Burl-ieve it or not: Forest fantasticals

Those strange growths erupting from the bases or trunks of redwoods, often resembling molten lava, anthropomorphic shapes or mythological creatures, remain a curiosity to forest hikers and botanists. 

There are three kinds of burls. Basal burls, located at the tree base, start growing when a tree is young. They can become quite large and are often dotted with leafy buds or shoots. They can also grow roots that help secure trees in thin or rocky soil. 

The second kind grows on trunks in response to injuries, which can include viral or fungal infections. They start just above the damage and grow down to cover it, like a natural band aid. 

Linden Lentz, a retired teacher and naturalist in Eureka, is so entranced by the enigmatic lumps that he often photographs and shares them online, including on his Facebook group Redwood Burls. 

In Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Lentz spies the face of a human, or is it a Bigfoot, one of his friends asks on Facebook, on the Zig Zag Trail (see above). 

Around the bend, he spies a strange bird (see below). What does it look like?


How about a Skeksis from the fantasy classic The Dark Crystal

Other shapes fire the imagination: A dragon, a group of trolls, Jay Leno’s profile and this odd wonder (below), to name a few. 

No need to explain what it looks like. 

A third variety of burl, generally higher on a trunk, produces shoots and roots should silt partially bury a redwood in a floodplain.

Basal burls seem to be the result of genetics, whereas the other two kinds are responses to environmental stresses. Almost all burls, which can weigh hundreds of pounds, are covered by bark, even if underground.

No matter their shape or size, redwood burls certainly provide memorable moments as they fire up the imagination. See more and share your reactions on them on Lentz’s Facebook group Redwood Burls.

Redwood NSP visitors centers reopen

Orick, Calif. — Redwood National Park has resumed visitor services and retail operations this month at the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center in Orick on Hwy 101. Indoor retail operations at the nearby Prairie Creek Visitor Center have resumed too.

In accordance with state and county guidance, the two visitor centers, along with the Hiochi visitor center near Crescent City, are currently open with 25 percent capacity of the buildings. Retail, park information, and restrooms are available.

The Tall Trees Trail, backcountry camping and park campgrounds are open. Permits or reservations are required. High Bluff Overlook and Klamath River Overlook are closed. Flint Ridge backcountry camp is closed.

When recreating, please follow local area health orders and recreate responsibly by keeping social distance, wearing a face covering when social distance cannot be maintained, avoiding high risk activities, and staying home if you feel sick.

“The health and wellbeing of visitors and park employees remains our top priority. We continue to work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health using CDC guidance to ensure public areas and workspaces are safe and clean for visitors, employees, partners, and volunteers,” the parks said in a statement.

For the latest updates on the parks, Covid or otherwise, go here.

Coast is clear in Redwood NP

Orick, Calif. — Wildfires have gone through several redwood parks in the Bay Area in recent weeks, in particular, Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

We wanted to make two items clear to those interested in the North Coast redwoods. First, Redwood National and State Parks in Orick, which includes Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, remain open and are not affected by the fires, which are hundreds of miles to the south.

Second, while Big Basin lost some historic structures and some of the redwoods were scorched, the trees will survive just fine. Mature redwoods are nearly impervious to fire.

Our friend Tom Stienstra, California’s most experienced outdoor travel writer, explains more in the San Francisco Chronicle. We’ve included an excerpt from his Aug 26. story, “Old-growth redwoods are capable of surviving fire,” in which he talked to us at Redwood Coast Parks:

“Within a few years, the average person who hasn’t been to Big Basin before won’t notice right away that there was a major fire,” said John Harvey, a former arborist who is now the administrator of Big Tree Seekers, a 74,000-member association dedicated to documentation and preservation of the world’s largest trees.

“When you live thousands of years and are designed to survive fire, an event like this is just a blip in time for them,” said Richard Stenger, a former Yosemite Park ranger who is chief marketing ranger of Redwood Coast Parks. “You see many fire scars on redwoods. They’re like tattoos.”

Redwoods develop bark that can be a foot thick and has built-in fire retardant that protects and insulates the trees’ cambium, Stenger said.

