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redwood country

California’s Redwood Country

July 15, 2012 by · 3 Comments 


Redwood Country – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

California can safely assert three superlatives in one aspect of nature, the world of trees.

The redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) along the coast north from San Francisco are magnificent and are the tallest trees on the earth (the presumably tallest examples are in a secret location in Redwood National and State Parks, near Orick).

Similarly, the most massive living thing on earth is the inland relative of the coastal redwood. The best example of the inland relative (Sequoia gigantea) can be seen at Sequoia National Park (the General Sherman tree).

If superlative trees stir your sense of adventure, California trees offers yet another wonder of nature–the oldest living thing on this earth. This distinction goes to the bristlecone pines, which can be seen high in the White Mountains of California, east of Bishop.

UNESCO deemed Redwood National and State Parks a “world heritage site” in 1982, recognizing that redwoods are a phenomenon of worldwide interest. These monarchs of the mist have been flourishing for around 20 million years, currently in a long, thin band along the Western U.S. coast, from southwest Curry County in Oregon to south Monterey County in California, about 10 miles north of Hearst castle.

Getting to Redwood Country

The main redwood country is not difficult to locate. Simply head north from San Francisco along Highway 101. In about four hours you reach the first stately forests, at small Richardson Grove, also a fine picnic and camping site. The first substantial groves are at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

The coast Highway 1 is the alternative route, scenic but slower, offering many coastal pleasures as well as second-growth redwoods. The coast route could be considered the main side trip in redwood country. You can consider a loop trip going one way on Highway 101 and the other on Highway 1, but the main redwoods are north of the juncture of the two roads. On the coast route the choice redwood stops would be Armstrong Redwoods, near Guerneville, on the Russian River, plus the parks along the coast near Mendocino.

Redwood Country History

Redwoods flourish both north and south of San Francisco, but the northern forests are most worthy today of the capitalized name Redwood Country, which refers generically to the more than 400 miles between San Francisco and the Oregon coast. Actually, only about 3 percent of the primeval redwood forest remains today. About half of that remaining resource is on protected public lands. The rest has been logged off. 

The first reports of European contact with redwoods were from south of San Francisco when a priest-botanist in the expedition of Portola noted them in his diary of 1769. The tree was unknown to Europeans. The first American to observe redwoods was the intrepid explorer, Jedediah Smith, who saw the trees in 1822. He is now honored in Redwood Country with a wild no-dams river (the only major one in California) and a state redwood park named after him.

The native Californians, especially the Yuroks, were well aware of the redwoods and the redwood environment, but they did not consider it a hospitable habitat. Because the trees cast such shade, forage foods did not flourish beneath them as abundantly as in meadow or oak woodland terrain. The bark did not burn well and the trunks of the trees were too massive for the Native Americans to cut for firewood. However, Yuroks of the north coast split redwood planks for their shelters. They also hollowed canoes out of redwood logs, including one that can be seen today at Patricks Point State Park.

Lumbering has been the main recent historical story associated with redwood country. The tree’s wood is soft and easy to saw. Although not as strong as Douglas fir, redwood has an attractive red color that can be stabilized to remain red or will weather naturally to a pleasing grey. Redwood is widely used in house siding, decks, and garden lumber. The biggest virtue of redwood is its ability to withstand weathering and termites without deteriorating. Prolonged moisture will cause most woods to rot, but redwood will endure. Redwood is one of the most weather-resistant woods found in North America, competing with the cypress of the South.

When thinking of the lumber baron era, the place to stop and gaze at is the William Carson Mansion in Eureka. This lavish gingerbread Victorian, one of the finest 19th-century architectural legacies along the north coast, was built in 1884 at the corner of Second and M streets. Working mills, such as one at Scotia, carry on the story of lumbering today.

Redwood lumber was shipped out in small vessels that moved nimbly up and down the coast. The Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, built in 1856, remains a repository for local history, especially regarding the fate of wayward ships whose captains were inattentive to the treacherous shorelines. The sturdiness of this lighthouse, perched on a rock, sometimes cut off from land during high tide, became apparent in 1964. On Good Friday on that year an earthquake in Alaska sent a 20-foot-high tsunami wave over the lighthouse, but failed to dislodge the structure, even though the wave devastated many boats and buildings in Crescent City.

Redwood Country Main Attractions

Redwood Country’s signature trees begin along Highway 101 north of Leggett at the Richardson Grove. Many more parks lie ahead. The Eel River flows along the highway, to the right. The concept of Roadside Attractions begins to assert itself and divert you with pleasing amusements. You pass the Log House, a house made from a single tree, which is adjacent to the Grandfather Tree, an 1800-year-old gray beard. Following is a roadside stand known as the Legend of Bigfoot shop, displaying a collection of chainsaw art, including depictions of Bigfoot. Bigfoot is the half-man and half-ape creature believed by some to populate the remote areas of this region. If you long to become a true believer in Bigfoot, a few glasses of sacramental California wine can help.

Proceeding north, you enter a 31-mile stretch appropriately called The Avenue of the Giants. This extended landscape consists of 70 memorial groves, all part of 51,222-acre Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Follow the side road at Phillipsville along Highway 101 to make the Avenue of the Giants scenic side road drive. Several turnoff areas along the scenic drive invite you to pause and walk through the groves. Pause to see as many of the groves on both sides of Highway 101 from Phillipsville to Redcrest as your time allows. Founder’s Grove is one of the crucial stops, with trees about 2,500 years old. The Founder’s Tree is 346.1 feet high and was formerly thought to be the tallest of all redwood trees, but the tallest tree is now believed be to a 379-foot tree in the Redwood Creek drainage near Orick.

After looking at Founder’s Grove, consider a short drive west to the Rockefeller Grove on Mattole Road. The reality here is a poignant example of the need to protect whole watersheds to save prize redwoods. Clear-cut slopes upstream from the prize Rockefeller trees exposed earth that washed into the creek in 1955 and 1964, subsequently undermining some of the giant trees. Silting of streams also damaged the salmon-spawning habitat. Albee Camp, located in an abandoned apple orchard near the Rockefeller Grove, is a lovely site at which to camp or picnic. 

The informative Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Center at the Burlington Campground dispenses park information, maps, and books.

