In the fifth and final instalment of the perfect California trip, (tailored by Lonely Planet author and California resident John Vlahides and taken from the July 2010 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine), we cruise on into the truly awe-inspiring Redwood National Park.
Miles into your trip: 780
The Redwood National Park is around 3.5 hours from the Sonoma-Mendocino coast
'A redwood is a mystic thing to our people,' says local Yurok Indian tribe elder Lavina Bowers. Standing beneath the world's tallest living things, you can see why. Salamanders scurry by, disappearing beneath roots as fat as your thigh. Massive trunks vanish overhead in fog, which twirls, evanescing like ghosts and provides the trees' main water source, plip-plopping to the ground. It's compelling to hug one, to feel its rutted bark. It takes a dozen adults, arms outstretched, to encircle the largest. Wind whooshes through the canopy, carrying the scent of cedar and the ocean. Only a rare shaft of sunlight makes it to the forest floor. You can't help but feel solemn gratitude before such overwhelming natural beauty.
Some animals spend their entire lives in the branches, never once setting foot on earth. The forest's ecosystem is as complex as the tropical rainforest and equally at risk: of the original old-growth redwood forests, which once covered (and existed almost exclusively on) the northern California coast, only six per cent remain. The bulk stand here as both a World Heritage site and International Biosphere Reserve.
Many 20th-century American luminaries also saw the redwoods as sacred, people such as Lady Bird Johnson, for Thom one of the most awe-inspiring groves is named. A gentle, one-mile trail takes you beneath the giant trees along the forest floor, carpeted with electric-green moss, pink rhododendrons and shoulder-high ferns. Parts of the reserve look prehistoric. At Fern Canyon, feathery fronds cling to sheer rock walls. Steven Spielberg used the locale in his film The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
Many don't make it this far north, turning back after seeing the fantastic Avenue of the Giants, where the trees stand so tall that vehicles look like Matchbox cars. Time seems to stand still at the north coast's kitsch roadside attractions, like the Drive-Thru Tree Park, where a square-cut driveway lets an SUV pass through the trunk of a still-living, 96m-high tree.
Redwoods are durable. The tallest rise over 113m high and the oldest is 2,000 years old. The massive downed trunks decaying on the forest floor may predate Julius Caesar. Ms Bowers puts it simply: 'They're just one of those special things the Creator gave us.'
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