Saturday, May 8, 2010

Henry Cowell State Park

After the visit to the Monterey Peninsula we needed to get a bit closer to the San Jose area as our plans were to re-group and plan the work schedule for the rest of the trip. That still left us with the afternoon to fill and after a long day's travel (the previous day) we wanted to get a bit of fresh air and some exercise.

So we headed up to the Henry Cowell State Park (or SP) to do a bit of walking and check out the "centuries old Redwood Grove". The park's address is 101 Big Trees Park Road - a fitting name. The first thing we saw as we entered the car park was this train - part of the Roaring Camp Big Trees Railroad. Apparently in the 1880s they used steam locomotives to haul the logs out of the mountains and like many old railways this is now providing tourists with an historical insight. The track is narrow-gauge and the steam engines date from 1890. We were not sure quite what was used to fire up the Steam Engine - it could have been diesel or gas - but did not smell very much nor did a lot of smoke come out of the smoke stack. Here is a youTube link to one of the locomotives in action. Apparently it is a Shay Locomotive and they have been built to run on wood, coal and oil. (So I guess this one runs on oil.)


In our haste to see the train - we missed the signs to the part of the Forest with the Old redwoods. (Probably something to do with the inner young boy who always wanted to be a train driver.) We set out on the wrong side of the tracks - mind you we did see some pretty tall trees. They often seem to grow as twin trunks - to give some idea of scale this picture does not include the top of the tree and there is a man standing at the bottom which gives an idea of the scale.


The bark is very gnarly - but soft to the touch - it almost feels like balsa wood - very light. We did see a few trees that were scorched - but given the age of the trees (we guessed 500 years old in the extreme cases - they are older than that though) we wondered why they managed to withstand forest fires. Did they not have fires out here - well the scorch marks suggested they did. However these trees did not smell as strongly as some pine trees. It turns out that they have a lower resin content which makes them less susceptible to burning.


This is what the trees look like when looking up. The largest old-growth redwoods are between 1400 and 1800 years old - incredible really. The tallest tree is 285ft tall and around 16ft wide.


Back to the tale of the trail, we did see some tall trees and thought that was it and so carried on up a path. Meanwhile the train had set off with its passengers and it could be heard hooting (with a sound just like you'd expect an American steam train to have) and occasionally the guard's commentary. Later on we realised that the train has quite a steep hill to climb (in train terms) and looped around a bit to reach the top - Bear Mountain. It turned out that our route was also taking us up to Bear Mountain and after walking for a while we decided to ask a couple of MTB'ers where we were.

It was a very un-British-male thing do do - ask the way, but needs must. we learnt two things, the first was that just around the corner was Bear Mountain, the second was that the trees we wanted to see were the other side of the car park from the train station. However they were meant to be much more impressive than the ones we had seen walking up the trail. So here is Bear Mountain - the train stops here and some passengers (well 2 in this case) walk back down, the rest let the train take the strain.


So we headed back down the way we had come - down hill is a lot quicker than uphill and found the "Big Trees" that justify the name of the road. This picture is of the top and bottom of the tree and then merged using Photoshop (Elements 8) so that you can see it in all its glory and even then I did not get the very top of the tree in the picture.

Cowell SP Trees.jpg

Here is a picture of another tree - standing in the middle of the path, the tree is called "neck-breaker", I took the picture standing up against the tree and looking up - it seems to go up a long long way.


I liked this tree because the bark seemed to have wrapped around the tree like a cork-screw. I wonder whether this happened because the tree starting growing with a twist or perhaps the branches are the top acted like a "propeller" so that the tree had a grew with a twisting force whenever it was windy.


This is the same tree, only I was standing a little closer. The twists in the bark are really quite deep.


Although people come to see the trees as you might expect the woods are a nature reserve - here are some blue flowers growing on the forest floor. (I am not sure whether Bear Mountain has any bears there now - I doubt it.


Towards the end of the 1.3Km/0.8m walk around the really tall trees was this plaque - interesting - so I wonder why the Park is called the Henry Cowell State Park? Was it a later sponsorship deal - might it be called say "Google Park" if Google were to come up with a better deal?


Despite the many people who came for the train ride and we saw around the Big trees bit we actually had a very pleasant and serene walk. I was wearing trousers with detachable legs so they could be worn as shorts, the weather was so nice I did just that and wore them as shorts.

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