Talking to a couple of locals in Arcata, we were told to go to Kuchel Visitor Center in Orich before entering the park. Wise advice! Turned out we needed a permit and a code for a locked gate if we wanted to see the really tall trees and not only drive throught the park. This did not cost anything. But they want to limit the number of vehicles entering the area, max 50 per day. Permits can be obtained at other visitor centers as well.
Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center has a fairly new exhibition with interesting info, a knowledgeable Ranger at the information desk, a dugout indian canoe, an informative info board and clean bathrooms :-) Throughout the year there are different events going on, luckily for us there were none when we were there; Being the egoistic persons we are, we enjoyed having the park to ourselves ;-) (This fact might have something to do with the time of the year, we were there 16 december.)
Opening hours: 9 - 17 except Thanksgiving, 25 december and 1 january.
There is a lot of interesting information regarding area history, habitat, wildlife and more on the linked page.
Everybody that visits the Redwoods want to have a photo taken with his car under drive-thru redwood ! We followed the tradition ! The Chandelier Tree stands in Leggett, 144 km south to Eureka. It is one of four drive-thru giant California redwoods located near US Highway 101. Though I had bought a full size car in order to use it for the family weekends and vacation, I had no problem to drive under the Chandelier tree since the diameter of the tree is 7 meters, which allows easily a tunnel 1.83 meters wide, carved in 1930.
There are several hiking possibilities in the park. We chose the Tall Trees Trail because we wanted to see the really tall trees, and because it is a relatively short walk. Not that we are afraid of long walks, but we were limited in time, and we could drive very close to the Tall Trees Grove.
On the way up to the gate, we stopped at a viewpoint with information boards and restrooms. Nice view, OK to stop if you have not been to the visitor center first and / or you are just driving through the park. There are restrooms at the parking lot where the trail starts too, as well as in the grove. Good thing we used the ones at the parking lot; the ones in the grove were closed! There are brochures to borrow in the shed by the parking lot, with information about what you see during the walk, and corresponding markings by the sights, informative and interesting.
The trail starts with a 1.3 mile descend to the grove. Not too steep, unless you have knee problems. We made several stops to admire and photograph trees on our way down, which was stupid, really, since my breath forced me to stop a couple of times on the way back up ;-) Besides, the most exciting trees were down in the grove. There are benches along the path where you can catch your breath and enjoy the nature.
Shrine drive-thru tree in Myers Flat, 90 km south to Eureka, is another of the four drive-thru giant California redwoods. While Chandelier drive-thru tree is entirely man-carved, Shrine drive-thru tree is half natural : it had sometimes in the past been hit by a lightening and a fire that had opened a wide crack at its base and a chimney to the top (second photo). The crack was widened to allow the passage of cars.
The “World Famous Tree House, Believe it or not" is pictured on thousands of postcards and posters. The above motto gets 121 answers on the web! For ““World Famous Tree House”, there are 1640 answers and most if not all of them refer to this very tree.
The Fraternal Monarch Tree is 83 meters high with a diameter of 11 meters and a circumference close to 34 meters. It is considered to be more than 4,000 years old and was hollowed by a forest fire 800 years ago but is still living and vigorously growing. I have not found when a house was carved in the basement of the tree but postcards dating from 1947 already show it, same as it is now.
Walking among these dignified giants gives me a feeling of solemnity, like being in a sacred place. Some of the trees are 2000 years old! I imagine how it must have been a couple of hundred million years ago when dinosaurs wandered between their ancestors. Only 3 % of the redwoods that existed 200 years ago are saved. The tallest ones are here in this grove, which was preserved by the US Congress in 1968.
There is a 2.6 mile path around the grove. Allow enough time, there are LOTS of reasons to stop. Like the goosepens; cavities in trees. They were used to house geese and ducks, but many of them are large enough to house people :-) I wondered why they were burned on the inside. Turns out that repeated fires during the centuries have burned through the bark, the wood has rotted and dried and burned again (pictures in TL).
I was amased by the shallow roots of these huge trees (pic. 4). Instead of growing deep, the roots grow horizontally and entangle with roots of other trees.
