THE GRANITE NATIONAL PARKS
INCLUDING THE PRESENT SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, WEST CENTRAL CALIFORNIA. AREA, 1,600 SQUARE MILES
WHERE the lava billows of the Cascade Mountains end in northern California the granite knobs of the Sierra begin. Sharply differentiated in appearance and nature a few miles further in either direction, here their terminals overlap, and so nearly merge that the southern end of the one and the northern beginning of the other are not easily distinguished by the untrained eye.
But southward the Sierra Nevada, the snowy saw-toothed range of the Spaniards, the Sierra of modern American phrase, rapidly acquires the bulk and towering height, the craggy cirqued summits and the snowy shoulders which have made it celebrated. Gathering grandeur as it sweeps southward close to the western boundary of California, its western slopes slashed deep with canyons, its granite peaks and domes pushing ever higher above the scattering forests of its middle zones, its eastern ramparts dropping in precipices to the desert, it valiantly guards its sunny state against the passage of eastern highways, and forces hard engineering problems upon the builders of transcontinental railroads. Where it becomes the eastern boundary of the Yosemite National Park it breaks into climaxes of magnificence.
From this point on the Sierra broadens and bulks. It throws out spurs, multiplies paralleling ranges, heaps peaks and ridges between gulf-like canyons which carry roaring waters through their forested trenches. Pushing ever higher above timber-line, it breaks into large lake-bearing cirques, sometimes cirque within cirque, walled in silvery granite, hung with garlands of snow and dripping with shining glaciers. Ninety miles south of Yosemite it culminates in a close grouping of snow-daubed, glacier-gouged, lightning-splintered peaks, one of which, Mount Whitney, highest summit in the United States, raises his head just a little above his gigantic neighbors.
South of Whitney, the Sierra subsides rapidly and merges into the high plateaus and minor ranges of southern California.
Seventy-five miles of the crest of this titanic range at the climax of its magnificence, sixty-five miles of it north of Whitney and ten miles of it south, constitute the western boundary of an area of sixteen hundred square miles which Congress is considering setting apart under the title of the Roosevelt National Park; a region so particularly characterized by ruggedness, power, and unified purpose that it is eminently fitted to serve as the nation's memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. Besides its stupendous mountains, it includes the wildest and most exuberant forested canyons, and the most luxuriant groves in the United States, for its boundaries will enclose also the present Sequoia National Park, in which a million trunks of the famous Sequoia Washingtoniana cluster around the General Sherman Tree, believed to be the biggest and oldest living thing in all the world.
Wide though its range from bleak crest to warm forest, every part of this region is a necessary part of its whole. Nature's subtle finger has so knitted each succeeding zone into the fabric of its neighbors that it would be a vandal's hand which should arbitrarily cut the picture short of the full completion of its perfect composition. It is one of Nature's masterpieces, through whose extremest contrasts runs the common note of supremacy.
Whether or not, then, Congress insures its perpetuity and unified development, we can consider it scenically only as a whole.
Similar in kind to the Yosemite National Park, Roosevelt is far ruggeder and more masterful. It will be the national park of superlatives. Yet each of these similar areas is a completed unit of striking individuality. Yosemite, taking its note from its incomparable Valley, never will be equalled for sheer beauty; Roosevelt knows no peer for exuberance and grandeur. Yosemite will remain Mecca for the tourist; Roosevelt will draw into its forest of giant trees, and upon its shoulders of chiselled granite, thousands of campers-out and lovers of the high trail.
Joined near the crest of the Sierra by the John Muir Trail, California's memorial to her own prophet of the out-of-doors, these two national parks, so alike and yet so different, each striking surely its own note of sublimity, are, in a very real sense, parts of one still greater whole; the marriage of beauty and strength.
