Sunday, January 29, 2012

Albino Redwood

I visited a Redwood Grove I've never been to before over the weekend, not expecting much, but being totally blown away again. The area is another Northern California gem, just a gorgeous, gorgeous place. "Wow" was the word of the day.
 Unfortunately, I'm going to leave out the name of the grove because I found an albino redwood growing there. Keeping with the spirit of secrecy that these rare trees have inspired amongst redwood enthusiasts, I'll have to remain quiet about its location.

 The picture above was a leaning giant. An incredible lean in fact. Standing behind it almost gave the sensation that a person could walk up the spine to the top.
  I spent most of the day measuring the circumferences of the larger trees in the grove. The two pictures above are taken from different angles of the same tree. 51 feet, 10.5 inches takes second place amongst the redwoods I have measured. Although this tree appeared to be two trees that had fused together at the base. They separated into different trees about 40 feet up or so.

 There was also a beautiful river flowing next to the grove. It was fascinating to be able to step out of the forest, onto the sunny river bank where the temperatures were much warmer, and then step back into the forest. It was like stepping through a portal into different worlds.
 How we protect and conserve these special, unique ecosystems was on my mind a lot again. Nothing in this world is protected forever. State Park closures in California are a testament to that. It is an ever present, ongoing struggle, and it is hard to feel like these last few old growth groves are safe.
 Late in the afternoon, I found the rare albino redwood that I mentioned earlier. (Just a hint, this one was in neither of the parks mentioned in the article.)  I had seen pictures online, so I knew what they looked like. I didn't realize how rare they actually were. This one also looked like a small bush growing or feeding at the base of a larger tree. Pretty cool. Of course, most of my pictures were really blurry, thanks to the late afternoon light (or lack thereof) in the forest.
Perhaps the best way to save these last few fantastic trees is to take it one generation at a time. Like a tough day at work, sometimes I try to get through an hour at a time. Before I know it, the day is done. 500 years seems like an eternity in human time. Most of the redwoods were cut down in three or four generations, counting a generation as 35 years. We are looking at 14 generations to bring back some of the old growth acreage, assuming that the trees can withstand the changes that may occur to their climate in that time. That's a long time to protect something. Hopefully, our kids, grand kids and great grand kids will want to do their part as well.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Navarro River Redwoods and Grand Fir?

(Massive redwood stump, Navarro River)
I stopped by a redwood grove along the Navarro River again after I finished my job in Pt. Arena. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day on the coast. Thanks to the Save the Redwoods League, portions of redwood forest have been saved hopefully for future generations. I started my exploration by taking a picture of a massive stump of a redwood that had been logged. However, I didn't want to focus on that today.
(Burly redwood giant, Navarro River)
This is going to a rockstar redwood grove in 500 years or so. The habitat is perfect. As long as we can preserve it, educate our youth, and show some self restraint, the redwoods along the Navarro River will once again be epic. I did manage to find one fairly large redwood mutant, pretty close to the river. Actually many of the redwoods here looked like mutants, with all sorts of strange branches, burls and reiterated trunks sprouting from the main trunk.
(Grand firs? above)
 Eventually I walked towards two monster trees that clearly were not redwoods. I searched all around the bases to look for cones. I found one odd shaped cone, and also collected several small, dead branches.
(Grand firs? above)
The needles looked very similar to redwoods and Douglas firs. After looking through my California conifer book, I was led to believe that these two trees might be Grand Firs. On one hand, I'm finding that figuring out the different conifers is easier than I expected, but on the other hand more difficult. They all look so different depending on their age, and as soon as I think I've got one figured out, I notice something that makes me think it's something different.
(Standing between two enormous Grand Firs? Navarro River)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Redwood Logging Industry (1947)

Interesting old footage of logging the Redwood forests.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


 I drove up to Montgomery Woods today despite the heavy rains that have pummeled the area the last few days. It's nice to see the forests getting a good soaking. With the moisture, was this little salamander. Haven't seen many this year, probably because they've been hiding in the damp spots. Now that the rain is here, perhaps they feel more comfortable venturing out.
 I decided to explore an area of the park that is off the beaten path. In fact, I'm not even sure I was in the park. I wanted to see if there were any hidden giants tucked away in the forest. It was a brutal slog, but rewarding. I did not find any personal record breaking trees, but I did measure quite a few Douglas Firs.
 My bushwhack took me straight up the mountainside, past all kinds of ferns and mosses. The mountainside was very brittle. Often I hiked along game trails, and then would continue back up the mountain.
 After a couple of hours, I finally reached the ridge line. I wasn't expecting to see much, but I was blown away when I made it to the top. I had a fantastic view of the forest from a precarious perch. It was incredibly steep, and to slip off might have meant death.
 I was much higher than I thought, and I could see the crowns of the redwoods down below. It's amazing how different each of the trees look. I tried to make out the tallest trees in the grove, but it was getting cold.
 Above is a panorama I took from the perch.
After making my descent, I arrived back near the creek where I parked my car. As you can see, the creeks are filling with water now, and flowing swiftly. Before driving home, I visited a couple of trees that I found a couple weeks ago. I still can't get over how unique each one is.
Overall, another great day in the forest.

