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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.