We woke early with dawn already broken, a bright blue sky and the sun sporting rather a dashing hat – much like mine in fact. We were up and about sharpish as we wanted to get into the woods before too many other folk were about as the peace and tranquillity is best experienced when you’re on your own – and also there’s a much greater chance of seeing bears…
There are 40 officially listed groves of Giant Sequoias in the whole park, with the number of trees in each one ranging from about 20 to several thousand. The most easily accessible grove is Giant Forest, which the park road winds through and so it was there that we headed. We parked in a layby and walked into Long Meadow, a very pretty watery glade which acts as a sponge retaining moisture from the mountain snowmelt and releasing it slowly during the year, ensuring that there is always water for the forest.
There is a path which winds around the perimeter of the meadow called Big Tree Trail that takes you amongst more than 100 trees in the grove. We spent an hour and half wandering along and off the trail and it was wonderfully quiet and still; we came across deer and groundhogs who were about their daily business of feeding, playing etc before the crowds appeared.
Heading back for breakfast and then out again by 10, we made first for one of the park’s main attractions, the General Sherman tree, which as previously described is the park’s (and world’s) largest. At 2,100 years old it is something of a middle-ager as it’s only two-thirds of the way through its 3,000 year likely lifespan; so unless something should befall it, it is going to retain its title for some time to come. Light-hearted comments aside, it is a majestic tree, 103 feet around at the base and so tall, with so much upper branch growth it’s very hard to see the top, a true wonder.
We then struck off along the 2 mile Congress Trail, so called because it winds past The Senate and House Groves and the President Tree (3rd largest in the park). The path also took us quite literally through a tree as they have cut a tunnel in one which fell onto the path several decades ago. Due to the density of their wood and depending on where they fall, it can several hundred years for a mature Sequoia to rot, thus providing both a long term food source for the bears (they eat ants and termites which burrow in rotting trees) as well as a slow-release of nutrients back into the environment.
Completing the Congress Trail we took another couple of paths winding through further groves, up and down hillsides and over streams before ending up at the Grant Museum which has displays, exhibits and information about the trees as well as the history of the park and plans for its future care. We then took one of the park shuttle buses back up to the car park for our picnic and a sit down – I should add that the National Park Service runs a number of bus services along the roads as it helps reduce congestion, pollution and makes it a more accessible place for all.
Lunch done and we agreed that one more hike was needed, so we drove round to the trails which encircle Crescent and Log Meadows. Both are similar to the Long Meadow we’d walked around in the morning, but have a couple of interesting trees which were worth seeing. First up was Chimney Tree whose trunk has been hollowed out by fire, enabling you to stand inside and see all the way up, about 60 feet to the sky, presenting really quite a unique view.
The second was Tharp’s Log, which is also a hollowed out tree, but lies on its side having fallen a couple of hundred years ago and was big enough to be used as a shelter by early pioneers coming through the forest. Its name comes from Hale Tharp, who is reputedly the first Non-Native American to go into the Giant Forest. It’s still possible go into the tree and see the tables, shelves and beds which were used by those pioneers, although when we poked our heads inside there was a groundhog who was too busy gnawing away at the inside of the trunk to notice us, which is just as it should be, don’t you think?