“They are designed for fires, and not just the trees, the entire ecosystem,” Stenger said. Redwoods can reproduce from both clones and seeds, he noted, and after a fire, cleared-out areas exposed to sunlight provide the nursery for redwoods to sprout.

Redwoods also can be resistant to death from crowning, where the fires are so hot they jump from treetop to treetop. When the tops of redwoods break off, such as from a windstorm, they sprout new tops as if starting anew, said Redwood Empire forest soil scienist Michael Furniss, who has rope climbed some of the world’s tallest trees and sat in secondary trunks 250 feet up in the tree.

“Many old redwoods have multiple tops because the primary one blew off or was burned off,” he said.

Parks have two elements, Stenger noted: the nature element and the human element. At Big Basin, the historic ranger station, visitor center, museum and amphitheater all burned, he noted.

“Redwoods have a lot more resiliency,” he said.

“Redwoods arose about 120 million years ago,” Furniss said. “They are still here.”


Wild elk demolish wild elk sign

ORICK — With human foot traffic limited in Redwood National and State Parks, the local wildlife is making itself more at home in recent days, especially resident Roosevelt elk. Two males, for example, while practice sparring, managed to demolish a sign that read: “Danger: Wild Elk.”

It was a sign

NO BULL: A pair of stags, which can weigh more than 1,000 lbs each, lock antlers while trying their best fight moves. Who’s worst for the wear? A park sign that was no match for the rambunctious elk.

Paying a visit

A few others make themselves at home at the otherwise quiet Prairie Creek Visitor Center near Orick.

Tree of mystery

When the visitor center reopens, examine the Antler Tree, a bizarre natural curiosity, and see if you can figure out how it came about.

Roosevelt Elk

It had to be ewes

Endangered Roosevelt elk nearly disappeared from California, but have impressively rebounded in recent decades. They number in the thousands in Redwood National Park and surrounding wildlands.

Redwoods by Candlelight. Gary Todorff

3 perfect off-season trips

Don’t run from the cool weather. Embrace it. Own it. Light it up by candlelight in the forest. Hike to a gushing waterfall. Or spy on seals along the mouth of a river. Here are three autumn adventures in Northern Humboldt County will will make the season pass like a cool breeze.


Redwoods by Candlelight

Fog or sunshine, which sky conditions provide the optimal view experience to marvel at the redwoods? Hard to say, with pros and cons for each. But there’s a third option gaining popularity: darkness. 

For the 30th annual Candlelight Walk in the Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park will, due to public demand, host the event over two evenings, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7. Doors will open at 5 p.m. in the visitor center, a shabby-chic cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, just north of Orick. 

After snacks, a raffle and silent auction to benefit the park, the luminary-lit processions will proceed at 6 p.m., on an easy ¼-mile level path to the campfire ring, for tales as tall as the trees. Please leave your candles and dogs at home. Advance reservations, which begin Nov. 1, are highly recommended ($10, free to kids 12 and under). Rain or shine. Call (707) 465-7327 or visit www.redwoodparksconservancy.org.

Trillium Falls

With star attractions like big trees, Roosevelt elk and Fern Canyon, Redwood National and State Park visitors often overlook a fourth natural star, the Trillium Falls Trail, which features deciduous and redwood forests, Pacific rhododendron, plenty of Western trillium — one of the foremost wildflowers on the North Coast — and patches of giant trillium, in the spring.

But the real showcase of the moderate trail loop, which rises and falls and switches back and forth over 3 miles, is Trillium Falls, the largest and most beautiful in the parks, which really shows off in the fall rains. A steel bridge over Prairie Creek offers an excellent view of the boulder-strewn cascade. 

To start the walk to the water from U.S. Highway 101 just north of Orick, go west on Davison Road at the Elk Meadow Day Use Area, then take a quick left to the parking area, which has restrooms, picnic tables and, sometimes, a herd of resting elk. Start at the trailhead at the southern end and tiptoe around said antlered layabouts if present.

