The fall from luxury was quick and brutal: one night we're sleeping in a discounted motel room, the next night we're squatting illegally in a county park. There are some lessons that you learn from bike tour, and one of them is that you can't trust Google with rural areas. Period. Travis found a great highway alternate route on Google Maps that disintegrated into patchy gravel headed straight up a mountain. So instead of making it to our intended campsite, we set up our tent in the back of a park that explicately said No Camping and then worried all night that we'd get in trouble because both our moms are teachers.
We were on a trajectory back to the coast, but we still had to climb out of the desert rainshadow back over the Cascades to get there. The sun was out in full force. There was a canyon road without much of a shoulder. There were some burning legs. 70 miles and then...
The temperature dropped 15 degrees, the light level was filtered out by half, and the highway roars were immediately muffled as we pulled in to Jedediah Smith State and National Park. Impressively big trees filled a grove by the river, blanketing the road with fallen needles, and smack in the middle of that was our hiker biker campsite.
We took another rest day. How could we not? These are the REDWOODS. They take some time to explore.
Coast Redwood trees are in the same subfamily as Giant Sequoias. They are taller then Sequoias but not as massive. They are a prehistoric species, and in prehistoric times they grew all over North America and Europe, providing an herbaceous backdrop for dinosaur dramas. Then the asteroid hit and the dino drama was no more, and climate changes limited the Redwood realm to coastal California and southern Oregon.
They like cool, coastal fog but they don't like salt so they never grow right on the coast. They also like consistent temperatures throughout the day and year- not too hot, not too cold. If the top of the tree is struck by lightening or broken off in a storm, no big deal. The main trunk sends out offshoots towards the canopy which can grow as large as a new trunk. Their roots only grow about two feet deep but spread out over hundreds of feet, intermingling with other Redwood roots in the grove, supporting each other structurally and with nutrient supplementation. Coastal California suited them just fine, and there they grew for thousands of years, literally. Redwoods can live over 1000 years and grow to heights over 360 feet. That's 36 stories high, y'all.
Can you guess what happened next? Starting in the 1800s they were logged and logged and logged till the point where some folks decided they had to take a stand for their conservation. Who were these folks? Young college radical environmentalists tying themselves to trees? Nope, rich old Republicans. In the early 1900s, wealthy conservative Republicans started buying up old growth forests from timber companies and donated the trees to the state of California. Eventually the land was turned into a jointly managed State and National Park, stretching down the watershed that nourishes the giant trees.
Unfortunately less than 5% of all of California's magnificent old growth Redwoods remain.
But you know, they fared better than their East Coast cousin. Redwoods are in the same family as the Bald Cypress, our ubiquitous, Spanish moss-covered swamp trees in Florida. Like the Redwoods, cypresses can grow very big and live for a very long time, and they also make excellent lumber. The logging companies cut every single tree they could, and our swamp trees didn't have wealthy donors and a conservation movement on their side. Our remaining giants only exist because they were too gnarled for boards or living deep in a bog too treacherous to reach.
What would Florida look like if we had our own Redwoods? Massive trees over a thousand years old, growing a dozen feet in diameter? Unfortunately we have to visit California to find out.