The Great White Redwood

Goat Trails
by Ryan Masters
Oct. 9, 2014—Let’s get one thing straight: The Great White Redwood in the Byrne-Milliron Forest is not an albino.

I found this information vaguely disappointing because, as I’d hiked up the well-manicured trail to see it, I had imagined it might be psychically communicating with that albino alligator in San Francisco or even a giant albino squid deep in some hidden crevice of the Monterey Canyon. I suppose that’s still possible but it seems far less likely.

That said, nothing else about the Great White Redwood disappointed. As the crown jewel in the sort-of secret Byrne-Milliron Forest, the old growth tree stands 233-feet tall (roughly one-third the size of the Golden Gate Bridge) and boasts a nearly 28-foot diameter at its base. As for its albino-like properties, the grayish bark on its south face is not the result of freakish genetics, but centuries of exposure to direct sun.

True to form, the Great White Redwood stood in blinding light on the hot October day I visited Byrne-Milliron. Its bleached bark rippled like sinew up its trunk to the lowest branch 110-feet above me. I could sense its gargantuan roots in the earth beneath my feet, radiating out like powerful subterranean tentacles. Estimated at 600-plus years old, the tree was probably well on its way to adulthood at the moment a blade severed Anne Boleyn’s head from her neck.

While Boleyn was allegedly decapitated due to various imperfections of character, the Great White Redwood seems to have been spared the same fate for precisely the same reason. Apparently the tree possesses a discernible “twist” in its trunk which made it less desirable to the army of loggers which clear cut and burned the Santa Cruz Mountain redwood population 100 years ago. Evidence of its brethren’s unfortunate fate is still evident in the slight charring around the trunk of the Great White Redwood. Exactly why it was spared will forever remain a mystery, but the ghostly giant remains—a virginal vestige of an ancient era.

Watch rare, amazing camera-trap video of wild Mountain Lions mating in the Byrne-Milliron Forest.

Clear cutting is not exactly the most subtle of forestry methods. Having spent years in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, I’ve stood at the edge of many savage clear cuts and heard T.S. Eliot intone:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats

In other words, clear cuts bum me out. What’s more, the forest that emerges is even-aged—which makes it far less diverse and creepily unnatural. Imagine, for instance, if every human being on the planet was the exact same age—and then summarily executed at the age of 21. Social advances would grind to a halt. Wisdom would be at a premium. The puberty years would be global anarchy.

Fortunately, the Byrne-Milliron Forest is selectively harvested. Its 402 acres are a part of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County and this year’s cull is the seventh since the Trust acquired the property in 1984. Last April, foresters and Land Trust Staff hand-selected 35-40 percent of the larger trees in the designated region for harvest and, over the summer, the forest was closed to the public while Big Creek Lumber took them down. Even though the profits from the harvest are used to care for the forest and maintain trails, the selective logging still irritates some people.

At Eagle’s Point, a panoramic lookout near the top of the Byrne-Milliron Forest, there is a mailbox. Inside this mailbox there are a pair of binoculars and a visitor’s log. While most visitors remark on the beauty of the place, you can also find somewhat more disparaging comments directed toward the Land Trust’s stewardship of the forest.

A selective harvest may not be perfect, but it beats the hell out of a clear cut. Plus, it’s nice that the Byrne-Milliron Forest is available to the public and its trails are impeccably maintained. The man responsible for the latter is Jeff Helmer, who has served as the forest caretaker for the last 27 years. In addition to building and maintaining trails and keeping invasive, non-native plants at bay, he has added trippy little flourishes of spirit around the forest: animal carvings perched in trees, Buddhas ensconced in tree stumps and an ever-growing altar called the Coyote Mantle.

After communing with the not-albino Great White Redwood, I spent a few hours wandering through the rest of the forest. Alongside the trail, fat acorns the size of my thumb were scattered among the autumnal poison oak, which grows a beautiful rust red this time of year; a dry grotto of granite wound its way down the hillside, the ghost of rushing water impressed upon its smooth walls; and the dense, Indian summer air smelled of Manzanita and bay leaves. In the deeper redwood glens, clover carpets the moist forest floor and the canopy overhead is a dizzying kaleidoscope of sunlight and branches. It is an undeniably magical place and I, for one, am grateful it’s been preserved.

As I made my final descent back to the parking lot, I paused at an overlook decorated with the wooden sculpture of a baying coyote. The scythe-blade contour of the Monterey Bay’s throat dominated the view. Somewhere beneath those waters, I thought, a mammoth albino squid is trying in vain to make contact with Great White Redwood, unaware that the tree only has a sunburn.

Getting to the Byrne-Milliron Forest:

• Take the Freedom Boulevard exit and head east (away from the ocean) on Freedom Blvd.
• After 5 miles you will come to a stop sign, TURN LEFT onto Corralitos Road.
• After 1.7 miles the road will fork just before the Corralitos Market, VEER RIGHT at the fork. Cross over the bridge and TURN LEFT at T onto Browns Valley Road.
• Continue on Browns Valley Road. After about 3 miles you’ll see a sign on the right for "Roses of Yesterday." TURN LEFT into the Roses of Yesterday driveway, marked by the star. Follow the signs for #809.
• Please drive slowly up this very narrow road! Visitor’s parking lot on is the right.

Ryan Masters writes a weekly column for Hilltromper. Next week's Goat Trails will be a first-person account of the Santa Cruz Bodysurfing Association Championships.