My neck is cramping. I’m trying to look up the inside of a 220 foot-tall burned-out Sequoia. It still lives, but where you would expect the â€œheartâ€ of the tree is empty and surrounded by black.
Black burned wood. I can almost smell the fire of over 100 years ago that about took this tree out for good. But it is still here. Still alive, still growing branches. A testimony to both the hardiness of these monstrous trees and the unforgiving wildness of the land and the climate.
We’d arrived in Sequoia a couple of days earlier, setting up camp and getting a room reserved for our first meet-up on the Sprinter Tour. Our daughter Brooke and son-in-law Tim Shorey arrive a day later and we attack the parks with great vigor and enthusiasm. You would think we are showing off. And we are. What a treat to share our adventure with family – and to show them how we tackle a park. In this case, the two parks. Sequoia and Kings Canyon are joined at the hip and administered, more or less, as a single park. And it is gigantic.
The drive from end to end is over 90 miles. The scenery takes you from deep dark forests and groves of Sequoias to steeply rising and winding roads through canyons and rocks, cliffs and canyons, rivers and waterfalls. Jan and I really enjoyed from the comfort of our Airstream Interstate.
The Sequoia section has removed many of the tourist-driven structures to minimize (reduce, in fact) the impact on these magnificent trees. Displays in high-traffic areas point out the startling changes this philosophical change has brought to the park. The before and after photos and explanations serve to heighten personal sensitivity to the parks – all the parks, not just Sequoia. Where man treads nature suffers. There simply is no two ways about it. By keeping on the paths and trails damage is controlled and minimized. It drives us nuts when we see people stomping off into the forest or a meadow. Grrrrrr!!!
The trails through the Sequoias are beautifully done. They deliver more than ample access to the â€œmain attractionâ€ trees – those behemoths that people travel thousands of miles to see. The real joys, though, are to be found in the paths beyond. Strolling along a paved walkway through groves and stands of old-growth Sequoias is about as peaceful a time one can spend on this earth. And the real majesty of a Sequoia forest is only revealed by such immersion in the forest. It is a piece of ancient days frozen in time, as most of these beauties are at least five centuries old – and many much older than that.
Not surprisingly, we meet scarcely a handful of like-minded folks in the mile and a half walk. We have the forest to ourselves. Moments of majesty for our personal enjoyment. Kings Canyon holds other surprises, including a magnificent grove of Sequoias that rival any within Sequoia itself.
There are wonderful waterfalls only a short jaunt from the pullover spots delight visitors. Yet they are so close to the end of that 90-mile drive that crowds are almost unheard of. Like the forests, we almost have them to ourselves.
The first is a smashing drop of a couple of hundred feet – sending a skin-chilling, clothes-soaking mist 30 feet into the air. It is so loud you can’t hear the person next to you talk. The second is a flow of water forced through a narrow canyon and it comes shooting out the escape like it is shot out of a cannon. The power almost causes you to vibrate as you sit on house-sized boulders to ponder yet another wonder of nature.
Near the entrance of the Sequoia park is a nifty hike to a fantastic waterfall, Tacoma Falls. The trail winds along the Tacoma River as it flows out of the park and on to its ocean destiny. It is indeed a river – many large rapids, fast-moving water, wide and multi-splintered creeks and flows breaking off only to return again. (If you don’t go all the way to the big falls you won’t be disappointed – the river is that beautiful.)
After trekking along barren rock and the occasional clump of flowers, the path suddenly takes us into forested areas. The coolness is welcome by then as the trail is picking up altitude and we break a sweat. As the trail winds through extensive stands of trees and several brooks, we suddenly get a distant glimpse of the falls we’re heading for. It only serves to spur us on – and then we quickly rise out of the forest into rocks – rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Tough going here, the footing is tricky. But those falls keep appearing and draw us onward.
Finally, coming around a large boulder, there it is. A cascading flow of water that runs a good half a mile down the slopes before the final flourish of a cliff falls. It’s more than satisfying to drink in the sounds, patterns, and stunning scenery. The hike down is about as exciting as we could expect. Rounding a curve in the path, Brooke’s loud voice breaks through our conversation: â€œBear!â€
â€œWhat?â€, we said chorus back.
â€œBear! Bear!â€, she repeats even more loudly and enthusiastically. â€œWhereâ€, say the three stooges, glancing about.
â€œRight there!!!â€ she screams, pointing at a black bear not 100 feet away.
It’s crawling down a dead tree trunk, tearing it up looking for insects.
â€œBlow your whistle, Mom – blow your whistle!â€
I’m thinking Brooke is going to hyper-ventilate at any minute, which could not be good for our future grandchild.
â€œIt’s okay,â€ I say with somewhat false bravado. â€œWe’ll just walk around here behind it – just don’t move towards the bear, we’ll be fine.â€
And we are. With three cameras in tow, we manage to fire off about 50 or so photos before we amble on down the trail, leaving the bear to its insect hunting. It never did acknowledge our presence.
A two-hour hike turns into four with all of our photos, ongoing conversations, and stopping to enjoy the river, the forest, and the falls. Oh, and don’t forget the extra 15 minutes spent with the â€œBear!!!â€
The perfect hike on a perfect day in the perfect park.
- A sequoia gets started by a seed not much bigger than a mustard seed. If you’ve ever eaten pine nuts on a salad, that’s about the size of the sequoia seed.
- Sequoias grow fatter (their girth is unrivaled) while the Coastal redwoods grow taller. (Nonetheless, they can reach 300′ in height.)
- A mature sequoia adds the wood equivalent of about a 40-foot tall tree to its girth each year.
- Sequoias don’t die of old age. They die because they get so big they lose their balance and fall. Their shallow roots easily give way when the tipping point is reached.
- Sequoias like to grow in stands as it provides extra protection for them from high winds. The overlapping root systems provide a stronger base than a lone tree by itself.
- Sequoias only grow between 5,000 and 7,000-foot elevation along California’s western Sierra Nevada mountains. Higher or lower and you won’t find a sequoia.
- They are the fastest-growing trees in the world.
- Their bark can reach 3 feet thick.
- Branches can get as big as 8 feet in diameter.
- Sequoias are the largest living thing on earth (in terms of total volume and weight.)