Thursday, May 31, 2012

Montgomery Woods

 One of the fun and exciting aspects of redwood exploring, is the secret nature of the discoveries. For a layman like me, it can be maddening. Take the Mendocino Tree for example. It was once the record holder for the tallest tree from 1996 to 2000. The tree comes in at 368.1 feet, and I would guess will hit the 370 mark in the near future. The very small group of people who know where this tree is keep a tight, tight lid on its whereabouts for good reason. There is no information that I am aware of that indicates the location of this tree.
 I've been to Montgomery Woods at least a dozen times now, and I'm starting to get to recognize most of the trees individually. I can't for the life of me, tell which trees are the tallest from the ground. I feel like an explorer searching for the ark of the covenant, bordering on obsession. This past week, I just happened to put together a few clues as to where the Mendocino Tree might be. I went to Montgomery Woods yesterday after work giddy with excitement, thinking that I was at last going to figure it out and confirm the location. No such luck! The clues I thought I had in my possession seem to be mostly smoke and mirrors. The Mendocino Tree is out there, but it's any one's guess as to which one it is.
 Again, I am just now, for the first time, seeing the canopies of these magnificent trees. I think visiting this park in the evenings has helped a lot, since the glow of the setting sun reflects off the high canopies like alpine glow in the mountains. Carrying binoculars has helped too. I never thought I'd be one carrying around binoculars on my hikes, but it's been a fantastic addition.
 Many of the trees in the grove are tagged, like the one above. Again, it's any one's guess what the numbers mean. All of the information is probably stored in a computer in an academic office somewhere. As an outsider, I must accept that the information is not for me to know, although it is excruciating.
 By the way, the true defenders of the wilderness were out in full force last night: The buzz of the mosquito in my ears was the soundtrack playing in the background of my mind during the hike. Another fantastic sunset on the way home. I had to return home defeated last night. The mysteries of the forest remain for now, and maybe its better that way.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Michael Nichols: National Geographic Redwood Photograph

Hendy Woods

(New growth on redwood branch)
I visited Hendy Woods today, located in the Anderson Valley along the 128. These are the last of the ancient redwoods that remain growing along the Navarro River as far as I can tell. At 845 acres, its a gem of a park. It costs 8 dollars for day use, a fee I am not used to, but I guess its OK. It's worth it to keep the park open, and to use whatever facilities they offer.
 Hendy Woods is on the California State Park closure list, and was scheduled to close in July.
"What's the current status of the park?" I asked the ranger at the fee booth.
 "We will be open for another year!" The ranger happily answered.
Thanks to donations, Save the Redwoods League, and a newly formed nonprofit organization called Hendy Woods Community Inc., they have raised enough money and recruited enough volunteers to keep the park open. More information can be found here. 
 Even better, Kris Kristofferson will be performing a benefit concert for Hendy Woods on Wednesday, July 8, 2012 at 8pm. I will definitely try to be there. Again, check the link above for more information.
 Overall, it was a great day to be in the redwoods. There were more people visiting this park than I am used to seeing. Several families with young kids enjoying the forest. Also, it was warmer in the forest than I am used to. I could walk around comfortably in a t-shirt.
 One of the great features of this park is the opportunity to enjoy the Navarro River. I walked out onto a sandy beach to eat lunch, and relished the cool breeze, bright sunshine, warm temperatures, and free flowing, shallow water. At one point, a couple of teen-aged girls walked near to where I was sitting and found a good spot to wade into the creek. They saw me, and I saw them, and I continued eating my lunch.
Just then, I heard the mother of one of the girls calling her daughter. The daughter replied,
"What do you want mom, this place is fine!"
"I want you to come back where we are sitting where I can see you," the mother responded.
"This spot is safe mom, the current isn't bad at all!" the daughter protested.
"The current isn't what I am worried about!" the mom explained.
(Oh no, I knew where this was going. Sometimes, it's a tad uncomfortable to be a lone male doing anything involving the outdoors around families.)
"We are fine right here mom!"
"There are a lot of strangers out here!" the mom said. "I can't help you if you get kidnapped!"
At this point, the daughter was still putting up a verbal protest. I had finished my lunch so decided to give the mom some peace of mind by leaving the scene. I can't blame her really, I also feel that humans are the most dangerous animals around. I still felt a tad bummed that we are all so fearful of one another.
 I re-entered the forest and walked down to the Little Hendy Grove. Here I found this wall of wood, growing near the park boundary. Surprisingly, it only had a circumference at breast height of 49 feet 1 in. I have come across singular trees with larger circumferences. Needless to say, this wall of wood was on the thin side.
Overall, another great day. Hendy Woods is worth the visit. The Navarro is fantastic, and the drive is gorgeous as well.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Montgomery Woods

