Monday, May 9, 2016

The Stout Grove Redwoods

Redwood National and State Parks

When we stopped at the Visitor's Center in Crescent City, California to ask about hiking trails, the ranger pointed to Stout Grove on the map and said, "The road is a bit rough, but well worth it.  Because of the rich soil around the Smith River, the Redwoods here are among the tallest and most beautiful in the park.  And they're all old growth."

We were hooked.  Off we went over the narrow dirt road, creeping over pot holes and wet mud.  Oh brother!  He wasn't kidding.  Higher clearance would have been nice, but then again, it was an adventure just getting there.  Our van looks like a toy car next to these tall majestic giants.

Stout Grove is located on the east end of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.  From Crescent City, take Elk Valley Road to Highway 199.  An easy trail loops through this beautiful grove of trees.  This 44-acre forest was donated (ironically) by the widow of lumber baron Frank D. Stout in 1929.

The ranger told us that periodic flooding along the Smith River prevents other trees from growing here so that the redwoods reign supreme.  They appear taller and straighter because their bases have been covered with soil.  You don't see this anywhere else in the park.  The ferns are also notably fuller, greener and larger.  The whole place has a primeval feeling to it.  

It's hard to visualize the two million acres of redwoods that once covered the Northern California Coastline.  Once the gold rush was over, men turned to logging these patriarchal trees and we came perilously close to losing them all.  If it weren't for the State of California preserving key groves in the 1920's, there might not be a single tree left.

Today the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service cooperatively manage these old growth forests.  In addition to park status, all these redwood groves were added to the World Heritage List in 1980, further ensuring their protection for generations to come.  Many of these trees are already over 2,000 years old and tower to 300 feet.

I highly recommend stopping at several of the groves if you happen to be driving up the 101 in Northern California.  To walk among these giants is not only a magical experience, but a humbling one.  But if you are short of time, don't fret!  This stretch of the 101 through the Redwood National Park is lined with magnificent specimens.  You don't even have to get out of your car to see them, making it one of the most beautiful road trips in the world.

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