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.
As Inspired by Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Second Movement (Allegretto), “Knowing”.
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.
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).
This article is related to an earlier article posted on this web site, “Distribution of Tree Height in An Old Growth Redwood Forest”. An analysis of recent LiDAR data allows for confirmation and expansion of the analysis in that article.
LiDAR data includes first return and ground points. From this information height above ground can be calculated, typically at the square meter level using average ground elevation and maximum first return elevation within the square meter. From this, derivative products can be created, including color height maps and data tables.
In order to use the LiDAR data for canopy height distribution, I aggregated the results to 20 m x 20 m (400 square meter) tiles. This is used to approximate crown spacing in old growth redwood forests. The maximum calculated height above ground within each 400 square meter area is used to create the distribution graphs. In practice the number of tiles is slightly greater than the number of actual redwood trees, by about twenty percent. This is due to the same tree being included in two tiles.
Most importantly, redwood groves have a variety of footprints but similar distributions of tree height beyond the median height for the grove. Some groves are thin wisps along canyon bottoms (think Big Sur) versus others are broad forests filling both sides of large valleys (think Prairie Creek). But for most groves the very tallest trees in the grove are much higher than average height and the number of trees drops markedly in each ten foot height increment beyond the grove median height.
Redwood forests are amazingly scarce and small. Coming out of the latest glacial maximum redwoods were few in number, then filled in a shifting northward range that represented just 2,000,000 acres in a 500 miles long by average six miles wide thin rectangle just inland of the Pacific Ocean from southern Oregon to Big Sur. In this range the needed blend of rare winter freezes (as redwoods cannot propagate by seed in areas with regular winter freezes) and regular intraday offshore to onshore summer fog (as fog hydrates the tall crowns of redwoods but lots of sun is also needed) occurs. Today’s remaining 100,000 or so old growth acres cover about the same range but in remnant patches, almost all in parks.
Second, redwoods grow tall in good habitat throughout their range. Three-hundred-foot redwoods can be found from Big Sur to southern Oregon, and 328-foot (100 meter) redwoods can be found from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Smith River near Crescent City. Then the 50 or so tallest, those over 360 feet, can be found in Humboldt Redwoods State Park (about 33), Redwood National Park (about 13), and Montgomery Woods Reserve (about 4). Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park may also each have one or so 360-foot trees.
Third, old growth redwoods follow similar height distributions beyond a midpoint which is much lower than the maximum height in any particular grove. The median height in a grove is typically 250-275 feet tall, with 300-foot redwoods often common and redwoods over 340 feet relatively rare. When reviewed at the hectare level, the tallest canopies are around 340 feet median height.
The shortest trees reaching the canopy may be about 150 feet tall, there is no zero point. This makes the distribution a truncated normal distribution, not a normal distribution. The canopy height distribution does follow a near normal distribution to the right of the canopy height midpoint.
Fourth, the tallest redwoods tend to clump together within groves. Reasons could be local light advantage, a local underground water source, common genetic specificity, or exceptional local soil conditions. The majority of the tallest redwoods have locally tall trees adjacent or nearby. The tallest redwoods tend to grow in groups of two, three, or four, with their tops twenty to thirty feet above the other tree tops in the same area. This is especially true on flats where the canopies are continuous rather than on slopes where the canopies tend to be emergent.
Demonstrated Canopy Height Distribution
The first area assessed are the Bull Creek and Eel River groves in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Here the canopy is relatively continuous within groves (in other words very few canopy gaps) with the exception of a couple areas. This is a LiDAR color height map along Bull Creek in the Tall Tree area (Tall Tree / Rockefeller Redwood is in upper right). The area shown covers about 500m x 500m. Yellow is over 80 meters, orange over 90 meters, and red over 100 meters. Here you can see yellows and oranges dominate, with most tree heights in the 275-300-foot range. Then here and there are taller trees, which tend to clump together.
This same pattern is repeated over and over in these groves, resulting in this aggregate canopy height distribution map:
To highlight what is shown, this is the percent of the canopy over given heights:
Over 280 feet 51%
Over 300 feet 35%
Over 320 feet 16%
Over 330 feet 8.5%
Over 340 feet 3.5%
Over 350 feet 1.1%
Over 360 feet 0.2%
Over 370 feet 0.01%
A top five percent tree is 340 feet tall.