 On my way home from work yesterday, I took the long route home and stopped by Montgomery Woods. I had a couple of hours before the sun went down, and spent that time in "church." There was no one else around the entire evening, and I felt like the luckiest man alive.
 For the first time these last couple of weeks, my eyes have been removed from the ground to appreciating the incredible canopies of these trees. As the sun sets, the tallest trees are lit ablaze. With the help of binoculars, I am able to peer into the tops. Last night, I felt like each step I took was part of these tree's ancient history, for better or worse. With no one else around I had to wonder if this moment in history is still the beginning of modern man's relationship with these forests. 100 years from now, will someone still be able to spend a late afternoon alone with these giants?
 Perhaps so. This morning, I was brewing my coffee, when I realized that the same experience can still be had in the San Gabriel's outside of LA, or even the Verdugo's practically in the heart of the city. I was always amazed that one could step into the back country of one of the world's largest cities and not see a single person. I think many other hikers down there have experienced the same feeling.
After a wonderful evening, I was able to capture a fantastic sunset shining the days last rays over what remains of the coastal redwood range.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Douglas Fir and "Adopt a Tree"

I took a hike in Jackson Demonstration Forest to relocate the large Douglas Fir I found a few weeks ago. After a quick measurement, it had a cbh of 19 feet, 1 in. Pretty large, but not a personal record breaker. A fantastic tree anyhow.

While hiking through the forest, I had to stop and admire several of the old growth trees that have been spared. There is a sense of joy, a sense of satisfaction when looking at an old growth tree. They look complete or something. I can only compare it to looking at a fine piece of art. I had to wonder if it would be possible to find a market for old growth trees, that wouldn't require cutting them down. Being poor and powerless, there is not much someone like me can do to save and protect these old trees. I can take pictures, and rant into the emptiness of the blogisphere, perhaps I can join a tree sit, or donate a few bucks here and there. However, I had to wonder if individual old growth trees could be sold to wealthy collectors, like fine pieces of art. Perhaps an "Adopt a Tree" program could be started, where orphan trees could be purchased and cared for by those who could afford to do so. I don't know the legality behind an idea like this. Is it possible that several hundred crucial old growth trees, or second generation redwoods with potential could be purchased from the logging companies if private citizens wanted to collect them? The "Adopt a Tree" organization could take in depth pictures of the tree for the buyers, perhaps do a scientific overview of each specimen, keep track of their statistics, organize camping trips for the donors to spend time with their tree. Maybe even climb into them. The logging companies would also win because they would  get their money, the environmentalists would win because the old trees would remain, the trees would win because their lives would be spared. Humanity would win because perhaps we could learn to appreciate each tree as a unique individual as well as protect habitat. Now to find a few wealthy donors...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

 I spent the weekend in Humboldt Redwoods State Park again, to do some more redwood exploring. It was just about one month to the day that I was here last. Once again, some excellent trees were found, and I tried to savor each moment in this superb forest.

