The Bull Creek groves in Humboldt Redwoods State Park run six kilometers east to west, starting at the confluence of Bull Creek and the South Fork Eel River and extending west to a short distance past the Mattole Road Bridge over Bull Creek. All the tall redwoods (those over 100 meters in height) in the Bull Creek groves are within 225 meters of Bull Creek itself. Therefore, the area with very tall redwoods encompasses about 2.7 million square meters / 270 hectares / 670 acres. The tall redwoods are more or less uniformly distributed throughout this area, which is known as the “Bull Creek Flats”.
Despite what a sign says, the Bull Creek Flats have NOT been a wilderness for thousands of years. This area was long used by Native Americans, especially in the winter when salmon were in the creek. In the present day Mattole Road runs through the entirety of the Bull Creek groves, and the area is well trailed, on both the north and south sides of Bull Creek. You can virtually drive Mattole Road through the Bull Creek Flats using Bing Maps (this area is not available on Google Earth Street View).
John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated $2 million in the late 1920’s to purchase the Bull Creek groves and a portion of the surrounding hillsides from the Pacific Lumber Company. That sum was matched by state of California taxpayers to complete the $4 million purchase of approximately 9,400 acres encompassing the Bull Creek Flats, Dyerville Flats, and some of the surrounding hillsides in 1931. This is why the area in the present day is called Rockefeller Forest, though John D. Rockefeller Jr. preferred the name Bull Creek – Dyerville Forest.
Coast Redwoods are the dominant canopy species in Bull Creek groves. The coast redwood is the only living tree species with more than a handful of individual trees over 100 meters in height. There are approximately 2,000 coast redwoods over 100 meters in height. Of these 2,000, about 800 are in the Bull Creek groves. About 25 of the approximately 45 trees in the world over 110 meters in height (all coast redwoods) are in Bull Creek groves.
Notable trees marked on older maps for this area include the Rockefeller Redwood (Tall Tree), Giant Tree, Flat Iron Tree (now fallen), and the Giant Braid.
Lower, Middle and Upper Bull Creek Flats
Although the Bull Creek groves (Bull Creek Flats) are continuous, sometimes the area is subdivided into the lower, middle, and upper Bull Creek Flats. Using 2018 LiDAR data, I have created three derivative maps detailing the crowns in each area color shaded by ten meter height increments, stopping at 100 meters. The crowns with white shading on top are over 100 meters, and there are about 800 such crowns along Bull Creek. The tallest tree in the Bull Creek groves is Stratosphere Giant, which is about 114 meters tall. Its specific location can be found through a standard web search.
A Photo Tour of the Bull Creek Groves
Below are photos I took from 2014 though 2019 of locations in the Bull Creek groves. They give a good overall idea of what can be found on the Bull Creek Flats, and some specific additional facts are included in the photo captions.
I have also created a three minute You Tube / Power Point on the Bull Creek groves. There is some background music, please forgive the middling skill of the piano player (me).
Coast redwood tree height is of great interest, as these are the tallest trees currently growing on our planet. There are about 2,000 trees over 100 meters in height, and all of them (except one or two) are coast redwoods. Then the tallest coast redwood is a little over 116 meters in height.
There are longitudinal studies of redwoods over their range, centering on eleven defined plots, each about 10 m x 1000 m in size, with two each in Jedediah, Prairie Creek, and Redwood National parks and one each in Humboldt Redwoods, Montgomery Woods, Samuel P. Taylor, Big Basin, and Big Creek Parks and Reserves. All the trees and vegetation in the plots are measured every three to five years and results are tracked over time.
The overall consensus is the redwoods in the northern plots are holding their own, and in fact growing faster than ever based on dendrochronology studies. Tan oaks, a companion species to old growth redwoods, are having difficulties due to a spreading root disease (SOD). Then hemlocks have become susceptible to invasive mistletoe spreading up trunks. A couple very tall hemlocks in Jedediah Smith upland have fallen or are standing dead. The largest tree that fell in the plots was a very large Douglas Fir in the Redwood National Park upland plot.
Then there are lists of the tallest redwoods (those over about 105 meters or otherwise locally tall for their area) where these trees are measured every so often, some every year and others perhaps once a decade.
The tree heights for redwoods in the plots and on the tall tree lists are very accurately measured by Laser Range Finders or by crown tape drop (with measuring pole for the tip). Obviously only so many redwood trees can be assessed in this way.