Driving north, the towns of Ferndale and Eureka are both worth exploring for their Victorians, shops, small inns, bed-and-breakfast lodgings, and logging-era mementos. At Eureka, stop to visit Fort Humboldt, an 1850s military outpost with many exhibits on the lumber harvesting craft. One amazing tool of the trade was a huge winch called a slackliner, used to bring large logs down steep slopes. The Clarke Memorial Museum in Eureka, 3rd and E streets, has interesting Native American artifacts. Eureka’s Old Town boasts intriguing shops. An excursion boat called the Madaket gets you out on the water for a view of Humboldt Bay. Blue Ox Millworks provides authentic wood reproductions for Victorian restorations. The Samoa Cookhouse on Humboldt Bay serves hearty portions and decor with paraphernalia from the logging and milling era, when the cook providing food was a critical persona in logger motivation.

Ferndale, south from Eureka, abounds in carpenter-gothic Victorians, such as the Shaw House, a B&B on Main Street. The Ferndale Museum presents an exceptional display of the daily-life tools of dairying in the region. Ferndale fosters each year a zany kinetic sculpture race of human-powered vehicles that has become a cult tourism event.

Logging continues to flourish, but in a reduced and controlled manner. One small side town to visit in redwood country is the lumber village of Scotia, built by the Pacific Lumber Company for its employees. Unfortunately, part of the town burned in a 1992 fire. The town has one of the largest redwood lumber mills now in existence. At a park in the center of Scotia you can see a cross section of a redwood tree 1285 years old. The tree yielded 69,000 board feet of lumber. Children can scramble over an old logging locomotive on display at the park. Redwoods have a capacity to inspire wonder because of their height, beauty, and age. Even a tree 1285 years old may in fact be countless eons older. Most redwoods sprout clonally from the roots of their parent tree rather than from seeds.  This same tree may have perpetuated itself in this fashion for thousands upon thousands of years.

At shops throughout Redwood Country you can often see burls for sale. Burls are masses of redwood tree tissue that form around a bud. Burls are attractive ornamentally and, if put in water, will sprout as a miniature tree. The shoots will grow and flourish as a miniature tree for years, living off the nourishment stored in the burl.

The futures of both logging and fishing, the economic mainstays of the region, are uncertain.

Depletion of the old-growth supply, rather than a slacking demand, is a restricting factor in redwood lumbering. However, redwood is the fastest-growing softwood species suitable for this climate. Young forests are more productive than old forests, from a board-feet point of view.

Fishing for salmon has been banned in the waters off parts of this coast in some years because the annual run of salmon in the Klamath River was perilously low. If you happen to pass the mouth of the Klamath River when the salmon are spawning, you’ll find a small army of RVs with salmon fishermen lined up reel to reel along the bank. Upstream, in the Hoopa Native American reservation, the residents are allowed to net the fish.

The politics of salmon fishing and logging are equally intense.

Immediately north of Eureka is Arcata. Wild Canadian geese in the tens of thousands graze in the grassy dairy lands south and west of Arcata. The Arcata Marsh hosts large number of migrating birds and boasts an interpretive center and boardwalks, making the vision of this reserve accessible to the public. Humboldt State University, in Arcata, is the major seat of learning in the region. Eco and marine sciences are major faculties. Back in the city itself, the town center square, the Arcata Plaza, has a prominent statue of the assassinated but long-forgotten U.S. President William McKinley. Around the plaza are shops emphasizing the bookish and progressive world of Arcata, such as Rookery Books and Arcata Artisans Fine Arts.

Farther north from Eureka, the road swings close to the coast and passes through major redwood parks, such as Prairie Creek, Del Norte, and Jedediah Smith, located in the foggy and rainy environment so conducive to optimum redwood growth. These parks were combined in 1968 to be Redwood National and State Parks. Prairie Creek Park is noted for its Fern Canyon and herds of Roosevelt elk. Del Norte Park contains attractive showings of rhododendrons and azaleas. Jedediah Smith Park, with its wild Smith River, is appreciated for its trout, salmon, and steelhead runs, as well as its pristine redwood trees along Howland Hills Road.

The interpretive center, the Kuchel Visitor Information Centre, is worth a stop at Orick. The center is located right on the coast. Headquarters for Redwood National and State Parks is in Crescent City at 1111 2nd Street.

One of the most enjoyable walks in Redwood National and State Parks is a loop in the Lady Bird Johnson grove, which shows the range of vegetation, such as the 12 kinds of ferns that grow in the redwood environment.

Wander through the string of units that form the parks to make your own private discoveries, such as the itinerant Roosevelt elk herd at Prairie Creek.

Redwood Country is itself so spread out along Highway 101 that concentrating on the parks alone would be sufficient purpose for a trip. Side trips can be made on the scenic roads that parallel the main route, such as the Old Coastal Highway near the mouth of the Klamath River. The red elderberry, red alder, and scenic views of the ocean at marked turnouts make this a particularly choice side road. An overlook at the mouth of the Klamath River is an example of the many vantage points where an ocean view in Redwood Country is pleasing. Here you can see California gray whales migrating to and from Alaska and Mexico, plus some whale pods who have chosen to establish an all-year presence. Yurok Indians managed the salmon catch on the Klamath River from time immemorial, and today a Yurok family now offers hospitality at the historic Requa Inn on a bluff overlooking the river.

There are roadside attractions that inquisitive kids in the back of the car will never let you get past, such as the Tour Thru Tree at Highway 169, Klamath Glen exit. Another attraction, Trees of Mystery, at first appears to be largely a tourist memento store, but be sure to see their End of the Trail Museum, with its elaborate Native American basketry and costume collection. Besides the Native American artifacts, such as a Crow Native American elk-tooth-adorned dress, you’ll see a distinguished collection of Edward Curtis photos. This is a good place to pick up some redwood burls as gifts.

There are, however, also quieter wonders, such as Patrick’s Point Park, a little-known state park with a re-created Yurok village, lovely campsites, and plenty of scrambling trails down to fine beaches, all in a relatively allergen-free environment. Patrick’s Point boasts handsome stands of spruce and hemlock, plus many varieties of mushrooms. Patrick’s Point’s re-created Yurok village includes bark houses and a Yurok redwood log canoe.

Del Norte Coast Redwoods Park has a beach aspect accessible from Enderts Beach Road. The view is one of the most dramatic rocky beach perspectives along the entire California coast.

Jedediah Smith Park, honoring the famed “mountain man” who explored this area in the 1820s, boasts both one of the wildest dam-free rivers in California and an old-growth redwood forest, along Howland Hills Road, that, some will argue, is the finest example of a primeval redwood forest in Northern California.

