Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

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June 04, 2012

Redwoods: Montgomery Woods State Reserve

*If you click on the photos or maps, they will be enlarged.
The World's Tallest Living Things"
Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve
     This unique redwood grove is worth driving the winding narrow road for 30 miles out of Mendocino or a mere 13 out of Ukiah.  This Reserve began as a small donated parcel of nine acres in 1945 and has grown to over 1300 acres today.  What makes this grove special is its location, accessibility via a well maintained trail, the five memorial areas dotted with carved wooden benches, a babbling creek, and lush vegetation growing thickly beneath the majestic 300 foot tall redwoods.  Included are several varieties of ferns, sorrel, wild irises, miners lettuce and the inevitable poison oak!

     The path is reported as 3 miles by the forestry website, and I included a map as well as links in this article for more in depth information seekers.  "No dogs" is posted along with the sign shown below that says "Steep Grade".  As my friend and I easily ambled uphill, we wondered where the "steep grade" part of this loop would begin.

Montgomery Creek Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve

     On our right, and across from the picnic area next to the creek,

there was a gate of sorts and a wide trail heading uphill, traversing steadily and with a steeper grade, so we bounced along thinking we had found the way to the grove.  It was a sweat breaker, but I wondered quietly, "Why is this section such a mess?  How do families with children get up this?"

Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve

     Onward and upward until we reached a chain link fence posted "No Trespassing"  and "Private Property".  We bushwhacked to the left and up a bit to see if we could see the magical redwood wonderland.  Nope.  So we turned back and headed down.  We met a couple coming up so we warned them and they turned back as mystified as we were.  I guess we have done too much bushwhacking!

Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve

     The original bit of uphill trail WAS the steep grade.  No worries.  You and your family will have a great time wandering through the almost timeless groves although there are stairs carved into fallen trees.  In a very short distance from where we rejoined the original trail, we found the mystical redwood grove.

Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve

     There were carved benches such as this and stairs were cut through fallen trees for ease in following the trail and maintaining the natural environment.

Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve

Taken May, 2012 by Ken Pugh in Montgomery Reserve

     At first the trees impressed us, but the deeper we hiked into the grove, the more awe inspiring the trees were!  I could picture children having fun running and playing hide and go seek here!

Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve

     Trees whose centers have been burned out become homes to a variety of birds, bats, and mammals.  In the canopy, there is estimated to be 5 to 10 times the ecomass of any rainforest!  Some limbs support 3 foot thick mats of soil and huckleberry bushes bearing fruit, along with several varieties of ferns.  The top predator is the wandering salamander who may never even touch the ground, and feeds on prey such as termites! 

Wild Iris
Redwood Sorrell thickly carpets the grove floor.  Kids who enjoy looking for 4 leaf clovers will delight in these extra large clover shaped leaves!
Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve
      It seems impossible to capture the enormity of these trees that reach up to 300+ feet tall, over 30 stories high!  Their crowns obscure the sky and shade the forest floor.  Todd Dawson estimated that 1/4 to 1/2 of the redwood's water comes from fog.  This also prevents the sun from drying the ground and creates a dense green ecosystem at ground level known as understory vegetation.

Banana slug
      The map shows a single loop but there are so many directions you can go to wind your way through the grove.  It's small enough you won't get lost, and big enough to make the drive to get there worthwhile. I would suggest a picnic and cool drinks.  (The grey dotted line meandering off of the dark line is the trail we mistakenly took. As you can see from the topo lines, the elevation gain is a far cry from what the true trail called a "Steep Grade"!)

     The temperatures here stay cool, highs ranging from 52 F to 70 F and lows from 36 F to 49 F partly due to the thick redwood canopy, all the moisture it contains, and abundant shade.  I imagine there are times mosquito spray would be a necessity, although we didn't bother.  Taking layers is suggested due to the north coastal type of weather.
     Parking can be limited, so I might go early or avoid weekends, but there is also an overflow parking area across the road.  We went on a three day weekend, early afternoon, and parking was full, but with people coming and going.  It is just such a long ways from other activities, no parking could be disappointing.  Bathrooms are available near the trailhead..  The road here is full of hairpin turns and some steep hills.  In some places it was more civilized and others were potholed and one lane wide!  Take Dramamine if anyone is prone to car sickness.  Otherwise, the drive is an excellent sunny day, country day outing, with the redwood grove being a memorable destination.

The trail heading out. Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve
      In researching this reserve I learned a surprising amount about the history of the movement to protect the redwoods ancient stands from logging, and the forestry's programs to replant and provide the best environment possible to support new tree growth, and logging practices evolving with our knowledge.
     I discovered things to put on my own bucket list like enriching my appreciation for these groves by traversing a redwood canopy via ziplines!  There are children's programs to provide experience in and knowledge of the complex biodiversity, and the truly unique nature of groves never logged.
     Below is a list of links that helped inform me more about adventure opportunities in the redwoods, including hundreds of miles of backpacking trails and primitive campsites, as well as newer scientific discoveries about the various ecosystems that depend on old growth redwoods.  I learned valuable information from other sources offline too, but these websites are easy for readers to access and a good start.  National Geographic's feature "Climbing Redwood Giants" is worth looking up.  I found it on Netflix.

"Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has protected and restored redwood forests and connected people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish. Your donations help us purchase redwood land, restore logged forests, study how to best protect them and teach children and adults about these magical expressions of life." 
The best site I found for photos and information about California's Redwood Forests.  It is well researched, written, illustrated, and worth your time.  The blog has an extensive list of redwood forests, and although some information may be outdated, it is still the most organized, comprehensive guide I found.
This site operates zipline tours of the forest canopy, children's educational programs, in  addition to specially arranged experiences from their campus located near Santa Cruz, and adjacent to the redwood forest.
    California Parks government website.
    This is a blog by John McKinney about hiking.

           More often than not, redwoods sprout from a mother tree rather than from seed.  They call these "cathedral rings".  The trees may only bear seeds once in 10 years, and most seeds are not fertile.  A cone is the size of a tomato! Taken May, 2012 by Laura Sheffield in Montgomery Reserve
      Interesting views along the drive.
      The straight section of the winding road.
      Overflow parking.
      The foot bridge just prior to the trailhead.
      Ken, and one of the grand mother trees with fire damage from the 2008 fire.
      Peachy Hiker's Table of Contents

      Photos copyrighted.  Use with permission for profit please.