Sequoia National Park, California

Meeting the legendary giant sequoias, some of the largest and oldest trees in the world was an exciting moment we were looking forward to experience since our departure.

Sequoia National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, adjacent to Kings Canyon National Park. Here one can marvel among towering sequoias appearing to reach the skies and meet the largest known living single stem tree on Earth that lived for 2200 years, the General Sherman. We were fascinated by this encounter.

Trying to catch half the size of these Giant Sequoias
Trying to catch half the size of these Giant Sequoias

Driving from Death Valley towards Sequoia National Park through the southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range was a sweet ride. The landscape changed dramatically, from the deserted Death Valley to enjoyable hills covered with sparse green vegetation and orange farms on the east of San Joaquin Valley. We saw haciendas that reminded us of the charming Spanish colonial heritage and somehow that scenary resembled more with Mexico than the traditional USA we were experiencing in the previous weeks.

Throughout the valley we found roadside markets selling local produce. We stoped excited to buy natural orange flower honey, avocado, garlic, pomegranate and mango. It felt refreshing, as we were in a new territory.

The hot weather turned to pleasant as we reached higher elevations taking California Highway 198 to enter the park.

This was a great choice as this road offered us a dramatic introduction to the Giant Sequoia trees. The highway goes directly through the Generals Highway where the sequoias are literally right next to the road!

The road is steep and winding however it is an awesome drive with lots of neck stretches and stops trying to reach by eyesight the height of these living giants. One really needs to knee and calculate a decent distance to catch one tree in one single picture 🙂 It was an astonishing moment, we were seeing for the first time for real the giant sequoias.

We reached the park pretty late that day so we rushed to the visitor center to gather information before the sunset. We wanted to find the trail that would take us to the Giant Forest, the area where the General Sherman is located.

The General Sherman is the world's largest tree measured by volume, standing 90m tall and with a trunk base of 5.3m in diameter weighting over 1300 tones. It is really impressive and difficult to make fit in one snapshot! Basically General Sherman is as high as a 27-story building. With a trunk circumference of 31 meters, each year General Sherman grows enough to produce another 18 meters tall tree. But what is most fascinating is to realize it has 2200 years old! Basically is older than the Bible!

We were simply enchanted as we walked the trail through the Giant Forest. A series of massive sequoia trees, one more beautiful than the other, one more impressive than the other. We walked around for a while admiring the extraordinary scene, the General Sherman, learning about these majestic trees. We couldn’t stop wondering how much they must have witnessed over 2 millennia. 

You might wonder how did they live so long? What makes them such survivors?

We learned that what determines the sequoias to live that long and grow so tall is their bark and wood full of the chemical called, tannins resistant to diseases, rot, fungus and insects. The thick fibrous bark also provides superior insulation against forest fires; therefore, the tree doesn’t burn down easily. Actually, forest fires help the giant sequoias burning other vegetation, thus reducing competition for sunlight, water and nutrients. The fire heat also kills soil fungus that can harm their roots. Their cones hang on green and close up to 20 years and fire aids seedlings sprout making the cone dry, open and dropping the seeds. Besides, the ashes fertilize the ground creating the ideal conditions for the seeds to germinate and grow.

Pretty big these sequoia cones!
Pretty big these sequoia cones!

The sequoia trees can only die if they fall over. Their weakness is the shallow root system with no taproot. The soil moisture, root damage and strong winds can lead to toppling.

It was really impressive to observe some of the oldest trees on our planet, some older than Christianity and the world as we know. We have so much respect for these trees, for what they went through, for the numerous blizzards and forest fires they endured, for what they witnessed. More than 2000 years and ready for more, ready to outlast.

Experiencing this type of nature one can only feel humbled relating to our ephemeral path on Earth.

It was 5pm when the sunset approached. The temperature fell sharply. We were soon at 10C degrees and even wearing jackets felt cold. As we were driving north searching a wild camping spot to overnight, the palette of orange shades formed by the sunset in the horizon created a scenic drive adding magic to the forest. 

We took a service road for couple of kilometers away from Generals Highway and found a sweet spot in between gigantic sequoia trees. We were in the bear country again, and signs were everywhere. We were carefully venturing into the forest in the dark.

Next morning, we woke up with ice hanging out of our stairs. It had been a very cold night, but the sunlight disclosed a majestic view of the sequoias surrounding us. We found countless giant sequoia cones dropped on the land. I wanted to pick them all up to grow some giant sequoia in Romania one day 🙂 But JP said we could not do that as we were not allowed ☹ 

We left full of energy the sequoia forest heading towards Yosemite National Park, our next adventure.

About the author: Ioana Marins

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