The region is roughly pear-shaped. A straight line drawn from Pine Creek Pass at its northern end to Sheep Mountain on the southern base line measures sixty-eight miles; the park is thirty-six miles wide at its widest, just north of Mount Whitney. Its eastern boundary, the crest of the Sierra, divides many notable peaks. From north to south we pass, as we travel the John Muir Trail, Mount Humphreys, 13,972 feet; Mount Darwin, 13,841 feet; Mount Winchell, 13,749 feet; Split Mountain, 14,051 feet; Striped Mountain, 13,160 feet; Mount Baxter, 13,118 feet; Junction Peak, 13,903 feet; Mount Tyndall, 14,025 feet; and Mount Whitney, 14,501 feet; supporting Whitney on the south is Mount Langley, 14,042 feet; all these connected by splintered peaks, granite ledges, and mountain masses scarcely less in altitude.
Between the bristling crest of this snow-daubed eastern boundary and the park's western boundary, thousands of feet lower where the forests begin, the region roughly divides into parallel zones. That which immediately adjoins the crest upon its west side, a strip ten miles or more in width, is known to its devotees as the High Sierra. It is a country of tremendous jagged peaks, of intermediate pinnacled walls, of enormous cirques holding remnants of once mighty glaciers, of great fields of sun-cupped snow, of turquoise lakes resting in chains upon enormous granite steps; the whole gleaming like chased silver in the noon sun; a magical land of a thousand Matterhorns, whose trails lead from temple to temple, so mighty of size and noble of design that no mind less than the Creator's could ever have conceived them.
The High Sierra has been celebrated for many years in the fast-growing brotherhood of American mountain climbers, east as well as west, many of whom proclaim its marked superiority to all parts of the Swiss Alps except the amazing neighborhood of Mont Blanc. With the multiplication of trails and the building of shelters for the comfort of the inexperienced, the veriest amateur of city business life will find in these mountains of perpetual sunshine a satisfaction which is only for the seasoned mountaineer abroad.
The zone adjoining the High Sierra upon its west is one of far wider range of pleasure. Subsiding rapidly in elevation, it becomes a knobbed and bouldered land which includes timber-line and the thin forests of wind-twisted pines which contend with the granite for foothold. It is crossed westward by many lesser ranges buttressing the High Sierra; from these cross ranges many loftier peaks arise, and between them roar the rivers whose thousands of contributing streams drain the snow-fields and the glaciers of the white heights.
Finally, paralleling the western boundary, is the narrow zone in which this region meets and merges with the greater forests and the meadows beyond the boundary. Here, in the southwestern corner, is the marvellous warm forest in which trees of many kinds attain their maximum of size and proportion, and which encloses a million sequoia trees, including the greatest and oldest embodiments of the principle of life. This extraordinary forest was reserved in 1890 under the title of the Sequoia National Park. At the same time was created the General Grant National Park, a reservation of four square miles of similar forest, virtually a part of it, but separated because of an intervening area of privately owned lands.
Thus does this region run the gamut of supremacy from the High Sierra upon its east, to the Giant Forest upon its west.
Of no less distinction are its waters. Innumerable lakelets of the High Sierra, born of the snows, overflow in tiny streams which combine into roaring, frothing creeks. These in turn, augmented by the drainage of the lofty tumbled divides, combine into powerful little rivers. Four river systems originate in this region.
Far in the north a lake, more than eleven thousand feet high, lying at the western foot of Mount Goddard, begins the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, which drains the park's northern area. Incidentally, it has cut a canyon of romantic beauty, up which the John Muir Trail finds its way into the park.
The northern middle area of the park is drained by the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River, which find their origins in perhaps forty miles of Sierra's crest. The drainage basins of these splendid streams cover nearly half of the park's total area, and include some of the biggest, as well as some of the wildest and most beautiful mountain scenery in the world. Bounded upon their west by an arc of snowy mountains, separated by the gigantic Monarch Divide, flanked by twisted ranges and towering peaks, they cascade westward through meadows of rank grasses and vividly colored wild-flowers, alternating with steep-sided gorges and canyons of sublimity. Dropping thousands of feet within a few miles, they abound in cascades and majestic falls, between which swift rapids alternate with reaches of stiller, but never still, waters which are the homes of cut-throat trout. Each of these rivers has its canyon of distinguished magnificence. The Tehipite Valley of the Middle Fork and the Kings River Canyon of the South Fork are destined to world celebrity.
