Three persons ventured out on this last, hottest weekend of June.
We left the Bay Area before sunrise and arrived at Sequoia National Park,
about 50 miles east of Visalia, at midday on Saturday, June 27.
The air was hot at the lower visitors center, but as we climbed the
steep, serpentine road, the temperature decreased with altitude. This
was one of the few places to stay relatively cool on this sizzling weekend.
Sequoia National Park,
our country's second oldest National Park,
celebrated its century mark in 2008. Located at the southernmost end of
the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range this spectacular park is home to the
Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). These trees can tower 270
feet high and bulk up to 30 or more feet in diameter. The nearby
Sequoia National Forest
was established in July of 1908, and is currently one
of the nineteen national forests in California. Protected within the
area parks are 38 Sequoia groves that offer sanctuary to the world's
largest trees. Besides the trees, this immense and spectacularly
beautiful park has grand views of granite monoliths, glacier-formed
canyons, roaring rivers and lush meadows.
Thanks to visionaries such as John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt,
etc. we can still walk up to these unbelievably huge trees, touch their
spongy bark and gaze up to their dizzying heights. I have wanted to see
the Sequoias for as long as I knew they existed, and this particular
field trip was a bit of a pilgrimage for me.
The Sequoias closest relative, the Coast Redwood, grows taller but has
a less massive trunk. The most obvious difference is in the shape of
the trunk. Coast Redwoods have long, tapered trunks, while the Giant
Sequoias have much more massive, columnar profiles.
We went to see the most famous tree in the park, a giant named the
General Sherman. The General Sherman Tree is 274.9 feet in height, and
102.6 feet in circumference at its base. Other trees are taller-the
largest Coast Redwoods are 300 to 350 feet in height. And a cypress
near Oaxaca, Mexico has a greater circumference at 162 feet. But in
sheer volume, the Sherman has no equal. With its estimated volume of
52,510 cubic feet, the General Sherman Tree earns the title of the
World's Largest Tree. A tree cut down in 1926 supposedly had a volume of
63,350 cubic feet, but those numbers cannot be verified.
We hiked to the base of the General Sherman, seeing it first, from an
overlook. Addmittedly, I was a bit disappointed to see it from further
back because it lacked the impact that it did while viewed from its
base. (We prematurely dubbed it the "mudpup" of this excursion.) It
appeared aged and battered from the overlook (as though it might
crumble to pieces and eventually die). Since we were so close we
decided to go to the base of it; and that's where the sheer bulk of it
became evident. A large branch of the tree fell off probably in the
past decade and its shattered remains lie at the foot of the tree. The
branch itself was the height and bulk of a regular sized, fully-grown
tree. Our perspective of the upper portion of this huge tree from the
ground is skewed by perspective and the distance to the top.
It's massive crown couldn't be appreciated unless viewed from atop
another tall tree.
Prior to visiting the grove containing the General Sherman, we visited
The drive down the cave is an ordeal in itself. The
road is slow, winding but very scenic. To see the cave you have to hike
down a steep half-mile trail (with several stairways) that leads down
to beautiful Cascade Creek with its spectacular waterfall that plummets
down into the canyon below.
Tickets for the guided tour go fast and have to be purchased at one of
two park headquarters facilities. The tickets were moderately priced at $11.
(Tickets are not sold at the cave entrance, and tripods are prohibited
on the cave tour.) Because of the altitude and remote, winding roads,
the cave is closed through the winter until May.
As we stumbled down the steep and narrow trail, we wondered if we had
made the right choice after all, what stumbles down must drag itself
back up the trail again! We negotiated the trail with few incidents,
save a scare by a small rattlesnake that was giving its warning to us
as we passed very close to it.
(We were actually at a significant risk because the younger the
rattlesnake, the stronger the venom.) Although the snake wasn't tightly
coiled, it could have delivered a nasty bite to the torso of some
unfortunate hiker. It eyed us suspiciously as we tried to take a
picture of it and then it crawled back into a crack in the rocks.
At the bottom of the trail we gathered with the 2 p.m. tour group and
entered into the wide, cool entrance of the cave that was secured by a
large spider-web-shaped, wrought iron gate. As the 50-degree air of the
cave enveloped us, we were certain that we had made the correct
decision! We spent about 45 minutes in the dark, damp cave looking at
elegantly-sculpted limestone formations. The tour was a delightful
experience, but ended all too soon and we were soon thrust out back
into the heat. Before mounting the trail back up to the parking lot, we
doused ourselves in a pool of cool water at the base of the waterfall.
Between the rocks, the sandy bottom of the creek glittered with mica,
looking like thousands of flakes of gold.
The hike back to the top wasn't as bad as we imagined, and after a
short rest we climbed back in the air-conditioned car and resumed our
drive through this amazing paradise of a forest.
At day's end we drove back down to the heat of the Central Valley, ate
dinner in Visalia and settled into our beds at a motel in Fresno. (We
opted not to camp in the park, choosing air conditioning over the
absence of showers, and the company of night-marauding bears.)
Reluctantly, we left the air conditioned motel to hit the road north to
Gold Country. I had chosen the hottest day of the year to take a Gold Country tour!
As we meandered back up Highway 49, passing through many former gold
mining camps, we blew by maybe 100 historic markers. Knowing better
than to stop, I bypassed all historic sites except for the mining town
Columbia is near the larger town of Sonora. It has long
been designated as a California State Park and has been a tourist site
since the 1930s, making it the best preserved remnant of a California
gold mining town in the state. We braved 104-degree temperatures to pay
a brief visit. The hot weather probably eliminated the usual crush of
tourists, and the shop tenders were tired, frazzled and a bit testy. We
chatted briefly with "Davey Crocket," an in-character docent who took
out his false teeth and mugged for our cameras. I watched as a weary
stagecoach driver and his overheated team of horses delivered one
solitary 10-year-old passenger on the final stage coach ride of the
day. I saw a lot of myself in that 10-year-old kid. I had taken the
same stage coach ride four decades ago when my aunt brought me and my parents here.
The structures seemed smaller they were more monumental in my mind's
eye. Oh, well, it was nice to see the same history still preserved by
the State Park System. (Excuse me for this, but I must make another
pitch, and urge you to let your state legislators and the governor know
that you insist that our beautful State Park system remain intact!) Our
least heat-tolerant tour member made a motion to leave, so we rushed
back to the car and unanimously decided to end this overheated tour of
I think this trip to Sequoia National Park ranks as one of the best
touring experiences I ve ever had and Crystal Cave was well worth the
extra hassle involved. Unfortunately the blast-furnace weather
conditions pretty much made the Gold Country tour an abortive venture.
Better in the off-season. Sequoia will surely be nominated for future
field trip calendars because I want to see even more of this spectacular
© 2009 S.R. Hinrichs
||Sequoia National Park/Gold Country
||June 27-28, 2009
||June 29, 2009