Hammond Trail

Lastly, do Humboldt like the locals do — they selected the Hammond Trail, a 5-mile section of the California Coastal Trail between Arcata and McKinleyville, as the best place to walk, jog and bike in one reader poll. Besides two-wheeled riders, the path, which meanders along a river, estuary, beaches, forests and sand hills, welcomes riders on four hooves. 

It begins in the Arcata Bottoms at the old steel bridge, retired to trains but open to pedestrians. Look down at the Mad River and you may see people and sea lions alike chasing the same schools of fish. Go north and stop at the market near Widow White Creek and School Road for refreshments. A bit farther north, turn the kids loose on the playground at Hiller Park. Or near the northern end of the trail, which climaxes with panoramic views of Clam Beach. Hop down a Billy goat trail into the coastal meadow for a closer look at harbor seals lounging about by the hundreds around the Mad River mouth.

From the Humboldt Insider Fall 2019 edition.


Almost Heroes at Trinidad Beach

Film, fun collide in North Humboldt

High and low art alike pair perfectly with cinematic lore in Northern Humboldt, where one can follow in the footsteps of A to Z list actors while enjoying local culture.

Matthew Perry and the late Chris Farley, for example, might not have won Oscars for Almost Heroes (1998), which scored an 8 out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes, while filming on location in Northern Humboldt. Still, the scenery shines in the goofball period comedy in which the pair race Lewis and Clarke through the American frontier, especially when they reach their goal, the Pacific, at Trinidad State Beach.

Other scenes might better have found the cutting room floor, like the face slapping contest with Native Americans. Nevertheless, the fishing village of Trinidad showcases real Indian culture, whether in its museum, a nearby recreated Yurok village in Patricku2019s Point State Park, or its souvenir shops, which display and sell jewelry made in traditional style from dentalium, small delicate tusk shells, once common in the region and used as a kind of de facto currency.

Humboldt County (2008), a dramedy in which a Los Angeles med student accidentally disappears into the Emerald Triangle, features in its finale stunning Luffenholtz County Beach south of Trinidad off of U.S. Highway 101, a favorite spot for plein air artists. Jutting sea stacks, ocean cliffs, secluded coves and sea caves, sea lions and star fish all find their way on canvases and photographs hanging in local storefronts, including the Trinidad Art Gallery, a co-op featuring original creations of some of Humboldt’s finest artists. For more artistic revelry, carouse through town during Trinidad Arts Night, the first Friday every month from May through October.

Finally, what’s not to love about a bro-mance in which one of the leads just happens to be dead? It’s only a minor detail for Swiss Army Man (2016), which transforms the beaches and forests around Trinidad into a deserted tropical island. Paul Dano impresses alongside Daniel Radcliffe, sans Hogwarts wizard wand. Despite the strange premise, the film delivers a creative tour de force, in large part because the corpse, improbably, serves as a platform for musical and artistic expression for Dano’s character, whether as muse, de facto woodwind instrument or flaming canvas.

Find yourself more traditionally inspired when Trinidad hosts the Trinidad Bay Art & Music Festival each August, featuring acclaimed classical musicians and visual artists.

Fern Canyon is a Dinosaurs Paradise

Raptors delight awaits in Redwoods

Big dinosaurs might be scary, but the little ones are the real monsters that will get you. Just ask the bad guy in the second Jurassic Park film A Lost World (1997), who made the fatal mistake of underestimating the tenacity of a horde of hungry mini-raptors, waiting to pounce in Fern Canyon, a primeval gorge with 50-foot walls draped in lush and rare feathery fronds. 


This Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park natural wonder has served as the backdrop for many other dinosaur flicks, not surprising considering that its surrounding redwood forest represents one of the oldest ecosystems on planet Earth, remaining unchanged for millions of years. 


Director Steven Spielberg couldnu2019t resist using another nearby geological feature for as eye candy film, Wedding Rock in Patricku2019s Point State Park, which like Fern Canyon, were stand ins for the rainforests of Isla Sorna, the dinosaur land in the film and best-selling novel by Michael Crichton.