NORTHWEST COAST #01 – North CA Coast
NORTHWEST COAST #01 – North CA Coast
Map showing route from Santa Rosa to Crescent City
Humbolt Redwoods State Park
After spending a day visiting in Santa Rosa we headed north on US-101. This road is the little sister to the I-5 highway which forms the backbone of the west’s north/south traffic. North of Los Angeles I-5 tends to run through major valley’s inland from the coast and bears the brunt of the massive numbers of trucks plying the routes from San Diego all the way to Seattle and then on up to Vancouver Canada. By contrast many sections of US-101 are not freeway’s (highways to you easterners) and the truck traffic is of a more local nature. In California, US-101 is only at the coastline infrequently whereas in Oregon it pretty much hugs the coast. One can see the Pacific along a few sections near Los Angeles & San Diego and where it crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. But other than that it stays away from the ocean until you hit Eureka and from there on through most of Oregon it is pretty much a coast road.
As we’d traversed the section just north of Santa Rosa, all the way up to where the road gets into the Redwoods many times, we didn’t make any stops until we got into some serious redwoods. In our case this was the Humbolt Redwoods State Park. Now, don’t get me wrong. Along the way there are many Redwood parks. In fact the southern end of the Redwoods is near Santa Cruz (south of San Francisco) and they go all the way up to the Oregon border – including some right along, or very close to, US-101. We just had seen many of these parks quite often so we bypassed them and headed for one we hadn’t been to recently.
Coastal Redwoods only live in a narrow ecological niche based on cool temperatures, fog, drainage, and soil conditions and in a band of California near the coast stretching from Santa Cruz (60 miles south of San Francisco) nearly 600 miles to the Oregon border. Their particular needs, not to mention years of logging, has left them only in isolated groves rather than as a contiguous carpet of trees. Many of these groves have been saved and turned into parks of various kinds and many of these parks are quite wonderful – and famous such as Muir Woods in Marin County near the San Francisco. In fact the stretch of US-101 from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way up to Crescent City near the Oregon border is called the Redwood Highway. Interestingly enough, the entire stretch of US-99 from the Mexican border to the Oregon border (which has been totally replicated by I-5) is also called the Redwood Highway even though it never gets anywhere near a Redwood tree that isn’t on a truck. Even though there were other Redwood parks along the way we just decided to head for one we hadn’t explored much before and which also happened to be right on the highway.
Speaking of roads, there is a subsection of the US-101 Redwood Highway that got its own special name. This is the “Avenue of the Giants” which is a 32 mile stretch from Garberville to Fortuna. This is the section of US-101 that meanders through almost continuous redwood forests. As a kid in the late 1950’s we drove up US-101 through this part of California on a camping trip. At that time US-101 was a 2 lane road the whole way. I remember camping with the family in this area where a ranger told us that when they put in the original 2 lane road (Avenue of the Giants), they did so without cutting down any mature redwood trees. And, as we drove up and down that road his statement seemed to hold water as there were several sections where the road narrowed down to about one and half lanes where it squeezed between two large trees. Just about wide enough for two cars to pass each other but if one was pulling a trailer or was a bus or truck, forget it. You just had to wait till the traffic coming the other way was clear. Apparently, since that time they widened out those sections as we didn’t encounter any on this 2016 trip. Or, maybe my memory is not that good.
I believe that camping trip was in 1958 or 1959 because I recall that when we looked up the mountain from our campsite we could see a lot of road construction going on a hundred yards or so above us on the hillside. And, according to Wikipedia, the Avenue of the Giants section of US-101 was replaced by a freeway that bypassed most of the redwood groves in 1960.