Then the second area assessed is a drainage well north of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Here the canopy is emergent, there are large gaps with lower heights but certainly many areas with tall redwoods, typically following slopes along and above creeks, which provide good soil and some wind protection. This is a LiDAR color height map of a portion of the valley, covering about a 500m x 500m area. Yellow is over 80 meters, orange over 90 meters, and red over 100 meters. Here you can see yellows and oranges in groups separated by lower canopy, with most tree heights in the 250-260-foot range. Then here and there are taller trees. The tall trees are less dense, more spread out, versus Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
A dozen similar areas were then aggregated to create this height distribution chart:
To highlight what is shown, here is the percent of canopy above certain heights:
Over 260 feet 54%
Over 280 feet 25%
Over 300 feet 7%
Over 310 feet 3%
Over 320 feet 1.2%
Over 330 feet 0.3%
Over 340 feet .07%
Over 350 feet .03%
A top five percent tree is 310 feet tall.
Putting HRSP and the northern redwood park area together in a graph of ten-foot height intervals above median height, it is evident both follow a similar distribution up to the tallest trees. This is likely true when reviewing other old growth redwood areas.
Finally this is a chart showing the canopy cross section in the three tallest 100m x 100m (hectares) in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. As noted earlier, the tallest trees tend to grow adjacently and are twenty to thirty feet above the average height in the local (one hectare) area.
Redwoods became rare coming out of the latest ice age, then old growth redwoods became much, much rarer after commercial harvest. Then within remaining old growth areas, the tree heights follow a truncated normal distribution, with decreasing numbers of trees for each ten foot increment above the local median. Then the tallest trees, those over 340 feet, are very uncommon and tend to clump together in very specific areas having the most optimal growing conditions.
Redwood thunder is an uncommon but not rare event. It occurs when a large redwood tree falls to the forest floor, sometimes striking and taking other redwoods, firs, spruce, oaks, and maples with it. A cubic foot of redwood weighs 50 pounds, so if a moderately large 20,000 cubic foot redwood topples that is a million pounds, or 500 tons of wood crashing to the earth.
For redwood thunder to occur usually soaked soil and wind are required, though if the tree fractures on itself soaked soil is not an ingredient. Sometimes before redwood thunder occurs the tree will lean against an adjacent tree, with the trunks and branches rubbing with the wind and making screeching sounds like giant stringed instruments.
All redwood trees eventually topple, or at least break off down to a low point on the trunk. If a given old growth redwood has a one in a thousand chance of falling in any given year than that means, based on acres of old growth redwoods, the average annual tree fall count in the large redwood parks is about 300 trees, per park.
If there are multiple trees involved in a tree fall or if the tree falls across a creek, the tree fall is noticeable in Google Earth. If you hike the same trails over several years you will for sure see trees that have recently fallen. Their upper trunks are huge and their logs run sometimes more than a football field along the forest floor.
2 Examples of Tree Falls
Here are several examples of tree falls I ran across in 2016. Included are a picture I took of the tree fall accompanied by before and after Google Earth views of the tree fall areas (using Google Earth historical imagery).
In Humboldt redwoods a neighbor of the big Dyerville Giant log fell in the late spring 2016. Its trunk shattered and splintered into sections where it struck the Dyerville Giant log.
Another recent tree fall in Humboldt was in the area where a seasonal foot bridge is put in to link the Rockefeller Redwood area to the Giant Tree area on either side of Bull Creek in the upper Bull Creek Flats. The new big log is used a lot to cross the creek, though it would be a pretty tough eight foot or so fall from the log to the rocky creek bottom if your foot or the bark slipped.
A third fall in Humboldt occurred in Harper Flat. The tall north side of a twin trunk redwood fell in the last couple years.
The final example is in an area of tall hillside redwoods on the east side of Redwood Creek a little north of McArthur creek near the seasonal foot bridge. Here the tree fall took out a number of redwoods and the whole group of fallen trees is slowly sliding down toward Redwood Creek.
3 What Can Be Learned From Fallen Redwoods
A recently fallen redwood is a great opportunity for whole tree research once the soil in the fall area has stabilized. The root system and affixed soils can be studied without any digging, this is the big primary benefit. But also core samples can be extracted without having to climb and core living trees. The canopy structure can be measured and reviewed without climbing and an unlimited amount of destructive sampling can be done.