.
We left the Giant and moved along the trail, counting down the stops as we went, a path we’ll describe in the next post.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=425