Palo Alto Park is home of the lone coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) that the original settlement of Palo Alto was named for. The designation of "Palo Alto" was given to the tree by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola who camped here in 1769, and means "tall tree." It must have been a commanding landmark standing tall among the bayland shrubs and grasses, but its health has declined over the years. The tree's vitality comes naturally, nourished by the constant flow of nearby San Francisquito Creek. However, the tree was threatened by old coal burning trains that once passed by and currently during drought years when saline water intrudes upstream due to the San Francisco Bay tidal action. But despite these setbacks, the grand old tree lives on -- a testament to nature's endurance.
I make it a habit to visit the park occasionally to check on our city's namesake, to admire its beauty and historical setting of the old encampment -- with its water, shade, and wildflowers. There's an old iron truss bridge that still carries daily commuter trains across the San Francisquito Creek and past the venerable old landmark. Arborists estimate that El Palo Alto stands at 2/3 of its former magnificence, but the sight of this ancient giant beside the bridge still makes a great postcard!