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Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Contain Largest Living Things on Earth!
Information and pictures of the General Sherman Tree, the General Grant Tree and more will be shared as my friend and I wove our way back and forth between the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks while on vacation one year. Getting to see the magnificent sequoia trees was our primary reason for visiting these parks.
Elevations changes were many and range from about 2,100 to 7,500 ft. at the various campsites and the elevations proceed on up to almost 14,450 ft. above sea level although beyond the higher elevations of the camps it is no longer accessible by roads.
One day in the latter month of May we experienced every type of weather from bright glistening sunshine to pelting rain to a fairly heavy snowfall and even sleet. The more inclement weather was at the higher elevations.
Kings Canyon National Park (the more northern one of the two) adjoins the Sequoia National Park and tall redwoods and the sequoias are to be found in both of the parks.
Kings Canyon National Park
My traveling companion and I actually stayed at lodging in Kings Canyon National Park for the duration of our visit to both national parks.
Cabins were built amidst the trees and each structure had two units under one roof each providing one bedroom with two beds and a bathroom. That is nice for families who travel together but might wish to have a little privacy. There was a shared landing.
At the main lodge strict warnings were given to take all foodstuffs out of one's vehicles to keep bears from smashing windows and entering the cars. Anything with a scent including toothpaste, talcum powder and the like was also to be taken inside. Graphic pictures of the damage done to vehicles was posted to ensure people adhering to the guidelines having to do with safety for both the bears and people.
Driving in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
There was snow on the ground with banks of about three to five feet and more upon our arrival. When we awakened the next morning a fresh snow had fallen overnight bejeweling the tree branches with pearly and sparkling white adornments and making my German friend fearful that we might become stranded. However the roads were passable and we proceeded to explore the parks.
Because of the twisting and turning roads winding through the parks most speed limits are at 25 MPH or even less. So if driving plan to take that into account. One would wish to do that in any case because of the spectacular scenery that is seen around every bend of the road.
Fallen Monarch Tree
Sequoia trees are known to live up to 3,000 years and even longer. They actually predate most of the world's major religions!
When giants like these topple and have been hollowed out by fires they make great shelters. There was a sign posted near one tree that gave the following information:
- "After the grove was set aside as General Grant National Park in 1890, the log was used for a while as an employee camp.
- Bears and other lesser creatures have most likely used the Fallen Monarch for shelter. Undoubtedly, the Indians that came to the high country in the summer-time used the hollow trees. Homesteaders Thomas and Israel Gamlin used the log as a house and a saloon to serve visitors to the area. Also, the U.S. Cavalry used the tree as a stable for their horses.
- Early day visitors to the Big Trees were served meals and liquid refreshment here."
While no longer utilized in this manner visitors can walk upright through the Fallen Monarch and with its massive size understand how and why it has been utilized in these various manners throughout the years.
Geology of Sequoia and Kings Canyon
The location of these parks is in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range of California.
Many areas of these parks were scoured by glaciers which came down from the north during the Ice Age and carved valleys and lakes in this region. Recent theories have also upheld the idea of tectonic plate movement as also being responsible for the landscape. The fact of calcium deposits originating in the sea from shells and bones of sea creatures found on top of the granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range tend to confirm that idea.
The Pacific ocean plate moved under the the western part of the North American plate causing this uplift. There are also numerous caves in this region with calcium deposits. Because of the snowy weather and our time constraints my friend and I did not get to explore any of the caves in these national parks but rather spent our time hitting some of the highlighted areas more easily accessible by car.
Even the trails except where short and well traveled became obliterated by snow in the upper elevations of the parks. At one point venturing off of the hard packed snow my legs sunk into the snow and I was almost waist deep. It took some maneuvering to get out of that predicament and I was fearful that I would actually lose my shoes in that frantic effort to wiggle myself out of that snowbank but all ended well. You can be certain that I stayed on the paths after that experience!
General Grant Tree
- Did you know that the United States has a living Christmas Tree? Back in 1926 President Calvin Coolidge bestowed that honor. In addition that same tree was declared a living National Shrine in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower.
- Located in Kings Canyon National Park in the Grant Grove section of the park it rises 267 feet (81.4 m) high above the ground. The General Grant tree is reputed to be over 1,600 years old.
General Sherman Tree
- This is reputed to be the World's Largest Living Thing on Earth!
