Visiting California's Redwood Forests While They Still Exist

Rene Cizio

Redwoods are the closest thing to immortal that we have on this Earth. On my road trip from Oregon and along the California Coast, I made frequent stops to hike along the many redwood groves and absorb the energy these immortal trees give off.

I’d heard of Redwood National Park and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, but somehow it didn’t occur to me that these magnificent trees would grow elsewhere, but they do. Many remain in small groves all along the northern California coastline. Coast redwoods grow in a narrow area about 470 miles long and 47 miles away from the Pacific coast.

Before now, I’d never seen a redwood tree before, but pictures had me longing to be in their presence. The trees are so big it’s hard to fathom. My mind can’t understand it. But my heart does. These immortal trees have been alive longer than anything on earth and will be here after we’re gone too. There is magic in that. The forest they live in is primordial. It’s like going back in time.

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Finding Redwoods

When I learned there was a grove of Redwoods not far from where I was staying in Oregon, I made a quick trip crossing the border into California and the Jedidiah State Park, where I stood for the first time among immortal beings.

The Jedidiah State Park has a few small groves of redwoods. It seems funny to call them “small groves” since that’s impossible. They’re the biggest living things I’ve ever seen in my life. They are the biggest living things in the world.

“The vainest, most slap-happy and irreverent of men, in the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect.”
John Steinbeck, travels with charley

I drove down the winding road with the high sun overhead, casting sunbeams through the trees’ trunks where they could penetrate. Even without the redwoods, the forests along the pacific coast would be among the most beautiful you’ll find anywhere. The contrast of the deep red and brown wood alongside the bright, lush green from the coastal moss and foliage creates a striking picture. The trees grow taller and broader than I’ve seen elsewhere and here, they are worshipped with a reverence that is obvious from the pristine care they receive. Giant red trees and green ferns are all so perfect looking it’s like being in a movie.

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As I made my way into that first redwood forest, the trees somehow grew larger and larger. Despite the afternoon sun overhead, the forest road grew darker as the tree canopy above me thickened. I slowed my speed in awe as the tree trunks on the side of the road started to appear as large as my van.

First sight

Once I stood next to my first redwood, I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder. They were so spectacular and otherworldly that my mind could not comprehend them. I could not make myself understand what I was seeing. These trees were as big as buildings. So tall and so, so, wide it was unbelievable. They were wider than two cars next to each other. It would take more than a dozen people holding hands to encircle one. Their bark was so thick I could probably reach into one up to my elbow. Imagine a tree as big as the statue of liberty; many are nearly 400 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It defies reason, or at least any reason my mind could understand.

Immortals

These remarkable trees absorb coastal mist and fog through their bark as water supply, making them nearly immune to draught. They also can live 1,200–2,200 years or more and some of these massive trees were burned but still live. I saw many trees entirely hollowed out from fire but still standing, alive and growing. Coast redwoods’ thick, fibrous bark grows to at least a foot thick and protects them from fire. Fires kill off other trees who might fight have fought for nutrients in the forest, leaving redwoods to stand tall, unharmed. The burning actually helps their seeds open and germinate. What’s more, they take in water, not as much through their roots, like other trees, but through their leaves and bark, so their cores are not entirely necessary, and draught does not impact too much.

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Being in these groves seemed like being in another world. A place where things existed that I knew nothing about: they were so powerful. So alive. They had so much energy; there was almost a hum, like the crackle of energy that remains after a thunderstorm.

Redwood Forests

The redwood forests smelled like no other kinds of wood. A cross between deep cedar and warm oak, but with a moist and earthy scent. They were all different too. Some are growing together in pairs or clusters from the same root ball, others smaller, some massive beyond words or description. Or at least any words that I knew, but what did I know of this world? Nothing.

The bark on many of them, massively wonderous, was also different. They weren’t all the same. The bark had different patterns and textures. Some spiraled a bit like they’d been alive through many windy years; others were more deeply grooved, some thinner and unmarred, a dark chocolate brown that looked like someone painted them.

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Many of them laid on the ground, dead or dying, with other trees growing from them. When redwoods fall, new tree clones spring up around it and use the decaying wood as nutrition. Many of the massive trees had evolved from other nurse logs in this way. You can tell that the nurse log long since disintegrated because of the height of the roots of the “new” tree caused by growing around the fallen tree. So old, I can’t imagine it. A human is considered very old if we live 100 years. These trees can live more than 20 times longer than that.

Groves Everywhere

I found a redwood grove in nearly everywhere I went in northern California. The trees grow in many places, so it’s unnecessary to go only to Sequoia or Redwood National Park. You’ll find groves in various locations along the northern California coast.

The redwood forests are precisely the type of forest of my imagination. They are what I envision when I envision hiking. But even when I’m not hiking and just driving, they are a delight incomparable to anything.

In the Humbolt Redwood State Park, I drove through the Avenue of the Giants for more than an hour. It was spectacular. Massive redwood trees line the roadway for miles and miles, pulling over to stare at them many times. Eventually, so lost in wonder, I finally noticed it started to get dark. In the redwood forests, it’s shaded because the trees are so dense and tall. They block all the light from above, but as the sun sets, it becomes even darker. It was completely black on the narrow road, black enough to entirely hide even the most enormous trees. It was scary and magnificent.

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The most bizarre part was that I was often the only person in the entire forest. It’s odd more people aren’t obsessed with these forests and there isn’t a traffic jam waiting to get in, but there isn’t. There’s hardly anyone. It is a perfect place to come and bask in the energy the trees give off. And I did, even taking my crystals and placing them against the bark of various trees to absorb the energy from them. I put my hands on many trees, hoping to absorb just a fraction of their greatness.

If everything is made of energy, then these trees, as the oldest living things in the world, have an abundance of powerful energy and more wisdom than we can comprehend. That’s worth being around.

Tree Hugger

So I spent each night of my weeks in northern California searching and finding a new forest, another grove, more trees. I sat next to them, stared up at them, and marveled in wonder at their existence. I circled them, gasping at their width, and tried in vain to capture what my eyes were seeing with my camera, but it’s impossible. You must see for yourself.

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I may sound silly with my awe at their immortality and size, but you cannot understand until you stand in their presence and then you will know, and you’ll never forget.

Protect the Redwoods

Despite their wonder, in today’s world, greed often wins, and these trees have faced danger and near extinction. In the past, logging decimated the once more abundant trees, and many are still slated for cutting. Many species of these trees are now extinct. Increasing wildfire intensity is threatening too. Sadly, there are fewer each year.

Learn more about the redwoods and how you can help protect them from the Save the Redwoods League.

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Digital nomad, solo road tripping through the USA in my van. I write about travel, adventure, culture, and self-improvement. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL
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