John Muir’s Grand Valley ~ Sequoia National Park (Part 1)

“In the vast Sierra wilderness far to the southward of the famous Yosemite Valley, there is a yet grander valley of the same kind.”  ~  John Muir (1891)

John Muir, famous naturalist, wrote this about the ground we trod on today, Sequoia National Park.  Second only to Yellowstone National Park, relative to age, Sequoia was established on September 25, 1890. This grand valley spans 404,063 acres and is one of California’s more special and least visited treasures, most likely because it is a wee bit off the beaten path. That seems to be the only logical explanation because with what it has to offer, no one should miss this gem.

Surrounded by a valley laden with fruit orchards, olive groves, and small farms, we are getting our fill of fresh fruits and vegetables and by the end of our stay, we’ll be saying the same about hiking.  What a beautiful setting to get out into nature and the weather is darn near perfect, especially when you head up about 7000 feet into the park.

Some fun facts about Sequoia National Park:

  1. It has the largest tree in the world within its boundaries – General Sherman Tree.
  2. On the eastern border of the park rises the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states – Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet.
  3. It has the second largest “road-free” wilderness area in the U.S. (84% of the park can only be accessed on foot or by horseback).
  4. It is home to over 240 known caves, including California’s longest at over 20 miles.
If you are heading up to Sequoia be advised that there is a huge construction project underway which impacts the road leading into the park, so timing is everything.  They seem to have their act together tho so visitors can time their arrival to the construction site and pretty much know how long the wait will be.  This is a 27-year project which is about half-finished and it is going to be beautiful when complete.  Progress moves along at about 3 miles per year.  Wish Yellowstone could get this kind of project approved.
Beautiful stone walls are part of the project.
We entered the park at about 900 feet above sea level and arrived at the Lodgepole Visitor Center at ~7000 feet elevation.  We decided to hike out the Tokopah Valley Trail, a 3.5 mile round-trip out to Tokopah Falls, a grand cascading sheet of water.  The hike out was through a pine forest, which occasionally opened up to reveal craggy granite peaks.
tokopah falls
Tokopah Falls
Today was a day of sightseeing as well and  here are a few of what we consider “must see”:
General Sherman Tree
general sherman tree
General Sherman Tree
Considered the largest tree on Earth, it tops out at 275 feet tall; its trunk weighs 1385 tons; and its circumference at the ground is nearly 103 feet! With arms outstretched, it would take 21 of me to give it a big bear hug!  Each year it adds another 60 feet to its girth and the largest branch on this stately giant is almost 7 feet in diameter.  It is estimated to be between 2300 – 2700 years old, the granddaddy of all living sequoia.  The oldest known sequoia lived more than 3200 years.
Sequoia are very hardy trees, resistant to most insects and fungi, due to tannins in the bark and leaves, and the thickness of that hard outer shell –  nearly two feet.  Their main cause of death is due to toppling, as they have a shallow root system and no tap root.  They are very particular where they lay down roots, growing naturally only on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, most often between 5000 – 7000 feet.
As gigantic as they are, mature female cones on a sequoia are only about the size of a chicken egg, each holding about 200 seeds.  Trees are best propagated by way of fire (not unlike the lodgepole pine) when the heat causes the cone to pop open, spreading its oat flake-sized seeds.  They heal very quickly from fire and we learned that all sequoia within the Giant Forest have been through several fires.
Moro Rock
Counting the steps up Moro Rock

Follow the signs to the parking lot and take the 350ish stairs to the top of this granite dome, which tops out at 6725 feet.  It’s the ‘ish‘ that could be a problem for those who don’t like heights or a steady uphill climb.  The first 350 steps are a breeze!

Made it to the top!

Giant Forest

Take a walk through this mystical land of stately giants, where General Sherman tree resides and a host of sentinels stand guard over him.  Five of the ten largest sequoia live in the Giant Forest.  Washington Tree, second largest of these magnificent specimen, also lives here.

Tunnel Log

Drive your vehicle through this fallen sequoia for a little perspective.  This sequoia fell on December 4, 1937.  The diameter of its base was 21 feet and it was the height of General Sherman Tree, 275 feet.  The tunnel that can be driven through is 8 feet high and 17 feet across.

tunnel log
Traveling through Tunnel Log

Crescent Meadow

Take a stroll through this pristine meadow on your way to Tharp’s Log.  We were hoping for a bear in the meadow but all we got were two deer (not in this photo).

crescent meadow
Crescent Meadow

Tharp’s Log

Hale Tharp, pioneer resident of Three Rivers, first visited Giant Forest (which is where Tharp’s Log was built) in 1858.  He built this rustic cabin at the end of a giant sequoia and lived here from 1861 until the National Park was established in 1890.  He used Crescent Meadows for his livestock.

tharp's log
Tharp’s Log

Giant, cinnamon-colored sequoia, granite domes rising from the valley floor, roaring rivers and waterfalls, alpine meadows, and 800 miles of hiking trails in this grand valley are certainly enough to tantalize any nature lover.  We look forward to hiking some of her trails in the upcoming days.

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