Redwoods in Novato

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Redwoods in Novato

When I first heard there were redwoods in Novato I found it hard to believe. Seeing is believing, so check out this moderately easy 4.2-mile loop at Indian Tree Open Space and see for yourself!

Once part of F Ranch, the Marin County Open Space District and North Marin Water District bought the land that includes Indian Tree in 1977. Indian Tree was designated a preserve in 1985. Supposedly a Native American lived in a hollowed-out redwood, giving this preserve its name.

Start out on the signed Upper Meadow Trail, where the pavement ends on Vineyard Road and the dirt road begins. As it veers right, look on your left for what I call “deer topiary.” Coast live oaks often spread foliage wide as they first grow, and deer browse them into pyramid-like shapes. Eventually they are wide enough that deer can’t reach the point of the pyramid. That is where what will become the trunk will grow, and as time passes that lower vegetation, having served its purpose, dies back.

Make the first left, uphill on the signed Big Trees Trail. Numerous switchbacks make the climb through oaks and bays an easy one. Soon there is a view of Stafford Lake, named for Dr. Charles Stafford. When the North Marin County Water District was established in 1948 he was the first president of the board. Novato Creek was dammed in 1951, creating Novato Creek Lake. After Stafford’s death in 1955, the board unanimously decided to rename the lake after him. It supplies 20 percent of North Marin’s water.

In about .75 miles you reach the first redwoods. Their small cones have seeds so tiny it takes 123,000 to make 1 pound! However, only about 5 percent grow from seed. Most sprout from burls of older trees, so in a sense logged redwoods are reborn. In a paper published this year, Nancy Muleady-Mecham brings new evidence to bear on why Austrian botanist Stephan Endlicher named the genus of redwoods Sequoia. Her research supports an earlier hypothesis that, since he was a linguist as well as a botanist, he was honoring Sequoyah, a Cherokee silversmith who invented the first Cherokee writing system.

 

Where Big Trees Trail meets the Deer Camp Trail, take Deer Camp Trail downhill. Watch for a large big leaf maple on your left, its golden leaves giving homesick Easterners some bright fall color. The winged seeds, called samaras, are able to spin far enough away from the shade of the mother tree so seedlings will be able to grow in a sunny spot. The trail passes through a lovely redwood grove, a perfect place to stop for a snack or lunch. Since we’ve had rain, there is a muddy spot that is difficult to skirt — boots are recommended. This is great California newt habitat so watch your step to avoid injuring one. Two species of newts in Marin have orange bellies, and both have toxins to protect themselves so they amble along without much fear of predators. The neurotoxin tetradotoxin is the same toxin found in puffer fish. While the rough-skinned newt is more toxic, California newts still have enough of the toxin to kill a person foolish enough to eat one.

The trail crosses the creek several times before the fence that has a wooden Z-gate, and a green metal gate that may be open, that goes to Upper Meadow Trail. Sunset Corral is below you now.

There is a majestic buckeye tree on the right, leafless now but hung with many buckeyes like brown Christmas tree balls. People are sometimes confused to find buckeyes here, since Ohio is the Buckeye State. The buckeye in Ohio is a different species, Asculus glabra, while ours is Asculus californica. Buckeyes are not unique to North American — other species of buckeyes grow in Europe and Asia.

When you go through a gate, Big Trees trail will be on your right. Retrace your steps along the short stretch of Upper Meadow Trail you took when you began your hike to complete the loop.

From Highway 101 take exit 463, San Marin Drive, west for 2.7 miles. When you cross Novato Boulevard, San Marin turns into Sutro. In one mile, turn right on Vineyard Road. Park where the paved road becomes a dirt road.

Wendy Dreskin has led the College of Marin nature/hiking class Meandering in Marin since 1998, and teaches other nature classes for adults and children. To contact her, go to wendydreskin.com.

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Questions? info@MarinInfo.org