Burls is another "speciality" of the redwood, they are the only conifers that have them. The difference of burls from other wartlike growths is that they have sprouts, and new stems can grow from them to create multistem trees. The burls are normally found at the base. But in in my TL "Mothertrees and burls" I have pictures of burls higher up on the main stem.
Mothertrees are trees that have fallen. Sprouts use the root system of the "mother", which lets them grow faster. Fallen trees are also "used" by other plants. Pictures in TL "Mothertrees and burls". One of the pictures shows how branches of a fallen tree have become trees of their own.
A part of the path goes through a "rain forest". This area is more open, with more or less dead trees covered with moss. They have probably dried out, and sucked in the moisture from the frequent fog and rain, then decided to release this moisture when we passed under them. Kind of fairytale like, a bit creepy, like a witch or a troll could emerge any moment ;-)
Redwood National Park is not only about trees. The beach / ocean is part of it, too, adding to the variety of ecosystems. Several threatened and endagered species of sea mammals, birds and fish can be found here, like Steller's Sea Lion, Brown Pelican and a couple of salmon types. More info about this in the visitor center and on the linked page.
We did not sea any of those except on the info board and in the exhibition. But we admired the beach itself with it's surf and tree trunks and other things the ocean had washed on shore.
5 pictures here, 8 in TL.
The redwood can live 3,000 to 3,500 years. It is most of the time 40 to 60 meters tall but when the climate and the soil fit the best, it can reach 110 meter.
As trees grow or can loose their summit by strong gales, the tallest changes. In 2006, the tallest was named Hyperion and reaches 115,55 meters. It was identified only in 2006 in the Redwood National Park.
15 redwoods are more than 110 meters tall
47 redwoods are more than 105 meters tall
It grows fast when young, slower when aging, which allows its cultivation for lumber producing. Young trees can grow one meter per year.
The redwood was first introduced in Europe in 1840 in Saint Petersbourg by botanists from Fort Ross, a few years later in England and in 1856 in France, where it is now 52 meters tall..
The redwoods once grew on an area of 800,000 hectares. There remains now only 35,000 hectares of this forest and less than 16,000 are protected in several Parks. Several groups work to buy small parts of forest land and once they get enough neighboring parts sell the whole to the State in order to create a new Park. The Sempervirens Fund and the Save the Redwood league are example of this move. Visit their website.
Among the Redwood National and State Parks of the U.S. National Park Service, we can mention :
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
The Lady Bird Johnson Grove
Lilley Redwood Park
The Redwood National and State Parks have been inscribed in 1980 on the Unesco World Heritage List with the following comment (quote)
Redwood National Park comprises a region of coastal mountains bordering the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. It is covered with a magnificent forest of coastal redwood trees, the tallest and most impressive trees in the world. The marine and land life are equally remarkable, in particular the sea lions, the bald eagle and the endangered California brown pelican.
Highway 101 or Route 101 runs along the Pacific coast from Washington State, Oegon and California; In Central and south California, it is also named El Camino Real (the Royal Way). In North California, it is named the Redwood highway. Indeed, when you drive this part of the 101, you will see innumerous redwoods. I could not help but take some more photos of these impressive giants.
I tried to count the number of rings on this “small” redwood but I was surprised to find that there were not so many and that they were not very clearly printed. I wonder if this is because the redwoods grow all year round given that along the coast winters are mild? Anybody have a clue?
There is a booklet you can buy that will tell you information about the trees and their forest. The information coresponds to numbers on the trail. The first stop is entitled Timeless. Walking through the grove it is easy to imagine the people who entered the groves thousands of years ago. Many of these trees have been here over 500 years and some as many as 2000. They are growing in nutrients provided by the previous generation of trees. How many people have looked up in awe at these 370 foot tall giants?
The scientific name for the Coastal Redwood is “sempervirens” which translates to “everlasting”. Some of these trees were here when the Mayans and the Aztecs flourished or when Marco Polo traversed the Asian continent.
This hollowed out redwood is a fire survivor. The fire that helps clear out the underbrush frequently also kills the trees; but not the redwood. The thick bark of a redwood does not contain volatile resins like pines, and firs and its sap is mostly water. This makes the redwood more resistant to fire, however, fire can get through cracks in the bark and damage the more tender inner part of the tree. The hollowed out trees like this one provide important shelter for wildlife.