Unique lodging and dining options for the region include the stately and historic Benbow Inn and dining room south of Garberville. The Carter House Inns in Eureka, with its Restaurant 301, is a lodging and fine-dining leader. The Ferndale Victorian Inn occupies a restored downtown building and entices with its VI fine-dining restaurant. The Scotia Inn houses you in an historic redwood-logging enclave. Plaza View Stay manages several one-of-a-kind lodgings around the Arcata Plaza, close to casual dining options, including the Plaza Grill in the historic Jacoby’s Storehouse building. Family-style Elk Meadow Cottages, consisting of former mill worker houses at Prairie Creek, are an alternative and unique house-style lodging for this area. The Best Western chain of lodgings provides dependable and quality rooms at an affordable price in strategically-located motels from Garberville to Crescent City.

Nearby Trips from Redwood Country

The alternative route to Highway 101 is coast Highway 1, which takes you past the closest redwood grove to San Francisco, Muir Woods. You can drive all the way up coast Highway 1 and then follow the road over to Highway 101 to see the main redwood groves, including the Avenue of the Giants. This scenic route takes much longer, however, so use Highway 1 only if you have an extra day for exploring.

Once in Redwood Country, the lonesomeness of the Lost Coast area exerts an imaginative pull on the traveler. Drive west from Humboldt Redwoods Park on Mattole Road to Honeydew and then north on the small roads to Ferndale if you have extra-day time and if your vehicle is in good condition. A view of the remote Kings Range Mountains will alert you to the great, less-explored, and wild areas of California, bastions of the Roosevelt elk and the mountain lion.

***

Redwood Country: If You Go

The dependable information source for Redwood Country is the Humboldt County Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.redwoods.info.

The official National Park Service website for the California redwood parks is at www.nps.gov/redw.

This article is one of thirty chapters in Lee Foster’s book Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. San Francisco figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

redwood country

Northern California Travel Itineraries

July 5, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 


Northern California Travel Itineraries – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

As you peruse the bountiful travel options in the Golden State, the question arises: just what are the best things to do and see in Northern California at each of the major travel destinations?

You probably don’t want to be overwhelmed, so let’s consider just five choice options for each area destination.

If traveling with kids, you might enjoy a couple of further suggestions for each destination that would be especially fun for kids.

Here are my judgments on the choicest picks for a traveler.

San Francisco

Suggested Itinerary:

For San Francisco area visitors, these folks run the popular Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours. They also have tours for a Boat-Trip-On-The-Bay, Alcatraz (get a secure date, plan in advance), Muir Woods/Sausalito, Attractions/Museums (sometimes with no wait in line, plus discounts), Wine Country, and more. See their All San Francisco Tours.

*Tour the downtown of the City on a Cable Car, which you can board anywhere on the line if the Powell/Market start has long lines.

*Pause at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge to marvel at the aesthetics of the structure, then walk out to mid-span for a look back at San Francisco.

*Stroll in Golden Gate Park and take in the current art show at the DeYoung Museum, stopping for tea at the Japanese Tea Garden.

*Walk Grant Avenue in Chinatown from Post to Columbus, then turn left and walk Italian North Beach up to Washington Square.

*Indulge in a Red and White Fleet tour boat ride from Pier 41 to get out on San Francisco Bay, which gives you views of the City, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Hills from out on the water.

Especially For Kids:

*Rent a bike at Fisherman’s Wharf and bike out through Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge.

*Immerse kids in the gangster world of Al Capone with a tour of the former federal prison on Alcatraz.



Booking.com

Oakland-Berkeley East Bay

Suggested Itinerary:

*Explore California nature, history, and art at the Oakland Museum of California.

*Walk Oakland’s Asiatown and Old Oakland and have lunch here, perhaps at The District.

*Tour the University of California Campus, making a stop at the Lowie Museum to see the anthropology exhibits. Meander down Telegraph Avenue to visit the bookstores, such as Moe’s.

*Explore north of the campus in the Berkeley “Gourmet Ghetto,” headquartered around Chez Panisse restaurant, near Cedar and Shattuck.

*Encounter the East Bay Parks with a walk out Inspiration Point in Tilden Park, above Berkeley.

Especially For Kids:

*Turn kids loose amidst the wonders of science at Lawrence Hall, on a hill above the U.C. Berkeley campus.

*Hike, bike, or fly a kite at Cesar Chavez park along the Berkeley waterfront.

San Mateo County

Suggested Itinerary:

*Treat yourself to a trail in one of the foothill redwood parks of San Mateo county, such as Memorial Park.

*Walk the beach at San Gregorio to enjoy the rolling surf of the Pacific.

*Explore the one-street town of Pescadero, with its whitewashed frame houses, and stop for a seafood dinner at Duarte’s.

*Tour William Bourn’s Filoli Estate to glimpse the turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th) grandeur of this water baron.

*Sample the boutique agriculture for which the Bay Area is famous, perhaps on a u-pick day at Phipp’s Ranch or at a goat-cheese demonstration at Harley Farms.

Especially For Kids:

*Meet the giant elephant seals that haul out at Ano Nuevo State park, celebrating that these creatures narrowly averted extinction.

*Make the acquaintance of seashore life in the tidepools during low tide at the James Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.

San Jose and Silicon Valley

Suggested Itinerary:

*Peruse the high tech exhibits at The Tech Museum, which catalogs many of the innovations in the Silicon Valley region.

*Sample the cultural life of San Jose at its downtown Art Museum or at its Performing Arts Center.

*Taste wine made by the pioneer Mirassou family at their winery east of San Jose. Their main growing area is now in Monterey, a wine region that the family helped develop.

*Escape from the world of computer chips to rustic Los Trancos Reserve for a walk in the oak trees along a trail describing earthquake effects.

*Attend the Gilroy Garlic Festival, held in late July, to sample the many ways in which garlic can be eaten.

Especially For Kids:

*Instruct a robot to do tasks for you at The Tech Museum in downtown San Jose.

*Turn kids loose on the thrill rides at Great America amusement park.

Marin County and North Coast

Suggested Itinerary:

*Immerse yourself in the glorious redwoods of Muir Woods, the closest redwoods to San Francisco.

*At Point Reyes, take the Earthquake Walk, observe the Miwok Indian Village, and drive out to Limantour Beach for a beach walk.

*Proceeding up the coast, note the Russian presence in California at Fort Ross, a restored Russian fortification.

*At Point Arena, meet one of the classic lighthouse constructions in the western U.S. See the ingenious Fresnel lens that magnified a spare kerosene light to be visible 20 miles out to sea.

*In Mendocino, indulge in a picturesque California seaside town and its quaint B&Bs, such as the McCallum House.