However, there is another way to track canopy height. Not exact height, but pretty close. It is LiDAR.
LiDAR data is available for many of the areas with tall redwoods. Availability and download tools are available on the National Map, NOAA Elevation Data, and Open Topography LiDAR Portal. For certain areas, LiDAR data is available starting from 2007 (though typically private and not available for download) all the way through 2020 (later years are typically public and available for download). Be sure to download all points and to work in meters.
I would be remiss not to lobby for public availability of LiDAR data captured for public lands, especially if the LiDAR acquisition was partially or fully publicly funded.
Using LiDAR Data to Measure Canopy Height Over Time
In order to use LiDAR data longitudinally, it is necessary to create LiDAR derivatives for individual surveys, export the height above ground rasters created from these surveys, then compare the height above ground rasters between surveys done at different dates.
To use LiDAR point cloud data to create height above ground, there are several sources with detailed steps. Let me briefly summarize a method I find works well:
Software – ArcGIS Pro
Filter point cloud to ground points, use Geoprocessing Tool “LAS Dataset to Raster” to create a dem layer. Within Tool use Interpolation type “Binning”, Cell Assignment “Average”, Void Fill Method “Natural Neighbor”, Sampling Value “1”, Z Factor “1”.
Next filter point cloud to first return points, use Geoprocessing Tool “LAS Dataset to Raster” to create a dsm layer. Within Tool use Interpolation type “Binning, Cell Assignment “Maximum”, Void Fill Method “Natural Neighbor”, Sampling Value “1”, Z Factor “1”.
Now that dem and dsm layers have been created, use Geoprocessing Tool “Minus” and subtract the dem layer from the dsm layer. The resultant layer is the tree height. A map can be created to show colors by height band. However, at this point, to access forest height over time, we are interested in exporting this information to a table.
This height layer to table process is a little involved, there is a paper on it, link is here:
Since a raster height layer has already been created, we can skip steps 1 and 2 and start with step 3.
Run Geoprocessing Tool “Raster to Point”. Here the input file is the height above ground layer, the field is “Value”, and an output file will be named and created. Let’s call this result RasterT_FoundersGrove.
Run Geoprocessing Tool “Add Geometry Attributes”. Input features are “RasterT_FoundersGrove”, Geometry Properties are “Point x,y,z and m coordinates”, Length Units are “Meters”, Area Units are “Square Meters”, and Coordinate System is “Current Map”. These attributes are then added to “RasterT_FoundersGrove”.
Run Geoprocessing Tool “Add Surface Information”. Input features are again “RasterT_FoundersGrove”. The input surface is the height above ground layer, for Output Property “Z” is checked (this is height above ground), the Method is forced to “Bilinear” (don’t worry the information behind this Method on point averaging and sampling, it will not be done due to how the height above ground layer was created), and leave Sampling Distance blank. This adds surface information to RasterT_FoundersGrove.
Run Geoprocessing Conversion Tool “Table to Table”. Input Rows are again “RasterT_FoundersGrove”. The output location will default to the project database but can specify any available folder. The Output Name can be anything but the .csv extension must be explicitly included. For this example, we can call it FoundersGrove.csv.
The output CSV file will look like this:
Both grid_code and Z are height above ground in meters. Then POINT_X and POINT_Y are meters east and north in the Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system.
In a general sense, the 2007 Private LiDAR covers all the northern redwood parks. Then there is 2017 and 2018 public LiDAR for northern redwood parks south of Eureka. There is also updated LiDAR, from about 2016, for redwood parks north of Eureka but for now it is private.
For Founders Grove, there is 2014 and 2018 LiDAR available. I followed the process noted above and used a max function against the final csv files to find the tallest point within each of 430,000 square meters downloaded for both 2014 and 2018. I then did these height comparisons:
For points in same square meter where the height was over 70 meters in both 2014 and 2018:
Crown Sq Meters
Avg Hgt 2014
Avg Hgt 2018
Std Dev of Chg
Median of Chg
Height Changes in Same Square Meter Canopy Location in Founders Grove, Canopy Over 70 Meters
Then for points in same square meter where the height was over 90 meters in both 2014 and 2018:
Crown Sq Meters
Avg Hgt 2014
Avg Hgt 2018
Std Dev of Chg
Median of Chg
Height Changes in Same Square Meter Canopy Location in Founders Grove, Canopy Over 90 Meters
In Founders Grove, the trend is increasing height, of about 0.14 meters per year from 2014 to 2018. The median height change was an increase of 5.5 inches per year, with 70% of crowns gaining height.
