Saturday, March 20, 2010


This remote, hard-to-find place deep in the Coast Mountains is one of the best last remnants of primal Oregon. I counted growth rings, many thin as a knife blade, on the red trunk of an old giant recently felled across the trail by a winter Pacific gale. It was a seedling before the Pilgrims arrived in New England.

The Valley of the Giants is a small obscure preserve surrounded by cut-over mountains and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, an agency generally indifferent to trees you can’t cut down and sell. This is the country where TV reality show’s “Ax Men” do their work. You get to the Valley of the Giants via a 30-mile maze of private timber company roads with big red signs warning “recreation users” of a litany of rules for the privilege of driving on their logging roads. Not permitted: campers, recreational vehicles, trailers, motorcycles, all terrain vehicles, fires, target shooting, camping, wood cutting, etc., etc. It’s a small miracle than any old trees escaped in this part of the state. But they did and are safe now. It’s an official federal “Outstanding Natural Area.”

The largest giant, the “Big Guy” blown down 30 years ago, was a Douglas fir more than 600 years old and 230-feet tall. You can squeeze through a slice cut near its fallen bole. (Or take the Wal-Mart Detour (my name) around the immense uprooted base. I figured that if the check-out lanes at Wal-Mart were as narrow as that tree slice the store would go broke.)

I first learned about Douglas fir trees in college. I never had seen a live Douglas fir but loved the musical quality of its Latin name: Pseudotsuga menziesii.

I still have my old dendrology textbook and carry it in my car with a 40-pound box of nature guides. It says that Douglas fir can live for 1,400 years. A tree that old could be 15 feet wide and far taller than the length of a football field.

I can believe that, having visited the Valley of the Giants. For despite its grand-sounding name it really is the Valley of the Leftovers. I’m sure that all the true giants of the Northwest were among the first trees cut down. Maybe in future centuries some of these minor giants will survive to break tree bigness records. We’ll never know but it doesn’t matter. They exist at the moment.

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