We stayed in Three Rivers, California while visiting the amazing Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. This small town, just outside of the entrance to the park, had lots of interesting structures and other “stuff” throughout. And many beautiful birds filled the trees. One thing the town didn’t have was Verizon service.
There were beautiful yucca and other flowers along the way. As we climbed, there were dogwoods and other types of trees. And at points the Kaweah river was visible and even accessible via short, steep paths.
The main road through the park is the General’s Highway, a winding and beautiful road. The drive from the foothills to the Giant Forest crosses from the chaparral forest and climbs to 7,000 feet above sea level at its highest point.
The Giant Forest is in the Southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, North America’s longest single continuous mountain range. Since driving on the road took some “work”, I did most of the driving to allow Hector to rest up and recover fully from his cold.
75 giant sequoia groves grow between 5,000 and 7,000 feet above sea level on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. This is the zone where moist, eastbound air from the Sierra Nevada reaches maximum precipitation. The trees’ range shrunk to this area 2.5 million years ago, when climates became drier.
We explored the Giant Forest pretty thoroughly. Since every photo I saw of the trees only showed a small dot as a person, I decided to break out our tie-dye t-shirts so that we could stand out in the photos. And it mostly worked.
Our first hike was around a meadow that John Muir referred to in his writings as the “Gem of the Sierra”. Crescent Meadow is more than half a mile long and had that beautiful early green color of spring. Not too many wildflowers yet, darn.
The trail leads to Tharp’s Log, a fallen, fire-hollowed giant sequoia, which Hale Tharp, the first Caucasian to enter the giant forest, converted into a summer cabin. The park has restored the “cabin” to look much like the original.
Another day we hiked to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest known single stem tree. It’s 275 feet tall, has a cirumference of almost 103 feet on the ground and weighs 1,385 tons. Its largest branch is almost seven feet in diameter.
Although the Sherman Tree is among the tallest, widest and oldest trees in the world, it is neither the tallest, the widest nor the oldest tree in the world. It is the largest in total trunk volume, which is 52,500 cubic feet. Sequoia bark is fibrous, furrowed, and may be up to three feet thick. The trunks remain thick high into the branches, making them almost conical when mature.
We returned for another walk along a trail with a large concentration of some more of the largest sequoias, including the President Tree and the House and Congress groups. The trail’s name, the Congress Trail, honors the fact that all the national parks in the United States have been created by our Congress.
Much of the signage around the park and in the Giant Forest Museum focuses on the preservation of this beautiful forest. And while we were there we saw another solemn swearing in of our newest Junior Rangers. So cute.
Although chemicals in the wood and bark of the Sequoias provide resistance to insects and fungi, they have a shallow root system. Soil moisture, root damage and strong winds can lead to toppling, the main cause of Sequoia deaths.
To protect them, many trails allow you to get very close to the largest of the trees but fencing surrounds them. Many signs ask that everyone remain on the trails. And the forest is largely undeveloped, with the Giant Forest Museum the only remaining structure of a tourist area that previously included a hotel, market and other structures that have since been removed.
Nowadays controlled burns help to restore fire’s natural role in the forest by clearing and fertilizing the ground under the big trees, leaving excellent soil for seed germination. Fire also opens sequoia cones, so that seeds are released. Lastly, fire removes shade-loving vegetation that can crowd out young sequoia seedlings.
And so thanks to the park’s care, these magnificient trees may be around for others to enjoy as we have.