I was looking through the photos on my phone and found some from our May trip to Mendocino, so I thought I would put up a two-part post about the day hike we took to Van Damme State Park, located just a few miles south of Mendocino along Highway 1. Of course, you pass by the typical coastal scenery to get there, so as a reminder, I'll open with a photo of the bay at Mendocino, taken from the headlands. The previous posts on this trip can be found under the label "Vacation 2014" below or in the list to the right.
By the time we settled on this adventure we had been in the area a few days, already enjoying trips up to Fort Bragg to see the Glass Beach, taste the beers at North Coast Brewery, and generally enjoying all the things we love about the area from past vacations. The inspiration for the day hike was to make our way into one of the coastal red wood groves which populate this part of the country - we saw plenty of the big trees on the hike, but that will be the subject of part 2 of this post.
The irony of the Van Damme experience is that it is also an unique ecosystem of small trees - the Mendocino Cypress. In an earlier trip, we had hiked in Jug Handle park and learned about how the terrain was formed in a series of terraces as the land rose out of the sea. Here in Van Damme, you experience four of these terraces, with the highest ones characterized by exceptionally poor soils.
The impact of the poor soil is not only a lack of nutrients, but also dry, compacted conditions which make it hard for the roots of the trees to gain purchase. So the Mendocino Cypress stays small - hardly any of them were more than six feet tall - which actually conceals their age. As the interpretive sign here says, a tree that is a quarter inch in diameter and two feet tall may be over 80 years old!
There is a nice boardwalk that has been constructed through this part of the trail to navigate through the forest and enjoy the view of these bonsai-like trees.
I realized after taking the photos I don't have anything in the frame to provide a reference on the height of the trees, but few of them extended to the height of the hand rail on the boardwalk. Most of them were between four and five feet tall, with a few getting up to six feet.
At this altitude, maybe 200 feet above sea level, it was very sunny and dry. We were probably a mile or two inland to start the hike, so we were finding a climate that is not atypical of northern California.
One of the stories of this trail, which we would follow for about 5 miles round trip and descending to sea level is the micro-climates that you progress through. The dry hot conditions in the "pygmy forest" were night and day compared to the conditions we experienced as we began our descent. That's where I'll pick up tomorrow for part 2.