Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Day with the Giants

"Be Driven. The Sequoia Shuttle."

The title of the brochure at the Visitors' Center in Visalia, CA, was a most welcome greeting. The thought of having someone else drive the two-hour route with its climb of a few thousand feet and 137 curves in the segment from the entrance to Sequoia National Park and the Giant Forest Museum was very appealing--and for only $15.

So, within a day of arriving at our RV park in Visalia, we had our reservations.

Giving Kaweah Lake a long look while being a passenger was rewarding.

This green pasture and wooded area near Kaweah Lake was one of the few such settings along the route to the Park.

This row of cypress trees along the side of the field reminded of us of similar cypress rows characterizing villas in the Tuscany region of Italy.

Arriving at the Museum, we were "greeted" by The Sentinel, one of the giant sequoias. This was our introduction to the cinnamon-colored Big Trees, members of the redwood family. As we photographed these trees, we were struck by the very bright bark, unlike any other type of tree we had ever seen.

Sequoias grow naturally only on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, almost always between 5,000 and 7,000 feet of elevation.

In one of the Park's brochures, I read the following quote of John Muir's describing the members of the Giant Forest: "When I entered this sublime wilderness, the day was nearly done. The trees with rosy, glowing countenances seemed to be hushed and thoughtful, as if waiting in conscious religious dependence on the sun, and one naturally walked softly and awestricken among them." These silent giants seemed to welcome the four generations of one family from Israel who asked me to take their picture in front of the General Sherman Tree (left), standing 275 feet tall and estimated to be 2,200 years old. It is identified as the world's largest living thing.

"While most of the Sierra trees die of disease, fungi, etc.," wrote John Muir, "nothing hurts the Big Tree. Barring accidents, it seems to be immortal." Chemicals in the wood and bark provide resistance to insects and fungi, and thick bark insulates them from most fires.

The main cause of sequoia deaths is toppling. They have a shallow root system with no taproot. Soil moisture, root damage, and strong winds can lead to toppling.

There are over 40 miles of trails in the Giant Forest and 800 miles in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Parks. This is a trailhead near the Wuksachi Lodge.

Thanks to John Muir and other conservationists who worked to protect Sierra tracts from logging in the 1880s, Sequoia National Park was created in 1890, making it the second oldest national park.

Compared to the sequoias, the California redwoods are taller, but thinner and are found along the coasts of northern and central California; sequoias are much older and are larger (by weight). Walking through the woods of fir trees, we could find lone sequoias among the firs. Just seeing these massive trees is strangely relaxing, we walked slower and lingered longer on benches and large rocks.

We were headed toward this meadow at one of the shuttle stops in the Park, when we met a Ranger on the trail. She was standing by the trail looking along its borders. It seems that she had received reports of a rattlesnake in the area. It was a short walk.

Then it was back to the Museum to meet the shuttle back to Visalia. These next two photos show the winding road (left) on the way out of the park and

the mountains that the road followed with a series of turns.

Finally, this is another view of Kaweah Lake as we neared Visalia. Being a passenger to view these scenes was most enjoyable.

We have been staying close to the news reports of the Station Fire near Glendale, just north of Los Angeles. Some 200 square miles have been burned; two firemen died, but amazingly relatively few homes have been destroyed. We're due to be headed toward a site near the fire later this week.

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