From this information Founders Grove growth can be assessed as increasing in height, and this is a favorable condition in relation to forest health.
This same comparison can be done over longer periods for many redwood park areas as LiDAR data exists in both the 2007-2010 time frame as well as the 2016-2020 time frame.
As Inspired by Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Second Movement (Allegretto), “Knowing”, most watched You Tube version here:
For more photos and associated music in You Tube, please go here
Movement 1 – il fiurne icontra l’oceano (River Meets Ocean)
Redwood Creek flows into the Pacific Ocean just south of Orick, California. The outflow area includes some rocky headlands, pastures, and a large earthen levy. The levy is to mitigate the effect of offshore earthquake induced tidal waves. Not too long ago, and for thousands of years before that, native peoples used this area in the winter for fishing and hunting, with their villages located a few miles upstream in sunnier and warmer areas near Emerald Creek (a feeder creek to Redwood Creek). The native peoples also used the Bald Hills area in the summer and fall for hunting and collecting acorns. The Emerald Ridge, Dolason, and Tall Trees trails are likely routes originally used by the native peoples to travel between the Bald Hills and Redwood Creek.
One way to access this area is a pleasant beach walk from the Kuchel Visitor center. It is a lot safer and warmer to walk near the high tide line versus in the surf, as the water is cold and sneaker waves can knock a person down and drag them out into the ocean.
This is an area where the steady outflow of Redwood Creek can be expressed by soft string music, then the waves are represented by the thump of the kettle drum, and the sadness of what was lost through minor scales played by oboes and clarinets, particularly the first wailing call at the start of the movement.
This movement covers Redwood Creek from the ocean to the turn southward, and the first one minute forty five seconds of Beethoven’s allegretto.
Movement 2 – inizia la grande foresta (The Great Forest Starts)
Moving upstream Redwood Creek turns south, winding around the base of Orick Hill. It is in this area the great Redwood Creek forest starts. Here the trees are not quite as tall as further upstream, as sunlight is suppressed by coastal fog for much of the year. Yet the tallest trees in this area approach 330 feet in height. There are open fields on the east side of the creek, through fire maintenance by native peoples and now the National Park Service. Elk are in this area, and there is still a hint of the Pacific Ocean as evidenced by large Sitka spruce trees in places near the creek. Big mossy maples are also around, giving a hint to past flooding events.
This area is a transition zone between the maritime area and the tallest trees which are further upstream.
In this movement there is a building, repeated melody played in the string section. It is a hint of what is to come, as the tall trees are all round and become more numerous moving upstream. This would cover about 1:45 to 2:45 in Beethoven’s piece.
Movement 3 – la foresta che tocca il cielo (The Forest That Touches the Sky)
Starting immediately around the area of the north seasonal foot bridge, the tree height skyrockets. Here is the start of a six mile sweet spot, with nightly fog providing year round moisture for leaves through absorption and for roots through fog drip. But then the fog retreats during the day and allows the sunshine to provide energy for photosynthesis. There are many side streams with gulches and gullies, where the tall trees can find wind protection. The hillsides give a push to the water column of each tree, as water first flows downhill a few feet from the uphill side of the trunk to give a boost to the osmotic pressure that brings that water up through the xylem to the crown. There are also flats near Redwood Creek with very rich soil. The tall redwoods grow all over, on the hills above Redwood Creek, up the side streams, and on the flats. Only the trees on the flats can be accessed safely, Tall Trees Grove year round, then the other flats only when Redwood Creek is running low. It is exceedingly dangerous hiking off trail along the hillsides and creeks above Redwood Creek and its side streams.
In this area there are perhaps 35 trees above 350 feet in height. Before the area timber harvest started in 1950 there were probably four times as many (about 140). How tall was the tallest, was it taller than 380 feet? We’ll never know for sure, and it is very special there are a couple trees around 380 feet in height, still. There is an excellent article on historic tall Douglas firs and Coast redwoods by Micah Ewers, it is here:
In this movement the full orchestra pitches in on the main melody, playing loudly, with the beat kept by a thumping kettle drum. Each beat of the drum represents a 350 foot tree, and each note in the melody signifies the magnificence of the forest. There are also some intervening sections with soft undertones by the woodwinds that signify what was economically gained and then lost as the timber was harvested from 1950 to 1977.
