Into the Land of Giants

November 15, 2011 ·

Miles Hecker


On the western shores of our mighty land.

In the mist and shadows above pacific sands .

Standing high before the whiteman came .

Rising up before the wheel .

There is a dreamland where the giants stand.

In that green dark forest too silent to be real .

In that primeval forest,

far too silent to be real .


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The Lost Monarch

Somewhere in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park it stands. In an unmarked grove it stands. In the “Grove of Titans” it stands. Before the birth of Christ it stands. As Rome rose and fell it stands. As Columbus sailed for the “New World” it stands. As the thirteen colonies rebelled it stands. As the North and South fought it stands. As the world had geat warsIandIIit stands. In the eternal mist and fog it stands. For over 2000 years it has stood, watching.

The “Lost Monarch”, the largest coast redwood in the world has reigned over its lesser subjects in anonymity until May 11, 1998. On that day it was discovered and measured by Stephen C. Sillett, and amateurnaturalistMichael Taylor.

TheLost Monarchis surrounded by other coastal redwoods known to be some of the largest of the species. Of the surrounding redwood trees, some have names from discoverers, like El Viejo del Norte, Screaming Titans, Eärendil and Stalagmight.

The Lost Monarch is 321.5 feet or 98 meters tall and 26 feet in diameter at chest height. Its’ wood volume has been measured at 42,500 cubic feet.

Crescent City

In my opinion the most photogenic Redwoods are in the two most northern redwood parks. These are respectively, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. That being the case, the best place to stay while photographing them is Crescent City. It is located between and close to these magnificent parks.

Crescent Cityis thecounty seatand only incorporated city in Del Norte County, California. It is named for the crescent-shaped stretch of sandy beach south of the city. It has a population of about 2000 people and is the site of the Redwood National Parkheadquarters.

My favorite place to stay in Crescent City is theCurly Redwood Lodge. It was built from one curly redwood tree that produced 57,000 board feet of lumber. It is reasonably priced and has large rooms to store your gear and work in.

Crescent City is susceptible to tsunamis. The city experienced tsunami conditions 17 times between the years 1943 and 1994. So don’t forget to pack your rubber ducky.

Redwoods & Rhody

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Weather in the redwood country is strongly influenced by the Pacific Ocean. Temperatures range from 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit all year long throughout the redwood maritime region. Winters are cool with considerable precipitation. From October through April, a high pressure area sitting atop the North Pacific drives a series of storms onshore, dumping the majority of the 60-80 inches of annual rain over the region.

During the summer, the high pressure area migrates north, taking with it the dense clouds and storms of winter. The California Current moves warm surface water away from the coast, bringing deeper and colder water from the ocean’s depths close to shore. Where cold ocean and dry land meet, moisture is created: a narrow band of fog seeps up deeply eroded river canyons, shrouding coast redwoods in life-sustaining moisture during the drier summer

This fog, combined with the flowering of the California rhododendronmake the last two weeks in May and the first week of June the best time for landscape photography in the redwood coastal region. The fog provides a stunning visual separation between the redwoods in the foreground and the often confusing visual clutter in the background. It also adds to the eerie gothic feeling of isolation one encounters while hiking through the redwoods on an overcast day.

The flowering rhododendron add the final element of spice to the overall visual recipe. The Pacific rhododendron is found along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to Monterey Countyin California. This species, like many rhododendrons, thrives in disturbed habitats such as roadside embankments and recently deforested wildlands. This makes it easily accesible to photographers .

Del Norte Redwoods State Park

For my money, the most productive area to shoot the redwoods is Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Drive south out of Crescent City on US101. In about 10 miles you will see the Damnation Creek Trail parking area on the right. Pull in and park here. If you walk back on the same side of the road the way you came, you will see another wide shoulder pullout area. At this point look west into the forrest. During rhododendron season you should see very impressive displays of the flowers in the forground. There are many compositions possible here using the flowers as a contrast to the massive trees behind them. The early morning fog that is present some days will add to the flavor and mystery.

