You can pedal your way through California's Redwoods on a railbike and the trip looks absolutely gorgeous

September 2nd, 2020

In 1925, combustion engines were still in their youth, and they would see widespread use across a rapidly industrialized 20th century America. Coal-powered trains, factories and cars were steadily replacing horse-drawn transport and became as commonplace as tea-kettles and stoves.

Some found their way into the Redwood forests of California. Railroads were built to help traverse the long stretches of land and forest in the Californian Redwood forests. Thus, the California Western Railroad was born.

We know railroad tracks to be made for trains, but there were also smaller, gas-powered, single-car variants used for these tracks. They’re known by a couple other names like “Railbuses” or “Railcruisers”.

These were not the quiet, refined and efficient gas-powered machines we know today. They used coal and crude oil, and the burning scent of these fuel-sources was far from the most pleasant thing you’d smell. Hence, the road they traveled on had the “Skunk” name so lovingly bestowed upon it.

Now, a railbike is the mode of transport that you’ll be given when you venture into these timelessly beautiful forests.

The forests that the railroads pass through stretch 40 miles (64 kilometers), and the rail cars that you ride are pedal-powered. Doesn’t that sound like a load of fun?

The Redwood forests boast some of the most serene, invaluable beauty of the natural world. Redwood trees only occur in small parts of California – a mere shadow of the historic ranges of these magnificent trees. The Sequoia trees that make up these Redwoods belong to the species Sequoiadenron giganteum, and they are the most massive living trees today.

This railroad trail is the work of the Fort Bragg Redwood Company. Dating back to 1885, it saw use as a lumber transport railway. It was 35 years later when the self-propelled passenger railbuses were added. The distinct smell of these motorized rail cars earned them their “Skunk train” moniker when people said “You can smell ’em before you can see ’em.”.

The trees are on a completely different level of old compared to the railroad, though. Redwood trees like Sequoia and Sequoiadendron can live for thousands of years. If you thought that these forests look prehistoric, then you aren’t wrong.

The Sequoia family of trees dates all the way back to the Triassic. Some of the very first dinosaurs would have inhabited Redwood forests. The Hell Creek fossil formation, famous for superstar dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, actually corresponded to a vast Redwood forest during the Cretaceous.

The genus Sequoia in particular is especially ancient. Dating back to the Jurassic, these trees have been around long enough to span the time frame between Stegosaurus and the Woolly Mammoths, and they’re still around today. It’s no coincidence that people compare the scenery of Californian Redwoods to Jurassic Park.

With 64 kilometres of gorgeous Redwoods to pedal through, the Skunk Train rails seem like an unusual, but perfect, sight for a date. There’s millions of years of history in these forests, and the best way to enjoy them is with someone else.

During the mid-1960s, Kyle Railways, an Arizona-based company, purchased the railway after managing it for some time. This was already several decades after the railway was created in the 1920s.

9 years later in August 1996, California Western was purchased by a group of local Mendocino Coast Investors. Operating it to this day, their purchase of the railway was the first time it saw use as an independent business in over a 100 years (111, to be exact), and they still operate it to this day as Mendocino Railway.

While the Redwood trees are as old as time itself, the cast of animals inhabiting these woods aren’t so. Peacocks, Egrets, foxes, deer and bears can all be spotted on the trail according to a Skunk Train staff member.

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Our long time fans will already know the origin of the name Skunk, but for all the new faces here's the scoop! The nickname “Skunk” originated in 1925, when motorcars were introduced. These single unit, self-propelled motorcars had gasoline-powered engines for power and pot-bellied stoves burning crude oil to keep the passengers warm. The combination of the fumes created a very pungent odor, and the old timers living along the line said these motorcars were like skunks, “You could smell them before you could see them.” Although the smell is now much reduced, we still like to think of ourselves as that little Skunk running through the redwoods! Great photo from @jonny.does.photography !

A post shared by Skunk Train (@skunktrain) on

Blue herons, River Otters and even Osprey might show up too if you’re lucky. Admission is $250 per car, and you get to pedal through vast swatches of ancient Redwood forest populated with resilient and charismatic North American wildlife. Don’t feed the animals!

Add this to the list of your future bucket list tourist spots. Maybe plan a trip for when the pandemic is over? I’d love to ride through acres of Sequoia trees and spot woodland creatures along the way. Seems like every nature lover’s dream.

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Source: [BoredPanda, Skunk Train website, Instagram]