Walking Among Giants: Redwood National and State Parks

What is it about majestic, ancient trees that they seem to embody wisdom? There are abundant examples in literature and film where aged trees become characters in the plot in some way. They are almost always mature, wise, and deeply respected. Walking through a redwood forest, where the tall canopy obliterates any view of sky or sun, gave me a deeper appreciation for the origins of these literary references. There is a sense that these trees have seen it all, across ages, and have endured. They are scarred by fires and acts of vandalism and yet they thrive. Most people speak with slightly lowered voices, as if out of respect for something they can’t quite identify. Not three-year-olds, but most people.

Staffan wanted me to title this post with a reference to the land of the Ewoks, since those scenes from Star Wars were filmed in redwood forests. He even suggested that the post, or part of it at least, be written in Yoda-speak. Agree with this I do not. Take a very long time it would. Exhaust both writer and reader it would. Continue this way I will not.

I think it may have been the ranger at the visitor center who mentioned how easy it is to lose perspective as you walk among these giant trees. When every tree is just a little taller and broader than the one before it, you can start to forget what size “normal” trees are. Somehow the extraordinary becomes ordinary. One remedy for this is tree hugging. Stretching yourself across the base of a giant redwood is a good way to remind yourself that these trees are b-i-g. It can also give some perspective not just on the size of the trees, but on the size of the people beside them. Someone walking past us in the forest commented, “I don’t know what you folks’ religious persuasions are, but all this makes me feel really small.” It wasn’t clear just what faith perspective he was expressing in that statement, and he turned and walked on without leaving time for a response, but it brought to mind the words of the psalmist, “What is man that you are mindful of him…”

The first of us to hug a tree

Then the rest of us took a turn

Can’t believe how little she looks next to that tree!

Still hard to understand just how big and old these trees are!

Family photo

But our kids are not nearly this contemplative of their surroundings, and we were once again reminded that nature builds the best playgrounds. One of the great joys of this trip has been to watch them, particularly Emelie, explore and discover all of these different, amazing and unusual natural environments. Seeing them through her eyes too adds another dimension and usually deepens the experience for us.

This one we could climb in!

All 3 of us fit in there!

This one she could climb through…

… and this one she could climb on!

When she ran in the ferns we couldn’t even see her! Here I am!

The redwood forests have also produced some places for the grown-ups to play a little. No visit to the redwoods would be complete without visiting the drive-through tree. Today it would be illegal to do this kind of damage to a redwood, and the few drive-through trees that are available are all outside of the national and state park boundaries. But those that already exist are allowed to continue to operate. And it is definitely an experience. We decided to visit the drive-through tree on our way south and away from the main redwood area. It fit best with our driving route, but it also meant that we had the trailer with us. We asked at the entrance if we were allowed to drive through with the trailer or if we needed to unhitch it first. His response was basically that we could drive it through as long as we didn’t get it stuck.

If I was driving, I would have been nervous enough about taking the minivan through. I would never have dared take the trailer through. But Staffan is a much more experienced and confident driver, especially when it comes to bigger vehicles, and he was sure it would be fine. If the side mirrors of the van fit, the trailer will fit. So I got a little nervous when the mirror on my side bumped a little and folded in, which impaired his view of the trailer. It just so happens that that window isn’t working, so I couldn’t put it down to flip the mirror back out, and there was certainly no way to open the door in there. But through we went. We gathered a little crowd of spectators, all of whom were expecting that the trailer would get stuck. But it didn’t. It fit exactly. As soon as the front of the van had passed through the tree, I jumped out with the camera to document the rest.

In we go!

And here comes the trailer! No wiggle room!

We’re still not sure what “maximum age” means, but probably the oldest in a range of estimates? Either way, it’s old and it’s big!

Family photo with the drive through tree – after the drive through

You need a bit of distance to see it, but the tree is definitely still alive despite evidence of fire on the trunk, and the giant hole that people drive their cars through.

As we watched others drive through in smaller sedans and on motorcycles, I couldn’t help but think that we had had the bigger adventure. They all experienced driving through a tree, just like we did, but with plenty of room to spare and without the thrill of not getting stuck. I still wonder sometimes what would have happened if we had gotten stuck in there. Has anyone ever gotten stuck? I don’t know but I’m certainly glad it wasn’t us.

After staying 3 nights in different parts of the Redwood area, it was time to continue south along the coast. We had wonderful adventures among the redwoods, but new experiences awaited us in the San Francisco Bay area!

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