Yup, we made it to the Sequoia Forest!
Our campsite in Viselia, an hour from the gates to The Sequoias, was shrouded in dense fog and cool mists but we packed our lunch and Dixie into the car and headed out as planned. The Central Valley in California is an agricultural Mecca, exporting produce to over eighty four countries. As the fog began its ascent, the orange groves and vineyards took on clarity. The rolling, rocky foothills displayed their gnarly trees through magic mist. Now and then, through a breach in the clouds, we could see the mountains, the forests we were heading for and a few snow capped peaks. Even with California’s drought, there were a few sparkling lakes and rivers that revealed themselves as the window blinds of fog rolled up.
Once at the park gates, a zigzagging road leads up the mountains to the first Sequoia stand. visible. The park is managed by National Parks and National Forests and divided into three main sections: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The views through the forest to the deep misty valley and bold Sierra Nevada Mountain Range were spectacular. The giant trees grow only between elevations of 4000 and 7000 feet. Sequoias are some of the largest trees in the world, known for their huge circumference rather than height even though they grow from 164-279 feet high. We were awestruck when we began to pass colossal sequoias just as we reached the 4000 foot elevation. Stopping at a turnout, we walked over to touch our first mighty tree and take some photos attempting to capture their immensity. The Sequoia trunks averaging from 20-26 feet in diameter, are over fifteen to twenty five times larger than the familiar conifers we know in Ontario. Many of the branches at the tops of these trees, about 130 feet above ground, have the girth of a few feet.
The National Parks have a huge heritage of explorers, founders and visitors that have marveled at their wonders for over a century. As we drove up the paved roads with their beautifully constructed stone walls, we imagined the first people trekking in the area and later, the physical challenges of building roadways along the edge of 8000 foot high mountains. The lovely crafted bridges, lodges, signage and visitor centers retain the essence of rustic design and vintage beauty. The Giant Forest Museum housed a fine display of science and history of the forest, geology of the region and facts galore about The Giant Sequoias. We stood in front of our first “Famous Tree”: SENTINEL which is an example of an “Average” Sequoia. It stands 274.9 feet high with a circumference of 79 feet. Did I mention that Sequoias live to be two thousand years old? After wandering under a number of sequoia, we soaked up some warmth as we ate lunch on “Sunset Rock”, a granite overlook. Layers of blue mountains held what looked like a lake of clouds that were actually the upper side of the cloud cover that socked in the valley where we’d begun our day.
Driving further into the park, we entered The Giant Forest Grove where the afternoon sun illuminated the mighty trunks producing an ethereal orange glow. The bark of the Sequoias measures over three inches thick! The esteemed GENERAL SHERMAN Tree is 274.9 feet tall. We walked around its 102.8 foot base and marveled at its bulk and beauty. General Sherman weighs 700 tons. A fallen tree has been carved out at the half way point to allow passage beneath it onto the Sherman trails. One of many groups and businesses that help preserve the important Sequoias is the Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company and Chris has made a number of contributions in the form of six-packs of Sequoia Beer. National Park clothing, prints, books and other souvenirs also help raise funds and awareness for the Park’s Preservation and Renewal projects.
By late afternoon, we approached the north western King’s Canyon where Grant Grove holds the honored GENERAL GRANT tree. Its 107.5 foot circumference makes it the world’s largest living thing, by volume! Centennial Stump was a part of a felled Sequoia that a miner’s camp used for shelter for their horses and supplies. More of its story can be read in the photo. Although many of these huge trees were harvested before conservation was instituted, it is interesting to note that the spongy wood of the Sequoia trees is almost useless except for toothpicks and wooden roof shakes. The sun was now absent from the base of the monster trees but about 140 feet up the trunks, the golden light hit the crowns making their branches glow like giant sparklers. Sunset quickly approached as we searched for the perfect lookout. We caught the glowing horizon from Redwood Mountain Overlook where an ocean of clouds roiled above the mountains. Our view from 8000 foot elevation was like watching the sun set from a plane where you look down over the cloud tops. Pleasantly exhausted physically and mentally; we headed down the dark, winding miles entering the fog-filled valley basin, home.
The experience of being among the Giant Sequoias was monumental. The privilege we had to be able to walk among them is as great.