The southwestern area of the park is drained by five forks of the beautiful Kaweah River. These streams originate on the north in the divide of the South Fork of the Kings River, and on the east in a conspicuously fine range known as the Great Western Divide. They wind through the wooded valleys of the Sequoia National Park. Upon their banks grow the monsters of the American forest.
The southern area is drained by the Kern River, into which flow the waters of Mount Whitney and his giant neighbors. The Kern Canyon is one of Roosevelt's noblest expressions. Flowing southward between precipitous walls three thousand feet and more in height, flanked upon the east by monsters of the High Sierra, and on the west by the splendid elevations of the Great Western Divide, it is a valley supremely fitted for the highest realization of the region's gifts of enjoyment. From camps beside its trout-haunted waters, it is a matter of no difficulty for those equipped for the trail to reach the summit of Whitney, on the one hand, and the Giant Forest on the other.
Near the southern boundary of the park, Golden Trout Creek enters the Kern. It originates at the very crest of the Sierra, which it follows closely for many miles before swinging westward to its outlet. In this stream is found a trout which appears, when fresh caught, as though carved from gold. Popularly it is known as the golden trout; its scientific name is Salmo Rooseveltii. Originally, no doubt, the color evolved from the peculiar golden hues of the rocks through which its waters flow. The golden trout has been transplanted into other Sierra streams, in some of which, notably the open upper waters of the Middle Fork of the Kings, it has thrived and maintained its vivid hue. In sheltered waters it has apparently disappeared, a fact which may merely mean that its color has changed with environment.
There are many gateways, two by road, the rest by trail. For years to come, as in the past, the great majority of visitors will enter through the Giant Forest of the Sequoia National Park and through the General Grant National Park. The traveller by rail will find motor stages at Visalia for the run into the Giant Forest, and at Fresno for the General Grant National Park. The motorist will find good roads into both from California's elaborate highway system. In both the traveller will find excellent hotel camps, and, if his purpose is to live awhile under his private canvas, public camp grounds convenient to stores and equipped with water supply and even electric lights. Under the gigantic pines, firs, and ancient sequoias of these extraordinary forests, increasing thousands spend summer weeks and months.
From these centres the lovers of the sublime take saddle-horses and pack-trains, or, if they are hikers, burros to carry their equipment, and follow the trails to Kern Canyon, or the summit of Whitney, or the Kings River Canyon, or the Tehipite Valley, or the John Muir Trail upon the Sierra's crest. Many are the trip combinations, the choice of which depends upon the time and the strenuousness of the traveller. Camping-out on trail in Roosevelt is an experience which demands repetition. Sure of clear weather, the traveller does not bother with tents, but snuggles at night in a sleeping-bag under a roof of spreading pine.
But it is possible to equip for the trail elsewhere. The principal point upon the north is the Yosemite National Park, where one may provide himself with horses and supplies for a journey of any desired duration. Starting in the Yosemite Valley, and leaving the park near the carved cirques of Mount Lyell, the traveller will find the intervening miles of the John Muir Trail a panorama of magnificence. Thousand Island Lake, reflecting the glorious pyramid of Banner Peak, the Devil's Postpile, a group of basaltic columns, far finer than Ireland's celebrated Giant's Causeway, the Mono Valley, with its ancient volcano split down though the middle so that all may see its vent and spreading crater, are merely the more striking features of a progress of spectacles to the north entrance of Roosevelt Park; this is at the junction of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River and Piute Creek. The principal eastern gateway is Kearsarge Pass, on the crest of the Sierra a few miles north of Mount Whitney. The trail ascends from Independence, where one also may comfortably outfit.
These four are, at this writing, the principal entrance gates, each opening from points at which parties may be sure of securing horses, equipment, and guides. But several other trails enter from the east, south, southwest, and west sides. All of these in time will become, with development, well travelled trails into the heart of the great wilderness.
