Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Nature at its most noble: the redwood groves are the cathedrals of the natural world. In deep shade we move amongst these giants, the sunlight occasionally slanting down to the soft carpet of needles and cones. Even with other people around, there is a sense of calm – karma if that’s your thing – a hush. People speak in quiet tones; but mostly they listen to the minimal soundscape: a zephyr’s breath of wind, an ethereal bird hoot, a tiny buzz of insect wings.
Now we are in northern California. For several hundred miles you pass through what remains of the coastal redwoods. The old growth trees are huge – up to 100m tall, 5m in diameter, 2000 years old. The native American nations knew and respected them; but within a couple of generations the white settlers had destroyed 96% of the forests. Still these remnants give us a good feeling for what those primeval groves must have been like. Close together, some fallen or burnt in ancient forest fires, a jumble of underbrush and decaying trunks – but mostly they rise straight and true, up to the canopy to catch the bright Californian sun, way out of sight above us.
This is something everyone should experience once in their lives. These giants only exist here in the coastal mists of northern California. A closely related species, the sequoia, are only found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, further south, in Yosemite and nearby.
There are many opportunities on our way south. Just outside Crescent City there is the remarkable Howland Hill Road, a dirt track just about big enough for cars that winds between the giant trunks, and takes you to the Stout Grove, where one of the oldest and biggest trees stands. The Jedediah Smith State Park is also accessible from Crescent City. It is basically a campground but you can take a very pleasant walk from here, across the river and up to Stout Grove. Travelling south, there are many stands of redwoods, and diversions off the main road to see them, in the Redwood National park itself and beyond – in particular, the 30-mile Avenue of the Giants, at Humboldt State Park,
We continued along Route 101, taking in the trees and many good sea views too, until it starts to peel away from the coast. So we turned back to the coast, picking up the start of the legendary California Route 1 – the Coastal Highway that runs from here all the way through San Francisco and beyond Los Angeles.