GENERAL INFORMATION REGARDING SEQUOIA AND GENERAL GRANT NATIONAL PARKS.
THE Sequoia National Park was created by act of Congress of September 25, 1890 (26 Stat., 478), to preserve, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people, the greatest groves of the oldest, the biggest, and the most remarkable trees living in this world. They number 1,156,000. Of these, 12,000 exceed 10 feet in diameter. The General Sherman Tree, most celebrated of all, is 279.9 feet high with a diameter of 36.5 feet. The Abraham Lincoln Tree is 270 feet high with a diameter of 31 feet. The William McKinley Tree is 291 feet high with a diameter of 28 feet.
The General Grant National Park is usually mentioned with Sequoia because, though separated by 6 miles of mountain and forest, the two are practically the same national park. It was established by act of Congress of October 1, 1890 (26 Stat., 650). It contains only 2,536 acres and was created only for the protection of the General Grant Tree, a monster sequoia 264 feet high and 35 feet in diameter. But General Grant shares his domain with distinguished neighbors, notably the George Washington Tree, which is only 9 feet less in height and 6 feet less in diameter.
The sequoias are found scattered all over the park, which has an area of 161,597 acres, but the greater trees are gathered in 13 groups of many acres each, where they grow close together. The country is one of the most beautiful in America, abounding in splendid streams, noble valleys, striking ridges, and towering mountains. Some of the best trout fishing in the world is found here. The park is the home of the celebrated golden trout, which is found nowhere else in such perfection of color.
Owing to the high elevation of the parks where the main tourist camps are situated, it is advised that tourists come between June 15 and October 1, as there is seldom rain or snow during that period and the atmosphere is usually cool and clear.
The address of the supervisor is Three Rivers, Cal.; complaints should be addressed to that officer. These parks are under the control and supervision of the Secretary of the Interior.
Tourists should have strong and warm clothing of woolen, corduroy, or khaki, leggings, and heavy shoes. For permanent camping plenty of bedding should be provided. For hiking trips, the sleeping bag will give better service on account of its compactness. For carrying luggage, a dunnage bag made of heavy canvas is all that is necessary. For camping out, a mess kit, frying pan, coffee pot, dutch oven, or baking reflector is absolutely necessary.
Utensils and equipment can be procured along the route of travel at the following towns: Visalia, Exeter, Lemon Cove, or Three Rivers, the latter being nearest the Sequoia National Park, and Sanger, Dinuba, Hume, or Orosi in reaching General Grant National Park.
There are several hotels, camps, and transportation lines operated under concessions from the Department of the Interior, but every person is at liberty to provide his own means of transportation and to provide his own camp, subject to regulations on pages 28 to 33.
JOHN MUIR'S DESCRIPTION OF THE GIANT SEQUOIA.
From John Muir's "Our National Parks"1 is taken the following description of the celebrated sequoia trees:
"The big tree (Sequoia gigantea) is nature's forest masterpiece, and, so far as I know, the greatest of living things. It belongs to an ancient stock, as its remains in old rocks show, and has a strange air of other days about it, a thoroughbred look inherited from the long agothe auld lang syne of trees. Once the genus was common, and with many species flourished in the now desolate Arctic regions, in the interior of North America, and in Europe; but in long, eventful wanderings from climate to climate only two species have survived the hardships they had to encounter, the gigantea and sempervirens, the former now restricted to the western slopes of the Sierra, the other to the Coast Mountains, and both to California, excepting a few groves of redwood which extend into Oregon.
"The Pacific coast in general is the paradise of conifers. Here nearly all of them are giants, and display a beauty and magnificence unknown elsewhere. The climate is mild, the ground never freezes, and moisture and sunshine abound all the year.
"Nevertheless it is not easy to account for the colossal size of the sequoias. The largest are about 300 feet high and 30 feet in diameter. Who of all the dwellers of the plains and prairies and fertile home forests of round-headed oak and maple, hickory and elm, ever dreamed that earth could bear such growthstrees that the familiar pines and firs seem to know nothing aboutlonely, silent, serene, with a physiognomy almost godlike; and so old, thousands of them still living had already counted their years by tens of centuries when Columbus set sail from Spain and were in the vigor of youth or middle age when the star led the Chaldean sages to the infant Saviour's cradle? As far as man is concerned they are the same yesterday, to-day, and forever emblems of permanence.
