The national park system is celebrating its 100th birthday this year and we are celebrating along with them. A few weeks ago we enjoyed the huge trees in Sequoia National Park and today we visited their cousins at Redwood National Park, a park we have never seen. The sequoia are the biggest trees in the world; the redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. Think elephant and giraffe. The redwood are a close match to trees found in fossil layers alongside dinosaur skeletons. Unmolested the sequoia have a longer life span than the redwoods - 3,000 versus 2,000 years, but the redwood were almost obliterated by over enthusiastic logging. Today only about 4% of what originally lived here is still growing. I'm feeling a bit guilt about the redwood picnic table that was the center of outdoor family life when I was a kid.
In the early 1900’s Californians noticed that there were few trees left to notice and they began buying land and individual trees in an effort to save what was left. Finally, in the 1960’s the federal government joined the effort combining three small state parks with additional land to make the national park we saw today. The woods are punctuated by little signs listing the names of the generous donors who paid to rescue that particular stand of tree. Highway 101, a major thoroughfare, travels through the middle of the park and ironically huge logging trucks hauling recently harvest redwoods make the drive along with us tree huggers. A small piece of picturesque coastline is also part of the park and a herd of Roosevelt elk grazing peacefully in the lush meadows add to the ambience. The park includes some property that was once logged and personnel are working to restore the land to its original condition and taking out old logging roads to make conditions right for the redwood to grow here once again.
The massive redwood trees have tiny pine cones the size of olives, but mostly they reproduce by cloning themselves. A single tree grows a burl at the soil line and when circumstances tax or threaten that tree, it send out new shoots from the burl and more trees appear nearby. The baby trees use the roots from the parent tree to begin growing. They look like cozy family groups. Sometimes the original tree has rotted away and the remaining trees look like they are standing in a circle holding hands and singing kum-by-yah. When circumstances are good, redwood grow thirty feet in their first twenty years and ultimately are well over 300 feet tall. Forest fires are rarely a threat and we saw trees still growing lustily even though their middles had been destroyed by flames. Even though they are so tall, their roots rarely go more than twelve feet down, but they send their roots out in a wide circumference, tangling with the roots of their brethren. Unless they die of old age, they are typically brought down by strong winds. Sometimes when one tips over, it falls on another and it can created a domino effect. The fallen trees rot slowly and provide nourishment and sustenance to all manner of other forest vegetation. Many varieties of ferns grow here and we saw an occasional splash of color from wild azaleas that sport their blossoms fifteen feet in the air.
Near the park we found a spot where we could be the tourists that we really are and drove our car through a hollowed out redwood. This used to be a common practice, but few of these “tourist trees” remain today.