No description, no photograph, no video can prepare you for a face-to-face encounter with the tallest trees on the planet. Towering as much as 300 feet or more overhead, and living often in excess of 1,500 years, the coastal redwoods of northern California are a sight to behold. Awe-inspiring! Sequoia sempervirens is truly a marvel of the natural world.
Steph and I recently vacationed on the Oregon coast for a week, and then took four days to travel south to Crater Lake and through the redwoods national park of northern California before flying back to the Twin Cities from Sacramento. We’d visited Crater Lake just the day before the redwoods, and although it’s ‘unfair’ to make a comparison between Crater Lake (‘spectacular’) and the redwoods (‘awesome’), if I had to choose which one moved me more, I would have to plump for the redwoods.
My original plan was to overnight in Brookings (just north of the Oregon-California state line), visit the various national and state redwood parks, return to Brookings for a second night, and then head south to Sacramento. What was I thinking about? In any case, once I was in the USA, I did a little more online research and discovered that access to some of the tallest trees in the Redwood National Park had been closed to vehicles, and that some of the more spectacular sights were to be found further south in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Avenue of the Giants. So I was easily able to change our hotel reservations, spending the first night, as planned in Brookings, and the second at Garberville, some 205 miles south, and about halfway to Sacramento. It was a good decision.
If you ever get chance to see the redwoods, a good place to start is the information center in Crescent City, along US101 (the Redwood Highway), on the south side of the town.
The staff in the information center couldn’t have been more helpful and pleasant. They gave us several brochures, and advised on the best sights and routes. While vehicle access to the Tall Trees Grove (much further south) was now restricted, they encouraged us to visit an ancient stand of redwoods in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, just a few miles away to the northeast. In fact we’d passed the northern access road to this park as we entered Crescent City. And in particular they recommended we visit Stout Memorial Grove, reached on a dirt, but easily passable track (especially if you have an SUV as we did). Stout Memorial Grove, only 40-some acres in extent, has some fine old redwoods. Had the long-term fate of the redwoods not been recognized early last century, the forests would have been logged out and destroyed. The early settlers in this part of California had no vision for the future, and must have seen the redwoods as an inexhaustible resource. How wrong they were.
Moving on south, we took the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway as a diversion from US101, through Elk Prairie (where we actually saw some elk), and on to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, dedicated by former President Richard M Nixon to former First Lady and wife of President Lyndon B Johnson.
US101 is not called the Redwood Highway for nothing. As you drive along, you move into and out of various stands of these magnificent trees (as you saw in the video above). But just south of Scotia, there is an opportunity to leave US101 for a while at Exit 674, and take CA254 for the 31-mile scenic drive Avenue of the Giants (a clip of which is shown at the beginning of the video). The two-lane highway meanders through the trees that ‘took no prisoners’ when it came to determining the road’s route. Driving slowly along the ‘Avenue’ was just a memorable trip, a delight. And here are some of the memorable sights of that awe-inspiring day.
Then we rejoined US101 and rolled into Garberville, which lies just south of the south entrance to the Avenue of the Giants, for our penultimate night on this once-in-a-lifetime OR-CA road trip.