Rain Forests of the Pacific Northwest
With its 100 or more inches of annual rainfall and summer fog, the northern California coastline is a superb habitat for redwood forest, a special type of temperate rain forest dominated by the tallest trees in the world. These magnificent trees routinely grow to 300 feet or more, and are often 500 years old; some may live as long as 2,000 years. A few redwoods are also found along the southern Oregon coast.
Aim for Redwood National Park (a World Heritage Site) in late spring when the pink-purple flowers of rhododendrons are blooming underneath these red-barked trees and the sweet scent of azalea flowers adds to the ambience. Certainly, these trees are easily seen while driving the highways through Redwood National Park, but those who walk some of the miles upon miles of trails in the park will come away with a more profound experience, one that includes the tapestry of nature woven around these giants, which includes the wildlife. I remember my euphoric feeling one winter day when the first light of day sparkled on frosty meadows next to magnificent redwood trees while Roosevelt elk grazed for breakfast amongst the splendor.
Plants and Wildlife
It is interesting that the redwood trees are magnificent in many memorial groves in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, which is some miles inland and primarily sunny. It would seem that the wet, often flooding conditions near Smith River and its confluence with Mill Creek make up for the absence of foggy summer weather. When conditions are not optimal for the redwoods, they mix with other typical trees of the rain forest western hemlock, Douglas fir, western red cedar, and Port Orford cedar in the north. The understory is dominated by rhododendrons, azaleas, ferns (especially sword ferns) and a carpet of redwood sorrel, with its white to pink flowers. Blueblossom ceanothus (wild lilac) is found at the forest edge, a species that does not grow in the northern temperate rain forest. Big-leaf maple and red alder are found near creeks.
The numerous Roosevelt elk are certainly the most obvious wildlife stars for viewing in the park, as they linger in meadows adjacent to US 101 by Elk Prairie Campground. In winter, when the campground was empty, I've found them nestled among the campsites. The elk are also seen in the Gold Bluffs area, where magnificent bulls may be observed if one is lucky. The park elk population totals about 2,000 animals. The Indian word for elk is wapiti, which means white rump. Black-tailed deer, bobcats, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and the occasional black bear live in the forest. Salmon, steelhead, and trout spawn in the creeks. Streamside is the place for bird-watching, with more than 260 species identified in the park. The osprey and belted kingfisher are possible sightings, and the pileated woodpecker with its unusual sound and appearance will startle you into joy.
Both the spotted owl and the marbled murrelet (the park is considered an oasis for them) are dependent on old-growth forest. The Smith River is an excellent place to spot river otters, which are such fun to watch as they play in river riffles.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication