Joseph B. Strauss became immortal by designing and building the Golden Gate Bridge. But human immortality was only a relative concept for Strauss.
The true immortals, in his conception, were the mighty northern California redwood trees watching over the land of the free and the home of the brave. Some of the most impressive examples of the ancient flora can be seen along the appropriately named Avenue of the Giants.
Crossing Strauss’ creation (the bridge) heading north on Highway 101, drivers will experience the lines of the architect’s strophes. One moment drivers cruise like easy riders over the smooth black tarmac, the next moment a bright green sign appears reading “Avenue of the Giants.” The name brings to mind Roald Dahl, David and Goliath, and Gulliver’s Travels, but a brochure available in a wooden cabinet next to the sign explains the true meaning: “The Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile-long route through Humboldt Redwoods State Park.”
To drive the Avenue of the Giants is a lesson in humility. Being watched by earth’s mighty guardians, wooden statues touching heaven, it feels like you’re a single note in a centuries-old symphony composed by rustling treetops over 300 feet above. The scenic highway also includes such famous redwood landmarks as the “Drive-Thru Tree” and the nearly 1,000 year old “Immortal Tree.”
There are a number of gift shops and picturesque pull-offs that explain the history of the forest, likely described them best in his poem, “The Redwoods:”
Here, sown by the Creator’s hand,In serried ranks, the Redwoods stand;No other clime is honored so,No other lands their glory know.
The greatest of Earth’s living forms,Tall conquerors that laugh at storms;Their challenge still unanswered rings,Through fifty centuries of kings.
The nations that with them were young,Rich empires, with their forts far-flung,Lie buried now–their splendor gone;But these proud monarchs still live on.
So shall they live, when ends our day,When our crude citadels decay;For brief the years allotted man,But infinite perennials’ span.
This is their temple, vaulted high,And here we pause with reverent eye,With silent tongue and awe-struck soul;For here we sense life’s proper goal;
To be like these, straight, true and fine,To make our world, like theirs, a shrine;Sink down, oh traveler, on your knees,God stands before you in these trees.