California Road Trip: Day 7 – Two-Thousand-Year-Old Trees, a Surfer’s Paradise and Finding an Old Family Cabin

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

What is the tallest tree that you have seen?  

Redwoods State Park , See how tiny I am compared to the trees?

Big Basin Redwoods State Park , See how tiny I am compared to the trees?

How about one that is over 250 ft. tall?

Our journey took us to a place that I have been to at least ten times – from trips as a small child, a teenager, as a young mother and finally as a grandmother.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is located in the mountains outside of Santa Cruz, California, and as you will see, it is a truly incredible place filled with stunning beauty among giant redwood trees.

Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Upon entering the park, you notice the shady conditions with spots of sunlight shining through.

On the left is a large cross-section of a redwood tree that fell in 1934.

What is special about this tree is its age.

Redwoods State Park

Tree rings tell the age of a tree and this tree has lived through many historic events, including the birth of Jesus, indicated by my finger.

Redwoods State Park

This outer ring is from when Lewis & Clark’s expedition in 1804.

Redwoods State Park
Redwoods State Park
Redwoods State Park , Coastal redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens).

As many times as I have seen this display, it never ceases to amaze me at the longevity of these Coastal redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens).

Visitors take a leisurely stroll along the .8 mile-long path that meanders through the redwood grove.

Redwoods State Park

The enormous height and size of the trees are hard to understand until you see someone standing next to them.

Compare the perspective from the photograph above and the one of the same area below, except now I am standing at the end of the path.

Coastal redwood trees

It’s hard to see me, as I am so dwarfed by the trees.

Coastal redwood trees grow along a narrow corridor from Big Sur to southern Oregon.

Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Rainfall is just one way that the redwoods receive the water they need.  The fog that primarily occurs in summer can provide up to 50% of their water needs.  

The lower leaves (needles) are flat, which allows water droplets from the fog to drip down to the root zone.  The upper needles that are exposed to more sunlight are rounder and have a thicker coating, which protects them from excess evapotranspiration (losing water from their leaves).

wooden cave

The walk through the trees is quite educational, with certain trees singled out for special attention. 

Our favorite has always been the tree that has a ‘wooden cave’ inside its base.

wooden cave

The Fremont tree has a hollow base that was created from a fire long ago.  John C. Fremont was exploring California in 1846 and allegedly camped inside the tree.

Over time, the outer part of the tree has been slowly growing back over the old fire damage, creating a ‘wooden cave’.  The opening is gradually closing up, making it difficult for adults to step inside without doing a lot of crouching.

While these trees are very long-lived, our family has seen the Fremont tree change. 

-In the 1950’s my mother and her entire family of six, could walk through the hole of the tree and stand up inside.

– In the 1970’s I did the same with my family.

– Once the 1990’s came around, I brought my kids to this place and while we had to crouch to enter the tree, we still could.

– Fast forward to 2016, and the opening is too small for me to want to crouch to get inside

– I’m afraid that I won’t be able to get back up 😉

Redwoods State Park

Walking next to these old, majestic trees, you cannot help but get a healthy perspective on what’s going on in your life and the world when you consider all the history that they have lived through.

Redwoods State Park
Redwoods State Park
Redwoods State Park

The photos above are all of the same tree.  It took three separate photos to get the entire tree.

Redwoods State Park

The photos above are all of the same tree.  It took three separate photos to get the entire tree.

Redwoods State Park

The lush undergrowth is filled with ferns, greenery, and some shade-loving iris.

After leaving the Big Basin Redwoods, we drove up the adjoining mountain, 5 minutes away on a hunt for a cabin that used to belong to our family.

The visitor center has been recently renovated and is filled with great displays, which detail the ecosystem of the majestic beauties including the wildlife and other plants.

If you ever find yourself in San Francisco, I invite you to take the 1 hour and 20-minute journey to this special place.  While you are in Santa Cruz, you can stop by the beach and the Boardwalk.

The cabin was owned by my mother and her siblings.  For years, we would all travel to the cabin where we would spend our summer vacation together with aunts, uncles, and cousins.

The cabin had three self-contained levels and a deck around the middle level.  We had heard that the cabin was not being used and that they path to the cabin had been blocked.  To be honest, we weren’t sure if it still existed.

So, I headed up a different trail, lower down, hoping to see our much-loved, albeit very rustic, cabin.

Old Family Cabin

Imagine my surprise and delight when I found the cabin looking much the same as it did 16 years ago.

Fun-filled memories began to come back, including my cousin’s wedding held down in the forest and her reception on the deck of the cabin.

Our cabin was balanced precariously on the side of a hillside and had no foundation.  Believe it or not, it rested on jacks.

Back in 1989, we were staying there when there was an earthquake; that was a pre-cursor to the large one that hit the San Francisco area in October for 1989.  The cabin didn’t slip down the hill then and is still standing.

Old Family Cabin

There are no occupants of the cabin, and we are not sure what the owners have planned.  Maybe they want to build a new cabin someday?

At this point of our trip, we were ready to head north to San Francisco.  Like most of our road trip, we don’t always travel the fastest way – our goal is to enjoy the journey, so we decided to travel on Highway 1 along the coast through the small towns of Pescadero and Half Moon Bay.


Pescadero is one of the few areas that has remained largely untouched in the 20 years since I had been there.  The church, with its tall steeple, still is the highest point in the town.

grocery stores

The two small grocery stores have a nice selection of baked goods – especially sourdough bread.  Californians are serious about their sourdough!

Creative container

A few miles down the road is the larger town of Half Moon Bay.  The main street is filled with very interesting boutiques, restaurants, and galleries.  This beach town is also known for its nurseries.

Creative container plantings lined the street.


Succulents grow like they are on steroids in northern California!

Surfer's Paradise

If you think that you have heard of Half Moon Bay before, you likely have.  Surfers flock to the beaches of this small town where waves 25 – 50 ft. and more are known to occur. 

San Francisco,

San Francisco, here we come!

California Road Trip: Day 8 – The Gardens of Alcatraz

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
3 replies
  1. Heidi Johnson
    Heidi Johnson says:

    Another wonderful post! Thank you. The Santa Cruz Mountains are my favorite place in the world. At the top of Highway 17 one is in the middle of a redwood forest with the Pacific Ocean 20 minutes in one direction and Silicon Valley 20 minutes in the other. Who could ask for more? I knew you lived in southern California, but had no idea you have such strong connections to northern California too. Before I lived here, my parents would bring us up when I was a child. We loved Santa's Village and Roaring Camp. The day before you,
    my daughter, granddaughter and I had lunch in Half Moon Bay. It was glorious! We also enjoy the nurseries clustered along Highway 92 in Half Moon Bay. Did you get to see those? Oh gosh, I'm going on and on. Guess I'm a little excited about you're being in my neck of the woods. Welcome! Enjoy The City next!

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