Before coming on this epic road trip across America, I had one experience at the very top of my list. I wanted to see giant trees. I told everyone that asked me about our journey. I even booked our campsite in California before we left home in West Virginia. So, driving south from Oregon, I had my sights on Redwood National Park-home to the tallest trees on Earth.
But, as things happen, we got distracted and took a little detour. We stopped at Trees of Mystery in Klamath, CA, mostly because we all needed to go to the bathroom. But, then once we stopped, we decided to stay a while. I’m so glad we did. The first things you see from the parking lot are giant statues of Paul Bunyan, Babe the blue ox, and a big gift shop. We have seen statues like these in quite a few places across the country and I was a little worried that we might be getting ourselves into a tourist trap situation. But, this park-like attraction is far from a roadside gimmick.
Coming from northern California, this is one of the first places to see redwood trees up close and personal. It is a collection of trails showing off the grandeur of the giants.
Ok, let’s pause for a moment. At this point, you may be wondering, “Why is this girl so enthralled with trees? What’s the big deal? She drove across the entire country just to see trees?”
Let me try to put into words how incredible they are. First, let’s consider their size. These trees are taller than the Statue of Liberty. They are the size of a 35-story skyscraper. They weigh about 1.4 million pounds.
Next, they are full of surprises. The seeds of these trees are about the same size as a tomato seed. They have very shallow roots, they only go down a few feet before spreading outward. Their cones are only about an inch long.
Finally, they are resilient. They usually survive forest fires because their bark is about a foot thick. They have a high concentration of tannins in their bark which makes them highly resistant to fungus, disease, and burrowing insects. And, they can reproduce in three different ways. First, they experience typical seed reproduction. Second, they have burls. Burls are hard knotty growths on the tree from a dormant seedling encased in the living tree. Their growth is held in check by the chemical signals of the dominant tree. If that tree should die or be heavily stressed (by fire or low rainfall, etc.) the seedling in the burl will burst forth in growth and mature into a new tree. The third way these titans live on is when a tree is knocked down, new growth will come from the living remains of that tree. These shoots will eventually become individual trees in their own right, sort of rising from the ashes into new life.
Some coastal redwoods are more than 2000 years old. This means they were alive during the crucifixion of Christ and the building of the Roman Colosseum. They were old by the time the Vikings were discovering Iceland, the Crusades were raging on, and the Ming dynasty was formed. They are ancient, mysterious, and awe-inspiring. When you stand among them, it’s humbling. For me, being among them is akin to a spiritual experience. They inspire me. It seems that there’s nothing on the planet so tenacious and strong and they’re beautiful. They’ve literally stood the test of time and they will be here far longer than me.
So, I will now step down from my tree hugger podium and tell you more about the attraction we visited in Klamath.
The first trail is the called the Kingdom of Trees Trail. There are informational placards along the way. This is where the Cathedral Tree stands. It is a semicircle of nine trees growing as one. The owners hosts a yearly Easter Service here and perform wedding ceremonies here all the time.
“We should have gotten married here!” I told Jason.
The Forest Experience Trail houses the Towering Inferno Tree. This tree survived a lightning strike and a fire. They have something called the Redwood Canopy Trail. 50-100 high in the trees sits wooden platforms. These platforms are connected by a spiral staircase and netted suspension bridges. You walk from platform to platform high in the canopy. I loved every minute of it. It was like a mix of my beloved redwoods and a Swiss Family Robinson-like adventure.
Next, is a gondola ride up the mountain to see the trees from above. There is an observation deck at the top. This part was my kid’s favorite part of the day.
There’s also a Trail of Tall Tales. This one features chainsaw carvings and silly stories.
Last, there is a Native American museum. They call it, the End of the Trail Collection. It’s a really impressive, expansive private collection of artifacts. There are all sorts of interesting things to see. The museum is separate from the rest of the attraction. So, admission to this section is free. The owners see it as a gift to the public. It’s a treasure and worth the stop just for the museum.
Next, we drove to our RV park, Ancient Redwoods RV Park in Redcrest, CA. It was very clean and well-maintained and the location was perfect. They have wild berries growing on the property and they welcomed us to pick all we wanted. I love picking berries in the summertime back home. So, this made me so happy.
I was a little confused about the National Park maps I was studying in this area. So, I called the park service and a really friendly Ranger explained that the state of California established three state parks here. Then, the federal government wanted to protect the trees that were outside the state property, so they purchased the land all around and between the state parks. The result is a huge tract of land where state and federal property lines are blurred and run seamlessly throughout the groves. The ranger told me they he and the other employees don’t always know where state land or federal land starts and stops. They put aside bureaucracy and just protected the trees. What a refreshing idea!
The drive through the parks is mesmerizing. But, walking the trails is an experience like no other. The canopy of the trees makes the forest cool and dim. A thin fog is nearly always present. Sometimes, a ray of sun will find an opening between limbs and cast a beam through the mist. The forest floor is covered in huge ferns and a clover-like plant called Redwood Sorrel. Feathery pine needles and rich soil scent the air. If you’re here the right time of year, you’ll see the rhododendron’s giant pink blossoms blooming in the understory. It looks like a fairytale. You almost expect to see an elf or some other mythical creature step into view. It’s very quiet here. If you do see another person, they will probably say hello in a hushed voice. People are respectful of the trees. The space seems too sacred for loud outbursts.
John Muir said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
I’m in love with nature. It soothes me. It heals me. It makes me feel closer to God. And, this is especially true among the Redwoods. They feel eternal. The cycle of nature is on full display here. Fallen trees are returning to the soil and giving nutrients for new life to spring up. It feels like hallowed ground. I enjoyed just sitting and enjoying the quiet and I loved walking all the trails.
There are tons of trails to choose from. The Humboldt State Park section alone has over a hundred trails. Go to the visitor’s center on your arrival and a volunteer or Ranger with help match you to the best trails for your physical ability and how much time you have.
One of the more memorable things we saw was a “hermit house.” Apparently, someone made a tiny home inside of a redwood stump.
Of course, there are trees you can drive through in the area, a redwood log house, burl galleries with carved wood furniture and figurines, and lots of gift shops. This is a great place for camping and biking as well. Overall, Redwood National and State Parks were everything I hoped they would be.