"No description can give any adequate idea of their singular majesty, much less of their beauty. Excepting the sugar pine, most of their neighbors with pointed tops seem to be forever shouting 'Excelsior,' while the big tree, though soaring above them all, seems satisfied, its rounded head, poised lightly as a cloud, giving no impression of trying to go higher. Only in youth does it show like other conifers a heavenward yearning, keenly aspiring with a long, quick-growing top. Indeed the whole tree for the first century or two, or until a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet high, is arrowhead in form, and, compared with the solemn rigidity of age, is as sensitive to the wind as a squirrel tail. The lower branches are gradually dropped as it grows older, and the upper ones thinned out until comparatively few are left. These, however, are developed to great size, divide again and again, and terminate in bossy rounded masses of leafy branchlets, while the head becomes dome-shaped.
"Then poised in fullness of strength and beauty, stern and solemn in mien, it glows with eager, enthusiastic life, quivering 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 the morning, the last to bid the sun good-night.
ITS STATELINESS AND DENSELY MASSED FOLIAGE.
"Perfect specimens, unhurt by running fires or lightning, are singularly regular and symmetrical in general form, though not at all conventional, showing infinite variety in sure unity and harmony of plan. The immensely strong, stately shafts, with rich purplish brown bark, are free of limbs for a hundred and fifty feet or so, though dense tufts of sprays occur here and there, producing an ornamental effect, while long, parallel furrows give a flutted columnar appearance. It shoots forth its limbs with equal boldness in every direction, showing no weather side. On the old trees the main branches are crooked and rugged, and strike rigidly outward mostly at right angles from the trunk, but there is always a certain measured restraint in their reach which keeps them within bounds.
"No other Sierra tree has foliage so densely massed or outline so finely, firmly drawn and so obediently subordinate to an ideal type. A particularly knotty, angular, ungovernable-looking branch, 5 to 8 feet in diameter and perhaps a thousand years old, may occasionally be seen pushing out from the trunk as if determined to break across the bounds of the regular curve but like all the others, as soon as the general outline is approached the huge limb dissolves into massy bosses of branchlets and sprays, as if the tree were growing beneath an invisible bell glass against the sides of which the branches were molded, while many small varied departures from the ideal form give the impression of freedom to grow as they like.
"Except in picturesque old age, after being struck by lightning and broken by a thousand snowstorms, this regularity of form is one of the big tree's most distinguishing characteristics. Another is the simple sculptural beauty of the trunk and its great thickness as compared with its height and the width of the branches, many of them being from 8 to 10 feet in diameter at a height of 200 feet from the ground, and seeming more like finely modeled and sculptured architectural columns than the stems of trees, while the great strong limbs are like rafters supporting the magnificent dome head.
"THE MAGNITUDE OF ITS ROOT SYSTEM.
"The root system corresponds in magnitude with the other dimensions of the tree, forming a flat far-reaching spongy network 200 feet or more in width without any taproot, and the instep is so grand and fine, so suggestive of endless strength, it is long ere the eye is released to look above it. The natural swell of the roots, though at first sight excessive, gives rise to buttresses no greater than are required for beauty as well as strength, as at once appears when you stand back far enough to see the whole tree in its true proportions. The fineness of the taper of the trunk is shown by its thickness at great heightsa diameter of 10 feet at a height of 200 being, as we have seen, not uncommon. Indeed the boles of but few trees hold their thickness as well as sequoia.
"Resolute, consummate, determined in form, always beheld with wondering admiration, the big tree always seems unfamiliar, standing alone, unrelated, with peculiar physiognomy, awfully solemn and earnest. Nevertheless, there is nothing alien in its looks. The Madrona, clad in thin, smooth, red and yellow bark and big glossy leaves, seems, in the dark coniferous forests of Washington and Vancouver Island, like some lost wanderer from the magnolia groves of the South, while the sequoia, with all its strangeness, seems more at home than any of its neighbors, holding the best right to the ground as the oldest, strongest inhabitant.
"One soon becomes acquainted with new species of pine and fir and spruce as with friendly people, shaking their outstretched branches like shaking hands, and fondling their beautiful little ones; while the venerable aboriginal sequoia, ancient of other days, keeps you at a distance, taking no notice of you, speaking only to the winds, thinking only of the sky, looking as strange in aspect and behavior among the neighboring trees as would the mastodon or hairy elephant among the homely bears and deer. Only the Sierra juniper is at all like it, standing rigid and unconquerable on glacial pavements for thousands of years, grim, rusty, silent, uncommunicative, with an air of antiquity about as pronounced as that so characteristic of sequoia.
