By Jennifer Grimes
Triplicate staff writer
Imagine looking down at the redwood forests of Del Norte County.
Usually, a hike or a drive through Stout Grove forces the head upward for a better view of the worlds tallest trees.
By the end of June, eight european-style gondolas will let visitors see the forest from a birds perspective at the Trees of Mystery trail near Klamath.
I think it was five years ago that we came up with the idea, said John Thompson, owner of the popular tourist spot.
He and his wife Debbie Thompson have been working to build the $1.5 million tree tram ever since.
People from all over the nation and all over the world come to Del Norte County to see the redwoods. Stopped in the parking lot yesterday were cars from British Columbia, South Carolina, Maine and Utah to name a few.
When its finished, Thompson said the forest gondola will be one of only three in the world of its kind and will give a view of the redwoods few have ever seen.
Its magical up here. Even when its foggy. Can you imagine going through the fog and the trees in a gondola? Thompson said.
Right next to the Trees of Mystery gift shop is an old logging area abandoned in the late 1950s. That area is really a small 700-foot mountain, still rife with huge redwoods and spectacular views of the ocean and distant mountains from its top.
Thats where the Thompsons have set up the gondola system. Theres one station at the bottom of the mountain and one at the top.
Looking from the bottom up, it seems like a much longer distance than the one-third mile it really is.
The tram will move slowly so observers can take it all in. The entire ride takes about 13 minutes round trip, slower than a ski lift.
Its a whole different attitude than the ski lift. Its meant as just a mode of transportation, but for observation, Thompson said.
Once at the top, a huge deck offers a view of what seems like the entire world. On one side, the eyes travel over an incredible expanse of ocean. On the other side of the deck, rippling folds of the Klamath coastal mountain range push up occasional treasures out of the forest that can only be seen from way up there.
At one spot, a craggy old tree, bare of greenery pokes up with a huge osprey nest sitting on top like a bad toupee.
The dad of the osprey family waited yesterday on a nearby limb.
Tour guides will be up on the deck to explain scenes like this to visitors. With binoculars and interpretive signs, the top of this gondola ride becomes an outdoor school.
Even tourists in wheelchairs can see, learn about and breathe in the tree-tram experience.
These are the first wheelchair accessible gondolas in the world, Thompson said with pride.
And a ramp from the treetop tram station to the deck will give people in wheelchairs a view they may not otherwise get in this county.
If you want to hike back down instead of ride, a mile-long trail gives a view whats inside the forest.
Eventually, the new mountain trail connects to the old Trees of Mystery tour. The Elephant tree, with thick strange trunk limbs crawling along the ground, the huge Cathedral tree, where religious ceremonies and weddings have been performed for 50 years, are features of the trail once highlighted in Ripleys Believe It or Not.
Those attractions have always been here, but now with the unique views and experience possible with the new gondolas, Thompson expects more tourists than ever.
To start, were going to let people take as many rides as they want for one price, but were hoping itll get so popular well have to kick people off of it, he said.
The tram means more jobs, too. The Thompsons have already added about 10 jobs and hope to add another 10 next year.
Trees of Mystery has come a long way since its 1930s beginning.
It was just a muddy trail and gift shop. We are always growing. Thats how you survive in this business, Thompson said.