In the Santa Cruz mountains where the sun beams on big trees and mushrooms grow is a state park I would like to introduce as my favorite state park in California! Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park has been my getaway where I allow nature to fill me up and teach me a lesson or two, usually through bird watching.
The Redwood Grove is not just a pleasant loop walk amongst ancient redwoods, it could also be a magnificent classroom. At the beginning of the loop, pick up a pamphlet which will walk you through every major sight and give you the scientific or historical significance of what you are looking at. Key locations are marked numerically and you read each number off on the pamphlet when you reach that marker, for example you will learn about the big bulges on the sides of redwoods called “Burrs” and why redwoods like to grow in circles amongst each other.The trail along the San Lorenzo river which parallels the Roaring Camp Railroad steam train route, takes you down the hill along the river where there are various small beaches where you could get your feet wet. I watched acorn woodpeckers fly back and fourth across the river and spotted a belted kingfisher hunting for its next meal of small fish. I did photograph a yellow-jacket nest on the underside of a fallen redwood, however they were busy with their daily work and definitely not interested in me.
The wildlife I have spotted there include a young bobcat, deer, crawdads in the river and a red fox on the redwood loop trail. On my evening visits, I hear the hoot of small owls calling back and fourth coming from holes high above the trail. A family of wild turkey is usually seen in the mornings working the redwood grove floors. During the summer there are California quail chicks which are easy to spot because quail during this season gather and feed together in groups referred to as “coveys.” Its hard to get a glimpse of the chicks sometimes because they are great flyers and will disperse before adults do. My favorite redwood forest bird is the Pacific Wren, it is a small brown bird the size of a mouse which is seldom seen even by experienced birders. Its bird song is high pitched and patterned in a way that lights up a whole mountain side. For easier spotting remember this little bird will usually be on the forest floor.
Aromatic California Bay trees line the trails with their sweet scent emanating from their leaves. Some trails are horse friendly so be ready to see horses of all shapes and sizes and their friendly riders, passing you up on your visit. The nature center has a stuffed coyote, fox, garter snake and enough information on the walls to keep you busy for the afternoon. On display outside is a slab of an ancient redwood tree over 2,000 years old, with notes describing its historical existence. I learned about the Zayante Indians that originally inhabited the Santa Cruz mountains and was astonished by their natural local resources such as the river which rises in the winter and of course, plentiful hunting grounds.
Remember this state park is only 6 miles away from downtown Santa Cruz! The river that flows through the middle of it, is the same river (San Lorenzo) that empties out next to the Boardwalk! This state park is as Santa Cruz as it gets! Lets go to the Redwoods!