"The bark of full-grown trees is from 1 to 2 feet thick, rich cinnamon brown, purplish on young trees and shady parts of the old, forming magnificent masses of color with the underbrush and beds of flowers. Toward the end of winter the trees themselves bloom while the snow is still 8 or 10 feet deep. The pistillate flowers are about three-eighths of an inch long, pale green, and grown in countless thousands on the ends of the sprays. The staminate are still more abundant, pale yellow, a fourth of an inch long, and when the golden pollen is ripe they color the whole tree and dust the air and the ground far and near.
"The cones are bright, grass-green in color, about 2-1/2 inches long 1-1/2 wide, and are made up of 30 or 40 strong, closely packed, rhomboidal scales with four to eight seeds at the base of each. The seeds are extremely small and light, being only from an eighth to a fourth of an inch long and wide, including a filmy surrounding wing, which causes them to glint and waver in falling and enables the wind to carry them considerable distances from the tree.
"The faint lisp of snowflakes as they light is one of the smallest sounds mortal can hear. The sound of falling sequoia seeds even when they happen to strike on flat leaves or flakes of bark, is about as faint. Very different is the bumping and thudding of the falling cones. Most of them are cut off by the Douglas squirrel and stored for the sake of the seeds, small as they are. In the calm Indian summer these busy harvesters with ivory sickles go to work early in the morning, as soon as breakfast is over, and nearly all day the ripe cones fall in a steady pattering, bumping shower. Unless harvested in this way they discharge their seeds and remain on the trees for many years. In fruitful seasons the trees are fairly laden. On two small specimen branches 1-1/2 and 2 inches in diameter I counted 480 cones. No other California conifer produces nearly so many seeds, excepting perhaps its relative, the redwood of the coast mountains. Millions are ripened annually by a single tree, and the product of one of the main groves in a fruitful year would suffice to plant all the mountain ranges of the world.
NATURE'S GIANT BIRDHOUSES.
"The dense tufted sprays make snug nesting places for birds, and in some of the loftiest, leafiest towers of verdure thousands of generations have been reared, the great solemn trees shedding off flocks of merry singers every year from nests, like the flocks of winged seeds from the cones.
"The big tree keeps its youth far longer than any of its neighbors. Most silver firs are old in their second or third century, pines in their fourth or fifth, while the big tree growing beside them is still in the bloom of its youth, juvenile in every feature at the age of old pines, and can not be said to attain anything like prime size and beauty before its fifteen hundredth year, or under favorable circumstances become old before its three thousandth.
"Many, no doubt, are much older than this. On one of the Kings River giants, 35 feet 8 inches in diameter exclusive of bark, I counted upward of four thousand annual wood rings, in which there was no trace of decay after all these centuries of mountain weather.
THE OLDEST LIVING THING.
"There is no absolute limit to the existence of any tree. Their death is due to accidents, not, as of animals, to the wearing out of organs. Only the leaves die of old age, their fall is foretold in their structure; but the leaves are renewed every year and so also are the other essential organswood, roots, bark, buds. Most of the Sierra trees die of disease. Thus, the magnificent silver firs are devoured by fungi, and comparatively few of them live to see their three hundredth birth year. But nothing hurts the big tree. I never saw one that was sick or showed the slightest sign of decay. It lives on through indefinite thousands of years until burned, blown down, undermined, or shattered by some tremendous lightning stroke.
"No ordinarily bolt ever seriously hurts sequoia. In all my walks I have seen only one that was thus killed outright. Lightning, though rare in the California lowlands, is common on the Sierra. Almost every day in June and July small thunderstorms refresh the main forest belt. Clouds like snowy mountains of marvelous beauty grow rapidly in the calm sky about midday and cast cooling shadows and showers that seldom last more than an hour. Nevertheless these brief kind storms wound or kill a good many trees. I have seen silver firs 200 feet high split into long peeled rails and slivers down to the roots, leaving not even a stump, the rails radiating like the spokes of a wheel from a hole in the ground where the tree stood. But the sequoia, instead of being split and slivered, usually has 40 or 50 feet of its brash knotty top smashed off in short chunks about the size of cord-wood, the beautiful rosy red ruins covering the ground in a circle a hundred feet wide or more. I never saw any that had been cut down to the ground or even to below the branches except one in the Stanislaus Grove, about 12 feet in diameter, the greater part of which was smashed to fragments, leaving only a leafless stump about 75 feet high. It is a curious fact that all the very old sequoias have lost their heads by lightning. 'All things come to him who waits.'
