Spring Delight! A Visit to the Western Sierra Nevada
This post is dedicated to my dad, Raymond Ross. I have visited Yosemite and Sequoia with him in the past, and he would have loved to have gone on this trip with me. He has been on my mind a lot this weekend. This is the first Father’s Day since he died. I miss him greatly. You are with me, Dad, whenever I take Nature Pictures! Happy Father’s Day!
A SPRING VISIT TO THE WESTERN SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS
Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite nature destinations. I have traveled there many times over the years, and I am always overwhelmed by its natural wonders. Given its proximity, I also visited Sequoia National Park in the past for short little excursions. If asked back then of my impression of Sequoia National Park, I would have said, “Tree, Big Trees.” And that impression is certainly correct. Giant Sequoias are the star attraction of that national park. However, my visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in May 2014 emphasized for me that these parks offer much more than big trees, no matter how impressive those trees are.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Sequoia National Park was created on 25 September 1890, making it the second oldest national park in the country, second to Yellowstone. At that time, preserving areas for their scenic and recreational value was not a popular idea. Instead, Sequoia National Park was preserved to save the big trees from logging. As John Muir noted when confronted with the idea of logging the Giant Sequoias, “[We] may as well sell the rain clouds and [allow] the snow and the rivers to be cut up and carried away, if that were possible.” A week later General Grant National Park was named, eventually merging with Kings Canyon National Park when it was established in 1940. Since 1943, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have been jointly managed.
THE BIG TREES
The Giant Sequoias are impressive trees! In fact, they are labeled the Earth’s largest living tree by sheer volume of wood. As the Parks’ brochure explains, “At least one tree species lives longer, one has a greater diameter, three grow taller, but none is larger.” Grant Grove and Cedar Grove are in Kings Canyon while Giant Forest is in Sequoia. However, there are about 75 groves of these giant trees on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the only place where these trees grow naturally.
The oldest tree in the parks is the General Grant, estimated at 3,000 years old. But it’s the second largest tree, measuring 267-feet-tall and nearly 29 feet wide at the base. The largest tree in these parks is the 275-foot tall General Sherman Tree in the Giant Forest. The details describing the General Sherman are also staggering:
- The trunk weighs an estimated 1,385 tons
- The trunk circumference at the ground is nearly 103 feet
- Its largest branch is almost 7 feet in diameter
- The tree is estimated to be 2,200 years old
- Every year, this tree grows enough new wood to produce a 60-foot-tall tree of usual size
Although the General Grant and General Sherman are the most well-known trees in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, all the giants sequoias are breath-taking and inspiring, worthy of being the cornerstone of these national parks. The Dogwood Blossoms popping up in the forest were also delightful!
THE CANYON AND THE HIGH SIERRAS
A friend and I visited Sequoia National Park in March 2014, experiencing the trees through the last stages of winter. And they are impressive in the snow! But we were equally impressed with the trees when we returned in May 2014. This spring trip took us back to Sequoia National Park but also into Kings Canyon National Park. In the spring, it is impossible not to notice the steep canyon cut by the majestic Kings River. Highway 180 runs along the river down to the very bottom of the canyon. At vista points, most of the impressive peaks of the Sierra Nevada can be seen in the distance. My Whitney, however, the highest peak (14,505 feet) in the contiguous United States can only be seen from the western slopes from remote back country, accessible only on foot or horseback. [NOTE: We did not go hiking or back-packing!]
As we moved from forest to foothills, we found several wonderful meadows that would have been perfect for a bear sighting, but not one Black Bear cooperated. By the end of the day, we really thought we were seeing some off in the distance. We even saw a couple Marmots, but their lumbering gait helped them escape having a photo taken. Fortunately, a few deer were cooperative. As we continued driving, the High Sierra Vistas were breath-taking, even if the sky was a bit cloudy.
Driving through the foothills of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in the spring is delightful because of all the flowers! This part of the visit is what was missing from our winter sojourn. I especially loved the Yucca in bloom almost everywhere we looked—no wonder they are commonly called The Lord’s Candlestick. Other flowers also punctuated the roadsides. We watched a hawk soar for several minutes on the thermals and some quail scurry across the road in the late afternoon. Occasional birds and lizards came into view, but mostly we were able to listen to birds chirping in the undergrowth.
It was a glorious day!
OH, YES, IT WAS A GLORIOUS TRIP TO EXPERIENCE MUCH MORE THAN JUST BIG TREES!