We spent the past two weeks in northern California. I guess you could say we spent most of our time working. That was not as easy as it sounds. The RV park was supposed to have free Wi-Fi, but it was more like we were Wi-Fi free. Our own hot spot didn't work in the middle of the forest and mountains (nor did our smartphone), so we struggled to get online. Trey tried different ways to get connected and while we had a connection during most hours of the day, it was slow and would go in and out of service constantly. Totally unreliable. We were able to get a lot work done, but not the online stuff we had wanted to do (sound familiar?) We hope to have good internet next week. (does that sound familiar too?)
After working each day, we would go for a walk in the evening. The first few nights, we walked the RV park. After that we realized that we we were just a short drive from quite a few hikes and nature trails. What were we thinking?!? Once we wised up, we drove the scooter to various trails and walked through the redwoods each evening. It was amazing!
Our first walk was through the Stout Grove.
This grove became the grove we compared all others to. It was by far the most popular grove in the area, but when you walked to the back and the voices of other visitors died down, it was serene. The trees were all very large when you allowed your gaze to drift upward, it was difficult to square what you saw with what you know was possible in nature. Our eyes could easily see them, but we had difficulty wrapping our minds around the enormity of these giants.
The trees in this grove are hundreds of years old and can grow well over 200 feet tall - some over 300 feet. Most of the ones we saw were over ten feet in diameter, but we heard rumors that some were up to 25+ feet across. We didn't expect to see any that large on our walks. We spoke with a park ranger and he told us that the trees grow upwards first and then begin to widen as they drink in the sunshine above the canopy. Another interesting fact, the needles on the lower branches are much larger and softer than the smaller, more brittle needles at the top of the trees. That was because the water from the roots had difficulty reaching such great heights and the needles were stunted. For those who don't know, the Giant Sequoias are found further inland and are not as tall as these Coastal Redwoods, but they are much wider in girth.
What we found most striking about the redwoods, besides their height, was the thickness of the trunk up the entire tree. The trees grow so straight and the trunk of each tree remains very thick even up into the crown far above. It is very different from the oaks of Texas. Sure it resembles the pines, but in a side by side comparison, our mature pine trees would resemble saplings compared to these majestic growths.
The drives to most of these groves are dusty ones. The unpaved surface leaves the roadside looking white from a thick layer of dust. Cars passing by only made it worse. The sunlight in the pictures looks beautiful. In reality, that is the road dust filtering the evening sun-shaft. Road dust covered everything and could be seen along the trails until you moved several hundred feet away from the road.
Here is our scooter in the parking area surrounded by some smaller redwoods.
Rather than describe each grove individually (we did a different walk each night), here are a few pictures that represent some of what we are able to see. We took over 300 pictures on our evening hikes. It was difficult to narrow those down to a few. Again, the camera cannot do justice to what our eyes beheld and our minds perceived. Surely this was a glimpse of Eden!
Below is a Redwood with burls all over the base of the trunk. When redwoods are stressed, they can grow new shoots from burls - we saw many examples of this. Burl shoots grow much faster than seedlings from the dropped cones because there is an already established root system. Burl shoots are clones of the parent tree.
Banana Slugs are common in the forest and aid in decomposition.
This fallen tree is about 8 feet in diameter. The base shown here is even taller than that.
Here you can see the size of the trees along the trail. Our necks ached each day from looking up so often. but we couldn't look up for too long... rocks and roots filled the paths!
Fallen trees make interesting pathways. If I remember correctly, we did not have to duck going under this trunk. We felt like Hobbits!
Just another beautiful trail. We took so many trail pictures and each one shows the beauty of these woods. The photos posted here are only a small glimpse of our excursions.
On one trip, we saw a ranger taking photos on the side of the road and stopped to ask a few questions. In typical US Forest service ranger fashion, he was full of information and shared quite a bit about his knowledge of the area. He as about to give a presentation to the Daughters of the American Revolution. He went to his car and pulled out maps that showed the land they donated to the park to honor those who served in WWII. That land covered about 75% of the park. We found the plaque he told us about on our way home. It has been in this location since 1949 but will be moved in two weeks to the State Park up the road. We had passed this plaque numerous times, but had never seen it.
At some point during our stay in California, Trey read about the Grove of the Titans. They were discovered in 1998. Ten of the largest coastal redwoods were supposed to live in that grove, but its location was a secret, a closely guarded secret.
Rumors abounded about the grove's location and many folks put out red herrings to throw tree-seekers off track. Some said the trees were here, other claimed they saw them there. Many would post photos and videos with no description of how they got to the grove - glad to be a member of the secret club, but wanting to keep others out. Others would analyze these photos and videos to determine where they might have been taken (in a valley, in the hills, by the river, in a meadow) and set out on explorations of their own to find the elusive trees. Thing was, you didn't know who was giving true hints and who was just trying to mess you up.
We both read through the quests of one such explorer and decided that his story seemed (somewhat) credible. While he gave no specific details of the exact location of his quest, we were able to glean enough from his story to begin a quest of our own. If you have the time, his epic adventure is a pretty good read.
Since we were hiking different trails each day, we decided to concentrate on trails that might take us near these giants. We began at one end and hiked a different section each day, enjoying the beauty of God's creation and secretly hoping to find the Titans.
