In the extreme north coastal region of California, near the border with Oregon, are Redwood State and National Parks (RSNP). This conglomeration of parks features some of the last remaining stands of old growth coast redwoods, the tallest trees on Earth. UNESCO designated RSNP as a World Heritage Site on September 5, 1980 and as an International Biosphere Reserve on June 30, 1983.
Coast redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens, prefer temperate wet and foggy climates. Ideal growing conditions exist near along Pacific coast near the border between Oregon and California. It is estimated that before commercial logging and clearing began around the time of the California Gold Rush in the 1850’s, there were 2.1 million acres of redwood forest. Today, the redwood acreage is lower. Now only 4% of the original old growth redwood forests remain.
There could easily be no remaining old growth redwoods. Early in the 20th Century commercial logging threatened the last untouched ancient groves. Largely through the efforts of Save the Redwoods, much of what endures from the once massive old growth redwood forests has been protected. Now forty-five percent of the protected historic coastal redwoods in California lie within the boundaries Redwood State and National Parks.
Starting in the 1920’s the land acquired to protect the old growth redwoods was incorporated into the parklands. California State parks were established in the area starting in the 1920’s. Much later, in 1968, a National Park was inaugurated. In 2010, Redwoods marked 418,820 visits. The park ranks 38th out of the 58 United States National Parks.
The grassroots conservation efforts produced a hodgepodge of State and National Parks more or less fused together. With an earlier start, State Parks ended up with some particularly choice bits of parkland. But it’s best not to differentiate the state and federal parks. Just like the similar disjointed arrangement in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park area, you visit the combined parks as if they were one entity. Indeed the entrance signs read “Redwood National and State Parks;” the signs do not distinguish between the state and federal jurisdiction. Visitor centers provide information and maps for both the national and state lands.
Beyond the towering redwoods, parklands protect other natural marvels. Pristine stretches of sandy beach stretch for miles. Herds of Roosevelt Elk, the largest of North America’s elk subspecies, graze free in the park.
A visit to Fern Canyon took us past both beach and elk. The bottom of Fern Canyon sits near a beachfront meadow. In the canyon we scrambled along the canyon’s shallow stream working to avoid an inadvertent plunge into the deeper sections of the cold flowing water. Fern Canyon is an unexpected surprise. The walls of the ravine are near vertical. Though the canyon sides are covered with dense vegetation, visitor’s voices reverberate. This square-walled gorge looks landscaped; the fern walls would be at home in the courtyard of a modern office building.
Naturally it is the redwoods make this National Park unique. Choice patches of the big trees are in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in the National Park and in the Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Standing amongst the trees it is hard to tell just how high the top branches reach. Indeed, the height of what turned out to be the tallest tree in the world, the near mythical Hyperion Tree, was only determined in 2006. Casual visitors cannot view Hyperion; to protect the ecosystem, the precise location of this tree is not been publicly disclosed.
The high tree canopy filters the coastal fog and mutes the sunlight. It’s quiet in the trees; it feels like being inside. Standing on the floor of the forest, the vegetation is lush. Amongst the Giant Sequoias and in some other stands of coast redwoods, little grows below the canopy. Here in wet of the North Coast, plants adapted to the low light prosper below the treetops.
In Redwoods and other National Parks it can seem like another world. George Lucas agrees. The “Endor” scenes of “Return of the Jedi” were filmed in the Tall Trees Redwood Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Though the parks are unlikely to mimic a true off Earth experience, one thing is unquestionable: National Parks are they a lot easier to visit.
There’s more to see on Picasa.