Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 7, 2017

Walking Among the Giants

At its best, travel includes the realization of a dream. Whether you’ve always wanted to see the Gobi Desert, the Shwedon Pagoda in Myanmar or the pyramids of Egypt, you know what I mean.

I’ve been fortunate, and visited a great number of remarkable places (although all 3 of the ones named above remain on my list). A natural wonder I’d never seen, despite living in California for more than 20 years, was the forest of Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) on the Pacific shore in the northwestern part of the state.

Redwood NP Marcy Vincent 8306 (480x640)

Much of the natural world, which is always a feature of travel for me, is threatened, everywhere on the planet. We humans have contributed to much of the change. That includes the logging of most of Earth’s old-growth Coast Redwoods since 1850 (estimates of the percentage of surviving old growth coast redwood forest range from 4 to 10%).

Redwoods are the tallest living organisms, the current record-holder being 379 feet high. They’re one of the most massive tree species on Earth, and typically live for 1,200 – 1,800 years. Redwoods once ranged far along the coasts of northern California and southern Oregon.

Redwood National Park Brad Nixon 7396 (640x480)

On a recent trip to Oregon, I  finally got there.

Redwood NP Marcy Vincent 8301 (480x640)

Once covering an estimated 2 million acres in California alone, the surviving stand of old-growth redwoods is now about 100,000 acres*, approximately half of it protected in preserves and parks, including Redwood National and State Parks (red lines, below), where we hiked among the giants.

Redwood NSP map Google

The map shows the northwestern corner of California, with the Oregon border at top. U.S. Route 101 runs through the park. Interstate 5 runs north-south on the right. The nearest cities are Eureka and Crescent City (yellow ovals).

Redwood National Park was created in 1968, although nearby Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith, Prairie Creek Redwoods and Humboldt Redwoods State Parks were established in the 1920s in visionary conservation efforts.

The parks provide a variety of ways to appreciate the world’s tallest trees, from simply driving through the forest to hiking on trails that range from well-curated, highly accessible ones to challenging back country hiking.

Redwood NP trail Brad Nixon 7402 (480x640)

Although our time was limited (we’ll return!), we weren’t going to leave without at least spending some time on foot among the trees. There are numerous trails, and we chose the Lady Bird Johnson Trail, an easy 1-mile loop approximately 2 miles along a park road from Route 101.

Redwood NP Brad Nixon 7413 (480x640)

A grove of redwoods provides the archetype of forest hiking. The canopy of redwood branches and leaves is scores or even a hundred feet overhead. Below, in muted green light is an understory of low brush and ferns.

Redwood National Park Brad Nixon 7397 (640x480)

And, yes, there’s a hush. The trees rise through it: spectacular pillars of coruscated bark soaring impossibly high. I walked with my neck craned back, peering up and up; how can any living thing be so tall?

Redwood NP Brad Nixon 7400 (480x640)

From the trail, you peer deeper into the forest, across ravines and slopes tangled with fallen trees, new trees struggling upwards, ferns and moss covering the ground in an impenetrable, silent redoubt.

Redwood NP Brad Nixon 7406 (640x480)

Look closely, because there’s as much beauty at ground level as there is towering overhead.

Redwood NP Brad Nixon 7409 (640x513)

On a popular trail like the one we walked, we heard human voices, encountered other people. In a way, those voices — many of them children’s — were welcome, too. If we’re not going to surrender the final sliver of redwood habitat to commerce and convenience, humans have to understand what is there and what could be irrevocably lost.

The redwoods cling to a small slice of their former world at the very edge of the Pacific. The coast and the narrow strip of meadows and woodland between the ocean and the slopes of the coast range are all worth exploring, home to elk, bear, deer, and innumerable species of flora and fauna. Less than 2 miles after we continued along 101, we encountered a herd of elk.

Elk Marcy Vincent 8334 (640x619)

It bears stating that throughout the United States — from the Adirondacks, the southern pine forests to the plains and the southwestern deserts — it’s not only natural habitat that was “tamed” as settlers claimed the land.

When Europeans arrived in the Coast Redwoods area around 1828, it had been inhabited by native cultures for more than 3,000 years. By 1895, the majority of the natives had been displaced, forcibly removed or killed. Some native tribes still live in their traditional homeland, but the human losses can’t be recovered. Their shadows hover, wherever we travel.

I was delighted to see the mighty redwoods, gratified that the giants still stand, immense and, essentially, beyond our ken. We can only stand next to them, listening, looking up. That tree may be there a thousand years from now. Let it be so.

Redwood NP Marcy Vincent 8292 (480x640)

*While I’ve tried to report responsibly, my figures are approximations gleaned from several sources, and the distinction between areas of original old growth forest and second growth land previously logged is beyond my ability to capture with genuine accuracy. Without exaggerating, it can be said that the surviving stands of redwoods represent a precious fraction of what once existed.

Sequoia sempervirens is related to the massive Sequoiadendron giganteum, the Giant Sequoia, which grows only in California, farther inland on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I wrote about them and Sequoia National Park, here.

Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson was a businesswoman, nature advocate and First Lady of the United States, 1963-69. She campaigned for civil rights and conservation causes. Her many honors and recognitions included the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

Copyright Brad Nixon 2017. Some photos © Marcy Vincent, used by kind permission. Map by Google.


  1. Really interesting! Those trees are really amazing, wow

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so jealous! I’ve always wanted to see these trees!

    Liked by 1 person

    • They’re waiting, thanks to the significant efforts of ardent conservationists for the past 100 years. Start your plan. There’s an enormous amount to see in the Eureka-Crescent City-Humboldt County area, alone.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your inspirational writing about these trees. I have now put them back on my bucket list. I tend to travel to cities, but you have given me a reason to take tat road less traveled.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Redwoods have been oft photographed, typically from the ground looking toward the sky. But what is remarkable about your pix is the beautiful close up details of the gnarled tree trunks and the spectacular lavender flower. Superb!


    • Thanks. Photographs have a limited ability to convey the sense of any place, because they’re limited to a single sense, and don’t capture the mind’s ability to experience all the senses and the reality of being surrounded by the world. One can only select details that suggest the totality.


      • That was a very good survey. Thanks for making us a part of your travels.


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