In the land of the Giants

Trip Start Apr 20, 2012
Trip End Sep 01, 2012

Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, June 14, 2012

Today certainly lived up to (at least my) wildest expectations. We had lovely cool weather for sleeping in and didn't arise from the tent until the sun had cleared the mountain tops and begun to warm the air. We had a relaxing breakfast and the kids went and played in the stream across from the campsite for about an hour in the still and quiet morning air. Then we loaded up into Odie with a backpack full of sandwiches and snacks and headed out to explore the Giant Forest and head for General Sherman, purportedly the biggest tree in the world. Our first stop was the Giant Tree Museum where we learned some interesting facts about Sequoia trees. They are considered to be the largest trees in the world. This is despite the fact that there are some trees that have bigger trunks and others that are taller, but none can compete with the sheer volume of wood contained in a Sequoia. On our drive we also drove through an area of controlled burnoff in the understory of the giant forest. Apparently, for a long time the National Park Service relentlessly fought fires in the area as a means of preserving and protecting the trees. Only recently, however, has it been understood that the regular fires that traditionally occurred in the forest helped to create the conditions necessary for Sequoias to grow. They can't compete in a crowded understory and the fires burnt out lots of the litter on the floor paving the way for Sequoia seedlings. Also, due to the low levels of sap and resin in these trees, they are very resistant to fires as long as the fire remains below the crown/branches of the tree. We also learned that Sequoia National Park is the second oldest park in the country having been established in 1890. For a large part of the park's history there was tremendous development in terms of buildings and lodging and gas stations and the sheer volume of car traffic was staggering. In the 1950's it was realized how delicate and sensitive these giant trees are due to their shallow root systems and the masses of people and the park services that were generated and developed as a result of the park formation, had been inadvertently destroying the stands of trees. So…..well done the National Park Service, they removed almost all of the development, buildings and services and paved a small number of roads and carefully laid out trails in order to protect the trees for future generations. The above is just some of what we learned in the museum.
After the Museum tour and general knowledge gain, we went for a short walk along the "Trail of Giants". On this trail we saw the twin trees called Ed and Ned and many other Sequoias around an alpine meadow. However, the track was cut short due to the smoke resulting from one of the controlled burnoffs. So we headed down another road towards Tharp Log, a hollowed out Sequoia trunk where Jim Tharp would come and live every summer in the late 1800's while his cattle grazed a neighboring meadow. This was a great walk around another meadow and through a stand of fairly mature Sequoias. Along the way we spotted some little fish in an alpine stream, fields of tiny pink and yellow flowers and even got to drive Odie through the trunk of a fallen Sequoia. We were sure this was prime bear habitat and everywhere we went and parked the car we saw signs advertising this as "active bear country, please use bins provided for storing food and don't leave food in plain sight in your vehicle". None were spotted and we simply enjoyed the walk.
Finally, it was time to park and walk to the tree known as General Sherman. He is advertised as the biggest tree in the world in terms of the sheer volume of wood in his trunk!!! Apparently, if he was milled into 1 inch by 12 inch planks, they would reach over 913 miles when laid end to end. The tree did not disappoint and all day Tim was excitedly telling the whole family how exciting it was that they would today see the biggest tree in the world. The only drawback, is that it would have been perfect to spend an hour in the company of the tree with no other people present. But, this is America and it is a tourist attraction so we had to make do with staring at the top 2/3 of the trunk and tuning everyone and everything else out. 
We ended our tour by stopping at the Visitor Center, buying some badges and watching the video entitled Bears of Sequoia. It was informative and certainly continued to pique our interest in seeing another bear. We headed back to camp, had a relaxing rest of the afternoon which was punctuated by an exploration up the river and waterfall across from our campsite and a trip back to the Camp Store for an ice cream. On our exploration we gathered some firewood and after dinner we had a proper fire for roasting marshmallows and having smores. In my mind, at least, this day was perfect!!!!! What could be better than exploring a grove of giant trees with your family, camping in a beautiful and cool alpine setting and having a fire to end the day. Bring on Yosemite tomorrow!!!!
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Looks absolutely stunning.

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