The Redwoods of Coast and Sierra
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SOME OF THE EARLY European explorers and many of the early Spanish settlers must have known about the Redwoods. The Franciscan missionary, Fray Juan Crespi, diarist of the Portolá expedition—the first European expedition by land up the California coast—recorded under date of Tuesday, October 10, 1769, that the expedition, marching from camp on the Pájaro River (near present Watsonville), traveled a league "over plains and low hills, well forested with very high trees of a red color, not known to us. They have a very different leaf from cedars, and although the wood resembles cedar somewhat in color, it is very different, and has not the same odor; moreover, the wood of the trees that we have found is very brittle. In this region there is a great abundance of these trees and because none of the expedition recognizes them, they are named redwood from their color." This is the first historical mention of Redwoods.

Another Franciscan missionary, Fray Pedro Font, the chronicler of Anza's expedition to San Francisco Bay, recorded in his diary that on Tuesday, March 26, 1776, they saw "a few spruce trees which they call redwood, a tree that is certainly beautiful; and I believe that it is very useful for its timber, for it is very straight and tall, as I shall show later on." On Friday, March 29, on the return journey, he noted from some distance one of these trees, "a very high redwood . . . rising like a great tower." The next day, when they came to the tree, he measured it, and wrote: "I found it to be, according to the calculation which I made, some fifty varas high, a little more or less. [1 vara = 33 inches; 50 varas = 137 feet, 6 inches.] The trunk at the foot was five and a half varas in circumference, and the soldiers said that they had seen even larger ones in the sierras." This tree was the Redwood which is still standing at Palo Alto (so named after it: palo = tree; alto = tall), on San Francisquito Creek.

The foregoing are the first records. The men named below, however, are usually credited with the discovery of the Coast and Sierra Redwoods.

COAST REDWOOD (Sequoia sempervirens)—Usually called "Redwood." The first botanical description of the Redwood was made on the basis of specimens taken to England by Archibald Menzies, surgeon and botanist of the Vancouver expedition, in 1795. These specimens came from Santa Cruz, but Menzies' journal does not show that he himself was ever at Santa Cruz though other members of the expedition were.

SIERRA REDWOOD (Sequoia gigantea)—Commonly called "Big Tree." There were a number of important discoveries of various Sierra Redwood groves. They will be given here in chronological order.

1833. Merced or Tuolumne Grove—discovered by Joseph Walker.—Members of the Joseph R. Walker exploration expedition are thought to have been the first white men to see the Sierra Redwood as they crossed the Sierra Nevada in 1833, into the region now comprised in the Merced and Tuolumne groves. Zenas Leonard, a clerk with the expedition, wrote in his journal (published in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, in 1839): "In the last two days' travelling we have found some trees of the Redwood species incredibly large—some of which would measure from 16 to 18 fathom [96 to 108 feet] round the trunk at the height of a man's head from the ground." Both of these groves are now included in Yosemite National Park.

1852. Calaveras Grove—discovered by A. T. Dowd.—John Bidwell, a member of the first immigrant party to enter California by an overland route, said that he saw some of the "Big Trees" in the Calaveras Grove in 1841. His statement did not attract any great attention, however, so this discovery is usually credited to another man.

A. T Dowd, a miner of Murphy's Camp in 1852, was pursuing a wounded bear when he observed some of the trees in the Calaveras Grove. His report aroused interest, and the grove was explored and soon became well known. For some time it was even thought that these trees were the only living trees of their kind. The Calaveras Grove is in Calaveras County and is now protected as Calaveras State Park. The grove contains some very large specimens of Big Trees. One of the largest was cut down many years ago, and the stump has been used as a dance platform.

1857. Mariposa Grove—discovered by Galen Clark.—Although a hunter by the name of Ogg is thought to have seen at least three of the trees in the Mariposa Grove in 1855, it is usually conceded that Galen Clark, accompanied by Milton Mann, discovered and explored the grove in 1857.

Previous to the discovery of the grove, Galen Clark had established a trading post at a wayside station on the way to Yosemite Valley, which is now known as Wawona. One day in 1857, when hiking up the canyon of the South Fork of the Merced River, he came upon this grove of trees. The first tree discovered is at the northeast edge of the grove near the tree now known as the Wawona or Tunnel Tree. Clark wrote, in 1901, an account of his discovery for D. J. Foley, who used it in his Yosemite Souvenir and Guide (1903). Clark said, among other things, "A few days later I was in the lower portion of the grove, and, as they were in Mariposa County, I named them the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees." Clark built the first cabin in the grove at the present site of the splendid modern museum. He became the first Guardian of the State Park, which included not only the Mariposa Grove, but also the Yosemite Valley. When he died in 1910, at the age of 96, he was buried beneath the shelter of four beautiful Sequoias which he had planted in the cemetery of Yosemite National Park near the present Valley museum.

1858. Giant Forest—discovered by Hale Tharp.—The largest grove of Sierra Redwood in the world, the Giant Forest, is in Sequoia National Park. It was discovered by Hale D. Tharp in 1858. For two years previously he had used the meadows in the Giant Forest region as grazing land for his cattle. Shortly after its discovery, John Muir, the great lover of the out-of-doors, visited the grove with Tharp, explored it, and named it "Giant Forest."

In the same year in which Tharp discovered the grove, he built a unique summer home in the forest. It consisted of a huge hollow Redwood log fitted with door, window, and stone fireplace. This fallen tree is 24 feet in diameter and is estimated to have been more than 300 feet tall. The tree-house is now carefully preserved by the National Park Service of Sequoia National Park as one of the interesting mementoes of the park.



The Redwoods of Coast and Sierra
©1940, University of California Press
shirley/sec2.htm — 02-Feb-2007