National Geographic : 1964 Jul
might illustrate the broad subject. Such a trip seemed ideal for the whole family. And so it was that we loaded our car to browse California's 500-mile-long coastal belt, known as the Redwood Empire. All four of us-my wife Eda; daughter Eda Kristin, 15; and son Paul, 12-had a marvelous sum mer, and none of us had any notion of mak ing serious explorations. Yet, in retrospect, one barely remembered incident pointed in the direction of discovery. We were following a forest footpath in Cali fornia's Humboldt Redwoods State Park, 240 miles north of San Francisco. Unconsciously we lowered our voices. On all sides of us stretched a forest floor covered with fallen needles and cones, leaves and twigs, patches of sorrel, fern, moss-an acoustical matting that quieted this grove to the reverent hush of a cathedral (pages 24-5). Child's Remark Proves Prophetic We drew near a great redwood surrounded by tourists as silent as we. My eyes traveled upward. Layered by coarse, deeply furrowed red-brown bark, and splotched here and there with yellow lichens, the trunk was bare of limbs for about 200 feet; above, branches formed a verdant headdress now partly ob scured by the morning mists. A neat wooden plaque described Founders Tree: circumference at chest level, 40 feet; diameter, 12.7 feet; height 346.1 feet. Recent measurements show this tree has grown; its present height is 352.6 feet, making it the fifth tallest tree. Age was unspecified, for only after a red wood tree is cut and its rings are counted can its life span be accurately determined. We know, however, that a tree of this size could have been well along at the time of the Magna Carta, A.D. 1215, a seedling perhaps even before the birth of Jesus. I explained to the youngsters that Founders had been accepted as the world's tallest tree -until 1957. Then a rival was discovered in nearby Rockefeller Forest, a tree measuring 359.3 feet (page 35). Surveys indicate this "world's tallest" tree has lost height, possibly by storm damage to its crown. It now meas ures 356.5 feet, giving it fourth rank after the three new discoveries on Redwood Creek. "But all the redwoods still aren't measured," said one of the children. "Maybe someone else will discover a new world's record." Prophetic as the remark now seems, it was purely casual that day. And even now not one of us remembers who said it. For the duration Stopping in a gigantic bole, the Zahls look up at forking boughs that inspired the Chandelier Tree's name. Fungus and fire be gan the tunnel; man completed it. The tree stands in Underwood Park, a private devel opment on the Redwood Highway. Taxation of uncut timber makes it costly to keep private groves. The National Park Service estimates that little of the original two million acres of virgin redwood will remain unlogged half a century from now if cutting continues at the current rate. Public parks and groves preserve 50,000 acres.