I’ve been fortunate enough during the past month to be situated just hours away from one of the most incredible outdoor sanctuaries in the world – Sequoia National Park – the location of some of the largest, oldest and tallest trees in the world.
Although spending time amongst the Californian Redwoods is one of those experiences that is pretty tough to convey via some below average blogging from a guy like me, I couldn’t resist sharing some of the photos I took, and writing about some of the thoughts that came to mind while wandering through the trees a few weekends ago.
I entered the park via a small little town called Three Rivers, around an hour southeast of Fresno, at the southwestern edge of the Sequoia National Park. It was misty and dull – the kind of morning where the sun seems like it’s had a bit of a rough night, and it’d love to break through and shine but can’t quite summon up the effort. As I worked my way into the park, it didn’t take long before the road started to narrow, the profile became a little steeper, and the trees began to get taller and larger with every mile.
In no time, I was right in the thick of it all – near the park’s visitors centre with a whole range of options to fill my day. Being midwinter, there was a fair bit of snow around – so any real hiking was going to be a bit tough, so I settled for some more meandering walks around some of the large open meadows. These gave a great opportunity to see the size of the trees from afar – something that’s actually quite rare.
I spent a few hours just wandering through the woods on this first stop – a huge grin on my face – taking far too many photos as per normal, but absolutely loving the feel of the place. The snow on the ground and the out of season feel of the place gave the trees a quiet, peaceful ambience – and the few people I met spoke quietly and in a hushed manner – almost as if we were in a church or at a respectful gathering.
It’s worth a minute just to try and put some kind of scope and background to these magnificent organisms. There are two main species – the Giant Redwood (Sequoia Sempiverens) which thrives in the moist, humid climate of the Northern California coast, where marine fog delivers precisely what it requires for growth. These are the tallest trees on earth – some of them standing over 350feet tall – but are generally skinnier and hold less volume. The Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron Giganteum), which can still grow over 300feet in height, are only found on the western edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains – and need both elevation and the periodic dry heat of the mountains to survive and reproduce. What they lack in height, they most certainly make up in volume – with the largest growing over 40feet in diameter. This really does have to be seen to be believed – it’s so hard to comprehend a living structure that large, which has been alive for literally thousands of years.
But back to my day – after this initial glimpse, it was on to General Sherman – the largest tree in the world (based on volume), and at last measurement, holding a volume of almost 1500m3 – and between 2300 and 2700 years old. How incredible is that?! There were some displays showing the rings of some of the older trees compared with recorded human history – some of these trees began their life around the same time as Rome was founded – all the way back in 750BC.
To me, if nothing else, that’s a pretty great lesson in perspective, as you can’t help but feel pretty small and insignificant after an afternoon in their presence. On some level, it’s also somewhat reassuring as well – even though as a species we’re proving pretty damn good at messing up more than our fair share of natural habitats and ecosystems, it’s incredibly positive that places like Sequoia National Park have been preserved and maintained in a pretty great state – and the true importance of these kind of places has been recognized and protected. On top of that, I think the simple fact that the trees are probably going to be around long after we’re gone is a nice thought as well – and certainly reminds me never to take myself too seriously, nor to worry too much about those little things in life that have a knack of stressing me out far more than they really should.
I spent most of the afternoon walking through the woods nearby – walking a route called the Congress Trail which held some beautiful little groves, dropping in on General Grant – the widest tree in the world at 40 feet diameter, getting stuck in some ghostly late afternoon fog – and then heading on north towards Fresno and back to Los Banos – with some very happy memories of one of the more incredible days of my life.
Time to sign off – enjoy the photos, and make sure to put visiting the redwoods somewhere on the bucket list – I guarantee you won’t regret it.
PS. A fascinating book about the redwoods that I read a little while back is worth mentioning here – ‘The Wild Trees’ by Richard Preston. He tells the story of Steve Sillett and Marie Antoine – who both became fascinated by exploring the redwoods – specifically what was going on in the uppermost reaches of the canopy. The way they achieved this was by using a variety of rock-climbing techniques and tools to actually climb the trees and study them in intricate detail. During these adventures they began to come across ecosystems that were utterly unique – which operated completely differently to any other on Earth. It’s a great book, and has a whole lot more wonderful information about the history of the parks and the redwoods if you’re at all interested in the subject.