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Giant Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Paul talks and waves.
Giant Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Paul talks and waves.

Trees of Mystery: Giant Bunyan and Babe

Field review by the editors.

Klamath, California

Nature is beautiful -- and nature can also be weird. California's coastal redwoods are a vacation's scenic champs. But in Redwood Highway/Avenue of the Giants territory, Trees of Mystery is its anchor oddball attraction.

Trail of Tall Tales.

The park is a stunning mountainside forest with especially freakish trees, a trail of nutty woodsmen mythology, a sky ride, an Indian museum, and a faux-underwater restaurant. And a 15,000 item gift shop.

Its 49-ft. (and 2 inch) tall official greeter, a talking Paul Bunyan (and sidekick Babe the Blue Ox), are postcard stars and pop culture catalysts (ahem, Gravity Falls). Nearly every visitor poses next to Bunyan's mighty boot toe, while he slowly waves his hand and nods his head and blinks his eyes. Ask him a question and you'll likely get a Bunyan-sized, well-worn joke response.

Mystery History

Ambrose Grumkey's 1938 version of
Ambrose Grumkey's 1938 version of "The End of the Trail."

Trees of Mystery was created as a natural history theme park in 1931 by Carl Bruno, at a time when the region didn't offer much beyond logging. "Highway 101 was very rustic," said John Thompson, current Trees of Mystery's CEO. "A WPA highway project opened it up for more public use." What started as a fishing camp evolved into an attraction named "Wonderland Redwood Park," then the "Kingdom of Trees." Bruno's business partner Carl Lewin eventually bought him out and rebranded the attraction as "Trees of Mystery." Near the parking lot entrance, a redwood carving from that original era depicts a tired Indian brave slumping on his horse.

Returning from service in World War II, John's dad Ray Thompson bought the property in 1946, and moved his family from San Francisco to run Trees of Mystery. They immediately built a giant Paul Bunyan statue in the parking lot. Its papier mache construction only lasted a year; as the winter rains came, Paul's head melted and catastrophically collapsed (it's okay, no one got hurt except Bunyan).

Sky Trail.
Sky Trail.

In 1947, a 24 ft. tall replacement Bunyan appeared, crafted with wood framing and concrete. Babe the Blue Ox was added in 1951. By 1959 a 3rd generation Bunyan, twice as large, was designed to go up in time for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, anticipating a flood of northbound traffic. In 2007, winter storms knocked off Babe's head, repaired in time for the summer season.

Cathedral Tree.
Cathedral Tree.

Visitors can peruse large flip-thru panels of historic news clippings in the gift shop. There's also a video presentation to find out more about the park.

Sky Trail

The most high tech contraption at ToM is the Sky Trail, where cables suspend eight gondolas carrying passengers high into the trees. You may see mist-filled vistas of forests and mountains. The area was last logged in 1951, so the trees are tall but relatively new.

At the summit, riders disembark and walk up to a higher observation platform, with a view to the east (wild, uninhabited Bigfoot country). The Sky Trail has been operating since 2001.

Kingdom of the Trees

The original Trees of Mystery area is on a slope, in relatively unmolested old growth forest. Along with Coastal Redwoods, there are giant Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce specimens. Signage lets visitors know what aspect of novel growth or circumstance merits attention.

"Redwoods are the tallest living things in the world," John said. He pointed out the lack of forest undergrowth, partly due to the chemical composition of the redwoods, acidic and unfriendly to weeds and termites. Thick bark protects the trees from fires. When a redwood falls, new redwood trees bizarrely sprout from its limbs.

John is knowledgeable about the science behind his attraction (in an earlier career, he was a physicist).

In Cathedral Grove, nine sky-piercing redwoods clump together in a semicircle. A thousand years ago, a tree died in this spot and these giants sprung from the mother stump. The "Cathedral Tree" is a popular wedding site - there's a ceremony about once a week.

Giant woodland creatures are prominent in Bunyan lore.
Giant woodland creatures are prominent in Bunyan lore.

At other times, music plays over hidden loudspeakers while Nelson Eddy croons Albert Joyce Kilmer's poem, "Trees."

"I think that I shall never seeeeee,

Columbus on the History Slab.

a po-em lovely as a treeeeeee...."

Tall Tales and Bunyan Spin-Offs

Along the Trail of Tall Tales, fifty chainsaw wood carvings present folk legends, mostly Paul Bunyan lore. Some characters are familiar, while others are Trees of Mystery's own corny creations. "The version of the story that we're fond of is that he was born in Maine," John said. "And he retired here, because he needed trees big enough to scratch his back."

Cross Section of History

TofM's redwood slab Cross Section of History rests against a wall at the end of the trail. It was created in 1962. Its timeline labels are miraculously untouched by the mysterious committee that's rewritten most other slabs in California. The growth rings show how big the tree was for the Crusades (year 1096), Magna Carta (1215), Columbus (1492), and the Pilgrims (1620).

End of the Trail Museum

John's mom, Marylee Thompson, spent her life acquiring items from every tribe of "First Americans." Her museum opened in 1968, off the gift shop -- free and separate from the paid admission to Trees of Mystery.

Indian Museum - White Deer Hide.
Indian Museum - White Deer Hide.

"Experts tell us this is the finest private collection on display in the world," John said.

Each room represents a different region -- the Plains, Northwest, Southwest, California, etc. Glass cases exhibit Native American clothing, masks, totems, dolls, and intricate carvings. Back-borne baby carriers hang from the walls. Ornate ceremonial dresses, covered with Abalone shells, conveyed a person's wealth -- shells were used as money.

We spotted a couple of oddities -- Marylee acquired a hide of an albino blacktail deer, worn for the Dance of the White Deer. An Inuit jacket is made out of seal intestines, oiled and sewn together. A handy Walrus reproductive organ was used as a fish stunner.

This is the place to go if you're passionate about baskets. There's extensive basketry of the southwest, a collection of basket hats, and baskets of nearly every shape and size. "Mom's first love was basketry" John told us.

After completing a visit to Trees of Mystery, cross the highway and check out its motel and restaurant, the Forest Cafe. The dining room is decorated as if diners are submerged in a lake, with duck bottoms and feet sticking down from the ceiling.

Also see: Paul Bunyan: Friend or Foe? | Trees of Mystery Bunyan Web Cam

Trees of Mystery: Giant Bunyan and Babe

15500 US Hwy 101 N., Klamath, CA
16 miles south of Crescent City and 36 miles south of the Oregon state line on on US Hwy 101.
Summer daily 8-8, off-season 9-4. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $16.
RA Rates:
The Best
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Radar Station B-71: Farmhouse DisguiseRadar Station B-71: Farmhouse Disguise, Klamath, CA - 4 mi.
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In the region:
Carson Mansion - Quintessential Haunted House, Eureka, CA - 54 mi.

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