A weekend in the land of Giants


Feeling tiny, looking up from the
floor of the Redwood forest.

Last weekend I headed to the West coast for a visit to Fort Bragg, CA to see the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking program’s spring furniture show.

During my visit, I wanted to see some of the sites beyond the drive from San Francisco to Fort Bragg, including a couple of the fun tourist spots. We drove a couple of hours up the very VERY twisty coast highway (I would recommend keeping windows at least cracked – fresh air is key on that sort of drive) to Leggett, CA to see the Chandelier Tree.
The Chandelier Tree is in Drive Thru Tree Park on Drive Thru Tree Road and you’ll never guess what kind of tree it is — that’s right, it’s a Drive Thru Tree!! The opening at the base of the tree is 6 feet wide and 6 feet and 9 inches tall and seems to accomodate most cars driving through and still has enough root structure to stabilize and feed the top of the tree 315 feet up!

 The winding road through the forest.

The path was cut through in the 1930’s and for five dollars you too can drive your car through the tree – it seems like a pretty good money-making scheme but it was worth every penny to see those amazing trees.

When I visit major metropolitan areas in the country I always think to myself that Houstonians are so lucky with all of the terrific trees we have lining our streets in the heart of the city when other cities have miles of lifeless concrete – but we have nothing on the overwhelming nature of the Pacific coast. It really looks like there were just a series of awkward roads carved out among the scenery but otherwise completely wild – the ferns in the redwood forest are so dense you’d think some sort of prehistoric creature would be around any corner.


 Chandelier Drive Thru Tree, Leggett, CA. 

 In Fort Bragg, near the town hall, they have displayed a slice of a tree that was cut down in 1943 and at that time was the largest redwood tree known to have grown in Mendocino County. The information on the tree notes that it took a 22 foot saw and 60 man hours to fall the tree. Not a job I would sign up to do. 
Coastal Redwoods really only appear on the Pacific Northwest coast of the US in a pretty concentrated area. After talking with some woodworkers and observing some of the damaged trees along the road in the forest it is clear that while redwoods are very large they splinter easily and would be difficult to work with in terms of furniture, but they are incredibly rot resistant.
The ability to resist rotting – along the coast where salty wind is constantly hitting you – means that the redwoods are able to thrive and the rot resistant quality of the lumber makes it a great material for building. Many of the public buildings are built from redwood. In addition to the massive Redwoods, the Northern California coast has a great number of other impressive vegitation from a rainbow of rhododendrons (a relative of our native azalea), succulents of all varieties, as well as cypress trees with impossible looking twists in their branches.
It is the sort of place where you can really just feel like a tiny ant among a sea of nature. We also spent a few hours in the botanical gardens… but that’s an adventure for another post!


Standing by a slice of history.
(I’m 5′8″- that was a BIG tree!)


Red rhododendrons in full bloom for Mother’s day!

Insect Insight: Grecian Shoemaker


The Grecian Shoemaker
Catonephele Numilia

Each month, Erin and I are going to give you an upclose look at one of the bugs we have on display – an Insect Insight.

For the first, I thought I would share one of my absolute favorite butterflies with you.  I chose this one because it coincides with the recent blog “Buggin’ around in Costa Rica.”  The butterfly farm that we visited, El Bosque Nuevo, raises these butterflies.   

Catonephele numilia is native to Central and South America.  The common name is the Grecian Shoemaker or Blue-frosted Catone.  Adult males and females of this species exhibit sexual dimorphism by looking totally different.  Males are black with six orange dots on the dorsal surface of the wings whereas females are black with a light yellow band across the center of the fore wings


The Grecian Shoemaker exhibits
sexual dimorphism

Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
Feisty caterpillar

When the wings are closed, both male and females look alike (as you can see in the first photo) and can often be seen feeding on rotten fruit.  In their natural habitat of wet lowland forests, the males tend to stay higher in the canopy while the female searches for host plants and nectar sources closer to the ground. 

The caterpillars of this species are rather aggressive when encounters occur with others of their kind.  A disturbed caterpillar will violently swing its spiky head back and forth to try to keep its enemies at bay. 

I had read about this crazy behavior and was so excited to actually see it at the butterfly farm.  Next time you are visiting the Cockrell Butterfly Center, keep an eye out for this butterfly taking in rays on a plant or sipping juice from fruit! And be sure to check back next month for more info about one of our six-legged friends!