Reaching for the Sky. Avenue of the Giants Near Meyers Flat
What we’re talking about here are what’s commonly referred to as the Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens) which are the only kind that grow in the NW part of California. The Giant Sequoia Redwoods (Sequoiadendron Giganteum) are in the Sierra Mountains around Yosemite and Kings Canyon and there is a 3rd type (Dawn Redwoods - Etasequoia Glyptostrobides) that doesn’t grow in North America at all – it is native to central China. The Giant Redwoods in the Sierra’s are the largest living things in the world,
The Coastal Redwoods are the tallest living things in the world. They are typically 150 – 200 feet tall with some reaching 350 feet with a diameter of 12 to 20 feet. Not as big around as its cousins in the Sierra’s but taller. Some of these trees are known to be over 2,000 years old. Not as old as the Bristlecone Pines but 2,000 years isn’t bad. There’s one tree, which we didn’t see on this trip, called the “Immortal” which is not the oldest around but has had pretty good luck. It is over 950 years old, and is currently around 250 ft (76 m) tall. Not only has it survived a lot of years, but it came through a massive 1964 flood, a 1908 attempt at logging it (they didn’t succeed), and a direct lightning strike which removed the top of the tree reducing its height from 300ft to its current height.
The heart of the Avenue of the Giants is between Myers Flat and Red Crest and is now a part of Humbolt Redwoods State Park. Humbolt Redwoods State Park is 53,000 acres, 17,000 acres of which form the largest continuous stretch of old-growth Redwoods on earth. There are many places in the park to see the trees and in fact you can’t miss them as the Avenue of the Giants road goes right through the forest. But it’s a good idea to stop in at the visitor center and get some guidance.
Cluster of Redwoods, Avenue of the Giants Near Meyers Flat
In the early 1900’s, the logging folks came to this area to harvest these magnificent old trees for grape stakes, railroad ties, fence posts and shingles. A group of people thought this was tantamount to chopping up an antique grandfather clock for kindling wood so they formed the Save the Redwoods League to try and save them. They raised funds through donations and in 1921 bought their first grove. Since then they have raised millions to buy groves of trees and save them from the loggers. Over the decades it was a race between the League and the saw mills to buy up property containing redwood trees. Many times, such as at Dyerville Flats, the lumber company just started logging without bothering to acquire the property first. Even as logging was dismantling major groves of these redwoods, in the 1930’s the Rockefellers donated $1 million to save them which was added to another $800,000 from small donors and that was matched with funds from the newly minted California State Park System. With that money they were able to save another 13,600 acres in the Dyerville Flat and Bull Creek Basin.
However, the lumber companies got and logged large areas upstream in the Bull Creek watershed. In 1955 the worst fears – and predictions – of the conservationists came true. With much of the upper reaches of the Bull Creek watershed laid bare by logging, heavy rains that year caused massive flooding down stream and wiped out over 50 acres and 300 trees in the Rockefeller Forest. At that time in the politics of the country, you didn’t want a Rockefeller pissed off at you, not to mention the CA State Park system and the countless others who had donated land and money to acquire those properties. A case was made that nothing is protected unless the entire watershed is protected and a few years later the state purchased the entire Bull Creek watershed for the park which doubled its size.
Root Stump of downed Redwood, Avenue of Giants near Meyer Flat
We entered the park on the Avenue of the Giants (CA-254) from the South. As this road meanders through the redwoods, there are many parking areas on both sides of the road where you can park and wander through these majestic giants. Being October, finding a parking spot was never an issue and in most cases we had the grove or trail to ourselves. On our visit it was mostly a bright overcast day but the sun peaked through from time to time. It had rained recently so the forest was damp which muffled sounds and also caused a bit of mist to rise up where the sun hit the wet ground illuminating broken shafts of sunlight streaking through the forest.
After a stop at the visitor center, and armed with some better maps, next stop this day was at the Founders Grove, a bit north of the Visitor Center where there was a 0.6 mile loop trail. This self-guided Nature Loop is very level and takes you by the Founders’ Tree (named in honor of the founders of Save the Redwoods League) as well as the Dyerville Giant, a 362-foot redwood that fell in 1991.
Dyerville Tree, Founders Grove, Humbolt Redwoods State Park, CA
Forest Floor, Founders Grove, Humbolt Redwoods State Park, CA
Dyerville Giant, fell in 1991, Founders Grove, Humbolt Redwoods State Park
Redwood Burles, Founders Grove, Humbolt Redwoods State Park
From here we took a short drive to the Rockefeller Forest on other side of the South Fork of the Eel River. The Rockefeller Forest is by the confluence of Bull Creek and the South Fork of the Eel River.
