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Special Characteristics: Magnificent Conifer Forests and Many Groves of California Big Trees (Sequoia Gigantea); Mountain Ranges With Highest Mountain in the United States Proper, Mount Whitney, 14,495 Feet; Mighty Canyons; Over 300 Lakes

Sequoia National Park
General Sherman Tree—Sequoia National Park

ON THE western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in central California the finest of remaining stands of the Big Trees (Sequoia gigantea) are forever protected within Sequoia National Park and its new neighbor, the Kings Canyon National Park.

The California Big Tree must not be confused with the smaller species of the Sequoia genus, the Coast Redwood. The Big Tree occurs only in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the Coast Redwood only in the Coast Range. They are widely separated geographically and in characteristics and appearance. Bret Harte in his "Ode to a Cone of the Big Tree" speaks of the Coast Redwood as the "poor relation" of the Big Tree. While this is poetic license, it may be said generally, that the giant Sequoia or Big Tree is larger and more colorful than the Coast Redwood; individual specimens are more majestic. On the other hand, the Coast Redwood is taller and more graceful at maturity. Visitors to California should by all means see both species and compare them.

In the Sequoia National Park are thousands of giant Sequoias of which several hundred are more than 10 feet in diameter and 300 feet in height, while some have base diameters between 25 and 37 feet. The oldest of these are undoubtedly between 3,000 and 4,000 years old—perhaps even more ancient—the oldest and largest living things in the world.

There are giant Sequoias at other places in the California Sierra, but by far the greatest number and the largest individual trees are in the Sequoia National Park and the adjoining Kings Canyon. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that many of the other groves of Big Trees might be dropped down into the Sequoia National Park and only the rangers would know that they had arrived. There are numerous groves; and also almost pure stands of Big Trees in the conifer forests. It is estimated that half—nearly 9,000—of the giant Sequoias in California 10 feet in diameter when measured 6 feet above the ground are in Sequoia National Park.

It is difficult to grasp the immense size of these giants. For instance, it is estimated that in the trunk of the General Sherman Tree, the largest of them all, 36.5 feet in diameter at the base, 17 feet in diameter 120 feet from the ground, and 272.4 feet in height, there are almost a half million board feet of lumber. Automobiles and teams have been driven up and down the trunks of several prostrate Big Trees.


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

Several of the trees now growing in their prime in the national parks of the High Sierra were vigorous youngsters before the pyramids were built in Egypt and before Babylon was at its zenith. 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. Hundreds were lusty youngsters through all the ages of Greek art and Roman wars. Thousands were flourishing trees when Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Despite its vast age, the mature giant sequoia is the embodiment of serene vigor. No description, says Muir, can give adequate idea of its majesty, much less of its beauty. He calls it nature's forest masterpiece. He dwells on 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."

There are many groves of the Big Trees in Sequoia National Park, scattered here and there over large areas. The Giant Forest, sometimes referred to as a grove, in reality contains scores of separate groves, merging one into another, or into flower-strewn meadows.

But these forest monarchs 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.


Far to the east of the Big Tree groves of the Sequoia National Park extends an area of unsurpassed mountain grandeur, rising along the eastern boundary of the park to the crest of the High Sierra, and including Mount Whitney (14,495 feet in elevation), the highest peak in the United States exclusive of Alaska. Within this wild area of castellated peaks, and innumerable lakes and streams, including the magnificent Kern River Canyon, and embracing more than 40 peaks over 13,000 feet in height, is the ideal vacation land for the mountaineer, camper, and fisherman.

Throughout this upland park are trout-filled mountain streams; deer and bear and smaller animals; magnificent forests and gorgeous flower fields and meadows.


Last Modified: Fri, Sep 1 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

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