Giant Sequoia National Park – BIG Tree Country

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Like a lot of the National Parks, there’s only so much you can read in advance about what it’s like and what you’ll see and usually the reality can be (a) exactly what you expected, (b) not at all what you expected or (c) along the lines of what you expected, but with a twist.

For us, it was the last category which applied at Sequoia NP, as we knew the trees would be big, we just didn’t know HOW big or that height isn’t necessarily everything when talking about BIG…

Together with many people in Britain we’d seen quite a few Giant Sequoias in this country as intrepid 18th and 19th century explorers brought back cuttings or seedlings from their travels and planted them in places like public parks, botanic gardens or in the grounds of castles, but we didn’t recognise them as Giant Sequoias as:

  1. Our knowledge of trees was not all that extensive
  2. At only 15-20 metres feet tall they never seemed particularly Giant

Reasons for this include:

  • I had never studied botany or our natural flora and fauna so had never come across the information
  • At 200/300 years old they’re only a tenth of the way through their lifespan and therefore still have a lot of growing to do

Anyway, slightly off topic, back to the park…

Junior Giants

We headed into the park with the road continuing to climb steadily into the mountains and found ourselves in some pretty thick forest. As the road cut a winding way very close to the trees, the denseness and reduced light made it impossible to see them all that clearly, but what we could see was that there was a hell of a lot of them. After a mile or so, we rounded a bend and about 100 metres in front of us in a clearing in some better light was a clump of 5 or 6 and so we pulled over to get a better look at them and hopefully see them in their glory.

As we got out, my daughter Evie who’d been staring intently at them said, “I think it’s just one tree”. We all stopped and looked at them again and started to see what she meant, it did look like one tree. We walked forward and, sure enough, what appeared from the distance to be 5 or 6 trees was actually just a single, colossally wide tree. Eyes widened, jaws opened, talking stopped. Gaping mode well and truly engaged.

We looked, we stared, we blinked and looked again. We looked at each other, not quite believing what we were seeing. We held hands and spread ourselves out around the trunk to see how far we could stretch around it, we barely made a quarter of the way. This was a BIG tree. Any previously held ideas of what constituted a large tree was no longer valid. We had entered the world of the Giants.

Need bigger arms to hug this one

Back in the car, the drive to the lodge in the centre of park was peppered with comments along the lines of “Look! Over there, another whopper!”, “Yes, that’s big, but this one here’s even bigger”, “No it’s not, that’s tiny compared to this one”, “You’re both wrong, those are tiddlers – look over there, that one’s ginormous”.

We spent a wonderful couple of days wandering through Giant Forest, clambering up Morro Rock, gaping up at and around the General Sherman Tree (the biggest living thing on earth) and the General Grant Tree (the second biggest living thing on earth), looking out for bears (yes there are many in the park, so take care and NEVER get between momma and her cubs!), driving through Tunnel Log and drinking in the wonderfully clear High Sierra air.

General Sherman

The key to size with Giant Sequoias, is not necessarily height – although the average is c60-75m (180-250ft) – size relates to width and girth and with an average diameter at the base of the trunk of c6-8m (18-24ft) it means their overall mass is vast. In fact the largest by mass are not usually the tallest as the top 10 meters or so will often have fallen off (possibly due to lightening strike or fire) and when this happens, rather than the tree dying or continuing to grow upwards again, it grows outwards – expanding its waistline, if you will – and that’s how they get to have such a great volume.

There are so many facts and figures to share about Sequoia NP (and its attached neighbour King’s Canyon) from their colossal size, age, natural fire resistance to the landscape they live in. However rather than try and pack them in here, I’d recommend you take a look at the National Park Service website, as they tell it far better than me

View from Morro Rock