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It's an old-fashioned slow-down-and-look road; Avenue of the Giants, through the redwoods 5 hours north of San Francisco.

It's an old-fashioned slow-down-and-look road

"Scenic Alternate.' The arrow on the green highway sign points down a narrow off-ramp that disappears into a dark grove of trees. The temptation, especially after the hot, 5-hour drive north from San Francisco, is to stay on the smooth lanes of U.S. Highway 101 that rip north from Garberville toward Eureka.

Indeed, little of the freeway traffic appears to take the turnoff. And yet this particular alternative--the Avenue of the Giants--passes through some of the West's largest and most spectacular stands of coast redwoods, in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

While the scenery alone is worth the 33-mile detour, it isn't the only reason to dally here. From now until well into September, the entire stretch offers shady retreats for hiking, biking, swimming, and picnicking.

Although the three state park campgrounds ($6 per night; reserve through Ticketron) are crowded in summer, special areas allow single-night, en-route camping; check at park headquarters.

Four private campgrounds and eight motels and lodges are strung along the avenue, with more camping and accommodations in Garberville and Eureka. For park information, write to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Box 100, Weott 95571, or call (707) 946-2311. To get a list of campgrounds and motels, write to Avenue of the Giants Association, Box 1000, Miranda 95553.

A refuge for rubberneckers

The Avenue of the Giants is one of those increasingly rare slow-down-and-look roads. The lack of heavy truck and commercial traffic is an immediate delight, as are the numerous turnouts where you can pause to enjoy the scenery.

Meandering among the virgin groves of ancient coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), the road follows the course of the South Fork of the Eel River, twisting and turning on a skimpy lowland flood plain. In places these giant trees are so tall and thick that only at midday does spotty sunlight reach the road.

This cool twilight is especially welcome in late summer, when inland temperatures regularly reach 100|. In the evening, gentle coastal fog creeps in and lingers until midmorning, keeping daytime temperatures comfortable, evenings chilly to cold.

Although you can drive this route in an hour, you could easily spend a weekend sampling its attractions. One good way to plan an avenue detour is to devide the road into three separate sections.

Phillipsville to Myers Flat

The southern entrance to the alternate is signed and splits off the freeway 6 miles north of Garberville. Within a mile, you'll pass several "curiosities,' survivors from the days before the freeway was built.

The first is the Living Chimney Tree, a burned-out redwood that is still growing (not uncommon in old-growth groves), with a gift and coffee shop nearby. Another mile up the road is the "Famous One-Log House,' a caboose-like cell built in a hollowed redwood trunk; it has a gift shop attached.

Other stops (gift shops nearby) include the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, the Immortal Tree, and the Eternal Tree House. Children will enjoy them, but the "facts' about these landmarks should be taken with more than a pinch of salt.

You begin to reach substantial redwood groves once you pass Miranda (it has several nice old motels and a good restaurant) about 5 miles north of the freeway turnoff. It's another 4 miles to Hidden Springs Campground, one of two state park campgrounds on the avenue, located just before you reach Myers Flat.

Myers Flat to Dyerville

If you have time to visit only one section of the drive, you can sample some of the best groves and the most day-use options along the 8 miles between these two stops.

It's also the most congested section of the avenue. The relatively gentle terrain and the absence of lumber trucks have made this stretch increasingly popular with bicyclists. The 16-mile round trip from Myers Flat to Founders Grove near Dyerville can be basis of a day bike tour.

A mile north of Myers Flat, Williams Grove Day Use Area ($2 fee) is a pleasant picnic stop. Swimmers can plunge into cool river pools stretched along gravel beaches. In spring, when the water is higher, this is a good place to launch a float trip to Gould Bar, about 3 miles downstream; this time of year, low water makes floating difficult. Inner-tubers can have fun on a short float (wear sneakers) down to the Garden Club of America Grove; it's a 3/4-mile hike back.

From Williams Grove you can also tap into 125 miles of trails and five backpack camps in the park; watch out for poison oak. Across the river (summer footbridges are up June through mid-September) is the southern end of the Burlington Trail, which runs up the west bank of the river and connects with other park trails. To the south, try the 2 1/2-mile hike (some steep areas) to the Children's Forest.

About 2 1/2 miles beyond Williams Grove, you'll find Burlington Campground (with more trailheads) and the park headquarters and visitor center. Staffed by volunteers of the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association, the center has park brochures, maps, trail guides, and a museum; its wildlife displays are especially well done. The center is open daily from 9 to 5 through Labor Day.

A mile beyond the center is the Gould Bar river access; another mile farther, a bike-in (or hike-in) campground. Federation Grove, a picnic area edging the river, is 1 1/2 miles to the north; from here it's a 3/4-mile drive to Dyerville Loop Road, which leads to the Founders Grove Trail.

This easy 1/2-mile loop (wheelchair access) takes you past two skyscraping trees: the Founders Tree (346 feet tall) and the Dyerville Giant--officially 362 feet tall, but a recent remeasure indicates it may actually be taller than Libby Tree in Redwood National Park, supposedly the world's tallest at about 368 feet.

Dyerville to Pepperwood

Back on the avenue, it's barely 1/4 mile north to freeway access and Bull Creek Flats Road, a narrow, paved road that climbs up through the heart of the park.

Tree branches meet above you as the road worms through Rockefeller Forest, the world's largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods. The oldest were growing under the same sun that shone on Julius Caesar as he dallied on the Nile with Cleopatra.

Stop and linger here. There is a stillness among these ancestor trees that is heightened by the occasional buzz of a horsefly or the distant call of a jay. Albee Creek Campground, 5 miles up the road, is a good spot to camp or turn around. Horse owners can camp at a special equestrian facility a couple of miles beyond Albee; call park headquarters for details.

Bull Creek Flats Road is also a haul road for lumber trucks; although you can hear them a long way off, they have a nasty habit of suddenly appearing around a corner at what seems like mach-1 speed.

From the Bull Creek turnoff, the avenue meanders north a final 11 miles. At Redcrest, some 4 miles north of Bull Creek, you'll find freeway access and full services. Barely 5 miles farther is the site of Pepperwood, a small town that was wiped out by the Eel River during a major flood in December 1964.

Small produce stands start appearing this time of year in the Pepperwood area, selling locally grown fruit, vegetables, and berries. Also near the townsite are trailheads for lightly used Drury Trail (2.8 miles) and Percy French Loop (1/2 mile). These are easy walks that, like most trails along the Avenue of the Giants, lead into the heart of old redwood groves.

Photo: Leafy mat of redwood forest floor invites spreading a blanket and picnicking in shady grove of old-growth trees. Avenue of the Giants stretches 33 miles alongside U.S. Highway 101

Photo: Drive-through tree shows just how big a redwood can get. Asphalt ribbon through old redwoods, the two-lane alternate leads a family station wagon north, loaded bicyclists south
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Aug 1, 1984
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