Any description of the glories of the John Muir Trail from its entrance into the park to its climax upon the summit of Mount Whitney far passes the limits of a chapter. In time it will inspire a literature.
Approaching from Yosemite through the canyon of the San Joaquin, the traveller swings around the north side of Mount Goddard, crosses gorgeous Muir Pass, and enters the fringe of cirques and lakes which borders the western edge of Sierra's crest from end to end. Through this he winds his way southward, skirting lakes, crossing snowfields, encircling templed cirques, plunging into canyons, climbing divides, rounding gigantic peaks, surprising views of sublimity, mounting ever higher until he stands upon the shoulders of Mount Whitney. Dismounting here, he scrambles up the few hundred feet of stiff climb which places him on the summit, from which he looks out north, west, and south over the most diversified high mountain landscape in America, and eastward over the Sierra foothills to Death Valley, lowest land in the United States.
No thrilling Alpine feat is the ascent of our loftiest summit. But those who want to measure human strength and skill in terms of perpendicular granite may find among Whitney's neighbors peaks which will present harder problems than those offered abroad, peaks which themselves well may become as celebrated in future years.
The John Muir Trail is destined to a fame and a use perhaps many times as great as those men thought who conceived it as a memorial to a lover of the trail, and of all that that implies. It will play a distinguished part in the education of the nation in the love of mountains. It will win artists to a phase of the sublime in America which they have overlooked. It will bring students to the class-rooms where Nature displays her most tremendous exhibits.
Nevertheless, Roosevelt's lower levels will draw many times as many devotees as will the High Sierra; and these visitors will stay longer. It is the valleys and the canyons which will prove the greatest lure, for here one may camp leisurely and in entire comfort, and thence make what trips he chooses into the regions of the peaks and the cirques.
There are literally thousands of canyons and of many kinds. Besides the Kern Canyon there are two which must rank with Yosemite. In the summer of 1916 I travelled the length of the park, as far as the Giant Forest, with a party led by Director Stephen T. Mather, of the National Park Service, then Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior, and was powerfully impressed with the scenic qualities of the Tehipite Valley, and the Kings River Canyon, at that time little known.
Time will not dim my memory of Tehipite Dome, the august valley and the leaping, singing river which it overlooks. Well short of the Yosemite Valley in the kind of beauty that plunges the observer into silence, the Tehipite Valley far excels it in bigness, power, and majesty. Lookout Point on the north rim, a couple of miles south of the Dome, gave us our first sensation. Three thousand feet above the river, it offered by far the grandest valley view I have looked upon, for the rim view into Yosemite by comparison is not so grand as it is beautiful.
The canyon revealed itself to the east as far as Mount Woodworth, its lofty diversified walls lifting precipitously from the heavy forests of the floor and sides, and yielding to still greater heights above. Enormous cliffs abutted, Yosemitelike, at intervals. South of us, directly across the canyon, rose the strenuous heights of the Monarch Divide, Mount Harrington, towering a thousand feet higher above the valley floor than Clouds Rest above the Yosemite. Down the slopes of the Monarch Divide, seemingly from its turreted summits, cascaded many frothing streams. The Eagle Peaks, Blue Canyon Falls, Silver Spur, the Gorge of Despair, Lost Canyonthese were some of the romantic and appropriate titles we found on the Geological Survey map.
And, close at hand, opposite Mount Harrington and just across Crown Creek Canyon, rose mighty Tehipite. We stood level with its rounded glistening dome. The Tehipite Dome is a true Yosemite feature. It compares in height and prominence with El Capitan. In fact, it stands higher above the valley floor and occupies a similar position at the valley's western gate. It is not so massive as El Capitan, and therefore not so impressive; but it is superb. It is better compared with Half Dome, though again perhaps not so impressive. But it has its own august personality, as notably so as either of these world-famed rocks; and, if it stood in the Yosemite, would share with them the incomparable valley's highest honors.
