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Humbling giants - A journey amongst our oldest residents

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Lazily winding up California’s scenic Highway 101, a few hours north of the steep cable car-lined streets and barking sea lions of San Francisco, we arrived at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to earth’s oldest and tallest residents.

While California offers numerous state and national parks showcasing its ancient redwoods, Humboldt Redwoods State Park offers the best of the best. Amongst its 52,000 acres, Humboldt offers 17,000 acres of pristine old growth coast redwood forest. Humboldt is most notable, however, for the Avenue of the Giants, which is an amazing 50 km interpretive drive through the humbling forest and timeless towns that dot the park itself.

We entered the avenue from the 101 and paralleled it while winding through interpretive hikes, campgrounds, day use areas and a visitors’ centre.

Entering from the 101 it appeared as if the avenue was a carpet rolled out or painted amongst trees that have stood the test of time. In contrast, any visitor should feel young. The average age of the trees is 400-600 years old, with some living to be over 2,000 years old. Calling these trees massive is an understatement. Many soar over 100 metres tall and 30 of the world’s 42 tallest trees are found in Humboldt State Park.

Over the years certain trees have become unique celebrities and have been named appropriately. The avenue remains home to several legends, each with its own story.

Topping the list is the Shrine Drive Thru Tree, which we narrowly managed to squeeze our trusty and not so mini Astro van through, with mere inches to spare on each side. After driving through unscathed and unscratched we checked out the Eternal Tree that, in the past, provided shelter for aboriginals and trappers and once contained a gift shop in its base. There is also the fire carved Chimney Tree, which was entirely hollowed out by flames and has a large walk-in room at its base. All of these unique trees continue to live and adapt to their surroundings.

Some of the most impressive hikes were found in Rockefeller Forest, which is the largest virgin redwood forest left in the world. Also high on the list was Founders Grove, a loop dedicated to the founders of the Save-the-Redwoods-League. It featured the skyscraping Founder’s tree and the exceptional Dyerville Giant. The Dyerville Giant was taller than Niagara Falls or comparable to a 30-storey building. After 1,600 years of life, during heavy rains in March of 1991, the Dyerville Giant was struck by other falling trees and eventually could no longer support its own mass.

Weighing an estimated 1 million pounds, the Dyerville Giant fell to the forest floor, splattering mud 15 feet up other trees that stood over 50 feet away. A local resident thought there had been a train wreck.

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