Traveling along the Oregon Coast and magnificent interior Douglas fir-Sitka spruce forests, we turned southward toward Crescent City, California on Route 199 in search of Jedediah Smith State Park not far from the Oregon border. At last we arrived at a park service headquarters ten miles north of Crescent City to discover that all the coastal redwood groves are protected by a series of state parks and national parks and are being coordinated as one entity by the federal government. Though these parks are almost surrounded by current lumbering operations.
We asked a park ranger where we could find Jedediah Smith State Park, and he directed us eastward on route 199 by just two miles to the Howland Ridge Drive and then to a dirt road turnoff into the Stout Grove of Jedediah Smith State Park. Soon we drove passed occasional giant trees rising skyward well over 150 feet. Then one or two even higher giants rose twice as high! To think that these redwoods once covered almost the entire North American Continent over 20 million years ago is mind-blowing.
Anxiously, we drove into a parking space within the Stout Grove. The strong scent of a thickly vegetated undergrowth of sward and bracken ferns, mosses and many blossoms of wood rose and thimble-berries permeated the air as we walked along the loop trail into Stout Grove. Thanks to the tireless efforts of forest conservationists, this California state park was established in 1929 to protect these giant trees from the lumber industry forever.
These groves were named after the hunter, trapper and woodsman who was the first white man to explore interior northern California where he trapped such fur-bearing animals as black bears, mountain lions, beaver and river otters. Thankfully today this park and numerous others not only preserves the redwoods but all of its animals including a rich variety of birds.
We rapidly approached the giant trees interspersed with Sitaka spruce, red cedars and Douglas firs. My wife Maura stopped to stare in wonder ever skyward where the tallest of trees rose well over 300 feet (the height of a thirty-story office building). She remarked that both here and in the John Muir Woods just north of San Francisco, these trees seemed to be a family, a great extended family. She couldn’t help but feel the kinship. The Yurok Indians of northern California, who have lived here for over 4,000 years, believe the same thing—that the redwoods and the Yurok people together along with all of the birds, mammals, plants and other trees are part of a village, a grand village that is connected together spiritually as well as physically. Yurok people advice non-Indian visitors to sit down at the base of a giant redwood and think good thoughts!
While Stellar’s jays squawked and chestnut-backed chickadees chirped in the deep forest, we approached a grandfather giant (perhaps 2,000 years old going back to the time of Christ). I decided to measure the tree by the number of paces it took to go around the tree. Want to guess? Sixty feet is the answer! We kept on necks craned skyward, but surely our hearts went upward as well (sursum corda). We came up to a fallen tree whose thickly-barked, fire resistant trunk stretched out half the length of a football field. Its roots had been upended by flooding run-off waters of an earlier storm coming down-slope from clear-cut ridge tops outside the park. The size of this thing made us feel like Alice in wonderland, mere midgets in an amazingly huge forest.
John Muir once remarked, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools,–only Uncle Sam can do that.”
And thanks to his efforts and many other conservationists of over a hundred years ago, we can enjoy them today and perhaps sing Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land is Your Land, this land is my land, from the Redwood Forests….
The reader might want to lend a helping hand by joining Save-the-Redwoods League.