Especially For Kids:

*As you start the drive north, pause at Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands to show them a classic view of the Golden Gate.

*Show kids the nesting white egrets at Audubon Ranch near Bodega Bay.

Sonoma Region

Suggested Itinerary:

*At the Sonoma Mission, see the most northerly penetration of Spanish influence in California.

*Visit the home of General Mariano Vallejo to make the acquaintance of a survivor, a Spanish Californian who knew how to function in American California after the Gold Rush.

*Taste wine in Sonoma at the original winery, Hacienda, of the father of California viticulture, Agoston Haraszthy.

*In Glen Ellen, visit the tragically burned Wolf House of writer Jack London, now a state historic park.

*In Santa Rosa, see the house of gifted horticulturalist, Luther Burbank, who stimulated the flourishing fruit and vegetable agriculture of California with his experiments.

Especially For Kids:

*Make an adventure trip from a Sonoma Farm Trails outing. You never know what you’ll find, from beekeepers to apple juicers.

*Show kids the daily life of the soldiers and the priests at the Sonoma Mission, well interpreted at this state historic park.

Napa Wine Country

Suggested Itinerary:

*Tour wineries and taste wine, perhaps on a first trip with stops at Chandon, Mondavi, and Sterling.

*Meet the spirit of the genial commentator on the early Napa wine country, Robert Louis Stevenson, at the Silverado Museum in St. Helena. Read his slim book, The Silverado Squatterss.

*Visit the wine country in September when the season has changed, the harvest is in full swing, and the green vine leaf of summer has changed to striking reds, oranges, and yellows.

*Take a hot air balloon ride to give yourself an aerial perspective on the Napa region.

*Soak in one of the hot pools or mud baths at Calistoga.

Especially For Kids:

*Show them the Old Faithful Geyser at Calistoga, which is faithful, spurting out every 50 minutes or so.

*Acquaint them with the Petrified Forest west of Calistoga, where they can see felled trees turned to stone, and emerge with a souvenir of petrified wood.

Redwood Country

Suggested Itinerary:

*Stop at the Humboldt Redwoods Park for an orientation at the Visitor Center and an acquaintance with the big trees at Founder’s Grove.

*Meander along the Avenue of the Giants and stop at some of the road-side attractions, such as a drive-through tree.

*Visit the quaint Victorian town of Ferndale and admire its excellent hometown museum to the dairying and logging heritage of the Eel River delta.

*Walk the Lady Bird Johnson Trail in Redwoods National and State Parks to see the full spectrum of plants in the redwood environment.

*Lodge in the main redwood town, Eureka, perhaps at the Carter House Inn, and sample some of the finest dining in Redwood Country at their Restaurant 301.

Especially For Kids:

*Track the Roosevelt elk herds in Prairie Creek Park to get close to these magnificent animals.

*Take home as a souvenir a redwood burl, which is a growth around a bud on a tree. Water the burl and watch it sprout over the years into a new tree.

Santa Cruz

Suggested Itinerary:

*Stroll the last of the California boardwalks and take a nostalgic ride on the Big Dipper, one of the best of the old-fashioned roller coasters.

*Enjoy a seafood dinner out on The Wharf.

*Walk Pacific Garden Mall to assess how the city recovered from the Earthquake of 1989.

*Amble around the University of California-Santa Cruz campus to see its innovative and diverse cluster architecture.

*Take a barbecue dinner ride on the Roaring Camp Railroad into the redwoods.

Especially For Kids:

*The Boardwalk is a kid pleaser, whether it’s the carousel horses for the young or arcade games for the teen. An ocean beach good for swimming and boarding is nearby.

*The Roaring Camp Railroad through a redwood forest takes kids of all ages back to the era of steam trains.

Monterey and Carmel

Suggested Itinerary:

*Visit the final resting place of Junipero Serra, the indefatigable Franciscan, at the Carmel Mission.

*Observe the marvels of offshore life along the California coast at the Monterey Aquarium.

*Tour the 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach and note the manner in which the Lone Cypress tree has survived the elements.

*Spend a half-day strolling the art galleries of Carmel.

*Walk the trails of Point Lobos to commune with California wildflowers in spring and observe all year the California sea otters cavorting in the kelp beds near shore.

Especially For Kids:

*Introduce kids to the wondrous world of the nearby ocean at the Monterey Aquarium.

*Let kids build sandcastles at China Cove in Point Lobos while you open a bottle of Cabernet to toast the Pacific.

Exploring Big Sur

Suggested Itinerary:

*Stop at turnoffs along the drive, such as at Bixby Bridge, to savor the Pacific.

*Meditate at the Point Sur Lighthouse on the isolation of the area before the road was built.

*Walk the beach at Andrew Molera and Big Sur state parks to discover the driftwood presentations.

*If you have the time, take a side trip on Palo Colorado Road to see redwoods and the pine-covered back country of Los Padres National Forest.

*Enjoy a drink on the deck at Nepenthe, high over the Pacific.

Especially For Kids:

*Let kids become apprentice beachcombers at Molera or Big Sur state park beaches.

*Arm them with binoculars to spot whales, from the Nepenthe deck, going south in January and north in March.

Sacramento and the Delta

Suggested Itinerary:

*Witness the story of the railroad in the West at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.

*Observe Swiss entrepreneur John Sutter’s outpost of civilization, Sutter’s Fort, in Sacramento. Sutter’s empire was overrun by the Gold Rush. Adjacent is the State Indian Museum.

*Feel the political power of the Golden State as you gaze up at the State Capitol dome.

*Meander through the Delta waterways by taking side road Highway 160 along the Sacramento River.

*Tour Locke, a Delta town originally founded by Chinese.

Especially For Kids:

*Lodge kids on the restored riverboat, Delta King, now a hotel in Old Sacramento, and immerse them in railroad romance at the State Railroad Museum.

*Authentic Indian lore and artifacts are abundantly evident in the State Indian Museum adjacent to Sutter’s Fort.

Gold Rush Country

Suggested Itinerary:

*Immerse yourself in the Gold Rush at Columbia, the best-preserved Gold Rush community, now a state historic park.

*Lodge in a quaint Gold Rush hotel, such as the City Hotel in Columbia or Murphys Hotel in Murphys.

*Attend a Gold Country event, such as the annual Fireman’s Muster at Columbia, the spring Daffodil Hill flowering, or the Angel’s Camp Jumping Frog Jubilee, recalling Mark Twain’s story.

*Stop at the site where the Gold Rush began, in Coloma, when John Marshall discovered gold nuggets in a logging millrace.

