Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Oregon Trail Part V: In the Company of Giants

Day four of our so far wonderful trip up the coast, and so far we have seen the Hearst Castle, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, and countless coastline vistas. We have also seen a gradual change in ecosystems up the coast. We begin in the chaparral of Southern California, where open fields are populated with dry grass and sturdy bushes, and small trees only grow in the canyons where the runoff from several hills converges. As we head north, the grasses get greener, the bushes get fuller, and the trees get both taller and more numerous.

We are traveling from 34 degrees North, just 4 degrees off from the driest latitude around, to 44, which is half way up to the wettest: 60 (right around Juneau Alaska). Along the way, the evidence of the steadily increasing rainfall is clear: the climate becomes more lush and green as we go. Latitude is not the only determinate in rainfall, however, smaller weather patterns have a large roll to play too, especially near large bodies of water like, oh, say, the Pacific Ocean. For many reasons which I don't understand at all, the coastal redwood groves of Northern California and Southern Oregon get enough precipitation to qualify as rainforests, and it is truly amazing what those trees do with all that water.

After a couple of hours of driving below the speed limit on very curvy roads through the redwood forest, Courtney and I stopped at the Founder's Grove. There, a tiny loop trail guides you around several redwoods, which grow taller than any other species of tree. The trail also takes you past several fallen trees (fallen from natural causes) which are covered in ferns and other plants. The bases of these fallen trees are 20 foot tall masses of gnarled roots, and it is hard to describe what being in the presence of a tree that is more than twice as tall as you when it is on its side feels like.

Courtney next to a fallen giant

If you ever drive through, I recommend the avenue of giants, which follows the old 101 freeway (it will only add an hour, maybe, to your trip). I also recommend that you make time to go for a hike, jump in the river, or even camp for a few days. Sadly, we just blew through. We barely had time to stop and take it in, and really didn't take in enough. Ah, well... I suppose we will have to come back some day and do it right.

I thought about adding some moral about preserving open spaces, deforestation, etc. but while I was there, I wasn't thinking about anything except how beautiful it was, how impossible and amazing that these massive life forms grew from nothing except the water in the ground, the energy from the sun, and the carbon from the air. What could I have to say that would do anything but take away from that?

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