Fallen giant: Visiting Dyerville in Humboldt Redwoods

The immensity of this California tree is astounding and well-worth visiting if you are in the area.

Trees at Humboldt Redwoods (photo credit: Ron C. Judd/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)
Trees at Humboldt Redwoods
(photo credit: Ron C. Judd/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)
The Dyerville Giant slumbers on a rich and verdant forest floor near a bend in the Eel River, where it lived for perhaps 1,600 years.
Although no more than a kilometer from an old stretch of US Highway 101 known as Avenue of the Giants, the redwood stood undisturbed for centuries in what is now called the Founders Grove of Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California. At the time of its death 20 years ago, the 113- meter giant was estimated to be world’s tallest tree. Botanists now know the designation was dubious at best, following incredible discoveries of taller trees in the past 15 years.
The Dyerville Giant’s long life came to an end one March morning in 1991 with a sudden thump in the forest. Pacific storms had battered the Humboldt redwoods with the ferocity of a 15-car pileup.
Gale-force winds often accompany spring storms with heavy rain, a particularly perilous combination for big trees.
The Founders Grove area took the brunt of the storm, and four old trees tumbled, leaving the Dyerville vulnerable.
Redwoods are like mountain climbers attached to ropes: The trees depend on each other through a latticework of shallow roots that do not clench deep into the earth for anchorage; rather, they look something like crocheted welcome mats spread across the forest floor. The felling of one tree weakens the entire structure.
When the Dyerville Giant suddenly lost the protection of the others to block the wind and keep it stable underneath, it fell, leaving a gaping hole in the spongy earth below.
The dead tree can be found on an easy, self-guided, one-kilometer tour at the Founders Grove. It’s a great place to get acclimated to the coast redwoods and learn about their complicated ecosystem.
Details: Dyerville Loop Road off Avenue of Giants, Weott; (707) 946-2409; http://tinyurl.com/3sgmrht.
(San Jose Mercury News/MCT)