Surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park, this world-famous scenic drive is by far the most outstanding display of giant trees in the California redwood belt.
This 31-mile portion of historic Highway 101, which runs parallel to the modern Highway 101 and is accessible by most vehicles, is surrounded by Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world. To drive through the Avenue of the Giants is a lesson in humility.
At one time this was the only highway linking Humboldt County to the rest of the world.
Some of the trees alongside the road still bear the scars where logging trucks loaded with these behemoths (one log to a truck) jostled for the right of way. When the freeway was built, this road was left open for sightseeing, and it brings visitors through grove after grove where the trees that crowd the road may be wider than the car.
Every year, nearly a million visitors from all around the world enjoy the towering and spectacular redwoods. The Avenue is surrounded by federal and state land, and as a result has not been exposed to commercial interests. There are no theme parks or commercial facilities other than small inns, old roadside attractions and other local businesses found in a typical small town. Many groves along the Avenue feature well-marked and maintained trails of all sizes, allowing the visitor access to features along the road.
Old Man Burl, not an official name, just one that made sense to me.
Why are some of the trees burned out on the inside?
These are called “goosepens” (the early settlers kept their geese in them!). When fire sweeps through the forest the duff and slash around the base of the trees burns hotter and longer, thereby finding a weak spot in the trunk and burning out the heartwood. The bark itself has “tannins” which insulates the redwood, especially further up the tree.
How can redwoods survive such extreme damage from fire?
They can overcome partial burns because the center of the tree isn’t actually alive. Once wood is made, the cells die and become empty so water can flow through the wood. Heartwood at the center of the tree is primarily used for storage and only the newest wood (called sapwood) near the outside of the tree is used to transmit water up to the treetop. So when a fire burns into the center of the tree, a redwood can keep growing as long as it has enough intact bark and new wood on part of its trunk. Redwoods are much more tolerant of fire than other tree species – just another reason redwoods are so cool!
The giant redwood once stood 362 ft. tall and was considered the tallest tree in the park before its fall in 1991. The redwood’s crash to the ground moved the earth so much that it registered on a nearby seismograph and one local, who heard the impact from half a mile away, thought a train had crashed.
Today you can walk the whole length of the tree and stand in awe of its massive root system beautifully on display.
In the early 1900s, loggers came to what is now Humboldt Redwoods State Park to cut down lofty ancient redwoods for grape stakes and shingles.
The founders of Save the Redwoods League thought that was akin to “chopping up a grandfather clock for kindling.” From the acquisition of a single grove in 1921, the League has raised millions of dollars to build and expand the park.
Today, Humboldt Redwoods spans 53,000 acres, an area almost twice the size of San Francisco. About one third, or 17,000 acres, of the park is old-growth redwood forest. That’s the largest expanse of ancient redwoods left on the planet.
How and why do burls grow on the trees?
The knobby growths or burls on the sides of some of the trees are places where, for some unknown reason, the tree has budded over and over again in the same location. Although on examination burls appear parallel to cancer in humans, they are not harmful to the tree. I named this one Bigfoot Burl.
Here, sown by the Creator’s hand,
In serried ranks, the Redwoods stand;
No other clime is honored so,
No other lands their glory know.
The greatest of Earth’s living forms,
Tall conquerors that laugh at storms;
Their challenge still unanswered rings,
Through fifty centuries of kings.
The nations that with them were young,
Rich empires, with their forts far-flung,
Lie buried now – their splendor gone;
But these proud monarchs still live on.So shall they live, when ends our day,
When our crude citadels decay;
For brief the years allotted man,
But infinite perennials’ span.
This is their temple, vaulted high,
And here we pause with reverent eye,
With silent tongue and awe-struck soul;
For here we sense life’s proper goal.
To be like these, straight, true and fine,
To make our world, like theirs, a shrine;
Sink down, oh traveler, on your knees,
God stands before you in these trees.
– From the poem ‘The Redwoods’ by Joseph B. Strauss