This past Monday, we continued our exploration of California’s redwood coast (and checked another national park off our list!) at Redwood National and State Parks. In an unusual–and according to a 15-year volunteer at one of the visitor’s centers, largely dysfunctional–arrangement, the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation jointly manage the combination of federal lands and three former state parks.

Ferns lining the Foothill Trail
Ferns lining the Foothill Trail

The knowledgeable volunteer suggested that we hike a 2.2 mile loop at the southern end of the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. The 10-mile parkway itself, the main road in this part of the parks, had already been closed to vehicles for three months for removal of a downed redwood across the road, and has no timetable for reopening. (An example of the dysfunction cited by the volunteer.) The loop starts near the Elk Prairie Campground Visitor’s Center, and follows the Foothill Trail up the east side of the Drury Parkway, and then returns to the Visitor’s Center via the Prairie Creek Trail on the west side.

Even though this area, like the Founders Grove we visited a view days earlier, is an old-growth redwood forest, it felt quite different to us. Here, more sunlight reaches the forest floor, which is covered with lush ferns and other plants as a result. It felt to me like something right out of Jurassic Park, so we weren’t too surprised to learn that an enormous tree near the start of the trail was featured prominently in one scene in Jurassic Park 2. Some of the speeder chase scenes set on the forest moon of Endor in Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi were also shot nearby.

Huge redwood featured in Jurassic Park II
Huge redwood seen in Jurassic Park 2

Redwoods have shallow root systems, so they naturally tend to be felled by high winds at some point in their lives. In some areas, the trail was routed through spots where the downed trees had split or rotted away on their own.

Cheryl on the Foothill Trail
Cheryl hiking the Foothill Trail
Foothill Trail passes beneath a fallen redwood
Foothill Trail passes beneath a fallen redwood

But where trees had fallen across the trail more recently, the park service cut out sections so the trail could get through, creating some spectacular underpasses and tunnels.

Redwood tunnel on Foothill Trail
From around a curve on the Foothill Trail before we got to this point, it looked like the top tree was blocking our way!
The Prairie Creek Trail passes right through two gigantic redwoods
The Prairie Creek Trail passes right through two gigantic redwoods

We spotted this little guy on a tree branch near the trail, probably hoping for a dropped crumb or two.

Squirrel on a branch near the Foothill Trail
Squirrel on a branch near the Foothill Trail

All the trail signs in this area point to its major landmark, the not-so-creatively-named Big Tree. I mean, you could apply that moniker to dozens of the other nearby trees; they couldn’t come up with anything more catchy? 😉

The Big Tree. It's...well...big.
The Big Tree. It’s…well…big.

OK, so the Big Tree’s statistics are pretty impressive: 304 feet tall, 21.6 foot diameter, 68 foot circumference, and an estimated 1500 years old.

As the trail crossed back over the road, we got a nice glimpse down the empty Drury Parkway. It would have been a nice drive if it had been open, but on the other hand, hiking the nearby trails without the noise of cars on the road was enjoyable too.

View down Drury Parkway
View down the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. (Cheryl in the bottom left corner for scale.)

Just before we left the parkway, we saw this moss-covered tree (not a redwood, obviously) that seemed to glow in the sunlight.

Moss-covered tree on Drury Scenic Parkway
Moss-covered tree on Drury Scenic Parkway

From the return trail, we were treated to frequent views of Prairie Creek, which the trail generally parallels, and crosses over in several places. I could listen to this peaceful sound all day!

Footpath over Prairie Creek
Footpath over Prairie Creek

The redwoods on the west side of the parkway were just as impressive as the Big Tree, if not even more so.

Another huge redwood
Dwarfed by another huge redwood

After we returned to our truck, we drove a few miles north to the Klamath River Overlook, on the north side of the mouth of the Klamath River where it empties into the Pacific Ocean. This was another suggestion from the volunteer at the visitor’s center, and an “off-the-beaten-path” sight we surely would have missed except for his local knowledge. The overlook is perched 900 feet above the water.

View from the Klamath River Overlook
View from the Klamath River Overlook

By this time, the sun was setting and the air was getting colder. So we drove the 45 minutes back to Trinidad, and after a quick dinner we caught the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse in the fading dusk. The lighthouse was built as a memorial to local sailors lost or buried at sea.

Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse
Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse at dusk, looking towards Trinidad Bay

John Steinbeck once wrote:

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.

After our visits to the California redwoods, I can tell you that he was absolutely right. Words and photographs can’t do them justice; you owe it to yourself to see them in person.

“Ambassadors from Another Time” in Redwood National and State Parks
Tagged on:                 

Leave a Reply