Van Duzen

The Juniper Tree


Once again I have had the fortune to enter a strange, unique wilderness located in the back country of Humboldt County. This place is known as the Eaton Roughs, which is a sandstone block that has surfaced in the past few million years via faulting. The Roughs now hold a small island of unique vegetation, for the coast range, with many plants that you would expect to see in the Klamath Mountains or the Yolla Bollys.

One species in particular was on my mind for the day; Juniperus sp.. Last time I was in this area I came across what I was fairly confident was a juniper, however I was unable to key it properly. This time I was set to verify what kind of tree this is, or at the very least collect enough data to have people smarter than me help identify it.

There are only a few species that this tree can be. Juniperus grandis (Sierra), Juniperus occidentalis (Western) or Juniperus communis (Common). Initially I thought that these could potentially be sierra juniper – due to their form. While pretty limited, my experience with western and common juniper were that they often where more shrub-like. However after more research and examination, I am now pretty confident that these are indeed Juniperus occidentalis, or western juniper.


According to Michael Kauffmann in Conifer Country, the oldest known western junipers are 1,000-1,500 years old. I found several trees that looked like the one above, gnarly and obviously quite old. Could they be over 1,000 years old? Another interesting fact is how apparently their range has increased in the past 50 years. While climate change is one potential explanation, fire exclusion seems to be the most likely reason. This has certainly been true in this region as well, and this may be why I found abundant regeneration throughout the Roughs.

I would appreciate any comments to confirm or refute if this is western juniper. I did collect some leaves, bark and berries – if required.

Northern Goshawk

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If you want to see one of these cool birds up close, and do know any falconers, you can see this one in the Mad River Ranger Station of the Six Rivers National Forest. This is located off HWY 36 between Dinsmore and Mad River. Here are some of my pictures from Goshawks in the wild:

Sleeping Owl

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I am proud of this one. While conducting follow-up visits for Northern Spotted Owls, we often only find one of a mating pair, or none at all. In this instance I was able to get the male to respond and when I first came under the owl I heard a faint whistle call of the female, but did not see or hear her again. After feeding the male to find that that they had no nest or fledgling juveniles, I did one last faithful scan of the trees to try to spot a nest or the female. Looking where I thought I heard the sound I suddenly saw her! What luck. These owls are extremely camouflaged and if they are still and silent, virtually impossible see. The pic is a shot through my binoculars.

Shoe Tree

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The Shoe Tree. This uncommon variety springs strings up from time to time in across the country side. This one is on Highway 36, and if you spend any time driving over McClellan Mountain you know this tree. There used to another one, just a few miles west of here. It was close to the house that has the big wagon wheel set into wall above the driveway. I picked up a kid hitch hiking once years ago who lived there. He told me his dad started it, but eventually decided to cut it down as it became too much of a “thing”. He told me the final straw was noticing some ice skates in the tree. Well, now the legend lives on, in a place were the falling fruit is less likely to hurt anyone…

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The Grandfather Tree

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This is the largest Douglas-fir tree I have ever seen (in Humboldt County). And I have never seen such ridiculous limbs. The limbs themselves are like 4′ feet in diameter and 80′ tall! The fact that it can support all that weight is a testament to the structural integrity of Douglas-fir.

What causes that swelling of limbs at the base? In general we find that tree structure is strongly correlated to its environment. Open grown trees photosynthesize more allowing for larger, more frequent limbs. And it is not uncommon to find these old, wolfy trees throughout the region with large limbs near the base. Often times these trees are hidden in younger forests that have emerged more recently, as is the case with the Grandfather Tree.

Many forests in Humboldt where previously woodlands, dotted with the occasional Douglas-fir. Prior to 1920, the forests were mostly white oak, black oak and grasslands. Of course all forests have minor smatterings of other species. All waiting for their moment. When the light or climate conditions change they may get a chance to turn the tide.

