Valley oaks reach as high as 100 feet and seem like masters of all they survey. In fact, these trees and related species have lost 90 percent of their acreage over the past century as the once-marshy Central Valley was transformed into a drier landscape of farmland and canals. Found only in California, valley oaks are the largest of the state's nine species of oak trees and are among the largest oaks in the world. Some live more than 500 years. Few natural groves of these giants remain in the Central Valley, though many can be found in the Sierra foothills and on the inland side of the Coast Range.
Century-old valley oaks have made Lodi's Micke Grove (off Highway 99, west of Armstrong Road) one of the most popular parks in the Central Valley. Families from Los Angeles to Eureka rendezvous at this 258-acre oasis to hold reunions or to picnic and admire the trees. Nearby Oak Grove Regional Park also has one of the few large oak stands left in the area and provides beautiful views of these trees, which lack the height of redwoods but achieve a quiet grandeur all their own.
While at Micke Grove, explore local history at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. Information: (209) 953-8800,
San Joaquin Parks 
Photography by Sean Arbabi 
This article was first published in September 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.