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A Humbling Walk Amid Redwoods

August 01, 1993|JOHN McKINNEY

Famed Avenue of the Giants offers a good look at Humboldt County's redwoods. More than a dozen short paths meander through Avenue-adjacent groves named for the famous, the rich and famous, and the just plain rich.

The 33-mile parkway, the parallel scenic alternate to Highway 101, runs the length of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This park was one of California's first, when the state park system was established in the 1920s. Today it protects about one-eighth of all remaining virgin coast redwoods.

Just off the Avenue of the Giants in the community of Weott is the park visitor center. Stop to pick up maps, inquire about trail conditions and check out the nature exhibits, including an excellent one about the importance of ancient forests.

The matchless old-growth forest along Bull Creek was a cause celebre with early California conservationists, who struggled to save the redwoods from the mill. Out of this struggle came the Save-the-Redwoods League in 1918.

Thanks to John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s quietly funneling $2 million to the League, and matching funds from the state, conservationists purchased 9,000 acres along Bull Creek from the Pacific Lumber Company in 1931.

Today the Bull Creek backcountry forms the heart of the park. Thriving along this creek is more than a redwood grove; it is a true forest. The Rockefeller Forest is, without resorting to too many superlatives, the most impressive stand of redwoods anywhere.

A 5-mile-long road winds through the Bull Creek areas, as do several hiking trails. My favorite is the route along Bull Creek itself. This path offers curiosities (Flatiron Tree, Giant Tree and more), as well as swimming in and sunning beside Bull Creek. And of course there are the spectacular redwoods--explored by a trail that not only stretches the legs, but the imagination as well.

Directions to trail head: From the north/central part of the Avenue of the Giants, a couple of miles north of the park visitor center and just south of the hamlet of Redcrest, turn west on Mattole Road and drive 1 1/2 miles to the parking area for the Rockefeller Forest Loop Trail. (If you want to make this a one-way hike and make car shuttle arrangements, a second trail head is at the Big Trees Parking Area, three miles further west on Mattole Road.)

The hike: Begin on the right branch of the Rockefeller Loop (a very pleasant family hike in its own right) and follow it one-quarter mile to a junction, then right to Bull Creek Flats Loop Trail.

The route heads up-creek along a path crowded in places by rushes and horsetail. A mile out, the trail breaks into a clearing; a mile farther it crosses a tributary creek on a bridge; another mile more and a log bench beckons you to take a break.

About a mile from the Big Trees Parking Area, the path climbs to closely parallel Mattole Road. After crossing a couple of side creeks on wooden bridges, you arrive at the parking lot.

From here, cross the bridge over Bull Creek and follow the signs to the oddly shaped Flatiron Tree and to Giant Tree. The Giant is not the world's tallest redwood, but it is the biggest--the champion by virtue of its combined height, diameter and crown size.

Leaving behind Giant Tree, the path travels through a fern-filled forest, bridges Squaw Creek and passes a junction with the right-forking Johnson Trail Camp. Not only do the ancient trees towering above make you feel small; their fallen cousins, which require a 75-yard zig and a 75-yard zag by trail to get around, are also humbling to the hiker.

The trail enters and exits a hollow, hike-through log, then meanders a bit, north and south, with Bull Creek. A mile and a half from the Big Trees Area, the path plunges into the fern-filled canyon of Connick Creek, emerging to travel among more awesome redwoods, including the so-called Giant Braid, a trio of redwoods twisted together.

For the most part, as you hike along, you'll hear but not see Bull Creek; that is until a half-mile or so from the Rockefeller Loop, when the path drops close to the creek.

Your redwood journey ends when you cross Bull Creek on a seasonal bridge, and reconnect with Rockefeller Loop Trail for the short walk to the parking area.

Hike with John McKinney's guidebook "Walk Los Angeles: Adventures on the Urban Edge " ($14.95). Send check or money order to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Dept. 1, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Bull Creek Flats Loop Trail

* Where: Humboldt Redwoods State Park

* Distance: 8 1/2 mile loop

* Terrain: Old-growth redwoods on banks of Bull Creek

* Highlights: Rockefeller Forest, the largest remaining and most magnificent redwood forest

* Degree of Difficulty: Moderate

* Precautions: Seasonally installed footbridge over the Eel River makes loop trip easiest in summer. Trails are open all year, but don't attempt crossing the Eel during high water.

* For more information: Contact Humboldt Redwoods State Park, P.O. Box 100, Weott, Calif., 95571, (707) 946-2409.

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