This movement covers about 2:45 to 7:05 in Beethoven’s opus.
Movement 4 – magnificenza sopra il torrente (Magnificence Above the Stream)
Starting around the Emerald Creek inflow, Redwood Creek becomes more stream like and a lot of the forest above the creek is second growth. But old growth remains, with a few trees here and there trying to touch 350 feet. The nightly fog inflow starts to dissipate in this area, and the forest becomes drier, especially in the summer. This is a hard to reach area with some scenic spots, I have been told.
This movement is carried by woodwinds and the strings are plucked at times, representing resignation that the forest is dwindling and losing height. But every now and then the orchestra chimes in with a new short bright melody, like a scenic early evening sky, representing the occasional towering trees that occur in this area. It is still very good. Then at the very end the main melody returns, for a few short notes. This represents the end of the old growth.
In Beethoven’s opus this runs from about 7:05 through to the end at 9:10.
Redwood trees are noted for reaching exceptional heights. This is the only species of tree that currently has numerous individual trees over 100 meters in height. But even for redwoods, 100-meter trees are relatively uncommon, with about 1,900 individual trees exceeding this height. Then there are only 40 or so redwoods over 110 meters in height, with the current demonstrated maximum height about 116 meters.
This table recaps the counts for tall redwood trees by Park
Tree Height vs Age In Old Growth Forests
In 2009 and 2010 redwood research plots were established in
old growth forests across the current redwood range, sixteen in all. Each plot is one hectare (10,000 square
meters) and is shaped in a long narrow 10-meter X 100-meter rectangle, with two
tall redwoods near each end. These plots were put in to monitor redwood
tree and redwood tree forest health over time.
As part of this research, the tree heights are measured every so often,
and the tree ages were established by core samples up the trunk to allow the
thin increment borer to reach the center of the trunk if possible. A few redwoods outside the plots are also
included in the longitudinal study.
Stephen C. Sillett, Robert Van Pelt, Allyson L. Carroll, Jim Campbell-Spickler, Marie E. Antoine (2020) Aboveground biomass dynamics and growth efficiency of Sequoia sempervirens forests https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2019.117740
From Appendix F in the updated research paper, the tree heights and ages can be plotted. I have generated this plot and table from the information in Appendix F.
From this graph we can see the youngest 100-meter redwood from the study is a little over 300 years old. Then the tallest redwoods cover a broad age range, from about 630 years old to about 2,000 years old. Some of the older trees lost some height but then grew tall again, this is termed reiterated growth. Then other trees have continued to grow without much crown breakage. The very oldest trees tend to be a little shorter and include many reiterations.
Note there is a 120 or so year old tree that is 82 meters in height. The young redwoods in old growth areas, if they have sufficient access to light, may grow more quickly than young redwoods in second growth forests, as the young redwoods in old growth forests can tap into the underground root network put out by other old growth trees and acquire shared nutrients from the existing old growth trees.
Tree Height vs Age in Second Growth Forests
Redwood tree forests were timbered starting around 1850. After timber operations left an area the redwoods
began to grow again from the ground up, either as new growth from stump roots
or growth from seedling sprouts. These
second growth forests are in both managed timber lands and in parks and
reserves. In parks and reserves the second
growth redwoods have been thinned over time to help the forests more quickly
mature. The tallest second growth
redwoods are about 285 feet tall and about 160 years old. How long will it be before these trees reach
100 meters in height? It is likely much
sooner than 500 years.
For example, in Navarro Redwoods the tallest trees are 250-275 feet tall and growing on average eight inches per year.
This is an estimate of growth curves for second growth redwoods in optimal habitats. It is predicted 160 year old second growth redwoods in optimal growing areas will on average reach 100 meters in height at age 400 years (240 years from now). There will likely be a few very fast-growing second growth trees that reach 300 feet 30 years from now and 328 feet (100 meters) 100 years from now.
All the canopy height information presented here originated with a 2018 LiDAR Flyover in certain sections of Humboldt County, California. The point cloud data from the flyover was made available on the National Map in square kilometer tiles. I downloaded this information for Humboldt Redwoods State Park groves and processed the ground and first return points through ArcGIS, creating canopy height output data and visualizations.