*Indulge in a cozy dinner at one of the Gold Rush era dining rooms, such as the National Hotel in Nevada City, and wash down dinner with a Gold Rush country wine, such as a Zinfandel from D’Agostini.

Especially For Kids:

*Learn how to pan for gold at the Matelot Gulch Mining Company in Columbia.

*See how Indians ground up acorns for food in the thousands of depressions in the rocks at Indian Grinding Rock State Park.

Yosemite National Park

Suggested Itinerary:

*Take the park service tram around Yosemite Valley to see the major land forms, such as Half Dome and El Capitan, from different perspectives and in the varying light at different times of the day.

*Walk to the various falls, such as Yosemite Falls and Nevada Falls, in Yosemite Valley. Use the tram to take you to the farther-away falls.

*Walk up to Mirror Lake to see an alpine lake naturally progressing from lake to meadow.

*Drive up to Glacier Point to get an elevated view of the Valley and the major land forms, stopping at the Wawona Tunnel for the striking mid-level vista of the valley.

*Drive south to Wawona to see the Mariposa Grove of massive inland sequoia trees.

Especially For Kids:

*Show kids the Ahwahneechee Indian village recreated in back of the Visitor Center.

*Rent bicycles for a family ride along the paved paths in Yosemite Valley.

Lake Tahoe

Suggested Itinerary:

*Savor the view of Emerald Bay at the southwest corner of the lake.

*Get out on the lake on one of the cruise boats, such as the Tahoe Queen.

*Spend a leisurely day driving around the lake, with time to stop and explore the Nevada-side state parks, such as Sand Harbor.

*Get an elevated perspective of the area from the top of the year-round tram at Heavenly Valley.

*Drive south on Highways 89 and 88 through the Hope Valley to Kirkwood for a sense of the alpine environment, which is exceptionally lovely during October fall color.

Especially For Kids:

*Take both major tam rides to the top of the mountains, at Heavenly Valley and Squaw Valley.

*Cruise the lake on the second of the major tour boats, the MS Dixie II.

Death Valley and the Southern Sierra

*Marvel at the tufa mounds in Mono Lake.

*Meet the General Sherman tree, the most massive living thing on earth, at Sequoia National Park.

*Drive high into the White Mountains, east of Bishop, to meet the oldest living things on this planet, the bristlecone pines.

*Witness the profuse spring wildflowers at the California State Poppy Park, west of Lancaster.

*Enjoy the rumpled and wild landscape at Zabriske Point in Death Valley National Park.

Especially for Kids:

*Tour Death Valley Scotty’s fantasy castle at the north edge of Death Valley and learn about this desert character.

*Let a Death Valley park ranger introduce kids to a pupfish in a desert spring during one of the guided park outings.

This article is one of thirty chapters in Lee Foster’s book Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

See Lee’s four Northern California books/ebooks on his Amazon Author Page.

See Lee’s books/ebooks
on his Amazon Author Page and in Independent Bookstores

My main book/ebook on Northern California is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. San Francisco figures prominently in my book/ebook titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco. Those volumes, including some more on California, can be seen on my Amazon Author Page. My further books on Northern California are Back Roads California and Northern California History Weekends. One of my California books, Northern California Travel: The Best Options, is now available as an ebook in Chinese.

redwood country

California’s Other Redwood Country, Especially Big Basin

June 16, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

by Lee Foster

Most people think of California’s “redwood country” as stretching north from San Francisco along Highway 101. However, there is another, equally appealing redwood country to the south, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was here, moreover, that the idea of saving the redwoods began with a California State Redwood Park. The park known today as Big Basin was California’s first redwood park.

The Santa Cruz Mountains redwood area provides the lover of nature with a diverse, forested, hiking-and-camping terrain, and includes one of the state’s least-used parks, Forest of Nisene Marks, now recovered from logging scars to a lush, second-growth forest.

A back road through the area, Highway 9 down the San Lorenzo River, takes you through the arts and crafts center of Boulder Creek and several small villages with a Scots flair, such as Ben Lomond, to another major park, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Adjacent to Henry Cowell chugs one of the few remaining historic railroad experiences available to the public, the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge steam trains.

Once you begin to enjoy the trails of the Santa Cruz Mountains, an organization worth knowing about is the Santa Cruz Mountains Trails Association. Through them you can meet fellow hikers and participate in the extensive volunteer work that helps maintain the trails. Over 100,000 volunteer hours have been contributed by this organization to maintaining trails since their first Trail Day in 1969. Trail Day is usually in April. For information, contact Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Association, P.O. Box 1141, Los Altos, CA 94022; 650/968-2412.

A group with a special interest in advancing the appreciation of natural history in the region is the Mountain Parks Foundation, 525 N. Big Trees Park Rd., Felton, CA 95018; 831/335-3174. This group enhances interpretive activities in the parks by sponsoring campfire programs, training volunteers who lead nature walks, arranging for the publication of nature literature, and maintaining the self-guided trails.

BIG BASIN REDWOODS STATE PARK: FIRST OF THE STATE PARKS

This was the first state park and is, in many ways, the most significant of all the California state parks. The park was created in 1902 as a result of public outcry over the impending doom of virgin redwoods in this area. Much credit must go to Andrew Hill, a San Jose photographer, who spurred the movement. The park lies on ocean-facing slopes about 20 miles north of Santa Cruz. You can reach it via Highway 236. Phone 831/338-8860.

LEGACY OF ANDREW HILL: PERMISSION TO PHOTOGRAPH

Though no one man can be credited with founding the California State Park System, certainly one pioneer deserves special mention. That is Andrew P. Hill, photographer, painter, conservationist, propagandist.

An ugly incident at Felton in 1900 kindled Hill’s rage. On assignment from a British publication, Hill went to the Felton area to photograph redwood trees. He felt the best specimens could be found there. But an irate landowner threw Hill off his land and screamed at him, “This is MY property. These are MY trees. No one can photograph them unless I say so.”

As Hill waited at the depot for the train ride back to San Jose, fuming, suddenly an idea occurred to him.

“The thought flashed through my mind that these trees, because of their size and antiquity, were among the natural wonders of the world,” he later wrote. “They should be saved for posterity. Thus was born my idea of saving the redwoods.”

Hill was tireless in this pursuit. He organized a meeting with David Starr Jordan of Stanford and representatives of other colleges and organizations, including the Sierra Club. Together they agreed to focus on the Big Basin rather than Felton area because property in Big Basin could be purchased more cheaply. The group formed a committee that went to survey Big Basin. Around a campfire one night on Sempervirens Creek they passed the hat, collecting the first $32 of the millions that would eventually be needed to save sizable chunks of redwood real estate.