Friday, January 20, 2012


 Rant Alert!

I drove to Pt. Arena this morning for work and I was looking forward to gazing upon the redwood groves along the Navarro River through my car window. It's been a month since I've been this way, and I was curious what I'd see this time around. Before reaching the groves, I started to think how these particular redwoods have not really left much of an impression on me in the past. While wondering why this was the case, the thought popped in my mind that maybe the reason was that they had been logged, although I was not certain. In previous posts, I mentioned how the eye and mind play tricks on you. Every time I've walked in these groves, I had been looking for mushrooms, so there was a good chance that I just didn't see anything else. As I approached redwood habitat in my vehicle this morning, I couldn't help but notice how perfect this area is for redwoods. Plenty of flat terrain, damp, rainy climate. The Navarro River running alongside, plenty of water for the trees. There must be giants growing here!

It didn't take long before the stumps began appearing on both sides of the road. Stump after stump flying past my windows, growing underneath smaller, thinner redwoods. "Aha!" I yelled to no one. The old growth, larger trees have all been removed! No wonder the forest did not leave an impression. It had lost it's "Wow!" factor.
Intact fern and clover gardens growing on top of a fallen, deceased redwood. A sign of minimal human visitation. (above)

I believe humankind has been experiencing, and still experiences a mental illness that I will label "conquerism." Like other diseases such as alcoholism or diabetes, if left unchecked, has disastrous consequences. Like other addictions, those of us who suffer from "conquerism" will deny that there is any sort of problem. The behavior continues day after day, week after week, year after year, until an intervention occurs, or the person admits to having a problem. Conquerism has afflicted the American mind, and continues to wreak havoc manifesting itself in the destruction of our environment, on ecosystems all across our country.

I heard "This Land is Your Land" on the radio today. "From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters, this land is made for you and me." My God, we've almost destroyed the redwood forest the last few decades and seriously polluted the gulf stream water last year! Oh the humanity!

After walking through the logged grove, I thought of Joni Mitchell's lyric, "We paved paradise, put up a parking lot," Or the Eagle's verse, "Call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye."

Due to our mental illness "conquerism," we have approached the extraordinary and reduced it to the ordinary. A logged redwood forest is nice, but it's rather ordinary. It's like watching an amateur sporting event. Or looking at an unfinished painting. Or listening to an ordinary musician. An old growth forest is like watching the Super Bowl. It's like looking at the Mona Lisa, or listening to Beethoven. It is the ultimate expression of God's love on earth.

My name is Mark, and I'm a "conquerist."


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Big, Big Tree.

I had the morning off from work so I grabbed the opportunity to head up to see some redwoods and measure a few of the giants. The grove was impressive.
 This ancient burned out tree measured in with a rough estimate of a circumference of 48 feet, 9 inches. It's pretty common for some redwoods to be completely hollow on the inside bottom. I think fire is the main contributor to this occurrence. You can see just how different the tree can look from different angles. (first two pictures).

I noticed several tags on different trees in the grove. I have to wonder if they are part of a climate change study by Steve Sillet and his crew. My goal today was to measure the giant by the boardwalk.
 When I saw it, I was pretty certain it was going to be a personal record breaker. There is a giant knob growing out of the side nearest to the boardwalk so I took two measurements, one above, and one below the knob. Sure enough, the "Boardwalk Giant" now holds the record for the largest circumference I've measured so far!
 I also measured the largest Douglas Fir to date with a circumference of 17 feet, 9 inches. It was extremely cold in the grove today, the earth was frozen in many areas. The rains are coming soon...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Camping with the Redwoods

