Grove of the Titans

Exploring Mill Creek Trail, Jedediah Smith State Park

The next day we woke up quite late, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and then wasted time exploring the Mill Creek Trail in the park until it was the appointed time we had set to meet our guide to The Grove of the Titans. Thanks to our friendly nature, vivacious personalities, hysterical antics and ability to small talk, finding the infamous Grove of the Titans was a piece of cake: we just had someone take us there, which, was my plan all along. Because really, tromping through the forest and bushwhacking through redwood groves is just plain dumb. Don’t do it.

I will not disclose the location of the grove, I won’t tell you how to get there. What I will tell you is that if you are bushwhacking for miles off trail you are way off base. These trees are hidden right under your nose and there are small hidden social trails leading to all of them. They are within a quarter mile of major roads. If you spend weeks getting muddy and scraped up and dirty and lost and etc, just stop!

The Del Norte Titan, Grove of the Titans

This is the first Titan we went to see, the Del Norte Titan. It’s fourth on the list of the “Largest Redwood Trees” and has a cubic volume of 37,200 feet and is 307 feet high.

This was where our guide left us, giving us instructions on how to find the others. They are all in close proximity to each other.

R, forging the creek to find more Titans, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

The trees are hysterically not well hidden. So much so, that reading people’s accounts of doing months of searching via foot and the internet is somewhat comical.

El Viejo Del Norte, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

El Viejo Del Norte is the 5th largest known coast redwood. At 332.8 feet, it has a cubic volume of 35,400 cubic feet!

El Viejo Del Norte, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

The Screaming Titans are neighbors to El Viejo Del Norte. They are very unusual as they are two massive redwoods fused together. They have a combined diameter of thirty feet

Screaming Titans, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

Screaming Titans, Grove of the Titans, Jedediah Smith State Park

I’m so thrilled that I accomplished my ridiculous goal to find a not-so-hidden grove of trees with absolutely zero research and two days in the park. And actually, after we found the Grove of the Titans, all the other trees paled in comparison. But the walk out of the grove along Mill Creek Trail was absolutely stunning!

Here are a few of my other favorite photos from our afternoon in the Grove of the Titans.

That being said, there is one reason that these massive trees are being kept hidden and it’s clear and in abundance in Stout Grove: grafitti. Why a person would want to carve their name into the side of trees is beyond me, but it’s everywhere and very sad. So, if you do decide to go into a hidden grove, have respect. Be careful where you tread and for goodness sake, don’t carve your name or anything else into the trunk of these majestic beasts.

Stout Grove

The 2.2 mile long Hiouchi Trail leads into Stout Grove, which, in and of itself, is very unique in the world of redwood groves.

Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith State Park

Stout Grove is special for a number of reasons, but primarily because of it’s general flatness. Most redwood groves are notoriously difficult to traverse and explore: thick foilage and underbrush, combined with fallen trees, often create extremely uneven ground. They tell campfire stories in the park about Jedediah Smith and his fabled difficult crossing through the forest, when it took 10 days to traverse three miles. He wrote in his diaries, “The traveling very bad on account of brush and fallen timber.”

Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith State Park

Stout Grove, however, is located on a bend of the Smith River, the last wild river in CA, and also, on a flood plane. This means that every few decades, a large flood sweeps through and clears out the underbrush and downed trees. This keeps the land flat and prevents too much wild overgrowth in the grove.

Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith State Park

Redwoods are amazing for a number of reasons. First of all, they are incredibly resilient and extremely dense. They grow unbelievably tall. So tall that you cannot see the tops of the trees. The tallest known redwood at 379 feet is a hidden tree named Hyperion (more on him later!). Despite their heights, the roots only go ten to twelve feet under the ground! All of that massive weight helps keep them upright. That being said, these ancient trees do fall and when they do, they continue to help the forest.

Downed Redwood: Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith State Park

Redwoods contain a very special trait: the ability to create carbon copy clones of their DNA to reproduce. They do this with something called burl.

Checking out burl.

Burl, in plain English, contains the DNA code to reproduce an exact replica of the mother tree. When a redwood is damaged in some way, it creates burl and out of the burl grow new redwood trees. When a redwood tree falls to the ground, not only will it help feed the surrounding forest with essential nutrients, but new trees will grow out of it’s burl. When this happens, the tree is referred to as a nurse log.

Nurse Log.

One of the biggest reasons folks travel to visit Stout Grove is to see the Stout Tree, which at one point was thought to be one of the largest redwoods but has now been dwarfed by others. It has 21,000 cubic feet of trunk volume!

Stout Tree, Jedediah Smith State Park.

Today, the Stout Tree has fallen far down on the list of largest redwoods. It just happens to be one of the only ones that isn’t “hidden.”

See, there is a difference between a normal Redwood and something now called a “Titan.” They may not be the tallest trees, but they are the biggest. Botanists make a distinction between the tallest trees and the overall size of trees. While some of the tallest trees are over 350 feet tall, the most massive trees are sometimes shorter but contain four to five times more MASS than the tallest redwoods. Many of the most massive (and a few of the tallest) Redwoods are “hidden” trees and have undisclosed locations.

In 1998 a botanist named Steve Sillett decided to go hunting for Titans in Jedediah Smith State Park. The search was long and difficult, not unlike Jedediah Smith’s traverse through the very same forest. You can read about the melodrama on the internet, which makes the entire trip sound like it was a near death experience. The short of it is that Sillett found a number of massive Titans in a grove which he then named the “Grove of the Titans.”

This is how melodramatic the story is: they call the day Sillett found the tress “The Day of Discovery.” YAWN.

Today, the grove is unmapped and untold of, mostly, from what I can tell by reading on the internet, because Sillett is a pretentious jerk who likes to keep things to himself. “They” say that the exact location of the grove is known only to a handful of biologists, who climb the trees and study the ecology of the grove. “They say” that the Grove of Titans exists at the bottom of a hidden, notch-like valley deep in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. So, while the Stout Tree is the “official” largest tree in the park, there are many many more much more massive trees in the Grove of the Titans. When you google it, there are youtube videos from a nerdy science kid who finds the trees and posts them online and blog posts from people who spent days bushwhacking through forests looking for this “secret” grove of trees that not only is no one supposed to go to, but they also aren’t supposed to know about. You read stories about how people search for years to find these special trees and how fraught with peril their searches are.

Well, what’s the first thing I want to do when you tell me I can’t go see something awesome? Yeah, that’s right, I want to go see it. And I sure as hell aren’t going to be dumb and go bushwhack through forest to do it.

So, as soon as I read about the Grove of the Titans online, I determined that I was going to go there. As soon as I told my friends about the Grove of the Titans we came up with a plan of attack: we were going to go to the Grove of the Titans. Simple.

But first, it was time for dinner and that night’s campfire talk, led by Ranger Nate.

Dinner. Ha! Just kidding. That’s a banana slug.

Camp dinner, for realz.