Most of the groves with trees over 80 meters are located adjacent to the South Fork Eel River or along Bull Creek. There are about 1,200 or so acres that support 80 meter or greater crowns and appear as yellow/orange/red shaded areas on these maps.
Here are a couple summary charts for crown height. The most common height band in these groves is between 90 and 100 meters.
vs Ground View
When viewing the LiDAR canopy visualizations it is evident
the tall trees tend to grow in clusters, forming a kind of tree archipelago in the
forest. The trees tend to band together
in small groups. Certainly their interwoven
roots are supporting the tree groups both structurally and nutritionally. Then they may also have a common ancestor
Here are paired LiDAR and on the ground views for sample sections of three areas in HRSP. In the LiDAR visualizations, white indicates over 110 meters height, purple over 105-110 meters height, red 100-105 meters height, orange 90-100 meters height, yellow 80-90 meters height, green 70-80 meters height, and blue 35-70 meters height.
Redwood tree height measurement came into its own in the 1990’s. Skilled researchers and naturalists combined laser rangefinder technology, LiDAR height estimation, hiking and climbing skill, and direct tape drop from the canopy to create a nearly complete inventory of tall redwood trees throughout their range (with the exceptions of Six Rivers National Forest and Headwaters Reserve, which have not been thoroughly assessed). From this it was determined redwoods over 100 meters (328 feet) in height were uncommon, totaling about 2,000 trees. And redwoods over 350 feet (106.7 meters) in height were very uncommon, totaling about 230 trees. Each tall tree is remeasured every five years or so, with the tallest trees having more frequent measurements.
I don’t have direct access to the 15-25 years of longitudinal height data for tall redwoods but through research I was able to find height information for the tallest known trees in the year 2000 as well as their remeasured heights as of 2015. There were 129 trees over 350 feet on the 2000 list, indicating many more 350-foot redwoods were yet to be identified, particularly in Redwood National Park. Here are the height changes for these 129 trees in inches growth per year (parks with smaller tree counts are excluded) on the left axis and 2015 height on the right axis (line).
On the chart the trees are grouped by Bull Creek (Humboldt
Redwoods along Bull Creek), Eel River (Humboldt Redwoods along Eel River
including Rockefeller Loop), Montgomery (Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve)
and Redwood (Redwood National Park).
It is evident in all four areas most trees had height
increases over fifteen years. Nine trees
lost height, a few in each area. Median
height growth was about three inches per year.
Over the past few years two of the trees in the data have fallen.
The chart also includes tree height in 2015. Correlation between 2015 height and height
change is 0.53, correlation between 2000 height and height change is 0.02. So height change was not related to initial
Here is summary data related to the chart.
This data indicates the canopy of very tall redwood trees increased three feet from 2000 to 2015. The canopy in 2000 was the result of several thousand years of forest development. Then why did the tallest existing redwood trees increase on average another three feet in height from 2000 to 2015? Some potential contributing factors:
More sun reaching the leaves of edge habitat trees due to cutting of nearby trees from 1860-1979.
Increased atmospheric CO2 providing more energy for photosynthesis
Future of These Tall Trees
Based on plot information, 350-foot tall redwoods are between
700 and 2000 years old, with the median age 1180 years. It is very likely almost all of the current
350-foot tall redwoods will fall over the next 1000 years, being replaced by
grow in from trees currently under 350 feet and trees yet to sprout.
Let’s test this against the known 350-foot trees to fall in
the last 30 years in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
It can be expected about ten percent of the tallest redwoods
will fall every 100 years, with 3-4 trees falling each decade.
Before falling many trees will lose and regain height over
time. About two thirds of the 350-foot
redwoods in study plots have reiterated tops.
is the Maximum Height for Redwoods
The current tallest tree is about 381 feet tall. There are four trees around 375 feet tall or
taller, and all four are gaining height.
Then the data shows the canopy for very tall trees in general is
increasing by about one foot every five years.
So will there be 385-foot redwoods in 20 years? Could be.
Will there be 390-foot redwoods in 50 years, and 400-foot
redwoods in 100 years? Maybe. The theoretical maximum height based on tree
structure and physics has been calculated to be 425 feet. There is no reliable historic record for a redwood
tree over 400 feet in height. One was
measured right at 400 feet about fifty years ago along Wilson Creek by an
expert timber cruiser.
Will some second growth Douglas Fir beat all the redwoods
and get to 400 feet first? Maybe, but
then again the reliable historic maximum height for Douglas Fir is 393 feet.
There was a lot of
planning put into this trip but time was set aside for fun hikes as well. My sister Lisa met me on this trip, she is a very
knowledgeable outdoorsperson and a strong hiker. We made an interesting duo
arriving at hotels and places to buy food, two older middle-aged people with
Monongahela twangs wearing dusty trail clothes and hiking backpacks. There is unfortunately a certain chill toward
people looking a little musty and dusty at North Coast businesses. Anyhow once credit cards and ID were
presented people were friendly enough, but not until then. In the parks. rangers are immediately
friendly to everyone.
The first stop was a scenic late afternoon hike around the
Montgomery Woods Reserve loop. This is a great place to get close to tall
trail side redwoods and to see tall trees in their full profile. In the late
afternoon the green crowns are lit up by the sun while the lower trunks are in
the canyon shadows. It’s a pretty
Redwoods State Park
We spent a good deal of time in Humboldt Redwoods exploring
the groves along the Eel River and Bull Creek.
A particularly interesting hike was the new Canoe Creek loop on the
River Trail. There are a lot of
huckleberry in the fire recovery areas and it is evident bears are enjoying the
huckleberries. Some good blackberries as
Canoe Creek has a flat near the Eel River with some really
Humboldt Redwoods has a number of trees that are joining the
350+ redwood club. We used LiDAR data to
find one of these new trees.
On another day we did some hiking in the Redwood Creek
area. There was a small group of
fledgling raptors on the hunt in Redwood Creek Canyon, looking for fish in the
creek from high above. They were
probably bald eagles. We saw a bunch of college
aged trail runners zipping along Redwood Creek trail in groups of two or three,
moving so quickly they made a breeze as they went by.
Norte Redwoods State Park
In Del Norte Redwoods we hiked the Damnation Creek
trail. This trail goes from 101 (enter
and exit southbound), crosses the old Coastal Highway (Coastal Trail), and then
winds down to the Pacific. It is pretty
special to see the blue ocean and hear the surf while still high up at the edge
of the redwoods. I didn’t make it down
the switchbacks to the beach, but Lisa did.
There is not much published research on the age of the
northern California redwood forests. Redwood
trees have been on Earth for millions of years in various forms. The coast redwoods that grow along a narrow
belt from Big Sur to extreme southern Oregon are a remnant of the ancient
redwood populations. It is thought they
were almost wiped out at the peak of the latest ice age, with only a few groves
surviving in canyons around Big Sur. But
then as the glaciers retreated, the jet stream and Pacific inflow moisture
shifted northward 400 miles. The
redwoods followed, establishing their present range.
From this we know the Tall Trees Grove cannot be more than 12,000 or so years old. Whether it is 4,000, 8,000, or 10,000 years old, I don’t know and have never seen anything speculating on the age of the forests in Redwood National Park. Given redwood trees live to 1,000 to 2,000 years of age it can be estimated there have been at most eight generations of redwoods in this grove.
History of Tall Trees Grove
Native Americans have lived in the Redwood National Park
area for several thousand years. Again,
I have not read anything more precise, so from that will go with 10,000
years. In the most recent times, just
before European settlement, about five hundred Native Americans identified as
the Chilula tribe lived on the northeast side of redwood creek near the inflow
to the Pacific Ocean. Some of the open
berry fields on the first part of Redwood Creek trail going south were probably
maintained by the Chilula through controlled fires. In the summer the Chilula hiked south along
Redwood Creek and then through Tall Trees Grove and up a trail to the Bald
Hills. This indicates the trail from the
Tall Trees Grove parking area to the Tall Trees Grove is substantially an
improved Chilula foot path.
of Tall Tree and Establishment of Redwood National Park
In 1963 Paul Zahl and his family spent the summer around
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Zahl
was employed by National Geographic Society and tasked to document the redwood
parks and to look for new areas with very tall redwoods. At some point in 1963, Zahl was sitting on a
hill across from the south part of Tall Trees Grove, and noted a very tall tree
in the grove. Surveyors were hired and
the tree was measured at 368 feet. It
was on Arcata Redwood Company land. The president
of that company, Howard Libbey, pledged not to cut the grove while plans were
being made for the establishment of Redwood National Park. There was a lot of back and forth as to the
location of the park but eventually the Redwood Creek watershed won out and the
park was established five years later.
