Valley of the Giants

A Walk in the Woods

On a misty morning in late October, this tree hugger got her fix in a BIG way in the Valley of the Giants. Getting to this magical, mystical place is much more challenging than the actual trail itself. It requires driving many winding miles of rugged logging roads, across private and public lands, through clear cuts and second growth timberland, to this amazing swath of old growth forest that is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Located in a remote part of the coast range in western Oregon, near the ruins of the abandoned logging town of Valsetz, this 51-acre forest preserve is protected by the Bureau of Land Management and is designated as an Outstanding Natural Area. It truly is that.

The day’s educational adventure was organized and led by members of the Build Local Alliance, who invited forest management experts and co-authors of the book Ecological Forest Management, Debora and Norman Johnson, to walk and talk with us along the way. We made several stops on the caravan style drive to the trailhead to observe and discuss the vast differences in forest management practices. 

We arrived at the trailhead, dizzy from the bumpy drive but excited to get our eyes on what we had come all this way to see. Only a short distance into the woods, the first sight of one of these giants was enough to stop me in my tracks, slack jawed, wide eyed as a child. I’ve never seen trees like this since my time with the Redwoods. 

As we stood under the canopy of some of the tallest trees in Oregon, Debora Johnson pointed out the layers of the forest in the understory of salmonberry, Oregon grape, devil’s club, sword ferns and vine maple that play a vital role in a healthy forest ecosystem. Towering nearly 300 feet overhead, the canopy of massive Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock was astounding. With trees estimated to be about 500 years old, this stand of old growth forest was teeming with life, rich in biodiversity and stood in stark contrast with the moonscape eeriness of the clear-cut land we had walked earlier in the day.

This area gets close to 200 inches of rainfall a year, and the result is a lush landscape, dripping with moss, lichen, and a variety of fungi, palpably alive. I could hear my colleagues and their breathless chorus of “Wows” ringing through the forest as we descended the trail toward the river, completely awestruck. 

We stopped for lunch with the roar of the Stilez River in the background, while engaging conversations ensued around the topics of climate change, wildfires, Oregon state law regarding logging practices, economics vs environment, the secret life of fungi, and who packed the best sack lunch. This was an outing with people of all walks of life and interests, from toddlers to retirees, forest land owners to hobbyist wood workers, and the diversity of the people made for unique perspectives on the variety of topics that bubbled up throughout the day. As the day waned and the adventure came to a close, I walked away from this Walk in the Woods feeling an awe that only the ancients can inspire and deep gratitude that this Outstanding Natural Area will be preserved for generations to come.

Before visiting the Valley of the Giants, be sure to call the Bureau of Land Management in Salem 503.375.5646 to get information about logging road conditions, closures, and directions and print this handy BLM Map for detailed directions to navigate to this remote location that is more that worth the effort to find.

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