When fire was removed from the system, new forests quickly emerged. The new forests grew up in single regeneration events, so their structure tends to be uniform. Because they grow up so dense, they crowd each other out. Many die and the trees that win drop their lower limbs early, stretching upwards to out compete their neighbors.

But that is only part of the story. Genetics ultimately are the major player in tree structure, however it can be harder to notice to the casual observer. The Douglas-fir genome is very complex and after a few hours of reading about it online, I needed to take some advil! In short, conifer genomes are long and extremely complex. A product of being hundreds of millions of years old. In general the variation is subtle and difficult to notice, but occasionally you can find pockets of trees that all share some common characteristic such as sweep or taper.

All of these trees share genes that favor larger than average limbs. But it is rare to find trees with the kind of structure as the Grandfather Tree. Not surprisingly, there is a definite cohort of trees with large lower branches scattered in the surrounding forest for hundreds of acres around this tree.

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Take a look in the bottom right corner of the picture. See the smaller tree with the large limbs? Another grandkid tree.

In forests that have been intensively managed, logged and replanted many times, genes like this are on the decline. Much research has gone into developing Douglas-fir seedlings that will grow straight, tall trees with little taper. While this is good for wood production, it may not be the best for the trees long term strategy, which is to persist in a variety of climates and micro-sites. Not to mention the obvious value complex crown structure provides to wildlife, which has evolved along side these genetically diverse forests. Something to think about as we walk around these forests we call home.

Grizzly Creek

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Here are some pictures from way up near the headwaters of Grizzly Creek. The forest is right on the redwood transition areas where redwood and coastal Douglas-fir and oak woodlands collide. The combination of good soils, heavy rain, and persistent fog make these areas very productive for trees.

These mountain streams may look small, but once the rains start they really pick up. Most of the headwater areas transition to open grasslands, and as result the peak flows into these streams is enormous. Flows tend to be flashy and can be very intense right after big rains.

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This particular forest came with an interesting story. Most of the surrounding areas where logged in the 1960s. Apparently as they moved into this stand, there was a horrible accident, costing one of the loggers their life. The crew backed out after the accident, leaving this area unlogged. And so it has stood until now. And so it will remain, now that a northern spotted owl has found its home here.

Stuck on a Airplane

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When I returned from my recent trip to southern California, I had the pleasure of being held on the plane circling for an hour before being sent back to Sacramento. As beautiful as it was in 90% of the county, apparently there was heavy fog at the Aracta airport – and well, you all know the drill around here. At least I got some awesome views of our county. This is over the central-east portion of Humboldt. If you note the savannah-grasslands above the wing, you can see Indian Creek, which is in between the two open ridges. From this vantage you can really see how isolated the oak and savannah types are becoming, as they continue to be rapidly encroached by Douglas-fir.

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When I took this picture, the plane was right over McClellan Mountain. The Van Duzen River cuts through the melange geology here. You can still see the grey scars remnant from the 1964 flood. The strange formation in the center of the picture is the Eaton Roughs. I have written about the roughs previously here:

Points from the Past


So we have seen these historic sites and objects, some close to 100 years old. However people have existed in the same areas for much longer. These sites, while a little harder to find, have persisted for centuries – some for thousands of years. I think the oldest recorded site in California is over 10,000 years old! In the picture above we found two archaeological sites in this valley and believe that it is likely that there are probably more sites deeper down in the ground. Hundreds of years of erosion and soil development essentially cap sites. Here are two of the artifacts that were discovered close to the surface.

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Continuing my historic theme, here is another cool find from a similar site a few miles away from the ‘china’ site. In the mid to late 1800s, there was widespread homesteading throughout Humboldt County. Many of these homesteads where set up by larger sheep/cattle operations, who helped people apply for their patents and then over time bought them out. This is how many of the large ranches acquired their large acreages. As result, there are many abandoned homesteads on ranches today that are nothing more than scattered debris of what ever was left behind.