At Big Basin you can hike or drive to the site, called Slippery Rock, opposite Sempervirens Falls, and read the marker that recalls this historic camp:

“The first state park. A group of conservationists led by Andrew P. Hill camped at the base of Slippery Rock on May 18, 1900, and formed the Sempervirens Club to preserve the redwoods of Big Basin. Their efforts resulted in deeding 3,800 acres of primeval forests to the state of California on September 20, 1902. This marked the beginning of the California State Park System.”

Around 1900, few people were attuned to the redwood trees as a finite resource, and Congress was not then interested in saving California redwoods. The Big Basin area was being logged rapidly, with the Big Basin Lumber Company shipping out 150 rail cars of lumber daily from its Boulder Creek Mill.

Partly because of a persuasive speech by the University of Santa Clara’s Father Robert E. McKenna, the state legislature appropriated $250,000. With this money the first 3,800 acres were secured under the name California Redwood Park, which opened to campers in 1904. In 1927 the name was changed to Big Basin.

Over the years additional tracts of land have been acquired, and the process continues today. In 1916 Congress transferred 4,000 acres of federal land to the park. Through efforts of the Save the Redwoods League and the Sierra Club, another 3,400 acres were acquired in 1967. Leading this movement is a group called The Sempervirens Fund, Drawer BE, Los Altos, CA 94023, 650/968-4509). Today the park encompasses 18,000 acres of diverse terrain, with acquisition of the Waddell Creek lands provided by the Hoover family. At park headquarters the Sempervirens Room tells of this ongoing work and how interested members of the public can join the effort.

The white man was a greater appreciator of the Big Basin redwoods than were the earlier Indians. To the Native Americans the dark quiet of the redwoods was less hospitable than the open meadows and oak woodlands, where their food of acorns, deer, berries, and seeds was more profuse. Indian trails crossed Big Basin as part of annual migration patterns from the Santa Clara Valley to the coast for fishing.

The Portola expedition passed along the coast here in 1769, camping at the Waddell Creek watershed. Portola and his men were sick at the time, but recuperated quickly, so they called the area La Salud, “the health.” They saw redwoods here, but the first reported comment by Europeans on redwoods occurred a few days earlier near the Pajaro River to the south.

Logging began in earnest in the 1860s. William Waddell, after whom the creek is named, built a substantial lumber mill and a wharf along the seacoast. Waddell’s operations ceased when he was mauled by a grizzly bear about 1875 and died.

Several small timber claims were filed in the next decade in what was then called Big Gulch. These settlers lived by stripping tan oak bark, which was used in the leather-curing industry, and by splitting straight-grained redwood into roofing shakes to be sold in Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Typical of these small homesteads was the Tom Maddock cabin, now recalled by an inscription carved into a log at the homestead site, two miles north of park headquarters on the Opal Creek Trail. The Maddock family had a 100-acre homestead with orchards from 1882 to 1902.

FROM PARK HEADQUARTERS: BEST OF THE TRAILS

When you arrive, stop at park headquarters and pick up a map. At park headquarters an exceptional museum, called Nature Lodge, celebrates the park’s history, flora, and fauna. The museum offers excellent displays of stuffed birds, snakes, and mammals seen at the park. Campfire naturalist talks and nature hikes take place daily in summer. Camping is by reservation (800/444-7275), except for several backpacking camps, which are reserved direct by calling the park. Campgrounds are situated in the redwood trees.

The finest redwoods stand along the Redwood Nature Trail near park headquarters. This self-guided trail has the noblest specimens of redwoods in the region. You make the acquaintance of the massive Santa Clara Tree and the Chimney Tree, whose entire core has been hollowed out by fire. Growth continues in the Chimney Tree because the cambium layer next to the bark was not damaged.

Redwoods have a capacity to inspire wonder, partly because of their age. At park headquarters stands a cross section of one tree that has been ring-dated as 2,200 years old. At the time of the Romans this was still a young tree. But the tree may in fact be countless eons older because most redwoods sprout clonally from the roots of their parent tree rather than from seeds. The same tree may continue to live in this way for thousands upon thousands of years.

The other main plants around the headquarters and campgrounds are tan oak, Douglas fir, huckleberry, and western azalea. Huckleberries produce large amounts of food for mammals and birds in August. Azaleas perfume the air with their white blossoms in June.

At higher elevations and more open terrain the vegetation becomes increasingly diverse, with much oak and madrone. The book, PLANTS OF BIG BASIN REDWOODS STATE PARK, available at headquarters, has excellent photos and brief descriptions of plants found throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains.

My recommendation for the choicest hiking among Big Basin’s 60 miles of trails is the stretch from Berry Creek Falls to Silver Falls, which shows profuse wildflowers and lovely waterfalls in spring. Allow a half day from headquarters for a loop trip to this area. The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail (discussed in detail in the Castle Rock Park write-up) threads through Big Basin to the ocean, allowing you to walk from the spine of the mountains to the sea. The trail ends at the most recent addition to Big Basin, the historic Rancho del Oso on Lower Waddell Creek.

CASTLE ROCK STATE PARK: BACKPACKER RENDEZVOUS

High on the Santa Cruz mountain ridges above Big Basin rests Castle Rock State Park, a special park for the hiker, backpacker, and rock climber. Castle Rock’s parking lot, on Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) about 2.5 miles south of the junction with Highway 9, is also a start of the Skyline to the Sea Trail, one of the most inspiring hikes in the region. The official start of the trail is at the road junction.

Rock climbers like to scale the large sandstone rock near the parking lot. This eminently climbable rock gave the area its name. All sorts of rock scrambling and climbing can be practiced here and throughout the park.

From the parking lot a 2.8-mile hike leads to the campground. You can hike in and out easily on a day trip if not staying overnight. Take the Skyline to the Sea Trail in and the Ridge Trail out, making a pleasant loop. You can also hike into the camp and continue, walking all the way to the sea.

The hike to the campground is one of the loveliest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. You pass several plant communities and witness compelling vistas of the mountains in all their wildness. First you pass through a Douglas fir forest along a cool, moist stream, dark and peaceful, with some large madrone, tan oak, and bay trees. This jaunt ends with a view of Castle Rock Falls, which slip over sandstone with a sheer drop of over a hundred feet. However appealing, this scene is only a prelude of vistas to come.

