A Slice of Redwood Heaven in Silicon Valley
By Joyce Kiefer
It's commute time in Silicon Valley. Traffic creeps fitfully along the 280 Freeway above Los Altos. Foothill Expressway is filling up with cars whose drivers think they’ve discovered a shortcut around the freeway. Too many people are in on this secret. The real secret of Los Altos is a spot just off Foothill that presents the opposite of traffic tension - Redwood Grove Nature Preserve. Hundred-foot redwoods tower above Adobe Creek which winds beneath. The creek is criss-crossed by bridges and lined with boardwalks. Together, trees and stream create a universe of calm.
I find that a walk through the six acres of Redwood Grove is a perfect pick-me-up for my soul. I look up and the trees seem to come together above my head. The gurgle of the creek shuts out all other sounds. I’ve brought out-of-state visitors to the preserve as a close-by substitute for the Santa Cruz Mountains.
That's exactly where these trees came from. They didn't grow here naturally but were brought in as saplings in the 1920s by a young wife named Emma Wright Halsey. She and her husband Theodore received the original preserve property as a wedding gift from her parents, who had bought it as a getaway from the fog in San Francisco.
Emma loved the place so much that she and Theodore were married there in 1915. It had only one stray redwood.
In 1923 the Halseys built a house for their family and moved from the cottage that was already there. By now they had two children and a Japanese gardener named Omori. When the willows along the creek were hit by disease, Emma and Omori decided to replace them with a redwood grove. Emma knew just where to find coast redwood saplings – her aunt and uncle’s property on Summit Road was full of them. She drove a truck up the snaky roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains and with Omori filled it with saplings to plant by the creek near her house.
The trees thrived. The house where the Halsey family lived remains in the preserve but is no longer in use. The City of Los Altos debates whether to restore it or tear it down.
The redwood grove ecosystem deteriorated over the years. To restore it, the City contracted with Acterra, a community organization dedicated to preserving the environment. Volunteers maintain the creek banks, put in native plants, and remove invasive non-natives. Look at the interpretive display board along the trail for details about plant life in the grove.
If my grandsons lived closer, I’d sign them up for the city’s Redwood Grove Day Camp in summer so they could learn more about the ecosystem of this lovely spot and get hands-on experience on what it takes to maintain it. Signups can be done online. I would take them back in fall to see the gold of the Big Leaf Maples.
First we’d pick up deli sandwiches on Main Street, then plop down at a picnic table under the redwoods. We’d follow the trail above the creek, then tread the board walk. I’d insist that we check out the rose garden before we end up at Shoup Park next door for a turn on the playground equipment.
As for me, I’ll breathe in the scent of Bay Laurel and the delicious mustiness of the redwoods and feel a world away from the freeway in a place where nature rules.
When You Go:
The address is 482 University Avenue, Los Altos.
Turn off Foothill Expressway at Main Street onto University Avenue and start looking for the Preserve sign on the right side. Park on the street and walk down the short hill (cars not allowed) into a small valley that cradles the creek. and turn left at the caretaker's cottage. Then follow the boardwalk through the grove.
Park rules: Dogs are allowed but must be on leash. Alcohol is not allowed.
Redwood Grove Day Camp. Call Los Altos Recreation and Community Services (650) 947-2790. Their camp programs emphasize love of nature, ecology, and care for the environment. They serve kids ages 3.5 years old to 11. They might still have some openings.http://www.losaltosca.gov/recreation/page/redwood-grove-day-camp
Redwood Grove Nature Preserve http://www.losaltosca.gov/recreation/page/redwood-grove-nature-preserve
Joyce Kiefer loves nature, and she loves to contribute her writing adventures to BAFT. We are truly grateful.