We wondered, what was the Wonder Stump, and what made it so wonderful?
As we drove between Brookings and Crescent City, Calif., the street sign, located 11 miles south of the Oregon-California border on U.S. 101 continued to draw my attention.
My teenage children and I promised ourselves that we would find the Wonder Stump.
For a year we promised ourselves we would do it, but, as a busy family, we kept putting it off. There was always something else to do.
Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore. I loaded one of my sons into the car and we drove to Wonder Stump Road to search for the Wonder Stump.
After peering closely at a dozen or more massive stumps, I was, well, stumped.
I figured locals and those who work in the area would know where the Wonder Stump was, so I stopped a United Parcel Service truck and asked the driver where the Wonder Stump was.
And received a blank stare.
“There’s a Wonder Stump,” she exclaimed.
As I asked around, the general consensus among people who live in the area is that Wonder Stump Road was named for the many huge redwood stumps, remnants of logging in the late 1800s.
Some of them are truly impressive in size, dwarfing the redwoods around them,
The area around the road has been replanted with thousands of young redwoods. Most of them are still very young, for a redwood, and by themselves are unimpressive.
However, the overall effect, tall trees, huge old stumps and a fern-carpeted forest floor, is breathtaking.
Some of the old stumps are used by residents. Three big stumps form a shelter for a dog house, another sprouts a “face” of carved wood, and others are centerpieces for gardens.
A few of them are still alive, sprouting branches in nature’s grotesque parody of a bonsai redwood.
After fruitless searching for a stump that stood out among these amazing stumps, I gave up and turned to the Internet.
There I found my answer in moments. The Del Norte Wonder Stump, as it is called to differentiate it from the many “Wonder Stump” designees from early redwood tourism, is featured on a number of Web sites devoted to the history and ecology of the redwoods.
By piecing together bits of information from each, the big picture emerged.
The Wonder Stump, the remnants of a tree felled by loggers, likely before 1900, which had grown over an older, 8 foot wide tree which fell more than a thousand years earlier.
For more than 50 years tourists stopped at the Del Norte Wonder Stump. It wasn’t the biggest, or carved into a house, and cars couldn’t drive through it, but it was the most unusual.
There are early photos of loggers seated on the tree and later children perched on the lower stump.
The stump found additional fame as an advertisement for redwood products, citing the proven age of the fallen tree, and that the tree still produced usable lumber more than 1,000 years after it had fallen.
The advertisement read: "Use Redwood – It Lasts! The Most Durable of All Building Materials. The next time you look at some Redwood lumber of old growth, free from sap, try to visualize it giving sound service exposed to the weather for 2,500 years, say up to the year 4400. Incredible!”
The stump was a popular stop on early tourism routes, but according to the Web sites, property owners closed the attraction to the public in 1964.
Today the Wonder Stump still exists on private property, despite rumors that it burned in a wildfire.
The latest photo of the Wonder Stump, taken in 1994 by someone named Giddings, showed the stump still recognizable but deteriorating and overgrown.
According to a recent column in The Daily Triplicate, the Wonder Stump was burned in a fire in the 1970s, but was not completely destroyed, and is located “in plain sight” near the intersection of Elk Valley Cross Road and U.S. 101.
The site was originally accessed from Wonder Stump Road, but when U.S. 101 was built it cut closer to the stump than the road named for it.
After about a half hour of peering into the woods I gave up. I guess my sight just isn’t as plain as others’.
But I’ll try again someday.