The Rockefeller Loop Trail goes through a portion of the Rockefeller Forest with a classic groundcover of redwood needles along with redwood sorrel and dotted with occasional ferns. Walking through this forest has a real primordial feel and you almost expect to see dinosaurs to come crashing through the woods – especially with the wetness of the recent rains and misty air.
In 1917 several prominent men traveled to Humboldt County to see these trees including John D. Rockefeller and had taken a tour of the area with the Save-the-Redwoods League. They were quite impressed. A number of years later, in 1931 the Save-the-Redwoods League purchased the land from the Pacific Lumber with a pair of million-dollar donations from the Rockefeller and matching funds from the state.
Save-the Redwoods League is still actively saving forests with the help of generous philanthropists.
The loop trail is 0.6 miles long, level and even though there is no paving or planking, it is ADA Accessible. In other words it is very level. Unlike the nature trail in the Founders Grove, there are no numbered sign posts here, just pristine forest.
Looking up, Rockefeller Loop Trail, Rockefeller Forest, Humbolt Redwoods State Park, CA
ADA Accessible trail, Rockefeller Loop Trail, Rockefeller Forest, Humbolt Redwoods State Park, CA
Redwood needles aglow, Rockefeller Loop Trail, Rockefeller Forest, Humbolt Redwoods State Park, CA
Sunrays in the Redwoods, Rockefeller Loop Trail, Rockefeller Forest, Humbolt Redwoods State Park, CA
As we continued up the west coast we arrived at Crescent City where we’d be spending the night.
Crescent City is the only incorporated city in Del Norte County and was named for the crescent-shaped beach south of the city. The listed population of 7,643 (2010 census) includes inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison. It’s main claim to fame, now that the logging industry is only a splinter of its former self, is fishing which is helped out by its good harbor. The city is located only about 20 miles (32 km) south of the Oregon border.
One of the less attractive aspects of Crescent City, as well as the Oregon and Washington coast, is that of geologic activity. The Cascadia Subduction Zone where the Pacific tectonic plate dives under the North American plate is just offshore which makes this area prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. But not just from this fault line. Much of the city was destroyed by four tsunami waves generated by the Good Friday earthquake off the coast of Anchorage, Alaska in 1964. More recently, the city's harbor suffered extensive damage and destruction due to tsunamis generated by a March 11, 2011 earthquake off Sendai, Japan – you many have seen news footage of this on TV. Several dozen vessels and many of the docks they were moored to were destroyed as wave cycles related to the tsunamis exceeded 8 feet (2.4 m). But it’s all rebuilt now. This is also one of the areas along the North American Pacific coast that attracts debris washing in from the sea including some from the recent Japan tsunami
Other than the Battery Point Lighthouse, and a place to sleep, we didn’t spend much time in Crescent City. The Battery Point Lighthouse was one of the first lighthouses in California. Due to the difficult terrain along this section of California coast, in the 19th century most transportation was done by ships. In 1855, Congress appropriated $15,000 for the construction of a lighthouse on a tiny island connected to Battery Point by an isthmus that gets flooded over at each high tide. It was first turned on in 1856 and subsequently automated in 1953. The 1964 Alaska earthquake, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, caused a tsunami which the lighthouse survived. In the following year, the rotating beacon was turned off and a flashing light at the end of the nearby breakwater served as the harbor's navigational aid. But then in 1982, the light in the lighthouse tower was lit again, and the Battery Point Lighthouse was listed as a private aid to navigation.
At low tide you can walk on over to the lighthouse and at certain times in the summer the house is open for tours.
Battery Point Lighthouse from beach near our Hotel
Battery Point Lighthouse, Crescent City, CA
Flotsam collected at Battery Point Lighthouse, Crescent City, CA
Battery Point Lighthouse, Crescent City, CA
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I hope you enjoyed reading this episode of our North Coast trip. The next installment will be the Oregon coast.
- These and other Images of this trip can be found on my website at.
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Thanks for reading – Comments Appreciated -- Dan
Keywords: Avenue of the Giants, Blog, CA, California, Coast Highway, Dan Hartford Photo, DanTravelBlog, DanTravelBlogNWCoast, Dyerville Tree, Founders Grove, Humbolt Redwoods State Park, Humbolt State Park, Redwood Forest, Redwood Highway, Redwood Trees, Rockefeller Forest
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