What draws visitors to Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Reserve is of course the two 300-foot-plus redwood trees on the forest floor as well as the rest of the old growth redwoods thriving there. But rather than name it after a land investor, why wasn’t it named after the area’s local residents, the Kashaya, Southern Pomo and Coast Miwok. That’s who actually ensured the redwoods’ survival by using only fallen trees, and who lost big when outsiders came in to “settle” lands that people already called home.
Additional highlights of this 400-acre park can be found when you hike up the mountainside through a wide variety of plant communities. I hiked the 5.2-mile loop beginning on the East Ridge Trail at the visitor center and returned on the Pool Ridge Trail to the Discovery Trail. At the start, I passed fairly thin redwoods in a somewhat dry zone of detritus and plants, the usual species, such as poison oak, tanoaks, dried ferns and lichens.
As I climbed, a Pacific madrone forest emerged made up of trees of all ages including the most mature, which reach over 130 feet and can live hundreds of years. The exposed bark stands out like a ray of light in the shady forest. The glowing trunks paint the territory with curved stripes of rusty brown. The bark comes off like skin peeling after a sunburn. Unfortunately, as the photo below shows, thoughtless visitors will damage even the most beautiful trees. When I worked for the US Forest Service at Lake Tahoe, we posted a sign saying, “Leave the territory marking to the wildlife!” Let’s hope that this type of human behavior doesn’t increase at Armstrong so postings won’t be necessary.
HIking further, the climate became drier, and a garter snake lay right in the middle of the trail. It must encounter lots of hikers because it didn’t move as I watched it for awhile and then skirted around it within inches of its tail. Western fence lizards showed up too. Five in one spot. I must have counted a full dozen by the end of the day. About half of them rested in the shade; others sunned themselves on old pieces of bark or leaf litter. Manzanitas and coyote brush grew on the ridgeline. At the top of the ridge, facing west, I could see the tree-covered mountains across the canyon and the visibility extended far and wide.
Once I crossed the road, the chaparral immediately disappeared and I descended through another forest with Douglas firs and tan oaks. I saw a flower I’d never seen before in any forest — Hooker’s Catchfly, Hookeri silene.
Finally, I found myself back in the redwood groves in the canyon where rosebuds bloom, ferns thicken and the green and purple-leaved sorrel spreads around the redwoods on the valley floor. It is this plentiful range of habitats, and the flora and fauna within, that make California the most biodiverse place in North America.