 I spent most of yesterday afternoon looking for some of the biggest trees in this particular area. I still find it amazing that on a beautiful sunny weekend, I pretty much have the forest to myself. My eyes are pretty much trained now to spot trees with a cbh of 40 or higher. These are the grandparents of the forest.

 I tend to get the late afternoon blues, whenever or wherever I am hiking. Yesterday was no different, as I wrestled with my mind about whether or not to spend the night. The comforts of home were calling. However, once I got in my car, the thought popped in my head, how many times will you get the chance to sleep under the redwoods? I found a secret spot to park the car, grabbed my backpack and set up a stealth camp. So far, this has always been the better decision.
 It occurred to me, before the sun went down, that it was going to be another dark night. Was it the new moon again? Sure enough, it was the day before the new moon. The forest was going to be pitch black. Frogs kept me company throughout the night. Several would join into chorus for a minute or two and then stop for fifteen minutes or so before starting up again. Just before falling asleep, I heard what sounded like two loud gunshots. I bolted awake to hear the crashing sound of what I think was probably a very large branch falling out of a nearby redwood.
 Thankfully, I was exhausted enough to sleep much better last night than last time. When I awoke, there was no fog, and I grabbed my sleeping bag and pad and found a great spot to stare up into the canopy as the morning sun rays entered the forest. Other than a few whistles from birds, one of the blessings of an old redwood forest is the absence of noise. It was so quiet and wonderful.
After breaking camp, I stopped by one of my favorite sections of forest to commune a bit. I'm in awe of this particular place, the trees are cathedral like. Later in the morning I stopped by the touristy "Giant Tree." This tree is 363 feet tall and with a cbh of 53 feet, 2 in., it is the biggest tree in the park as far as I can tell. Unfortunately, many people have chosen to carve their names and initials into the old beast. It's a good thing that those in the know, keep all the recent tree discoveries secret. I concluded the trip with an excellent breakfast burrito at one of the small cafes in town along the Avenue of the Giants. Can't wait to come back and visit again.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Navarro River

 I had some extra time today to explore some of the second generation redwood forest along the Navarro River. Although the trees are small, the forest seems to be recovering nicely. The forest floor is lush with redwood sorrel. This was a cool spot because it had a nice, small, sandy beach that led out onto the Navarro River.
 Now that the rain has stopped for the time being, the river is taking on that beautiful turquoise color. Even better, I did not see much poison oak along this particular stretch. I found another tick on my body, this time my back, after visiting Montgomery Woods the other evening. I am feeling very paranoid about those hideous insects right now.
Otherwise, a great spot for lunch...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Montgomery Woods

 I was able to stop by Montgomery Woods on the way home from work on the coast this afternoon. What a great way to spend the late afternoon, early evening. I had my first owl encounter while walking through the redwoods. I was wondering if this was the fabled spotted owl, but after a little research, found out that it's actually the barred owl. The owl and I just sat and watched each other for about five minutes. I don't know why he kept looking at me, almost seemed as if he was expecting me to give it some food or something. Finally, I had to say goodbye and thank him for the encounter.
 Barred owls are actually hurting the cause of the spotted owl I was sad to find out. They are more aggressive and sounds like they may be competing and winning as far as claiming habitat. The are actually an eastern species and have been slowly making their way west.
 Today I had to pause and appreciate the fact that this tiny grove holds some of the oldest living things on the planet. Sometimes it's just mind blowing.
I also never noticed this tree before. Whoever used to own this property before donating it as a park, did log a few of the old giants. Their stumps can be seen in the middle of the grove. It's hard to know why they chose the ones they did, because they seem pretty random, and are in random spots. The tree above looks like it took an ax or chainsaw to its body before it was stopped for unknown reasons. New tree material has filled the gap. If only the trees could tell their stories...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Montgomery Woods

 I went to Montgomery Woods this morning, to spend some time with the redwoods. I was supposed to meet the Sierra Club in town for a group hike, but there was only one other woman waiting. There was no one else that showed up, and neither one of us were actually a part of the Sierra Club. We assumed that the group hike got canceled and neither she nor I heard the update. So I drove up to Montgomery Woods solo and that was just fine.