Next you walk through a chaparral plant community, with its drier vegetation, exposed to the sun. “Chaparral” comes from the Spanish, chaparra, for small scrub oaks. Much manzanita, ceanothus, and chamise can be seen here. Red-tailed hawks wheel about in the sky, catching the thermal updraft of cliffs below you, looking for meals of mice and rabbits. In the spring there are wildflowers, such as Indian paintbrush. Panoramas of the mountains open up on the left as you hike along. You also pass many large sandstone outcroppings, including some carved by nature into caves, suitable shelter in a storm.

Finally you pass into an oak woodland plant community, where the trails are thick with leaf duff, soft to the feet. A range of oak species clusters here, including live, canyon, and black oaks. Buckeye trees make occasional appearances and some madrone thrive on these slopes.

Castle Rock Park would qualify as a wilderness, except that some old access roads pass across it. Hiking through here may provide many private pleasures. I recall a day when, as I rested on the Ridge Trail, the plaintive yipping of coyotes enveloped me. The pack sang not more than 100 yards away, giving me a half-hour concert.

Though the elevations here are not those of the Sierra Nevada, nevertheless the 2,645- to 3,215-foot heights may affect your breathing pattern. Allow a little easier walk than usual because of the slightly thinner air at this altitude. With so much to see, hiking should be considered an enjoyable and educational stroll rather than a marathon endurance test.

If you want to see lovely red-barked madrone in all their beauty, there is no finer place than the Ridge Trail. Actually, this growth has now become somewhat too thick, dominating the countryside, because fires here have been controlled for the last 50 years. A healthy burn will someday clean out this forest floor.

Once you reach the campground, you begin to perceive that this is an extraordinary camp. First, it is only accessible to hikers or backpackers, which thins the crowd considerably. But the camp itself is luxurious, with picnic tables, fire pits, and toilets. Excellent water is available from a tap that reaches into a spring. Though downed wood can’t be gathered, bagged firewood can be bought. The camp fee itself is modest, but pack in extra money for firewood and a map of the area if you don’t already have one. There is also a pay phone here to alert the outside world of your progress, an unusual amenity in the wilderness.

At Castle Rock campground the fine self-guided nature trail, the Danny Hanavan Trail, acquaints you with the flora.

SKYLINE TO THE SEA TRAIL: THE LONG WALK

The map needed for Castle Rock Park alone is the map for the first part of the Skyline to the Sea Trail. The entire trail comes in two maps, with the second covering Big Basin. You can send ahead for the two-part maps with a stamped self-addressed envelope to the ranger at Castle Rock State Park, 15000 Skyline Blvd., Los Gatos, CA 95030. Phone 831/867-2952 for the current price and for camp reservations.

For a full-blown walk of 30 miles from the Castle Rock skyline to the sea at Waddell Beach, allow four days and three overnights. This gives you some time to look at nature as well as make the walk.

The next stop after the Castle Rock trail camp is Saratoga Gap, the junction of Highways 9 and 35. Saratoga Gap has a parking area that can be a starting or stopping point if you have two cars as shuttles. From Saratoga Gap you can walk toward Big Basin along a trail that closely parallels the highway, but the more scenic route is Toll Road Trail, which takes you away from the highway. These trails eventually join up eight miles later. You must backtrack a mile along the trail by the highway to the camp at Waterman Gap if you take the Toll Road Trail.

The trail from Castle Rock to Big Basin will be improved eventually to eliminate one stretch through a subdivision. Call ahead to register for the next camp along the trail, near Waterman Gap, by contacting Big Basin Redwoods State Park, 831/338-8860.

From Waterman Gap the next leg of the trail takes you to China Grade in Big Basin, where vast views of the forests and ridges of Big Basin unfold. From China Grade you can glimpse the ocean that will wet your toes if you make the full walk through the Waddell Creek basin to the sea.

Much credit for the existence of the 30-mile Skyline to the Sea Trail must go to the Sempervirens Fund, an organization vital today and well worth supporting. An impressive turnout of 2,500 volunteers came together in one day to help build the trail. Now there is a network of more than 80 miles of trails between and within Castle Rock and Big Basin parks. Contributions of money and labor to build trails can be granted to the Sempervirens Fund.

ROARING CAMP AND BIG TREES NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD: VISIONS OF STEAM

The prospect of a ride on an authentic steam-powered train, with the locomotive belching steam and sounding whistles, tends to excite explorers of all ages. Such a ride is possible near Felton on the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad, one of the last steam-powered passenger trains still operating. The entrance is off Graham Hill Road just south of Mt. Hermon Road, 831/335-4484. You can also enter from the nearby parking lot of Henry Cowell State Park. If you plan to visit the train and Henry Cowell Park, go directly to the park and walk to the train.

The tracks twist around a six-mile loop through redwood groves. Other tracks can take you on the train all the way into Santa Cruz.

Back in the 1880s lumberjacks and pioneers used the same train to make their livelihoods, hauling out lumber and shingles. During the 75-minute trip you climb some of the steepest grades ever built for a railroad. Unfortunately, vandals burned the extraordinary corkscrew trestle that enabled the train to gain altitude rapidly. An ingenious system of rail switchbacks now allows the train to traverse the steep grades.

At Bear Mountain, during the trip, you can get off the train for a picnic or a hike in the redwoods and then catch a later train back to depot headquarters. The conductor gives a competent commentary on the flora of the region during the stop and as the train moves. At a pause in a “cathedral” of redwoods, he describes how new redwood trees sprout in a circle around the deceased mother tree.

Near the boarding platform, you can see the steam-powered sawmill. In the spirit of the setting, meals of chuck wagon barbecued beef are served. Local musicians sing ballads of the lumbering West and other themes of country-and-western music.

Another popular ride is the Moonlight Steam Train Party, on Saturday nights in summer, with singing and dancing under the stars.

At Roaring Camp you can see a short covered bridge and visit a reconstructed 1880s General Store selling items from western garb to a complete line of books for the rail buff. Legend asserts that the name Roaring Camp had its origin in the Mexican impression of the American settlers here. The Americans, who had a fondness for whiskey, created quite a roaring time.

The railroad is rich in legend and history. Riding it today can help you approximate the time when passengers from the East Bay, boarding in Newark, could ride down the East Bay shore, cross the Santa Clara Valley, then train over the mountains, to resort pleasures here in the redwoods or beach attractions at Santa Cruz. These Picnic Trains or Suntan Specials are now gone forever, but the present Roaring Camp Railroad arouses considerable nostalgia.

