Few trees are as magnificent as the California coast redwoods – living behemoths whose size and height seem to make a mockery of other trees nearby. And while there are a handful of scattered locations around the state to see them, my absolute favorite place is the “Avenue of the Giants,” an incredible 27 km (17 mile) drive through northern California’s ancient redwood forest. The road is lined by some of the largest trees in the world. It closely parallels US Highway 101 and is part of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, one of California’s largest state parks. Is it kind of far from the nearest big city? Yes. Does it take some time to get to? Yes. Should you visit anyways? Yes, definitely!
What are the coast redwoods anyways?
Even the lowest branches of a full-grown tree are way up in the sky, 30+ meters (100+ feet) above. Each branch is as large as a normal tree. The coast redwoods produce an entirely different and unique ecosystem on the canopy – basically, a forest within a forest. The beauty of Humboldt Redwoods State Park is not only visual but also audible. It is mostly silent – the scattered twitter of birds and the whoosh of the wind swirling around the great trunks provide a soothing feeling to the entire experience. Also, consider that these trees have survived countless wildfires over the centuries and millennia. Some have giant cavities hollowed out by fire. Early settlers used these for shelter for their livestock. Another, far worse threat has come from humans. Redwoods became victims of the industrial revolution, prized for the massive volume of wood they could deliver. Gigantic stumps can be found virtually all across northern California. One can only imagine how magnificent these forests once were…
Visiting the Avenue of the Giants
Avenue of the Giants is a four hour drive north of San Francisco, the nearest big city. While not really remote, it is far enough to dispel most would-be visitors. Hey, even more reason to visit! As you pull off from US Highway 101 onto Highway 254 (the Avenue), you’ll drive through groves of trees taller than the entire outstretched height of the Statue of Liberty. The road meanders through the coniferous forest, passing by hundreds of coast redwoods. There are plenty of turnouts and parking areas to stop and view the trees up close. Some are more popular than others, with awe-struck tourists all staring up, cameras clicking away. At other stops, one can find complete solitude. (You know, for that perfect selfie.)
Many groves also have collapsed trees that you can walk on, another fascinating experience. That’s when you really start to appreciate their scale. Staring at their girth, or looking up the trunk to try to spy at the top of the tree, is a breath-taking experience. Words escape me, the feeling of awe and wonder is simply too difficult to describe. I shudder to think what thunderous sound they must make when they fall over. That leaves me to wonder: if a coast redwood falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound? Hm, this is one of many questions you can ponder as you sit in the silent forest, surrounded by nature’s glorious giants. My conclusion: according to the law of conservation of energy, yes, they do make a sound! (Philosophy 0, Science 1.)
What conclusion will you come to?
Learn more about Humboldt Redwoods State Park.