 The hike felt more like a renewal of vows, and that vow being the re-affirmation that this ecosystem is invaluable, and these trees are worth protecting, defending, and fighting for, should the need arise. Today I thought about how to bridge the gap that exists between those like myself who feel that ancient redwoods are worth protecting, defending, and fighting for, and those who do not, who see the redwoods as "just trees."
 As a teenager growing up on the east coast, I remember hearing about Julia "Butterfly" Hill. She was more of a caricature than an actual human being to me at the time. She was "just a dirty, tree hugging hippy," in my mind, and probably in the mind of a majority of Americans. Redwoods, were not on my radar as anything worth thinking about, especially as a teenager living 3,000 miles away. Now, I view Julia as a true American heroine.
At the end of her two year tree sit in 1999, the 25 year old Julia descended "Luna," (the name given to the tree) and said with tears in her eyes, "I understand that all of us are governed by different values, and I understand that to some people I'm just a dirty tree hugging hippy, I can't imagine being able to take a chainsaw to something like this...I don't understand."
Is it possible that those who don't understand will ever understand? Are there bridges that we can build to help facilitate that understanding? Is there more to these trees than just lumber? Does the ecosystem matter? What about other threatened ecosystems around the world? The topic seems as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.

Ft. Bragg

The beautiful yellow sand verbena is in bloom, as well as many other flowers along the bluffs and dunes of Ft. Bragg, CA.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ponderosa Pine

Here is a beautiful Ponderosa Pine growing just outside Willits, CA. I drive past this tree several times a week and finally got a rough measurement of it's trunk along with a healthy dose of poison oak a couple weeks ago. Today I finally got a picture of the ol' giant. Too bad I couldn't stand directly next to the tree. I couldn't run fast enough in the 10 seconds my camera gave me. I must have looked like a freak to the passing traffic on the 101. I'm probably 50 feet or so in front of it, and still dwarfed.
Along with the bright sun and 90 degree temperatures was a nice looking cloud rainbow around noon.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

From the Redwood Forest by: Joan Dunning

I just finished reading the book "From the Redwood Forest" by Joan Dunning, and found the book to be exceptional. The book is about the battle over Headwaters Forest, about 60,000 acres of old growth, coastal redwood forest. The book captures the feeling, the urgency, the political climate, and many of the colorful characters that became household names back in the mid 90's. I think anyone who loves the redwoods should read this book. Not only does it inspire, but it documents the history of the struggle to save this invaluable patch of land. Anyway's words fail me tonight. Joan Dunning's book speaks for all of us who care about these woods and this area. Click here for the book, and click here for Joan Dunning's website.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Jackson State Demonstration Forest

Giant Douglas Fir (above)
I went for a hike in Jackson Demonstration Forest after work a couple days ago. I took a trail that I had hiked last year when I first moved to the area and it was interesting how my perspective has changed. First of all, it was nice to see some old ancient trees growing towards the top of the mountain ridge. I will have to come back and get a circumference of this old giant Douglas Fir that I found off trail.

Secondly, I was able to see the forest in terms of what it's potential is or was, rather than what currently exists. Above is a small section of cut forest. Maybe nothing shocking, but definitely devastating to what used to grow and live there.

I am currently finishing a book called "From the Redwood Forest" by Joan Dunning, that describes the debate around Headwaters that attracted national attention in the mid 90's. (I have to laugh how a Wikipedia page for Charles Hurwitz and his company MAXXAM "does not exist.") It's a long and complicated story, so I won't go into detail here. It's a fascinating read though, and the same problems that existed back then, are currently still playing themselves out now. After looking at what we have done to our forests, it's easy to say "Well, that's just the way it is." When you begin to dissect all the facts, statistics, and hear the stories, it's simply unbelievable.