Sunday, May 22, 2016

Under the Tallest Trees in the World

Yesterday, Paul and I explored further into the Redwood National and State Parks than we'd yet been. We drove several miles down a winding gravel road, through a locked gate (we had to get the passcode from the visitor's center first), and then hiked to the Tall Trees Grove, where exist -- literally -- the tallest trees in the world. The redwood tree that held the wold record for tallest tree until 1994 is in this grove, and the current world record holder is somewhere in the area, although it's not marked and there's no trail to it. We've seen lots of big trees already, but we figured we had to take a trip to this place while we still live in the area, if only to be able to say we'd done it. Besides, redwoods are awesome, and I'll take any chance I can get to explore these woods.

Here's the area from a nearby overlook:

More tall trees, plus mist (it was an overcast, sometimes-rainy kind of day):

And here's the grove from ground level:

Of course, the trees were huge and impressive -- as redwoods are -- although we couldn't get an especially accurate sense of their height from our lowly position on the ground. We couldn't even see the tops of most of these trees! (I guess that says something in itself.)

So we wandered around these giant trees, just generally being impressed. And in the process, we found lots of interesting things to look at on the forest floor.

The molluscs were out in force, chief among them that famous denizen of the pacific coastal forest, the Banana Slug. :)

This individual wasn't huge by Banana Slug standards, but it was still pretty darn big; here's a penny for comparison:

We found another Banana Slug in the process of consuming a leaf:

I've never actually thought about how slugs eat before, and this creature's very normal biting action really surprised me! I made this rather shaky video with my iPhone -- it's still weirdly shaky even after YouTube's stabilization process, probably because I was filming the slug so close up -- so watch if you're up for it. You can hear the crunch of each bite; mmm, what a crispy leaf:

We kept finding snails all over the place as well, including a bunch of these large and beautiful Pacific Sideband Snails:

And I'm not sure of the exact species of these smaller, ghostly pale snails that kept showing up, but they were also quite cool:

Lots of Yellow-spotted Millipedes were sharing the forest floor with the molluscs, including this pair of millipedes who were on the move despite being otherwise engaged:

A chipmunk (one of a couple of species in this area, but I'm not sure which one) watched us carefully while it worked over an acorn from atop a moss-covered trunk near the path:

And as if these woods weren't already fantastical enough, we found several blooming coralroot orchids sprouting up like little intricate flags next to the path. I'd never seen coralroot blossoms in person before, even though various species of coralroot also exist in the woods in the eastern U.S. These are strange, leafless, parasitic plants that get their nutrients from their host fungi underground. And then they send up these beautiful little flowers; some of the flower spikes we saw were more than a foot (maybe two feet) tall:

Here's a closer view of this Summer Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata; perhaps this is some particular variety that lacks the usual spots on this flower's lower lip):

We also found Pacific Coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana), with its narrower purple-and-yellow flowers:

I love orchids, and finding new members of this diverse and fascinating family in the wild is always extra exciting for me. Yay, orchids!

And that about sums up our tall trees adventure: redwoods, molluscs and other crawling critters, and orchids. I'll add that before we even got to the woods, we had a treat in the form of Cliff Swallows nesting under the canopy outside the visitor's center:

It was so cool to see these little birds swooping around and guarding nests-in-progress that ranged from barely a ledge (like in the picture above) to fully enclosed bowls:

There are so many interesting things to see out there!

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