Nature Rhythms Redwood Expedition No. 2
I loved looking up to sunlight filtering through the canopy of the majestic redwoods and then looking down at the frolicking mating dance of the cute little lizards. – Olga T.
During the ritual, the male Coast Range Fence Lizard goes after the female and she keeps skirting away. Then roles reverse and she pursues him, each wearing a colorful design of interlocking teal green and grey scales. It continues back and forth like this for several minutes until the show moves out of sight.
We spotted the reptiles cavorting on the trail in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz mountains. Every step yielded an awesome view into the redwood canopy so high we couldn’t see the tree tops. The highest redwood tree at this park is 277 feet, yet they can grow to almost 400 feet. Picture a 40-story office building, a little less than half the height of San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid.
In that first old growth grove, Cathedral Grove, redwood sorrel and ferns carpeted the earth like green velvet. From there we walked the River Trail of the San Lorenzo River to one of its sources, Eagle Creek. We saw no eagles, but as for mammals, we noticed a few California grey squirrels circling redwoods looking for small pine cones. I still find it unbelievable that a one-inch cone can yield seeds that birth the tallest trees in the world.
The biggest surprise at this park came the moment we stepped from the Eagle Creek Trail onto the Pine Trail—from the cool, shady, earthy redwood environs onto fine, white sands in the hot sun—and encountered the Santa Cruz sand hill communities, a habitat found nowhere else in the world.* Fifteen million years ago, the area was a sea floor, which has been proven by discoveries of shark teeth, sand dollars and other marine life by research scientists. Several endemic flora and fauna are found here, including the:
- Zayante band-winged grasshopper,
- Hermon June beetle,
- Santa Cruz wallflower,
- Boony Doon manzanita,
- Santa Cruz Kangaroo rat, and
- Ben Lomond spineflower.
In the sand chaparral the trails are made of Zayante sand sitting atop sand hill ridges.We found ourselves in bright sunshine, passing fields of apricot-colored monkeyflowers and bright yellow bush poppies. Since the sun is the great stimulus of life, we saw a greater variety of wildflowers in the sunny, scrubby chaparral than in the tall, dark redwood groves.
Coyote brush and pine trees thrived on the Pine Trail, which goes by the Observation Deck, a vital stop, because on a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean, Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz. While there, we watched and heard talkative acorn woodpeckers socializing among the pines and saw a swallow streaming and dipping overhead.
Once we re-entered the redwood landscape, we planted ourselves under a lovely grove of trees, each of us escaping into our own meditation. Afterward, one of the participants said, “The highlight for me was lying down, and while taking time to be silent, looking up at the trees and feeling the peace of the redwood cathedral within myself.”
*For more information, contact the Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity, a group of local and regional non-profit, government and private interests, who are rallying to preserve and protect this rare habitat.