Ancient Survivors: Redwood State and National Parks

The massive and ancient Coast Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) are master survivors from a prehistoric time. They are built to withstand fire, to ward off insects, and, most impressively, to regenerate themselves through burl sprouts.  When a redwood is distressed from, say, fire, the cells or burl sprouts within it react by shooting out sprouts which can become new trees!  It is not uncommon to see a redwood, dead or alive, with a younger cloned tree shooting up from beside it or even from within it!  Is there any other species on this planet that has the ability to clone itself in such a way?  While looking up a massive trunk to the tree branches and the reiterated trees sprouting from it, I said “This…this is higher power.”  These trees have survived thousands of years because of their design. I am not a religious person, but being out here, I don’t doubt that there is a creator. Here, in nature, is where my church lies. Come out here yourself, and maybe you will be reminded that it is by honoring nature that we honor our maker.

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The thickness and dampness of Redwood bark protects the trees from wildfire

Aside: I feel blessed to have spent a full month in the Canadian Rockies.  I still have more to write about the area, as well as the amazing Olympic Peninsula, but for now I just wanted to skip ahead to Redwood National Park due to the level of influence it has on me.

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Reiteration/Clone – Big Tree – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

One other way in which our survivors reinforce their endurance is through shared root systems.  The roots of an individual tree are actually not very long considering the tree’s height (Coast Redwoods can reach the height of 365 feet, while their roots only reach up to 80 feet). However, the roots intertwine with neighboring trees, and share root systems.  Therefore, even if one tree is growing out of loose soil, a strong wind storm is less likely to take it down because it has a whole system of friends helping to hold it up.

Though redwood trees can survive natural threats, not even they can survive the greed of man; in the early 20th century, they were logged almost to extinction. Interestingly, the first to fight for the protection of these forests were paleontologists, who began buying land to protect the groves.  By 1920, the state created four state parks from this purchased land.   It wasn’t until 1977 that the adjoining groves became protected under Jimmy Carter as Redwood National Park. Today, the state and national parks are managed cooperatively.

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Stephanie’s first meeting with Big Trees – Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Our first stop in the Redwoods was Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. Here, we received permits for backcountry camping along Redwood Creek for the following day.  On this day, we explored Stout Grove and drove along Howland Hill Road, where our beloved FunBus was made tiny next to the magnificent trees.  Having seen these trees once before myself, I had been keen to see Stephanie’s reaction to their grandeur. She was enthralled by them; though indeed, I was equally captivated by them on this second-time-around. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how many times I visit this place, it will forever captivate my soul.

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Surrounded by Giants – Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park

 

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Exploring a Fallen Redwood – Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

We then ventured to the “Big Tree” in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where we happened upon a ranger talk!  It was on this adventure that I learned much about the remarkable reiterations of the redwoods.  Stephanie and I have since referred to our knowledgeable guide as “Ranger Hottie.”  After this guided hike, we drove to the Coastal Trail, getting stopped by a herd of Elk along the way.  At the end of Coastal Trail, we explored the stunning Fern Canyon.

 

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Fern Canyon – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

That night, we camped at a free backcountry site just a quarter-mile in called Flint Ridge, though we dubbed it “Slug Ridge”, as we saw over 100 slugs on the trail and in our campsite! Since our hike was so short, I carried in the little cast iron, cooking us each a decadent skillet breakfast in the morning.

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Banana Slug on our Tent- Redwood National Park

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Getting Fancy – Flint Ridge

That day, we started our hike from the Tall Trees Grove trailhead, which requires a permit to reach the gated road. We had chosen to disperse camp: meaning we could choose any site we found, provided it was located on a gravel bar along Redwood Creek.  The first night, we hiked a few miles south and found a beautiful private site.  On this night, instead of slugs, we were accompanied by hundreds of tiny frogs. After taking a dip in the refreshing creek, we each built a cairn along the creek. The mini one that Stephanie built provided a perfect photo opportunity for Oobee (see instagram link at bottom of page).

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Tiny Frog – Redwood National Park

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Redwood Creek – Redwood National Park

In the morning, we hiked along the west side of the tall trees grove. It was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip: having all the time we wanted to explore the marvelous grove.

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Getting Silly – Redwood National Park

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Oobee and a Burl – Redwood National Park

Upon reaching the end of the grove, we had to ford Redwood Creek as the footbridge had been removed just the day before.  The benefit of this was that we had the forest to ourselves.  After hiking a few miles beyond the ford, we found a spot near a fallen giant to call home for the night. After making cheesy potato soup, I unfortunately spilled my soup!  This was doubly horrible as I lost my dinner and had to clean every morsel of soup from a bunch of rocks to ensure a bear didn’t find it. Admittedly, I ended up eating some of the soup off the ground. Pitying me, Stephanie shared her soup with me.

On our final day, we hiked the east side of the tall trees grove on our way out. We then stopped at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove where we regrettably said goodbye to our friendly giants.  I really didn’t want to leave, but we had so much more to explore. Fortunately, we still have the bigger, shorter cousins of the Coast redwoods, Giant Sequoias (Sequioadendron giganteum) to look forward to visiting in the Sierra Nevada.

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Lady Bird Johnson Grove – Redwood National Park

 

“One of my most unforgettable memories of the past years is walking through the Redwoods last November – seeing the lovely shafts of light filtering through the trees so far above, feeling the majesty and silence of that forest, and watching a salmon rise in one of those swift streams – all our problems seemed to fall into perspective and I think every one of us walked out more serene and happier.” – Lady Bird Johnson, July 30, 1969

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Big Leaf Maple – Lady Bird Johnson Grove

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Saying Goodbye–for now – Redwood National Park

With only 5% of the original old growth groves remaining, I can’t help but shake my head at humanity. Only mankind could take down such a survivor.  It’s as if we are trying to play the part of God. I fear for our future generations. Hopefully, these bits of prehistoric past which so easily humble and refresh a visitor will remain protected; but if we can bring these masters of survival to almost extinction, is any living thing safe? I imagine a small child, not too far into the future, looking at a book of animals that no longer exist because of humans.  How angry that child would feel to know that he will never see a gorilla or a rhino or a tiger or whatever it may be, because of his ancestor’s carelessness.  Overpopulation is sure to lead to the extinction of many species; and the fate of these species is insignificant to us when compared to the value we put on human life. This is a difficult subject to touch on for many reasons; but I know I’m not the only one who feels guilty about the egocentricity of mankind.

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Redwood Canopies – Redwood National Park

 

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