- It is neither the tallest, widest at the base nor oldest of the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) trees but due to its rapid growth it has attained an overall mass that exceeds any other measurable tree anywhere else on the earth.
- The General Sherman Tree is estimated to be between 2300 to 2700 years old. The General Grant tree runs a close second by way of overall volume of wood and has a 40 foot diameter.
- According to a sign posted near the General Sherman tree the first large branch is 130 feet (39.6 m.) from the ground! One can stare upwards in awe towards the sky as this tree and others in these parks seemingly stretch towards the heavens.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Effects of Fire on Sequoia Trees
- In the case of sequoias occasional fires can actually be good. Their thick reddish tinged bark which can be up to a foot and a half thick is fire resistant. If the tree is harmed by fire new bark encases the wound and grows over it.
- While the forest can be cleared of other less fire resistant trees and plant life this clears the way for sequoia seeds to find fertile soil and some needed sunlight in order to propagate the species.
- The tight scales of sequoia pine cones actually open and release their seeds from the heat generated by fire. Without that heat they can stay closed tightly for a matter of years!
- Another seed distribution method occurs when squirrels feast on mature pine cones and inadvertently scatter the seeds. Probably best known is the pine squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) also known as the Douglas Squirrel or Chickaree who severs thousands of cones from sequoia trees each year.
- Each cone contains 100 to 300 minuscule seeds but once released and finding just the right growing condition that tiny seed can germinate and begin its long life. Since a mature sequoia tree can live for thousands of years it only takes one successful germination to keep the species going.
Giant Forest and the Lumber Industry
What helped save the sequoias for numerous future generations of people to see and enjoy when the lumbering industry started clear cutting these old growth forests is the actual wood of the sequoias.
Back during the late 1800s lumber companies became enamored with the thought of harvesting these giant sequoias for the amount of wood each tree would furnish. However after weeks of work by lumberjacks attacking just one massive tree with saws, when a sequoia would finally topple to the ground the wood shattered. Amazingly the wood is very brittle so was ultimately used just for little things like stakes, shingles and fence posts.
Harvesting of these giants ceased by about 1915 as it was just not profitable for the lumber companies. Sawdust still surrounds tree stumps left behind when these sequoias were toppled as if the lumbering process just happened recently! So amazingly while the wood does not have great strength it also does not decay easily.
Giant Sequoia Trees and Man
One thing learned through the years since man has become more mobile with the use of automobiles and ease of travel is another factor with regard to preserving these long lived giants of the forest. Cars used to be able to drive through hollowed out sections of a few of these sequoia trees. Cabins were built amidst these groves of beauties and millions of people have walked around these trees.
The consequences of all of this increased activity helped to compact the soil and also cause much of the soil to be eroded exposing sequoia roots to irreparable damage. Now people are encouraged to stay on well marked paths and cabins are being moved out of these sequoia groves to help further preserve these beauties so that they do not come crashing down to the earth. What a sound that must make!
The cabins shown in the photo above were due to be removed the following year after our vacation there.
Old photo when cars drove through sequoia trees.
Wawona Tunnel Tree
The photograph above shows my relatives and my grandparent's car which had just driven through a sequoia tree in Yosemite National Park just to the north of Kings Canyon National Park back in earlier years. The tunnel was created in 1881 and sadly the tree collapsed in 1969 which is why this type of activity is no longer allowed in any of the parks where sequoia trees reside.
The famous naturalist John Muir and photographer Ansel Adams can be credited with bringing attention to these beautiful areas and helping to ensure their preservation for the masses by ultimately succeeding in having them protected as national forests and finally national parks.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the papers in 1940 creating Kings Canyon National Park. Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the United States.
Commercial development within the heart of the giant sequoias has now been removed and a more pristine and natural environment is the goal. Even where there are no roads access to the wilderness areas of the parks is controlled with a quota system of governance in order to help preserve this glorious environment.
One could obviously spend weeks or longer exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and viewing sites like the General Sherman Tree and more. Highlights of this post may entice you to vacation there and view some of this grandeur for yourself someday.
Roads and Scenery in Kings Canyon National ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
Have you or would you like to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks?
Beautiful slide show of Sequoia and Kings Canyon with music "Somewhere in Time"
© 2011 Peggy Woods