"But of all living things sequoia is perhaps the only one able to wait long enough to make sure of being struck by lightning. Thousands of years it stands ready and waiting, offering its head to every passing cloud as if inviting its fate, praying for heaven's fire as a blessing; and when at last the old head is off, another of the same shape immediately begins to grow on."
A LAND OF MARVELOUS BEAUTY.
But, when all is said, the Sequoia groves form but a small proportion of the delights of the Sequoia National Park. Though one of the oldest national parks, it is comparatively little visited. The great fame of the Yosemite Valley, which lies less than a hundred miles north of Sequoia and much nearer San Francisco, has drawn there the greater throngs of summer visitors, most of whom, having seen the lesser Yosemite groves, have returned to their homes ignorant of the very existence of the supreme exhibit so near by.
With less demand upon its resources, therefore, Sequoia remains comparatively undeveloped in road and hotel and public camp facilities, though there are sufficient of all comforts for the needs of the moment. But its day is coming. When the supreme fitness of this region for the highest enjoyment of mountain sojourning becomes realized by them people the Sequoia National Park will become one of the most popular of all.
MOUNT WHITNEY AND ADJACENT CANYONS.
These mountains and valleys form literally one of the most avail able pleasure spots on the continent. It is easily traveled and abounds in fine camping grounds. The water is potable in all the streams. Aside from the sequoias the largest, oldest, tallest, and most valuable forest trees are found here. There are forests of pine, fir, cedar, and many deciduous trees that are fairly royal. There are many shrubs, wild flowers, ferns, and mosses of wonderful luxuriance and beauty. It is a park of birds.
In laying out the boundaries of Sequoia National Park some of the most superb of American scenic country was unaccountably omitted. Just to the north lies the wonderful valley of the Kings River with its spectacular canyon and picturesque mountains, while directly on the east, over the Great Western Divide, lies the valley of the Kern River, widely celebrated for its beauty. Mount Whitney, on its east bank, is the loftiest mountain in the United States proper. These two districts are easily reached from the national park, of which they are in effect, though not in administration and protection, a natural part.
The streams and lakes in these parks afford splendid trout fishing, boating, and bathing. The waters are all pure and fit to drink. The forests contain the largest, oldest, tallest, and most valuable trees in the world. Aside from the giant sequoia, there are other forests of pine, fir, cedar, and many deciduous trees that are truly royal. There are many shrubs, wild flowers, ferns, and mosses of superb beauty, while frolicking wild animals and beautiful song birds are another enjoyable and attractive feature of the parks.
Within the forests of the parks are 13 different groves of sequoia timber. The following table gives the names of the groves, the approximate area, number of trees exceeding 10 feet in diameter, and the total number of trees of all sizes:
Sequoia groves of the parks.
In four of the groves above mentioned certain trees have been named, while in all other groves they have not. The following is a list of a few of the principal trees, with their names, height, and diameter:
Height and diameter of principal trees.
GIANT FOREST GROVE.
General Sherman, height, 279.9 feet; diameter, 36.5 feet.
Dalton, height, 292 feet; diameter, 27 feet.
California, height, 260 feet; diameter, 30 feet.
GENERAL GRANT GROVE.
General Grant, height, 264 feet; diameter, 35 feet.
The General Sherman tree was discovered by James Wolverton, a hunter and trapper, on August 7, 1879, at which time he named the tree in honor of Gen. Sherman, under whom he had served during the Civil War. The dimensions of this tree are as follows:
Dimensions of General Sherman tree.
The General Grant tree was named by Mrs. Lucretia P. Baker, who was a member of a party which camped near the tree in August, 1867. This tree has a height of 264 feet and a base diameter of 35 feet.
There are many trees in some of the groves and, in fact, some in each of the groves that compare favorably in size to those herein given. It is to be understood that the Sequoias in these groups do not grow to the exclusion of other kinds of trees but are interspersed with other growths of coniferous species.
Last Updated: 19-Apr-2010