History and therapy among the giant California Redwoods
written by Kevin Max
The California Redwoods are tree history writ large. The first time you drive through the giant sequoias and walk beneath them brings, at first, a silent shock that recedes to awe—being humbled in the presence of something extraordinary. The exclamation “Wow!” must have been uttered here first, summoned from pure reaction without diction. The sheer size of a Redwood—wow! The 16-foot trunk is wider than my car. This one is twice the width of my car. Getting out of the car, the next dimension unfolds—wow! This tree is 300 hundred feet tall and as thick at the top as at the bottom. The Redwoods are 206 square miles of massive stakes driven into the forest floor as a history marker of America. The oldest, at 700 years old, were there when Karuk, Yurok, Hupa and Tolowa tribesmen hunted among them. They were there when Spaniards sailed in, bringing religion and disease, as the number of humans in their shadows were culled by 90 percent. They were there at the arrival of people with paler faces after the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, then the passage of horses and carts carrying gold-miner pans and broken dreams on the unwitting march to manifest destiny.
Trees store sugar, cellulose and carbon, even environmental data. Imagine if they could play back memories. Then there’s me, standing in awe of it all. Just be in the Redwoods, I tell myself, and you, too, will be part of the historic memory, another atom cast in carbon and stacking up through the canopy like a natural Tower of Babel. As we drove south from Oregon, we stopped on a whim in Cave Junction. Good things happen here. Cave Junction is home to Taylor’s Sausage, a fifth-generation craft salumi. The deli’s walls are made of carnivore dreams—refrigeration cases filled with packages of beer sausage, bockwurst and boudin blanc. We grabbed a pack of jalepeño sausages and Taylor’s version of English bangers, hoping to impress a British friend at dinner in a couple of nights. Across the deli and on a stage surrounded by dining tables was a two-person music act. They crooned “Sweet Melissa” to a hopping scene on a Thursday night. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park was full, so I reserved a spot at Redwoods RV Resort, a surprisingly quiet camp outside Crescent City and along the Redwood Highway, a scenic byway. We honored our Taylor sausage with one of the best comfort camp meals—Pigs in Space, grilled sausage cut to bite size then folded into mac’n’cheese. We drank an IPA that brought tropical flavor to the cool Northern California night.
After the dimensional daze of the size, scale and age of the Redwoods waned, we woke up and put on our trail running shoes for forest therapy, a psychological designation just now gaining foothold. Hiouchi Trail wound underfoot, with glimpses of the Smith River. This out-and-back with an additional leg on Howland Hill Road accounted for more than 6 miles, and an hour of mind-clearing therapy. Part of our Redwoods weekend retreat involved a breakfast stop at the Hiouchi Cafe just a couple of miles back up the Redwoods Highway, in a little red wood building.
Serving its customers since 1931, the town’s history was plated alongside pancakes and bacon. In the Redwoods is Crescent City, a hidden gem on the California coast. We’re suckers for lighthouses and Crescent City has the Battery Point Lighthouse, open and walkable during low tides. Dating to 1856, the Fresnel-lit lighthouse was among California’s first. At the terra firma end of the lighthouse pier is SeaQuake Brewing, a charming little brewery with a killer 9.2 Burger with homemade bacon jam and Wicked Aunt Tammy double IPA, brewed with water from the Smith River. From Crescent City, we headed back into the Redwoods with a few scenic drives in front of us—and a mouthful of wows.