According to the sections Trey had mapped out, we didn't really expect to encounter the Titans until our third hike. But we read about the beauty found all along the other trails and didn't want to miss out on those sights.
They were beautiful trails (some pictures above) and amazing groves but still none compared to our first grove: Stout Grove. These trails were more rustic and primitive and Stout Grove was more garden-like. Stout Grove was almost exclusively Redwoods and the other trails had other varieties of trees; Douglass Fir, Hemlock, and many we couldn't identify. Still, all possessed great beauty and constantly moved our thoughts toward our Creator.
We enjoyed those two hikes, but we also kept an eye out for Titans. Funny thing about looking for really tall redwoods in a redwood forest: from the ground, it is difficult to tell the difference between a 200 foot tree and a 300 foot tree. They are all very tall!
The third hike on our Titan Quest came on our second to the last day in California. While we didn't really expect to find the trees on the first two hikes in this section of the park, there was an urgency about finding them the third day. While we freely admitted our doubts about finding the Titans (what do two Cedar Choppers from Texas know about California Forests or secret, hidden groves?) we both really wanted a glimpse of these giants.
After eating lunch with some friends in the RV park, we set out for a hike. Walking along the first part of this section of trail, we tried to determine where on the trail map we were as we recalled what we had read. It was pretty pitiful how little either of us researched our quest and the more we talked, the less likely it seemed we'd find the coveted grove. We took a small splinter trail for a bit the quickly turned back before losing too much time. There was a spot in the main trail where we had predetermined to turn around and we both thought the grove was right before that spot. Still, we discussed the difficulty of finding this grove hidden for so long and still hidden from most people who passed by.
We knew at least one tree was on the other side of the river. This was the first tree we thought we spotted. If you look at the lower third of the picture in the center, behind a bunch of leaves and branches, you can barely make out a very thick trunk. We had difficulty determining if it was one tree or multiple trees, but from the upper foliage, it appeared to be one.
Trey wanted to find a way across the river to see it. Susan did not want to get wet and the only dry crossing was about 20 minutes back up the path. She encouraged Trey further along the current path: There will more trees this way!
So, we returned to the original path and continued our quest. Then, deep in the trees, we caught a glimpse of something we thought we recognized from the pictures we saw online. We detected a smaller path running off the main trail but it was intentionally camouflaged by small fallen trees and limbs. Could this be an attempt to disguise the path like we had read? We maneuvered around the barricade and followed the path to the tree in the distance. A quick walk to the opposite side proved we had found the first tree.
[caption id="attachment_2427" align="alignnone" width="400"] El Viejo Del Norte[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2427" align="alignnone" width="450"] Trey at the base of El Viejo Del Norte[/caption]
We quickly found the other trees in the grove. In the end, we found all the trees listed on the website we used as a guide. As we walked among the trees we took care to say on the pathways other had left. We weren't convinced our footprints would damage such large trees that had survived much worse, but we took no chances.
[caption id="attachment_2428" align="alignnone" width="400"] Screaming Titans[/caption]
Most of the very large trees we had seen were up to 12 feet in diameter (trees are measured at the base ~4 feet from the soil line) but the trees in this grove had diameters well over 20 feet. The Screaming Titans pictured above had a diameter of 30 feet.
To be honest, we did not remember the list of trees from the site and just took pictures of the largest ones, remembering something about each one when we saw it. We didn't think we had found the Lost Monarch (below) until we compared this picture with the one from the web. Could there be any doubt which tree this was?
[caption id="attachment_2422" align="alignnone" width="400"] Lost Monarch[/caption]
We found the Fused Titan last. The main trunk had several more clone trees growing from it. You can only see a few of these in the picture.
[caption id="attachment_2423" align="alignnone" width="400"] Fused Titan[/caption]
The Grove of the Titans was a large grove and the entire grove could not be contained in one shot. The panorama above shows some of the trees that grew more closely together, but has only one of the very large trees we saw. We took a few quiet moments to soak in the beauty of this grove. Sitting in that silent grove surrounded by such majestic creations was a wonder to us. It has been such a privilege to see this part of creation and experience the wonder that it provides. BTW, This hike and this grove made it to number one on our favorites lists. It is a day we would gladly repeat.
[caption id="attachment_2421" align="alignnone" width="450"] Panorama of tree bases[/caption]
Leaving the grove, we walked about 20 yards to our predetermined turnaround spot. We were pretty proud of ourselves for guessing the location of the grove from the information (both good and bad) we found on the internet. High Five! ... oops, Susan missed and messed that up... okay...Fist Bump! er wait... do we do the explody thing after or not? Sigh. However we bungled the outward celebration, the rewards at the end of our hike were the memories and experience of doing this together.
Was this grove really as hidden as folks made it out to be? Was it really that much of a secret? Are we that much smarter than other folks so that we found it when so many more people are still trying? We are pretty certain the answer is 'No" to all of those questions. But, the fun we had working together on our quest, the beauty we saw along the way, and the efforts of seeking and finding something that was supposed to be hidden made our daily hikes a bit more intense and something we eagerly anticipated.
As we were about to turn around and head back to the road, a fellow hiker approached, trail map in hand, looking for the grove. It was just a few steps way, hidden in the forest. Enjoy!