Five locomotives constitute the rail company’s main holdings, ranging from the Kahuku, a 12-ton Baldwin locomotive from 1890, to the Dixiana, a 42-ton Shay locomotive from 1912.

HENRY COWELL REDWOODS STATE PARK: A WALK IN THE FOREST PRIMEVAL

Henry Cowell is another of the majestic redwood parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A stately grove of the giant trees includes many first growth specimens with clusters of oxalis flowers around their bases. Fifteen miles of hiking trails await the traveler.

The main entrance to Henry Cowell Park is just south of Felton on State Route 9. This entrance puts you close to the Redwood Grove with its first-growth trees. The campground is on the east side of the park, accessible from Graham Hill Road. One hundred thirteen roomy campsites lie partly in a unique forest of ponderosa pine, which usually thrives in drier environments. The camp boasts an amenity rare among state parks, hot showers.

Redwood Grove, with its 29 numbered interpretive stations along an 8/10-mile loop trail, offers one of the outstanding nature walks on the peninsula. The walk begins near an attractive small Visitor Center devoted to nature exhibits and literature. Sword fern, oxalis, and ginger plants cover the forest floor. The first-growth redwoods are majestic and are named mainly after presidents and other dignitaries. The tallest here is 51 feet in circumference and 285 feet high, even though a strong wind broke off another 75-foot top section. Small specimens of the inland giant redwood and the so-called dawn redwood have been planted at the end of the trail. Though these young trees are overpowered in the battle for light by the indigenous Sequoia sempervirens, you can look closely at the leaves to note family similarities and differences among the three.

The dawn redwood is a tree with a special modern story. Fossil remains in California indicated that there had been three species of redwoods in earlier eons. Besides the coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, and the inland giant redwood, Sequoia gigantea, there was a third tree, which scientists named Metasequoia or dawn redwood. This tree was thought to be extinct, but in 1944 botanists cataloguing plants in China discovered dawn redwoods there. Many have been planted in California from seed or shoots brought from China since the late 1940s.

The San Lorenzo River passes through Redwood Grove. In winter there is a spawning run of salmon and steelhead.

Henry Cowell Park was formed in 1953 when Samuel Cowell donated 1,600 acres of land to the state in memory of his father, Henry Cowell. That donation included the superlative stand of first growth redwoods. The county later added another 120 acres.

In 1976 a new 2,335-acre section of Henry Cowell Park opened on Ben Lomond Mountain. This is the Fall Creek unit of the park, west of Felton off Felton-Empire Road. The area was a busy limestone quarry from 1870 to 1925. Hiking trails open the Fall Creek unit to travelers.

FOREST OF NISENE MARKS STATE PARK: THE UNDEVELOPED LANDSCAPE

Marked “undeveloped” on some maps, this 10,200-acre park offers a secluded hiking and backpacking experience, encompassing the complete drainage of Aptos and Hinckley creeks. The generous Marks family of Monterey bought this property and deeded it to the state in 1963 with the proviso that it be named after their mother, Nisene Marks.

You can reach the park from Aptos Creek in Aptos, just off Soquel Drive. The park land was clear-cut of redwoods 1893-1925 by the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, but by now attractive, second-growth forests have arisen. Production of lumber was sufficient for Southern Pacific to lay a broad-gauge spur track here in 1884. The top of the park is a ridge at 2,600 feet, south of Loma Prieta, which is one of the higher peninsula mountains, at 3,791 feet. You can walk about 30 miles of trails in Forest of Nisene Marks Park, including one along the railroad track leading back to Hoffman’s Historic Site, the original frenetic logging site. Buildings at Hoffman’s are now being reclaimed by forest.

Reservations for backpackers to stay at the West Ridge Trail Camp can be made with rangers at Henry Cowell Park near Felton (831/335-4598 or 800/444-7275).

Nisene Marks Park has a special historical significance because near here, at Corralitos, the Portola expedition made European man’s first recorded contact with redwood trees. The party was walking north past the Pajaro Valley in 1769 on their quest for what mapmakers had indicated was an excellent bay.

“The scouts came back from exploring what had seemed to be pine trees,” wrote diarist Crespi, “which they were not; but very straight, very thick trees of no small height, with a very slight short leaf; some said they were savins (cedars), but in my opinion they are not, the wood is red, and they are not junipers; they may be savins, who knows, but if so, they are not like any others we have seen elsewhere.”

***

IF YOU GO: CALIFORNIA’S “OTHER” REDWOOD COUNTRY

*Big Basin State Park. The major park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Offers an excellent walk in mammoth redwoods, an able Interpretive Center, many miles of hiking trails, and camping. Contact them at Big Basin State Park, off Highway 236; phone 831/338-8860. Campsites must be reserved (800/444-7275).

*Hiking Companions. Meet them through the Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Association (P.O. Box 1141, Los Altos, CA 94022; 650/968-2412).

*Natural History Publications. Writings about the region’s flora and fauna can be bought in local bookstores and at Big Basin Park. The publisher of these volumes is the Santa Cruz Mountain Parks Foundation, 525 N. Big Trees Park Rd., Felton, CA 95018; 831/335-3174.

*Sempervirens Fund. The group active in acquiring land for the parks in the region is the Sempervirens Fund (Drawer BE, Los Altos, CA 94023; 650/968-4509).

*Castle Rock State Park. Located at the top of the mountain ridge, Castle Rock is a good backpacker and day hiker park. The headquarters is Castle Rock State Park, 15000 Skyline Blvd.; 650/867-2952. Castle Rock is the start of the Skyline to the Sea Trail, which meanders from the spine of the mountain to Waddell Beach on the Pacific.

*Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad. This authenic steam train on Graham Hill Road at Felton (831/335-4484) offers intriguing train rides through the redwood trees. Formerly a lumber camp, the name arose from Mexicans observing that the American loggers had a liquorous, roaring good time. Train ride in the redwoods circles around Bear Mountain. A Santa Cruz Beach train has been put in operation, shuttling from Felton to the Santa Cruz beach and back.

*Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is adjacent to the Roaring Camp Railroad. Henry Cowell, like Big Basin, offers an excellent interpretive walk through a redwood grove. Park entrances is at Star Route 9, 831/335-4598. Hiking is excellent in the main park and at the relatively new Fall Creek unit of the park. Campsites need to be reserved (800/444-7275).

*Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. Least developed of the parks in the Santa Cruz mountains is Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, Aptos Creek Road in Aptos, 831/763-7063. Good for hiking, backpacking, and picnics.

Foster Travel Publishing