 This weekend, I may have experienced one of the top five camping moments of my life. I wanted to measure a few more redwoods, and practice bushwhacking through the rain forest. So I packed up my camping gear, my measuring tape, map and compass and drove to a place I've never been before. I'm going to keep this post vague because I was asked to.
 Bushwhacking through the redwood forest was just as difficult as I imagined. I brought along a reel of orange plastic ribbon and tied it to branches along the way. I decided to number each ribbon so that upon my return, I would be certain that I retrieved each piece. I did not want to leave any trash in the forest.
 I pretty much walked as far as I possibly could and then stopped and turned around because the vegetation was so thick, I felt completely trapped. I could have plowed away, but I was already pretty exhausted. My mental energies were mostly consumed by ribbon placement and trying to find the best route. I started measuring the trunks of trees that stood out amongst the rest. Usually, I measured the circumference at breast height, or eye level. I didn't see anybody the first half of my day.
 Once I returned to my original spot, I ate some lunch and tried to recuperate a bit. I was feeling very satisfied that for one, I did not get lost, and two, I was not being lazy. After eating some lunch, I decided to explore another area.
 Immediately, the trees looked above and beyond other's I've seen to this point. Out came the measuring tape and I recorded the numbers in my notebook. It was turning into a beautiful sunny afternoon in the redwood forest.
The trees began to get larger and larger the further I entered the forest, the closer I got to the creek. It was a little time consuming to keep stopping and break out the measuring tape and book, but it was fun anyhow.
Eventually, the sun began to sink lower in the sky and I had to start thinking about a place to camp. There was no way I was going to drive to one of the campgrounds and spend $35, so I just needed to pick a spot.       
There were too many trees begging to be measured. As soon as I finished measuring one, another one would pop into view. It's so fascinating how the eye and brain works. I've noticed that if I spend my time looking for mushrooms, I can't see the trees. If I am looking for tall trees, I can't see the fat ones. If I am looking for fat ones I can't see the tall ones. Walking through the forest is like walking through one enormous pop up book. New things are constantly popping up and disappearing.
Just as I was winding down my measurements for the day, I heard this strange sound coming through the forest. It sounded like a pop followed by a fizzy sound. It obviously wasn't natural, and I assumed someone else was nearby. My curiosity was peaked, so instead of turning around, I decided to push a little deeper into the woods. All of a sudden, the forest opened up and I was standing in a grove of some of the biggest trees I had ever seen in my life. Then I saw another man walk out from behind an enormous redwood with a strange camera.
 "That is the biggest tree I have ever seen in my life!" I exclaimed.
"There are even bigger ones down that way," the man told me.
"Some trees in this grove are 370 feet tall. In fact, the Stratosphere Giant is located here, although we try to keep it a secret."
My heart was beginning to pump out of my chest.
"No way!!!" I said. I knew exactly who I was talking to. What were the chances that I would meet this guy in a spectacular redwood grove. The man started telling me about this new camera he was using, although I didn't really understand what he was talking about. He was just as eccentric as I imagined while reading the book the "Wild Trees."
"Your name isn't Michael Taylor is it?" I asked.
"Yes it is, how did you know?" he responded.
I'll be damned!! How cool is this?!! Although thankfully I didn't yell this. I had a million questions to ask him, although after explaining how I knew him, I could tell he probably wasn't the type that is comfortable with celebrity. I went on to tell him that I was planning on camping somewhere for the night.
"If I were you, I would camp right here," Michael Taylor said.
"Will I get in trouble?" I asked.
"Nah, just pick a spot."
With that kind of permission from the "man of the redwoods," I was stoked, to put it simply.
Before departing, Michael shared with me his website which you can find here. 
I felt like I had just met my hero.
 I found a great spot to camp amongst the tallest trees in the world. Temperatures were plummeting. After firing up the Jetboil and eating a hot dinner, I crawled into my sleeping bag. I could not believe how dark it was. Almost pitch black. I don't think I've ever experienced darkness like this other than being in a cave. Thankfully I remembered my headlamp, but once it was off, it was DARK. A feeling of surrender came over me. There will be no moving tonight. Even if it starts storming or trees start falling, or animals start creeping, there will be no moving from this spot. It is so dark that becoming lost is a certainty. Other than the low frequency of the creek babbling away a hundred yards or so, and the constant ringing in my ears, the forest was dead quiet all night. Not a single sound was to be heard. I woke up often in the middle of the night, still not a sound.
 When morning finally arrived, it was cold! I pulled my sleeping bag and ground pad out from under my tarp and lay staring towards the tops of the trees. The first of the morning's rays from the sun lit up the tops of the canopies, and the trees looked like giant tiki torches.
Not long after I packed up my gear, it began to rain a little bit. I measured a few more trees in the area. Michael Taylor told me what the Stratosphere Giant looked like, but it appears that I did not find it. After looking at a picture of it when I got home, none of my pictures were a match.

The tree in the picture above had a small hole in its side that led into the tree. I crawled in, dropped about three feet to the ground, and the inside was completely hollow. There was water dripping from the inside of the tree onto the ground on the inside. It was just like a cave.
The picture above, I will name the "Taylor Tree," although I am certain it already has a name. It's the tree I saw when I met Michael Taylor, and he deserves a tree named in his honor. It is the record breaker with a circumference of 51 feet 8 inches! I seriously am starting to think that the game of finding the largest tree may already be over. From what I've read, there are bigger ones, but they also are in secret locations, and may be in places I wouldn't be able to get to.
 The picture in the photo above had a little surprise. Barely visible and tied to a knobby piece of bark was a thin black rope that led straight up, a hundred feet into the lower canopy. I will assume that Steve Sillet and his team recently have been studying the canopy of this giant. I haven't heard of anyone else heading into the redwood canopies to do research. Unfortunately, it seems like I may be turning into one of those "tall tree fanatics" that Sillet is unhappy about in the article. I can sympathize with his opinion.
After measuring a few more giants, I decided to call it quits for the weekend. The trip was a huge success. I had a blast learning a little more about these truly charasmatic trees and this magnificent forest.
 From what I've read, all of the giant redwoods are mostly accounted for at this point. I think I will still bring the tape measure for fun and see if I can find anything that will top a circumference of 51 feet. I also will need to return to this special spot and see if I can locate the Stratosphere Giant. Good news for any weather buffs out there. Rain is finally heading this way this week.