Sonoma County redwoods lure crowd into quiet woods on year’s busiest shopping day

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Squeals of delighted children punctuated the ethereal calm among the world’s tallest trees as Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve offered an alternative to the bustling urban scramble for Black Friday shopping bargains.

From tots in backpacks to gray-haired seniors, locals as well as visitors from abroad, folks walked the rain-softened trails of the Guerneville park amid sky-scraping giants that date back to about 1,000 years before Europeans first reached California.

Their serenity is as spectacular as their size.

“There’s a quiet in a redwood forest that you don’t get anywhere else,” said Joanna Butler, 63, of Cotati, who was out walking with her husband Sean, 66.

The Butlers did not have one of the 2,500 free park passes distributed by the California State Parks and the Save the Redwoods League as a “Redwoods Friday” promotion to lure people into more than 40 redwood state parks on the what is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.

What they had instead was possibly more valuable: a day off work for Sean, an employee of REI, the retail giant that shutters all outlets on Thanksgiving and the day after. The couple have been to Armstrong Redwoods before, but said they often need a reminder the world-renowned trees are “right here in the county,” Sean Butler said.

“They’re great,” said Priya Sundareshan, 33, a Washington, D.C.-area resident getting her first look at redwoods. “They’re tall, they’re old, they’re unique.”

“Magnificent,” said her boyfriend, Salil Deshpande, 35. “I definitely wanted to see them.”

Tac Kapustka of Santa Rosa brought his family, along with friends from Southern California, to the park on a partly cloudy day.

“We had a wonderful Thanksgiving together,” he said. “We needed a walk to get out of the house.”

Being dwarfed by giant trees “changes the scale of everything so dramatically,” Kapustka said, standing next to Lily Van Fossen, 12, a member of the Manhattan Beach family.

“Makes you feel small,” said Lily, who at 5 feet, 6 inches plays basketball, soccer and volleyball. She’s pretty lengthy for her age, Lily said, but “not quite a redwood.”

Jennifer Van Fossen, 46, allowed there might be some shopping later in the day. “Maybe. There’s football first,” she said.

The game? “Iowa,” declared Alexander Van Fossen, 9, lifting his jacket to reveal an “IOWA Football” t-shirt.

His dad, Eric, 53, is a University of Iowa alumnus and the Iowa-Nebraska rivalry dates back to the 1890s.

Honolulu residents Bradley and Tiffany Blanchard, both 31, made a point of seeing the redwoods while visiting with friends for the holiday.

“They’re gorgeous,” he said. “It’s a perfect day for it.”

Bradley Blanchard had seen the tall trees that grow only on a 450-mile stretch of the West Coast from southern Oregon to central California, but they were new to his son John, 2.

“He’s running around like a crazy person,” Blanchard said. The toddler got the biggest thrill much closer to the ground.

“Finding mushrooms,” his father said.

Ron Hari, a state parks volunteer, offered a simple reason for the park’s appeal on a day millions of people devote to shopping.

“There’s nothing out here to buy,” he said.

As visitors tilted their heads to peer up at the park’s tallest redwood, Hari advised the visible mass of green needles was far from the tip of the 308-foot Colonel Armstrong tree, estimated to be 1,400 years old.

“There’s another 100 feet above that,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.

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