A Big Ass Tree

image Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a 10 mile alternate route to Highway 101. Named after a man who dedicated 40 years to preserving redwood forests and securing hundreds of thousands of acres as parkland,

img_4658 savetheredwoods.org

this scenic drive passes through the heart of old-growth redwoods in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

We backtrack north in our car, after visiting Lady Bird Johnson’s Grove, and stop for a short 1/2 mile hike on the Circle Trail

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to take a look at Big Tree, one of the largest in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. (Redwood Visitor Guide)

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It really is impressive and I try to capture all 304 feet of this 1500-year-old redwood. My pictures, however, don’t quite portray this enormous tree in all of its magnificence.

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After oohing and awing we continue past Big Tree in search of the rest of the Circle Trail. But all we come across is the following trail marker.

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So we head toward Cal Barrel Road only to turn back and retrace our steps to the car. But we are not disappointed in the least. Whether we walk beside or peer skyward, the scale and timelessness of these towering ancient trees inspire us to care about our environment.

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Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail

image An old-growth redwood forest…

One mile north of Orick on Highway 101, there’s a turn-off onto Bald Hills Road. Two and a half miles later we cross under a walking bridge and arrive at a small parking area where creative parking skills and the ignoring of signs pack more cars in than there are spaces available. Luckily our car is small.


We leave Casey and Murph back in the RV because dogs are not allowed on park trails in the redwood forests for several reasons:

  • The abundance of poison oak can be an unwanted souvenir brought home on their coat contaminating you, your family, your car, and even home for up to one year.
  • Dead salmon along riverbanks can be toxic to dogs.
  • Bears and mountain lions see pets as prey.
  • Wild animals carry diseases that can be transferred through their feces, and let’s be honest, not many dogs can resist a good poop treat. (Redwood Parks Association)

Fortunately dogs are welcome in campgrounds, picnic areas, public roads, and beaches. Below is a list of pet-friendly walks to take. Most of these are unpaved roads.

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The Lady Bird Johnson Grove loops through a place where time is measured in centuries and millennia and takes us to the site where this First Lady dedicated Redwood National Park in 1968. Intensive logging from the1850s destroyed most of these majestic trees to where less than 4% of the old-growth forests remain. (Redwood Parks Association)

Notice the red sorrel and ferns growing in the under-canopy around these mushrooms.

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Sempervirens means everlasting and is the scientific name for these coast redwoods, the tallest and longest living trees on our planet. Pictures just can’t capture what it feels like to gaze up in wonder!

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These old-growth trees persist because water, wind, fire, and sunlight usher in recurring centuries of birth, growth, death, and regeneration. (Redwood Parks Association)

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The tree below displays burls, clusters of bud material laying dormant beneath the bark. Remaining inactive for generations, these sleeping sprouts awake when the tree is stressed by low rainfall or fire, assuring the longevity of the redwood tree. (Redwood Parks Association)

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Wildfires can hollow out a redwood. Its thick, insulating bark lacks the flammable resin found in other pines, firs, and spruce. Plus redwood sap is mostly water, slowing down combustion. Fires can burn repeatedly through cracks in the bark but leave the outside growing layers intact. The hollows left behind become shelters for animals. (Redwood Parks Association)

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Jeff and I design our “tiny house” within this hollowed out trunk.

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Protecting the redwoods

Logged, milled, and shipped elsewhere, the coast redwoods of northern California built the homes and infrastructure of our expanding nation since the middle of the 19th century.  In 1918 Save-the-Redwoods League was founded to purchase redwoods and convert the land to public trust. (plaque at dedication site)

Three redwood state parks were established in the 1920s with the League’s effort:

  1. Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
  2. Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park
  3. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (plaque at dedication site)

In the early 1960s a renewed effort began to establish a national redwood park. In 1963 a National Geographic survey team discovered several trees taller than any previously known. This ultimately led to the dedication of Redwood National Park in October 1968 by Lady Bird Johnson. (plaque at dedication site)

img_4657 redwoods.info

The Coast Redwood

image Sequoia Sempervirens

Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park is surrounded by several amazing walking trails. One of my favorites is the Self-Guided Nature Trail circling the Hike &Bike Tent Campsites and Picnic Area. All the information I am sharing with you I learned from plaques along the trail. (Oh, how I enjoy these small billboards of facts!)

For today’s hike, however, I will be your guide.

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Like every plant species, coast redwoods adapt to surviving and thriving in a specific environment. These sequoias prefer a mild climate with little seasonal or daily temperature changes. High moisture levels, dense dripping fog, and damp, well-draining soil are their ideal living conditions.

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Naturally occurring fires are healthy events for forests. Fire opens the canopy and floor to more sunlight and helps recycle nutrients to the soil. Think of it as nature’s way of removing old vegetation and debris. The black fire scars below are reminders of the need for destruction to create healthy environments for new and surviving plants and trees.

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Fallen redwoods also encourage new plants and trees to grow. These “nurse logs” are the perfect environment for germinating seeds.

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The picture below is an example of a western hemlock that started growing this way. As the tree grew, its roots reached around like octopus tentacles surviving on the nutrients of the rotting redwood log and surrounding soil. The “nurse log” is almost completely decomposed leaving the hemlock standing on its own.

