The drive along the shimmering Pacific in Santa Cruz County in the California sun with surfers balancing their act on the waters transforms to the backdrop of rolling fields with ripe cherries lusciously inviting to be plucked. Soon one is in Felton when a swerve along the curvy road skirting a hill comes to a dead end. A small ticket counter and a walking trail leads to a world where the sun has to fight its way to filter a few beams through the canopied lovely, dark and deep woods.
The main trail starts to break-up into smaller ones but not before a humungous single plank of wood horizontally cut from a seemingly large tree stump is hanging on hinges for display. Thousands of its rings intact in neat concentric circles for a year each point out to iconic markings of time, “500 CE, Maya Civilization, Mexico” with the one nearing the centre stating, “1 BCE, Birth of Christ.” Realisation dawns that the tree actually witnessed civilization evolving. Facts that state in the very beginning that one is treading in a time-wrapped living forest that is not only just ancient but also home to some of the biggest, tallest trees and oldest living trees on earth.
Imagination in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, home to giant old-growth redwoods can run high. They can remind one of countless fairytales like of Hansel and Gretel to keep a track of the trail being followed with bread crumbs lest one gets lost among the gigantic trees; only to have its resident birds and squirrels eat them up for good as it’s a self-guided nature trail. Or to carve out cosy huts with staircases inside the deep recesses of these colossal tree trunks like The Lost Boys in Peter Pan. Or take your car through one of many hollowed trunks. These fantasies can easily morph into reality as there are actually some old livable, in-fact quite comfortable log huts and tree houses made inside the redwood trees, though all not in the park’s periphery. And there is even a tree that allows one to actually drive through in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Craned necks can seldom spot the tip of these tallest trees in the world neither can human chains of a dozen plus encircle some of their trunks. The trees are living giants considering the tallest tree in the park is about 285 feet tall and about 16 feet wide while the oldest ones are estimated to be between 1400 to 1800 years old.
Once upon a time home to Zayante Indians who lived off its plentiful natural resources, the main park comprises nearly 1800 acres of mainly old-growth redwood. It also has mixed evergreen woods like Doughlas fir, Oak and Pondersoa pines along with chaparral habitats enough to engage one with its flora and fauna.
Under the awning of its ancient woods the park is a hiker’s, camper’s and birdwatcher’s paradise with 15 odd miles of hiking trails to watch out for birdies. A picnic area close to the San Lorenzo River satiates the angler’s count of steelheads and salmons albeit only on a catch and release basis. In the summers, the distinct fog of the bay area rises from the ocean to find its way to engulf the woods.
The adventure in the redwoods doesn’t end with just exploring the forest and its trails. Nearby in the Roaring Camp Railroads camping, the action waits to begin. The whistle of the Redwood Forest Steam Train’s engine signaling its start while billowing balls of thick grey-black smoke in the air. Stepping inside the narrow gauge steam locomotive dating back to the 1890s immediately time travels one to experience the 19th century when they were used to haul giant redwood logs out of the mountains apart from ferrying passengers. They are amongst the oldest and most authentically preserved narrow-gauge steam engines in the US. As the steam engine chugs along its old-world track with passengers seated in open bogies, it travels over old rickety trestles, through towering redwood groves and along winding curvaceous tracks huffing and puffing to abruptly stop at the summit of Bear Mountain.
The silence is almost deafening. They make adult passengers move to the edge of their seats curiously looking out into the forest. Its 19th century, the Civil War is on in America and group of uniformed soldiers come out from the thicket of the grooves aiming their muskets and pistols at the passengers. They open fire. But soon more gunshots are heard and another group of soldiers are aiming at the train’s hijackers. A skirmish follows. Some are injured, some fall dead and a few run away. But the train and its passengers are safe. They had to be as it was a regular re-enactment of the civil war battles and encampments. One among the many around Memorial Day weekends every year.
The redwoods by themselves are a must see wonderland for their enormity while the steam engine rides a charming old world treat till the re-enactments shock and awe. The redwoods are actually a rollercoaster ride.