Go West, young man: Tall, tall trees

Me in front of a giant Redwood. Photo credit: Tyler Penland (with a timer)

God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools. ~ John Muir

When George Jones and Roger Miller penned the song “Tall, Tall Trees” back in 1957 I doubt they were thinking about Northern California. Tall, tall trees are the dominating feature of a large section of the coast there and I had the chance to visit them during March.

A work trip took me back to the West Coast. This time, I was fortunate to have a couple of days to myself to do some traveling. A 23-hour bed-to-bed travel day would bring me to Crescent City, California, tucked right in the heart of Redwood country.

Land of the giants

Redwood National and State Park consists of several smaller parks jammed together in Northern California. It had been on my list of “things to see” for quite some time, so I was excited to have even just about half a day to spend there.

I started my morning in classic Pacific West Coast fashion: wet. March in the PNW brings plentiful rainfall and wind and I saw plenty of both. My first hike was at the Ladybird Johnson Grove trailhead. When arriving at the parking lot you are immediately greeted by a giant Coast Redwood. The bridge to cross back over the road is a thing of beauty as well. The sides are one solid piece of wood carved out of one of these giant trees.

Redwood Bridge at Ladybird Johnson trailhead. (Photo Credit: Tyler Penland)

These giant trees can reach ages of 2,000 years and grow up to 600 feet tall. Their enormity is almost difficult to comprehend until you see one in person. Along the Ladybird Johnson Trail, you will see plenty of these giants, including several you can walk inside due to rot. They all soar high into the sky like skyscrapers.

Redwood trees. (Photo Credit: Tyler Penland)

You will see very few if any, branches near the base. These giant trees also have somewhat strange root systems. You would think they would dig deep in with how tall they are, but they generally only go down to around 10 feet. The flipside is that they spread out to up to 80 feet from the tree.

The forest floor above these roots is dotted with numerous ferns, mushrooms and other shrubs. It feels like you are stepping back in time as you walk among these ancient giants.

Redwood trees. (Photo credit: Tyler Penland)
Redwood trees. (Photo credit: Tyler Penland)

Grove of Titans

My second hike of the day was a little while later and up the coast about 40 miles at Jedediah Smith State Park. Here, an absolutely incredible dirt road drive takes you to a trail called The Grove of Titans. This relatively new trail contains a boardwalk that takes you to a number of true Titans among the giants.

Redwood trees. (Photo credit: Tyler Penland)

Prior to the start of logging in the mid-19th century, Redwoods occupied over 2,000,000 acres along the California coastline. Now, a mere 4% of that remains as old-growth forest, with Redwood National and State Parks containing 45% of the remaining old-growth forest in the state.

According to the National Park Service, only 3% of what remains is publicly accessible, with 1% being privately owned and maintained.

Redwood trees. (Photo credit: Tyler Penland)

It is extremely difficult to convey the size of these trees in photographs. The tallest tree in the world, named Hyperion, can be found in the parks, although access has been restricted due to damage being caused by visitors. This astonishing specimen is 379 feet tall. They also come in some very wide sizes at the bottom. Trees measuring 70 feet or more around are commonplace.

Fortunately, I had a timer on the camera and myself for scale against the biggest tree I saw on my trip on the Grove of Titans Trail.

Me in front of a giant Redwood. (Photo credit: Tyler Penland)

If you think that is big then just know they get bigger, this is just the biggest one I saw on my trip.

I continued on my journey north up the Pacific coastline. More on that trip next week.

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