Tall Trees in Mendocino County

1      Mendocino County, California, USA

Mendocino County is noted for its wineries, microbreweries, and  coastline but also retains some remnant redwood forests.   On one hand these forests are not as extensive as the ones further north but on the other hand their smaller size makes them easier to thoroughly explore. Also since they are remnants of the once great coastal redwood strip they are surrounded by rangeland which provides a contrast in views as well as interesting winding drives up, over, and around the coastal ranges to get to these groves.

I visited two of these groves on a late winter weekend, the weather was spectacular. Unusually clear with temperatures near 70 in the sunny open areas and then mid 50’s in the redwood forest valleys.

2      Hendy Woods State Park

This park and its redwood groves have nine lives.   The original titled owner was Joshua Hendy who was a 49’er (1849 Gold Rush, not the football team) who kept about 100 acres of his best redwoods uncut. Eventually though this land was purchased by lumber companies but the locals kept pressure on to keep the 100 acre grove uncut and in the end the grove and the area around it were incorporated into a California state park.   Then more recently California wanted to reduce or cease operations at the park but again local pressures and more comprehensive economic studies served to keep this park in the state park system.

There is some construction work going on around the redwood grove parking area so until sometime this Spring (2015) visitors need to park in the camping area then take a short half mile walk downhill to the redwood groves.

The groves are adjacent to grasslands dotted with oak trees. Here you can see the entrance to the redwood grove, with a tall tree sticking into the sky right where the forest starts.

Tall redwood at entrance into the grove
Tall redwood at entrance into the grove

 

Because it is surrounded by open land, the grove itself is not quite as dark and imposing as some of the northern groves.   Here is a typical view early on in the trail.

 

Discovery Trail Big Hendry Grove
Discovery Trail Big Hendry Grove

 

For sure there are some large and tall redwoods in this grove.   The 2010 tall trees list shows six trees in this grove between 340 and 345 feet in height.  That’s really tall, even for redwood trees.

This large redwood appears to be the “king of the forest”. It has a 17 foot diameter trunk and is a little over 300 feet tall.   That’s about 23,000 cubic feet of wood if you apply the volume for a cone formula ( pi r squared h/3) which provides a decent estimation of the total wood volume in a redwood tree.   Not quite a top 20 by volume redwood (which requires about 27,000 cubic feet) but very large indeed.

 

Hendy Discover Tree Base View
Big Hendy Grove large tree
Hendy Discover Tree Upper Trunk View
Big Hendy Grove large tree upper trunk view

 

The trails are very well marked and the hiking is easy. At places there were open areas which I am sure are used for ranger programs and school field trips.

 

Big Hendy Grove Discover Trail Upper and Back Loop Junction
Big Hendy Grove Discover Trail Upper and Back Loop Junction

 

At the exit of the grove there is a nice live oak prairie.   Then you can turn back around and see the forest you just walked through. Pretty cool.

 

Big Hendy Woods Discover Trail Exit at Navarro River Meadow
Big Hendy Woods Discover Trail Exit at Navarro River Meadow

 

View of Big Hendy Grove from Navarro River Meadow
View of Big Hendy Grove from Navarro River Meadow

 

 

3      Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve

This reserve is known for its abundance of tall redwoods in a small area.   According to the tall trees list four of the top fifty and seven of the top one hundred tallest redwoods can be found in this reserve.

Starting from the parking area there is a short but relatively steep (250 feet elevation gain) trail up to the reserve which is at the headwaters of Montgomery Creek. Then the redwoods are in a relatively flat flood plain along the creek. There is a 1.3 mile stretched oval trail that loops through the reserve on either side of the creek.   The flood plain is surrounded by steep hillsides which help protect the redwoods from the wind.  In a way this park reminded me a little bit of Pennsylvania state parks with glacial flooding history, such as Cooks Forest or McConnells Mills.  Of course Montgomery has much taller and larger trees.

This park could give you a stiff neck as you look up to the tops of the tall redwoods, with their upper crowns lit up by the bright afternoon sunshine.  One way to assess the tallest trees is to see which ones are still lit up in the late afternoon sun.   Those could be good ones to measure if you have a laser rangefinder.

 

Incredibly tall Montgomery Reserve redwoods with tops lit up by late afternoon sun
Incredibly tall Montgomery Reserve redwoods with tops lit up by late afternoon sun

 

Then to even things out you can try to find early blooms in the redwood sorrel or watch the water flow down Montgomery Creek.

 

Early blooming redwood sorrel (February 22)
Early blooming redwood sorrel (February 22)

 

Montgomery creek outflow below Montgomery Grove
Montgomery creek outflow below Montgomery Grove

 

Even on a no rain weekend you need to pick your way carefully to avoid small pockets of water in some areas.   But generally the trail is a little elevated and there are also boardwalks and foot bridges through the wettest areas.   Here are trunk photos of a couple nice trees in the grove.

 

Tall redwoods in Montgomery grove
Tall redwood in Montgomery grove
Another nice redwood in the Montgomery grove. That's me by the tree.
Another nice redwood in the Montgomery grove. That’s me by the tree.

 

This is the biggest (by volume) tree in the grove, it is about 361 feet tall with a 17.3 foot diameter.

 

Big tall redwood in Montgomery Grove.  On some days I would get wet standing where I am but not on this day.
Big tall redwood in Montgomery Grove. On some days I would get wet standing where I am but not on this day.

 

If approaching this park from US 101 / Ukiah you go up and over the coast range from the valley side to the Pacific side. The drive is winding and scenic.   Here is a view near the summit of the coast range.

Coast range between Montgomery Reserve and Ukiah
Coast range between Montgomery Reserve and Ukiah

 

Montgomery Reserve is a popular park with a strong reputation for great redwoods which is well deserved.