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Downed trees also provide homes and shelter for animals.

Redwoods are vulnerable to high winds because their roots, believe it or not, only reach a depth of 6 to 8 feet. For added support, however, their root systems extend outward and interconnect with the roots of other trees.

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The clover-shaped leaves below are redwood sorrel. They are perfect groundcover for the forest because their leaves are sensitive to bright sunlight.

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The next section of the trail will lead us to the edge of the Smith River.

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The periodic flooding of the Smith River is important to the redwood forest ecosystem because the receding floodwaters leave behind a new layer of nutrient-rich soil, called alluvium. These fertile alluvial deposits contribute to the growth of new trees and plants.

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There is a lesson learned from this self-guiding tour… Everything around us is connected and works together to create a healthy system of living organisms. John Muir, the Scottish naturalist, sums it up with these words, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.

The self-guided trail information was produced by the North Coast Redwood Interpretive Association


SOME FYIs

Pine cones from coast redwoods are tiny, about the size of a grape, and contain 50 to 100 seeds inside. (plaque on self-guided trail)

img_4544 etsy.com


The redwood sorrel produces a single white or pink bloom. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

img_4547 fs.fed.us (photo by Dr. Gerry Carr)

img_4645 wildflower.org (photo by Fran Cox)

When it gets too sunny, their leaves fold up like an umbrella right before your eyes! (en.m.wikipedia.org)

img_4633 leavesofplants.blogspot.com


There are 3 species of redwood:

  • Coast redwood

img_4634 online.sfsu.edu (photo by Ed Cooper)

Coast redwoods grow the tallest and are located along a narrow strip of the Pacific coast stretching from southern Oregon to Big Sur in California. (Mother Nature Network mnn.com)

  • Giant sequoia

img_4636 americanforests.org

The girth of the sequoia prompts its name. These redwoods average more than 20 feet in diameter and up to 35 feet across. They only grow within the Sierra Nevada mountain range. (Mother Nature Network mnn.com)

  • Dawn redwood

img_4640 savetheredwoods.org (photo by Zhang Angie)

Once one of the most widespread tree species in the northern hemisphere, the dawn redwood was thought to be extinct for millions of years until re-discovered in the Sichuan and Hubei provinces of China in 1944.

Due to preservation efforts, such as the Crescent Ridge Dawn Redwood Preserve in North Carolina, the dawn redwood has been re-introduced to the United States as a deciduous, fast-growing, ornamental tree with colorful leaves in the fall. (dawnredwood.org)

img_4637treesthatpleasenurseryblog.com


img_4635 forestry.about.com

img_4642 chinatoday.com

img_4643 chinatoday.com

Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park

image The Northern California Coast

Eighty-two miles south of Port Orford on Highway 101 lies Crescent City, CA. But 10 miles out of Oregon we take Route 197 along the Smith River to spend 3 nights at Jedediah Smith State Park, part of the Redwood National Park system.

These fluffy feather-like fronds greet us everywhere as we cross into California. We’re not in Oregon anymore, Dorothy! Notice the river in the background.

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The Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park protects 10,000 acres of ancient redwood groves where summer temps reach as high as 85 degrees and winters range between 30 and 65 degrees. Although snow is rare, an average of 100 inches of rain falls from December through March. (state park brochure)

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The tree stump beside our RV is as long as our car!

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Coastal redwoods thrive in the lower elevations that bring mild temps, rainy winters, and foggy days. Trees grow as high as 350 feet with a base diameter of 20 feet. Their root systems are broad and shallow. Redwoods resist insects, fire, and rot and resiliently sprout back when cut or badly burned. (state park brochure)

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In 1994 Jedidiah Smith and 2 other state parks, Del Norte Coast and Prairie Creek joined the Redwood National Park to preserve 105,516 acres of old-growth forest. (state park brochure)

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WHO WAS JEDIDIAH?

img_4537 jedidiahsmithsociety.org

Jedidiah Strong Smith was the first non-native American to travel from the Mississippi River across the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific coast.

Jedidiah Smith’s wish was to be “the first to view a country on which the eyes of a white man had never gazed and to follow the course of rivers that run through a new land.” (state park brochure)

img_4538 pinterest.com

His story west begins in 1821 when, at age 22, he joined a fur-trapping party across southern Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and the Mojave Desert. (state park brochure)

img_4541 truewestmagazine.com

In 1826 the Mexican Governor, Echeandia, ordered the fur-trappers to leave the area, so Smith and his party headed north. (state park brochure)

Smith and men in the Mojave Desert in 1826, as painted by Remington ca. 1905.

Smith and men in the Mojave Desert in 1826, as painted by Remington ca. 1905.

A year later, they were forced to move once again and he led his party even further north, along the coast’s redwood groves.

Unfortunately in 1831, Jedediah was killed in a Comanche ambush along the Santa Fe Trail. His 10 years of travel and discovery, however, left lasting reports on the geology and geography of the west and filled in many blank spaces on our country’s map. (state park brochure)

img_4539 santafetrailresearch.com