Descending to the floor, the whole aspect of the valley changed. Looking up, Tehipite Dome, now outlined against the sky, and the neighboring abrupt castellated walls, towered more hugely than ever. We did not need the contour map to know that some of these heights exceeded Yosemite's. The sky-line was fantastically carved into spires and domes, a counterpart in gigantic miniature of the Great Sierra of which it was the valley climax. The Yosemite measure of sublimity, perhaps, lacked, but in its place was a more rugged grandeur, a certain suggestion of vastness and power that I have not seen elsewhere.
This impression was strengthened by the floor itself, which contains no suggestion whatever of Yosemite's exquisiteness. Instead, it offers rugged spaciousness. In place of Yosemite's peaceful woods and meadows, here were tangled giant-studded thickets and mountainous masses of enormous broken talus. Instead of the quiet winding Merced, here was a surging, smashing, frothing, cascading, roaring torrent, several times its volume, which filled the valley with its turbulence.
Once step foot on the valley floor and all thought of comparison with Yosemite vanishes forever. This is a different thing altogether, but a thing in its own way no less superlative. The keynote of the Tehipite Valley is wild exuberance. It thrills where Yosemite enervates. Yet its temperature is quite as mild.
The Middle Fork contains more trout than any other stream I have fished. We found them in pools and riffles everywhere; no water was too white to get a rise. In the long, greenish-white borders of fast rapids they floated continually into view. In five minutes' watching I could count a dozen or more such appearances within a few feet of water. They ran from eight to fourteen inches. No doubt larger ones lay below. So I got great fun by picking my particular trout and casting specially for him. Stop your fly's motion and the pursuing fish instantly stops, backs, swims round the lure in a tour of examination, and disappears. Start it moving and he instantly reappears from the white depth, where, no doubt, he has been cautiously watching. A pause and a swift start often tempted to a strike.
These rainbows of the torrents are hard fighters. And many of them, if urgently handled, availed of swift currents to thresh themselves free.
You must fish a river to appreciate it. Standing on its edges, leaping from rock to rock, slipping waist deep at times, wading recklessly to reach some pool or eddy of special promise, searching the rapids, peering under the alders, testing the pools; that's the way to make friends with a river. You study its moods and its ways as those of a mettlesome horse.
And after a while its spirit seeps through and finds yours. Its personality unveils. A sweet friendliness unites you, a sense of mutual understanding. There follows the completest detachment that I know. Years and the worries disappear. You and the river dream away the unnoted hours.
Passing on from the Tehipite Valley to the Kings River Canyon, the approach to Granite Pass was nothing short of magnificent. We crossed a superb cirque studded with lakelets; we could see the pass ahead of us on a fine snow-crowned bench. We ascended the bench and found ourselves, not in the pass, but in the entrance to still another cirque, also lake-studded, a loftier, nobler cirque encircling the one below. Ahead of us upon another lofty bench surely was the pass. Those inspiring snow-daubed heights whose serrated edges cut sharply into the sky certainly marked the supreme summit. Our winding trail up steep, rocky ascents pointed true; an hour's toil would carry us over. But the hour passed and the crossing of the shelf disclosed, not the glowing valley of the South Fork across the pass, but still a vaster, nobler cirque above, sublime in Arctic glory!
How the vast glaciers that cut these titanic carvings must have swirled among these huge concentric walls, pouring over this shelf and that, piling together around these uplifting granite peaks, concentrating combined effort upon this unyielding mass and that, and, beaten back, pouring down the tortuous main channel with rendings and tearings unimaginable!
Granite Pass is astonishing! We saw no less than four of these vast concentric cirques, through three of which we passed. And the Geological Survey map discloses a tributary basin adjoining which enclosed a group of large volcanic lakes, and doubtless other vast cirque-like chambers.
We took photographs, but knew them vain.
A long, dusty descent of Copper Creek brought us, near day's end, into the exquisite valley of the South Fork of the Kings River, the Kings River Canyon.
Still another Yosemite!