There is a little bit of intrigue associated with the actual
tallest tree in the 1960’s. Correspondence
exits between Paul Zinke (Humboldt Redwoods area researcher) and Rudolf Becking
(Redwood National Park area researcher) regarding possibly taller trees at the
confluence of Bull Creek and Eel River in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. But it was decided to keep the issue low key
to help get Redwood National Park established.
Google “letter from Paul Zinke to Rudolf Becking” and follow the results
to see a copy of this 1966 letter.
Trees Grove Logistics
It is well documented on the park web sites a certain procedure needs to be followed to access Tall Trees Grove. The visitor center just south of Orick or the one in Crescent City provide permits to use the Tall Trees Grove access road along with the combination for the locked gate that sits at the entrance of the access road. The access road is a maintained old logging road and heads south from Bald Hills Road just past the Redwood Creek overlook to the Tall Trees Grove parking lot on the hill above Redwood Creek. Be sure to shut and lock the gate after pulling through and drive the six or so winding miles on the unpaved road at a moderate pace to keep the dust down and the stones out of your wheels. The trail from the hillside parking area down to Tall Trees Grove is not difficult but it is steep coming back up, about 700 feet elevation gain in a little over a mile. There are five or so rest benches along the trail.
Some people camp along Redwood Creek a short distance from Tall Trees Grove. If you are doing this let the ranger know when getting your Tall Trees Grove permit, you will then receive a bear proof cannister for your food. There are a lot of black bears in the Tall Trees Grove area that eat fish, frogs, crustaceans and the bark of young redwoods. Then there are also mountain lions which follow the deer down to the creek.
Trees Grove Itself
Tall Trees Grove itself it not large. The flat with the tallest trees is about 30 acres then there are another 100 or so acres of mixed old growth forest on the hillside. However there is a high density of very tall redwoods. The grove has four of the fifty tallest trees in the world (National Geographic (Nugget), Paul Zahl, Howard Libbey (Tall Tree), and the Redwood Creek Giant.
The grove also has a nice Big Leaf Maple forest right by the
creek. It is possible these maples are in
a part of the grove that is subject to flood inundation.
In the summer when the water is low the gravel bars along
Redwood Creek can be accessed to provide views of Tall Trees Grove and the
surrounding area. This is the most
special and scenic part of seeing Tall Trees Grove.
On the hike up take time to appreciate the hillside forest, noting the large redwoods all along the trail as well as tall Douglas firs higher up. There is a nice rhododendron bloom on this trail in June. Thanks for reading.
Hendy Woods is about 125 miles north of San Francisco. Do a rest stop in Cloverdale, the driving west on Route 128 is windy and slow for a while, but then things level out when the scenic Anderson Valley is reached. Hendy Woods is small but has some big and tall redwoods, a few above 340 feet in height. The loop trails are easy level hiking.
Montgomery Woods is 30 winding miles north of Hendy Woods. This is a pretty famous redwood park. It has a couple trees that are in the top 20 in height among all redwoods. There is a short hike from the parking lot to the grove that has a pretty good elevation change but is very doable if a measured pace is followed. The trail is very nice, looping around both sides of the grove and allowing hikers to walk right among the tall trees.
Richardson Grove is about 100 miles north of Montgomery Woods. The short drive through this grove along 101 is spectacular. Slow down and enjoy it. The tallest redwoods in the park are at the visitor center and are about 340 feet in height, but there are a bunch of big and tall redwoods right along 101.
The heart of Humboldt Redwoods is about 40 miles north of Richardson Grove. The Founders Grove and nearby Rockefeller Loop have very nice mostly level trails, with a number of trees over 360 feet tall.
Redwood National Park is about 100 miles north of Humboldt Redwoods. The tallest trees in the world grow in the remote Redwood Creek Valley and are 380 feet tall. However if you want to drive deep into a big redwood forest with easy hiking do the Lost Man Trail. There are big trees in Lost Man as well as a few over 350 feet tall. Another good Redwood National Park trail near Klamath is up Flint Ridge, it is well constructed and the climb is scenic and gradual.
Creek Redwoods State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods is just north of Redwood National Park and has many trails through fine redwood forests. The great trail network starts at the visitor center and there are also a lot of trails accessible along Drury Parkway and Cal Barrel Road. Lots of the largest (by volume) redwood trees are in Prairie Creek. The trails near Prairie Creek are relatively flat and then there are some trails going up the hillsides that have nice gradual ascents.