When you are done here. Walk back to your car and head up the Damnation Creek Trail. Since it’s on a west-facing hill next to the ocean, the trail is often shrouded in fog from the summer marine layer, adding considerably to the old-growth atmosphere. If you’re especially lucky the trail will start in sunshine and then descend into the fog. The constantly-changing lighting makes the photographic opportunies quite varied.

The hike begins with a climb up into a grove of magnificent big redwoods. The foot of the redwoods is often a blanketed in a thicket of rhodedendron. When they are flowering this area is visually magnificent. After about 0.4 miles you begin to descend down through the grove. In about 0.2 miles more you intersect the Coastal Trail which is actually the old redwood highway. At this point you can follow the Coastal Trail north or south. Each way presents ample photographic opportunites. The incredible ferns that blanket the cuts and hillside here are absolutely primeval.

The most amazing type of lighting sometimes occurs as the fog is breaking up in late afternoon. You begin to get almost magical rays of light diffracting and diffusing through the overhead canopy and moisture. If you wait long enough you might just see Captain Kirk and Mr Spock materialize in your frame.

Beam me up.

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Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

To enter the south end of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park head east out of Crescent City on Howlland Hill Road. Howland Hill Road, which passes through the center of the park, is one of those out of the way gems that for most people, remains undiscovered. This narrow dirt road can be as smooth and flat as a paved road, or it could be a continuous string of potholes.

Starting on the east edge of Crescent City, the road climbs steeply into the park. After it reaches the top of the first hill, it enters the redwoods, immediately passing through a mounmental cluster of old growth trees. As it descends through a primeval landscape, you have a true sense of isolation from the outside world. The road begins to level out after passing the Boy Scout Tree Trail. When you reach the turnoff for the Stout Grove Trail enter and park in the parking lot.

If you make only one hike in this park, the Stout Grove Trail is the hike to take. It is only about 0.6 miles long and is well worth the effort. The Stout Grove is one of the most scenic redwood groves anyware. It is best photographed in the late afternoon. This grove has an inspiring cathedral like appearance, its’ huge straight trees rising skyward against the brilliantly backlit base foliage. It is one the few places I have been that truly requires HDR photography to capture its visual essence.

One other worth while area of this park is the Simpson Reed Trail. It is one of the most popular. It is located on Highway 199. This short loop has some very impressive trees and is the site of some fantastic rhododendron displays in late May.

Redwood National Park and The Bald Hills

Redwood National Park is, in many ways, quite different from the neighboring state parks. The state parks encompass the really spectacular old growth because they were created in the 1920s, when the redwood forests were fairly wild and unlogged. When Redwood National Park was created in the 1960s, most of the old growth had either been cut or been made part of the state parks. Therefore  the national park trails pass either through remnant areas of old growth or through second growth.

The Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail is the most popular trail in the park. This 1.4 mile loop leads through an attractive ridgetop grove of large redwoods. Although it is a fairly scenic trail, the flatness of it makes composing a great image fairly difficult.

The Tall Trees Grove Trail requires a special permit, a one-hour drive, and a 1.4-mile walk to access. After all that, the grove is not particularly scenic.

In all probablility the most scenic area of the park is not in the park itself. If you take the Bald HIlls Road through the park, it will continue on an east trending ridge top. In late May, many of the hillsides are covered with excellent displays of lupine. The coastal fog that rolls into the area on some afternoons can create a mysterious moody setting in these areas. There are also some lovely stands of California Oak which are quite photogenic. They might not be giants, but they are visually intriguing in there own right.


Old Baldy

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About Miles Hecker

Miles has been involved with photography for over forty years. He teaches digital photography at Casper College in Casper,Wyoming. His photos have won awards fromNatures Best magazine,, The Luminous LandscapeandWyoming WIldlife . Miles’ photos have been published in American Vignette, Backpacker Magazine, Natures Best Images, Popular Photography, Wyoming Audubon, and Wyoming Wildlife. He is co-founder ofWyoFOTO LLC.


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