It is not so easy to differentiate the two canyons of the Kings. They are similar and yet very different. Perhaps the difference lies chiefly in degree. Both lie east and west, with enormous rocky bluffs rising on either side of rivers of quite extraordinary beauty. Both present carved and castellated walls of exceptional boldness of design. Both are heavily and magnificently wooded, the forests reaching up sharp slopes on either side. Both possess to a marked degree the quality that lifts them above the average of even the Sierra's glacial valleys.
But the outlines here seem to be softer, the valley floor broader, the river less turbulent. If the keynote of the Tehipite Valley is wild exuberance, that of the Kings River Canyon is wild beauty. The one excites, the other lulls. The one shares with Yosemite the distinction of extraordinary outline, the other shares with Yosemite the distinction of extraordinary charm.
There are few nobler spots than the junction of Copper Creek with the Kings. The Grand Sentinel is seldom surpassed. It fails of the personality of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Tehipite, but it only just fails. If they did not exist, it would become the most celebrated rock in the Sierra, at least. The view up the canyon from this spot has few equals. The view down the canyon is not often excelled. When the day of the Kings River Canyon dawns, it will dawn brilliantly.
The western slopes of the Pacific ranges, from the Canadian border southward to the desert, carry the most luxuriant forest in the United States. The immense stands of yellow pine and Douglas fir of the far north merge into the sugar pines and giant sequoias of the south in practically an unbroken belt which, on Sierra's slopes, lies on the middle levels between the low productive plains of the west and the towering heights of the east. The Sequoia National Park and its little neighbor, the General Grant National Park, enclose areas of remarkable fertility in which trees, shrubs, and wild flowers reach their greatest development. The million sequoia trees which grow here are a very small part, numerically, of this amazing forest.
These slopes are rich with the soil of thousands of years of accumulations. They are warmed in summer by mild Pacific winds heated in their passage across the lowlands, and blanketed in winter by many feet of soft snow. They are damp with countless springs and streams sheltered under heavy canopies of foliage. In altitude they range from two thousand feet at the bottom of Kaweah's canyon, as it emerges from the park, to eight thousand feet in the east, with mountains rising three or four thousand feet higher. It is a tumbled land of ridges and canyons, but its slopes are easy and its outline gracious. Oases of luscious meadows dot the forests.
This is the Court of King Sequoia. Here assemble in everlasting attendance millions of his nobles, a statelier gathering than ever bowed the knee before human potentate. Erect, majestic, clothed in togas of perpetual green, their heads bared to the heavens, stand rank upon rank, mile upon mile, the noblest personalities of the earth.
Chief among the courtiers of the king is the sugar-pine, towering here his full two hundred feet, straight as a ruler, his stem at times eight feet in thickness, scarcely tapering to the heavy limbs of his high crown. Largest and most magnificent of the Pacific pines, reaching sometimes six hundred years of age, the greater trunks clear themselves of branches a hundred feet from the ground, and the bark develops long dark plates of armor. So marked is his distinguished personality that, once seen, he never can be mistaken for another.
Next in rank and scarcely less in majesty is the massive white fir, rising at times even to two hundred feet, his sometimes six-foot trunk conspicuously rough, dark brown in color, deeply furrowed with ashen gray. His pale yellow-green crown is mysteriously tinged with white. His limit of age is three hundred and fifty years.
Last of the ranking trio is the western yellow pine, a warrior clad in plates of russet armor. A hundred and sixty feet in natural height, here he sometimes towers even with his fellow knights. He guards the outer precincts of the court, his cap of yellow-green, his branching arms resting upon his sides.
These are the great nobles, but with them are millions of lesser courtiers, the incense cedar from whose buttressed, tapering trunks spring countless branches tipped with fan-like plumes; many lesser conifers; the splendid Pacific birches in picturesque pose; the oaks of many kinds far different from their eastern cousins. And among the feet of these courtiers of higher degree crowd millions upon millions of flowering shrubs, massing often in solid phalanxes, disputing passage with the deer.
All mingle together, great and small. The conifers, in the king's honor, flaunt from stem and greater branch long fluttering ribbons of pale green moss. Thousands of squirrels chatter in the branches. Millions of birds make music. It is a gala day.
Enter the King.
The King of Trees is of royal lineage. The patient searchers in the rocks of old have traced his ancestry unknown millions of years, back to the forests of the Cretaceous Period. His was Viking stock from arctic zones where trees can live no more.
To-day he links all human history. The identical tree around which gather thousands of human courtiers every year emerged, a seedling, while Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. No man knows how old his predecessors were when finally they sank into deathmighty fall! But John Muir counted four thousand rings in the trunk of one fallen giant, who must have lived while Pharaoh still held captive the Children of Israel.
The General Sherman Tree of the Giant Forest, the oldest living thing to-day, so far as I have been able to ascertain, probably has seen thirty-six hundred years. It is evident to the unlearned observer that, while mature, he is long short of the turn of life. A thousand years from now he still may be the earth's biggest and oldest living thing; how much beyond that none may venture to predict.
Picture, now, the Giant Forest, largest of the several sequoia groves in the Sequoia National Park. You have entered, say, in the dusk of the night before, and after breakfast wander planless among the trees. On every side rise the huge pines and firs, their dark columns springing from the tangled brush to support the cathedral roof above. Here an enormous purplish-red column draws and holds your astonished eye. It is a gigantic thing in comparison with its monster neighbors; it glows among their dull columns; it is clean and spotless amid their moss-hung trunks; branchless, it disappears among their upper foliage, hinting at steeple heights above. Yet your guide tells you that this tree is small; that its diameter is less than twenty feet; that in age it is a youngster of only two thousand years! Wait, he tells you, till you see the General Sherman Tree's thirty-six and a half feet of diameter; wait till you see the hundreds, yes thousands, which surpass this infant!
But you heed him not, for you see another back among those sugar pines! Yes, and there's another. And there on the left are two or three in a clump! Back in the dim cathedral aisles are reddish glows which must mean still others. Your heart is beating with a strange emotion. You look up at the enormous limbs bent at right angles, at the canopy of feathery foliage hanging in ten thousand huge plumes. You cry aloud for the sheer joy of this great thing, and plunge into the forest's heart.
The Giant Forest contains several thousand sequoia trees of large size, and many young trees. You see these small ones on every hand, erect, sharply pointed, giving in every line a vivid impression of quivering, bounding life. Later on, as they emerge above the roof of the forest, for some of them are more than three hundred feet high, they lose their sharp ambitious tops; they become gracefully rounded. Springing from seed less than a quarter of an inch in diameter, they tend, like their cousins the redwoods, to grow in groups, and these groups tend to grow in groves. But there are scattering individuals in every grove, and many small isolated groves in the Sierra. The Giant Forest is the largest grove of greatest trees. The General Grant Grove, in a small national park of its own, near by, is the second grove in size and importance; its central figure is the General Grant Tree, second in size and age to the General Sherman Tree.
The dimensions of the greatest trees are astonishing. Glance at this table:
The Theodore Roosevelt Tree, which has not been measured at this writing, is one of the noblest of all, perfect in form and color, abounding in the glory of young maturity.
To help realization at home of the majesty of the General Sherman Tree, mark its base diameter, thirty six and a half feet, plainly against the side of some building, preferably a church with a steeple and neighboring trees; then measure two hundred and eighty feet, its height, upon the ground at right angles to the church; then stand on that spot and, facing the church, imagine the trunk rising, tapering slightly, against the building's side and the sky above it; then slowly lift your eyes until you are looking up into the sky at an angle of forty-five degrees, this to fix its height were it growing in front of the church.
Imagine its lowest branches, each far thicker than the trunks of eastern elms and oaks, pushing horizontally out at a height above ground of a hundred and fifty feet, which is higher than the tops of most of the full-grown trees of our eastern forests. Imagine these limbs bent horizontally at right angles, like huge elbows, as though holding its green mantle close about its form. Imagine the upper branches nearly bare, shattered perhaps by lightning. And imagine its crown of foliage, dark yellowish-green, hanging in enormous graceful plumes.
This is the King of Trees.
Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009