Avenue of the Giants: Magnificence of an Inhuman Scale

Tuesday February 17, 2015

Oh hi. Hi! Remember that time that I was all, “I’ll just bang out this Northern CA road trip all lickety split while the baby’s sleeping.” Oh, HA ha ha! Ha! One of you told the baby, didn’t you?

Where were we?

After our night at Safari West, Dave and I headed to the Mendocino County coast. We stopped for coffee and pastries in Healdsburg, hot apple cider at roadside apple orchard stands, a fancy lunch in seaside Mendocino (oh my God that town), and ice cream in Fort Bragg. We headed inland towards Garberville as the sun plummeted behind us into the fog line.




Soon, we were encased in a black cloud of coastal fog. We swerved along Rt 1, an S-shaped two-lane highway built between massive redwood trees. Our headlights would catch brief glimpses of bark before we had to maneuver out of the way. Visibility was roughly about 5 feet. Cars passing us on the left appeared as glowing white ghosts that disappeared into the darkness. We couldn’t see the road signs. No cell reception meant no google maps. Remember how I was currently 7 months pregnant? I was 7 months pregnant. We only managed to find the Benbow Inn because, well, it was a building. We hadn’t seen one in over an hour.

Creeping though the fog into the looming, English-Tudor Benbow Inn was not unlike walking into a Steven King novel. You’re kinda just waking for the twins to show up. I sent Dave in first.

It was a total, unbelievable score.

Just a day after Thanksgiving and the Inn was already awash in Christmas trees, garland, and wreaths. Fireplaces roared as couples milled around the Victorian velvet couches with mugs of warm drinks; children played board games on the antique rugs. A wood paneled pub behind the reception desk served up Humboldt Fog cheese and warm bread pudding. What a refuge from the chilly, inhospitable night.

We woke up to the sight of damp, frosted redwood trees peeking through the white fog, and we set off for the Avenue of the Giants, just 9 miles away.


Let’s see if I can do this justice.




Muir Woods is famous for its redwood trees. And Muir Woods has nothing — absolutely nothing — on the magestic Avenue of the Giants. As it was late November, two days after Thanksgiving, the two-lane road was still and quiet. We drove nearly silently between the monoliths, stepping out roughly every 100 feet because this grove, this grove, was clearly the most beautiful.



We felt like we could walk for an eternity on the needle-covered, rust-colored floor, a never-ending supply of behemoths. Each tree in the forest felt larger than anything we’d seen at Muir Woods. And this is a forest that we drove through for hours.

Formerly an industrial logging access road, the Avenue of the Giants is still a commercial hot mess. The road is littered with a wide variety of redwood paraphernalia kitsch . You got your burl wood clocks and tables (Dave wouldn’t let me get any if you can believe that), your 9-ft tall carvings of big foot, your drive-through redwood trees.



This was a welcome bit of comic relief nestled between moments of existential awakening.



Towards the north end of the drive, you’ll see signs for a visitor’s center. I’d recommend checking it out, mostly for its coverage of the fall of the Dyerville Giant. A 362-ft tree, locals believed a train had crashed or that there had been an earthquake when it fell.




Dave and I set out to find it. We drove over to Founder’s Grove and started the (stupidly) easy hike.

Now, the problem with redwood forests is that A) All the trees look huge, B) there are a lot of huge trees on the ground too, and C) there is absolutely no other foliage to help you realize that you are in fact walking in circles.



Like ants walking between blades of grass (can you see wee little Dave in the left edge of that photo there?) , we stumbled onto one felled tree after another. Is this it? I dunno, it looks huge. This has to be it, right? I mean, look at the size of that thing. We said this about no less than 6 trees. Finally, we asked a ranger –

“Hi there, we’re looking for the Dyerville Giant? Is there a sign that will say which one it is?”

The ranger laughed at us, “It’s the really big one.”

“Right, well, you see, they’re all really big.”

“You’ll know it when you see it.”




We kept on marching. Taking photos of not the Dyerville Giant.

And, of course, obviously. It was the really big one.




A football field is 360 feet long. That is how big the Dyerville Giant was as it crashed through the forest, tumbling to the ground. All of the other massive redwood tree detritus that we’d passed on our way to the Dyerville Giant? Those are the trees that it took down with it.

We made the obligatory loop around it, huh-ing and hm-ing. We traced our fingers through the moss growing in its bark. We stood back, hands on our hips, dumbfounded.

The air was frozen with morning dew. We shivered staring for a few more minutes, then wordlessly left the Giant in his resting place.




We climbed back in the rental car and set out for Eureka. Tomorrow, we would head for Redwood National Park, promising even greater redwoods than we’d seen today. Actually, home to the largest redwood tree in the planet, its location and identity a secret for its own protection. Our minds were abuzz with grandeur and impossibility. How could it possibly top this?

4 Responses to “Avenue of the Giants: Magnificence of an Inhuman Scale”

  1. Your opening reminds me of when I first started as a freelancer and thought, “I can work from anywhere”! So I took a few days mid-week to head up to Mendocino and Fort Bragg (thinking I’d do this once a month or so). Of course, I had a fabulous time, but spent more than I intended and really didn’t get much done. So much for that plan…

    It’s a shame because I agree the Mendocino Coast is beautiful. Over on my travel site devoted to national parks, Redwood is consistently in my top five. I really need to get back there. Thanks for the virtual visit!


    2/19/2015 at 10:37 am

  2. Oh my God, Mendocino. I’ll be writing more about that later. What a spectacular place.

    I really want to go back to Redwood National Park — I had this feeling the ranger took one look at my pregnant self and prescribed a low-impact hike. AS IF. I may have felt extremely offended, and bummed that I (maybe) didn’t see its full glory.


    2/19/2015 at 12:42 pm

  3. You probably found in Redwood National Park that its not easy to say there is greater looking than around Avenue of the Giants. The parks are quite different, but once trees grow over 300 ft. its hard for most people to know whether they are 200 ft. or 350 ft.

    But you may be right about Redwood National Park since the worlds tallest tree is there. Even if the ranger won’t give directions. At least knowing its around is pretty satisfying as a mystery.

    I just stumbled across a coast redwood web page today at a site They say the largest and tallest coast redwoods are in Redwood National Park. One called Hyperion and another Grogan’s Fault. I had heard of another in a book called The Wild Trees but this one wasn’t mentioned in that book. Cant wait to get back there again.


    8/7/2015 at 6:16 pm

  4. Yep, that was exactly our experience! The redwoods didn’t have the same majesty at Redwood National Park. Both parks are beautiful, but for very different reasons. Thanks for the website! Wow, it is so in-depth. Can’t wait to spend a few days poking around all the articles.


    8/7/2015 at 6:30 pm