June 8-11 — The last of our national park visits in California for awhile, we spent four days enjoying Redwood National and State Parks along the Pacific Ocean in northern California.
It was clear from the welcome sign that this park was a bit different than the others we have visited thus far. In our requisite stop at the main Visitor Center and, in our opinion, mandatory viewing of the park’s overview movie, we learned the history of how these parks came to be and how they are all now jointly administered for better coordination of conservation and management activities.
In the early 1900s, as more people were moving westward and settling into growing western cities and towns, the country’s insatiable appetite for lumber was being met by felling big tall redwood trees growing all along the Pacific coast.
Conservationists became alarmed by the relentless logging that was rapidly destroying redwood forests, and in 1918, a group was formed to protect these magnificent giants.
The Save-The-Redwoods League was able to purchase some of these old redwood groves. The state of California also protected groves by creating some state parks. And in 1968, the Redwood National Park was established to preserve even more of these ancient trees. However, the damage had already been done.
Between the uncontrolled logging in the late 1800s and the more-regulated-but-still-damaging logging activities of the 1900s, 96 percent of the old-growth forests that once stood here as one of the most splendid and awesome ecosystems on the planet had been destroyed.
This once-sad story is turning the page here in Redwood National and State Parks. Additional land has been added to the parks, and today great efforts are being made to replant the denuded sections of land, reclaim old logging roads, and erase the scars of the raw, clear-cut logging activities that once took place here. It will take hundreds of years for new trees to grow to a modest size; but as this area makes up about half the world’s old growth redwood forest, these conservation efforts are required and appreciated by all those who visit these Redwood parks.
History lesson now learned, we were here to see tall, stately trees, and that we did! These gentle giants reach heights of more than 300 feet, and the tallest tree in the park system measures a whopping 379 feet tall! Compare that to the Statue of Liberty at 240 feet – she’s got nothing on these boys! Another impressive feature about these redwoods is their age – some are more than 2,000 years old! Going back some sixty-five million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, much of the northern hemisphere was covered with redwoods and their cousins, Sequioas. The Ice Age and subsequent changes in climate and topography eliminated a great sweep of these trees, but today we can stroll through stands of these living artifacts and marvel at their massive size.
The scientific name for these redwoods is Sequoia Semperviers — Sequoia comes from the Cherokee Indian chief, Sequoyah, and Sempervirens is Latin for “always green” / “living forever.” For being so ginormous, these trees have a surprisingly shallow root system — just 10-12 feet deep — but they reach out hundreds of feet wide, and these intermingled roots help keep one another strong. Fog, we learned, plays a very important role in redwood growth, for it provides nearly half the moisture these tall trees receive. However, these immense trees cannot grow too close to the coast for they are vulnerable to salt spray. It seems this limited range of coastline is perfect for their continued growth.
We enjoyed some really wonderful hiking in these parks. Fred hoofed it nearly 30 miles through what often looked and felt like a tropical rainforest. I took a couple of days off but joined him for some of the hiking ventures. Very cool snails and banana slugs and frogs made their homes along some of our trails. Fern Canyon, in particular, features really lush vegetation and was the site for filming a couple of big movies. Perhaps you’ve heard of Jurassic Park or Star Wars? This is a very cool place…!
A final feature of the park is the large herds of Roosevelt elk roaming freely in these parts. We saw them in several meadows as we drove through the park along Hwy 101, but our best sighting came as we were hiking along a coastal trail and came upon eight of them about 10′ from our trail. They noticed us and looked up. We stopped. We all stared at one another for a bit. Then I let them know in a very sweet voice we weren’t going to bother them and slowly proceeded up the trail hoping they didn’t see us as a threat. They didn’t and we were safe!
Here is some more of the beautiful scenery we enjoyed in Redwood National and State Parks: