Glimpses of our National Parks
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Special Characteristic: Largest and Oldest Trees in the World

AND they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven.

Thus is recorded, in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, the building of the Tower of Babel. While this tower was doubtless still standing, and a hundred years or two before the birth of Abraham, a tiny seed in the warm soil of a mountain slope on quite the opposite side of the world thrust into the light of day a slender green spike which was destined, during an existence of more than 4,000 years, to become itself a lofty tower noble in form, "with a physiognomy almost Godlike," as John Muir puts it, pulsating with life to its topmost leaflet more than 300 feet above the ground, and giving forth a babel of bird song to the accompaniment which the summer winds played upon its many millions of tiny leaves.

On the stump of this prostrate sequoia tree, one of the noblest of the celebrated Big Trees of California, John Muir counted more than 4,000 rings, a ring for every year of its life. Its trunk, exclusive of bark, was 35 feet 8 inches in diameter. As the bark of the very largest sequoias is 2 feet or more in thickness, this giant must have measured 40 feet in diameter when it was still growing on one of the slopes of the Kings River.


In the Sequoia National Park, upon the upper slopes of the Sierra Nevada in central California, and in the little General Grant National Park, 6 miles away and under the same management, grow more than a million sequoia trees, of which 12,000 are more than 10 feet in diameter. Some of the others have these dimensions:

General Sherman Tree: Diameter, 36.5 feet; height, 279.9 feet.
General Grant Tree: Diameter, 35 feet; height, 264 feet.
Abraham Lincoln Tree: Diameter, 31 feet; height, 270 feet.
California Tree: Diameter, 30 feet; height, 260 feet.
George Washington Tree: Diameter, 29 feet; height, 255 feet.
William McKinley Tree: Diameter, 28 feet; height, 291 feet.
Dalton Tree; Diameter 27 feet; height, 292 feet.

There are sequoia trees of great size in several other parts of California also, notably in the Yosemite National Park, where three distinct groves are found; but by far the greatest number, and the individual trees of greatest size, are in the Sequoia National Park and its little neighbor.

Photograph by J. E. Roberts.

It will help your comprehension of the great size of these trees to know that a box big enough to have easily held the ill-fated ship Lusitania, one of the largest ever built, could be made from inch boards sawed from any one of these great sequoias, with boards enough left over to build a dozen houses. Automobiles and six-horse teams have been driven up and down the fallen trunks of several great sequoias, and there are regular wagon roads running through gaps in the trunks of several others in our national parks. Two parallel street car lines and a driveway might be run through the trunks of several of the very largest.


But the age of the sequoia is still more difficult to realize. It is beyond compare the oldest living thing.

Several of the trees now growing in hearty maturity in the Sequoia National Park were vigorous youngsters before the pyramids were built on the Egyptian desert before Babylon reached its prime. Hundreds of them were thriving before the heroic ages of ancient Greece—while, in fact, the rough Indo-Germanic ancestors of the Greeks were still swarming from the north. Thousands were lusty youths through all the ages of Greek art and Roman wars. Tens of thousands were flourishing trees when Christ was born in Bethlehem.

But with all its vast age the sequoia to-day is the embodiment of serene vigor. No description, says Muir, can give any adequate idea of its majesty, much less its beauty. He calls it nature's forest masterpiece. He dwells upon its patrician bearing, its suggestion of ancient stock, its strange air of other days, its thoroughbred look inherited from the long ago. "Poised in the fullness of strength and beauty, stern and solemn in mien, it glows with eager enthusiastic life to the tip of every leaf and branch and far-reaching root, calm as a granite dome, the first to feel the touch of the rosy beams of morning, the last to bid the sun good night."

The sequoia is regular and symmetrical in general form. Its powerful, stately, trunk is purplish to cinnamon brown and rises without a branch a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet—which is as high or higher than the tops of most forest trees. Its bulky limbs shoot boldly out on every side. Its foliage, the most feathery and delicate of all the conifers, is densely massed. The bright green cones are about 2-1/2 inches long, generating seeds scarcely more than an eighth of an inch across. The wood is almost indestructible, except by fire. Fallen trunks and broken branches lie for centuries undecayed and almost unaltered.

The sequoias are the glory, as they were the cause, of the Sequoia National Park. Scattered here and there over great areas, they cluster chiefly in 13 separate groves, and it is in these groves that they attain their greatest size and luxuriance.

But they are by no means the only attractions of this national park, which many frequenters declare nature has equipped best of all for the joys and pleasures of mountain living.


The Giant Forest is not only an objective; it is a gateway, also. From its deep, still shadows the traveler may pass northward and eastward into an area of mountain-top sublimity unsurpassed even in America. The streams which water the sequoias flow from the everlasting snows which decorate the peaked and castellated granite summits of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Up into these fastnesses lead the eastern trails, even to the top of Mount Whitney, highest point in the United States. And into the Tehipite Valley and the Kings River Canyon lead the northern trails, valleys of stupendous ruggedness and wild beauty destined some day to be a celebrity, each, in its own way, comparable only to Yosemite's.

This region, which is included in the proposed Roosevelt National Park, is as tremendous in its own way as is the Giant Forest. Each attains its own manner of supremacy. Together, from Giant Forest to Sierra summit, they run the gamut of the sublime.

It rises abruptly more than 3,000 feet above the floor of Tehipite Valley.
Photograph by Herbert W. Gleason.

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Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009