Machines of the Past


Came across a 1950s era yarding machine in pretty good shape. These things were very common in this region, are are essentially a improvement on the ‘stream donkey’. This one appears to have come to rest in the headwaters of Grizzly Creek for unknown reasons. The engine was made by none other than Hercules, who produced over 1 million industrial grade engines foe the US military during their 24-hours a day operations in WWII. It looked like someone tried to get this thing running not too long ago, as evidenced by some newer looking hoses and a modern battery.

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Albino Redwood

I was driving on HWY 36 when I remembered another albino redwood that I should take a picture of. This one is in Humboldt Grove.

As tempting as it is, dont pick the leaves! They do not dry or press as white leaves. They will look just like dead redwood leaves.

As tempting as it is, dont pick the leaves! They do not dry or press as white leaves. They will look just like dead redwood leaves.

This is what a typical albino redwood looks like. The one I posted about last week is the only one I have ever heard of or seen that is living in the canopy. Most are going to be found near the base of a tree where they can easily root into the roots of the energy producing “host” tree. Remember, if you come across albino redwood tree, leave them alone! Look with your eyes, not hands.

The Desolation


More views of the Roughs. I posted a picture earlier this year a few miles north from this area.

This unique area is where large blocks of sandstone have been offset from the rest of the earth through tectonic processes. A large fault called the Eaton Roughs Fault Zone runs between the Mad River and the Van Duzen. There is a good description of the area for all you geology nerds here. The processes have created these strips of sandstone where apparently some layers have more developed soils than others. Most of the areas are barren, and have sporadic communities of manzanita and whitethorn. Then there are the junipers? over a understory of various manzanita species. Lastly, where layers have better developed soils, there are strips of Douglas-fir forests. This has to be one of the most interesting landscapes in Humboldt County.

Juniper; California or Sierra?

If its Sierra (western) juniper it is well out of its range. California and common juniper are both in coastal CA, but has anyone ever seen them form into trees like this? I have not, nor could I find any pictures online that resembled the form these do.

I had a hard time keying the leaves I took, obviously seeing the cones would have helped, but alas no berries in the winter. Any ideas?

Suicide Rock

I was unable to find any story behind the name of this rock. The place names book has a vague description of it, but no historic suicide of note. To help with the scale, the face of the rock is close to 150 feet high. The top side can be easily reached and is more or less flat ground, so the name likely comes from the fact that it could be a easy place to jump from…

Old Yarding Machine

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Here is a cool find from earlier this summer. I stumbled on this hybrid-yarder in a semi-remote, or at least overgrown, portion of someone’s property. They had no idea it was there. Admittedly Im not an expert in the manufacture history of logging machinery, but I would consider this the final evolution of a stream donkey. There was a period in the 1950s where tractors, trucks, and smaller better chain saws became widely available. Still old technologies were still used. In this case, a stream donkey design, just replace the boiler engine with a big diesel engine. The plaque on the motor was stamped 1959.

Basically it is a powerful wench. Its sits on the wooden sled and can be dragged through the woods by simply wenching it along. You would find a location on the side of a hill anchor it with cables to nearby trees and stumps and then yard, or wench, up logs from way down the hill. This one must of broke down and was simply left there.

Black Lassic

If you ever have the chance, go to the top of Black Lassic. You can also hit a few other cool peaks while in the area. Its actually really easy to get to it in the summer. I took this picture in the spring, so Red Lassic (in the background) was still covered in snow – making it too hard for us to get there or to Signal Peak. We had a clear view of Shasta and the Trinity Alps that day, as well as the ocean and Humboldt Bay. What are you waiting for? Do it!

You can find directions here.


While I haven’t researched this, elk appear to be moving into areas where they haven’t been in a long time. Sheds or at least elk droppings are becoming more common as far south as the Van Duzen, where I found this one. Ridiculous, right? It is so heavy that it seems impossible that the animal could lift its head.