Seeing the Sequoias
Sequoia National Park--truthfully, the dream that brought me to California in the first place. It only makes sense that exploring it would be how I spent my first full day in the state.
I made sure that I got to the park on the earliest shuttle so that I could beat the heat and the crowds. It took about two hours from Visalia to get to the top of the mountains where the park was located. The temperature was perfect--about 55 in the morning, reaching 65 by noon--and I took advantage of it. I decided to hike from the Giant Forest Museum to General Sherman, which turned out to be 3 miles.
Normally, 3 miles wouldn't be much for me, but I was a little unprepared for the weakness that comes with high altitude and skipped meals. But it was a glorious hike; I only passed 6 people the entire time, so I was left alone with the giants and the surprisingly unafraid wildlife.
Trees are magnificent organisms, and every species on Earth (over 60,000 known) is unique and essential to ecosystems of all kinds. But sequoias are something else--they don't even seem like trees.
Obviously, their size is one reason why they appear so alien. By volume, they are the largest in the world, with the big boss of the park, General Sherman, at 275 feet tall, 25 feet in diameter, and a volume of 52,500 cubic feet. But there are a bunch of other weird facts about this species, too.
For example, they actually need fire to survive. The heat of the fire opens up their cones, allowing the tiny seeds to penetrate the ground. While the sequoias are fire-resistant (porous wood, without any sap or resin) and usually do fine with wildfires, the other plants and trees burn away, leaving the sequoia seeds to grow without competition. They also thrive in the ashy soil that the fires leave behind. The black scars on the trunks in these pictures are evidence of forest fires long ago.
They are also SUPER old. They aren't the absolute oldest in the world (some other pines take this title), but they typically live anywhere between 2,000-3,000 years. The President tree is estimated to be 3,200 years old. And scientists aren't sure if they actually ever stop growing! Most of the trees only die when they become so enormous and heavy that they fall over, with greater odds of doing so if the soil is too moist.
Another feature I found fascinating was the texture of the bark: soft, spongy, and not at all what I pictured. I found some slivers of wood on the ground with some strands feathering and fraying, almost like hair. This stuff is sometimes two feet thick, and, despite its flimsy appearance, it works well to protect the core.
Unlike most trees, sequoias don't taper off or become narrower near the top, either. Their trunks remain pretty much the same width from base to canopy, a trait which also contributes to their out-of-this-world phenotype.
To say I felt insignificant walking among these giants is an understatement.
I want to keep these posts brief, but I do have to say that my experience in Sequoia National Park filled my heart with immense joy. I'm so, so happy to have embarked on this trip, and I can't wait for what's in store for me next. And thank you for all the warm feedback so far, it means so much!
All the best,