Norte Redwoods State Park
The heart of Del Norte Redwoods is about 20 miles north of Prairie Creek Redwoods. There are few trails and they are pretty steep. The section of the Damnation Creek trail from 101 to the old Coastal Highway is steep but not very long, the climb out is not a problem. The old Coastal trail at the Damnation creek intersection is very scenic and follows the outline of a big canyon.
Smith Redwoods State Park
Jedediah Smith Redwoods is about 15 miles north of Del Norte Redwoods. The Boy Scout trail goes from the east to west end of the park. It has a couple small hills and is about a five mile hike out and back. It is well worth the time and effort, don’t make a race of it and keep your eyes open for many big redwoods, some right along the trail.
A 1963 survey of redwoods along Redwood Creek in what would become Redwood National Park five years later determined a tall redwood growing on a flat along Redwood Creek across from 44 Creek outflow was the second tallest tree in the area and a sign was erected at its base. The tree and sign still exist today, but getting there involves a very steep climb down from the Redwood Creek trail in the 44 creek area followed by a creek crossing or alternatively a series of five creek crossings hiking north from Tall Trees Grove. In either instance the creek can only be safely crossed when the flow rate is low in mid to late summer. A few weeks ago I hiked to this flat, called 44 Grove, from Tall Trees Grove. It was a pleasant hike, the stream crossings were not difficult, only a little over knee high, and the cobbles in the gravel bar got smaller as we headed away from Tall Trees Grove, making the gravel bar walking fairly easy. It took about 25 minutes to do the one mile hike downstream from Tall Trees Grove to 44 Grove.
2 44 Grove and Harry Cole Redwood
Forty-four Grove is revealed in a spectacular fashion as a bend in the creek is followed. This grove includes the Harry Cole tree, which was 367 feet tall in 1964 (so the sign says) and identified as the second tallest tree in the area (so the same sign says). This tree remains about 367 feet tall today, and maybe a little taller based on the measuring I did with a rangefinder. It has a healthy looking top.
Here are pictures of 44 Grove from the south, Harry Cole is the second tree in from the creek. Then the remaining pictures show the still standing sign stating “Second Tallest Redwood 367.4 Feet 1964” as well as a couple additional photos of Harry Cole. There is a huckleberry bush growing on the sign with ripe huckleberries.
3 Sudden Oak Death Among Tan Oaks in 44 Creek Area
It was sad to see so many brown dried out dead or dying tan oaks in the 44 Creek area. There is an interesting Master degree thesis done by a Humboldt State student in 2017 on mitigation and propagation of Sudden Oak Death (SOD) in Redwood Creek. Apparently the area between Bond and 44 Creek and the area around Bridge creek evidenced significant SOD among tan oaks starting a few years ago and mitigation treatments including cutting, establishing a buffer, and wood removal occurred in 2014 and 2015. This SOD mitigation involved tan oaks and bay laurels (which carry SOD). The redwoods and other tree species were left alone. SOD does not affect redwoods.
Then after all this work the SOD still spread downstream to the Emerald Creek area from Bridge creek and also downstream past Bond Creek from 44 Creek. There are affected tan oaks even north of Elam Creek. Apparently the SOD spores were able to move as much as 1.5 km in a short time due to two causes. First, the pineapple express late winter storms with strong south winds spread the spores. Second, the annual rise in the level of Redwood Creek due to winter rains allows the water to flow against low tan oak branches along the creek, and the spores are trapped in branch cavities.
What to do ….. sure it is being debated. The thesis mentions giant buffers could be cut around the affected areas, 300 meters in width, where non affected tan oaks and bay laurel are removed. But as also mentioned so much of Redwood Creek would be involved and the work only postpones the inevitable. It may be the tan oaks will be left to their fate, and they will brown and die along Redwood Creek, all of them. The same may happen along the feeder creeks, more slowly.
This die off will provide more fuel and any wildfires will burn hotter. It is thought the older redwoods would tolerate a hot fire without issue but redwoods under two feet in diameter could be killed by such a fire.
Here are some pictures of dying tan oaks seen along Redwood Creek. If you go to Google Maps “satellite view” you will see a lot of brown in the 44 / Bond and Emerald/Bridge creek areas, those are the dying tan oaks. Pretty sad.