It is really easy to get information about what you see during your visit of Sequoia National Park. Beside most hiking trails signs in tree-like shape are installed. They show lots of information about specific trees and the plants and wildlife of the park in general. The sign on this photo shows information on the General Sherman Tree, the largest living thing on earth. It can be found beside the tree.
The one weakness the great sequoia does have is its shallow root system. While this helps them in dry summer months, allowing them to gather moisture along a greater area of the surface, it does lead to some of them just falling down. This root system can extend to over 50 feet from the tree's base. It is for the reason that most of the trees in heavily visited areas have fences around them. How would you like several million people stepping on your toes every year?
The Sequoia is a hearty tree with such a thick bark full of tannins it can resist fire, disease and insect damage which makes for some very old trees indeed with some living over 3000 years. We saw many fire damaged trees with charred marks on their trunks which showed no sign of being slowed down by what were to them mere cosmetic scars.
Giant sequoias are so big it is difficult to gage from photos and even seeing one in the distance sheds little light on their immensity due to their being next to other large trees. To get some perspective, the National Park provides some interesting facts. The largest of these trees are as high as a 26 story building and the diameter of their base as long as several streets. Some of the trees in the park are estimated to be 2700 years old. There are older trees like the 5000 year old bristle-cone pines also in California and taller trees like their coastal cousin, the redwood but the sequoia remains the most awe-inspiring. Standing next to the giant wonders may give you an idea of how massive they are but truly what it does is show how small and short-lived we are.
Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks are treated as one with regard to fees despite their both being quite large. It costs $20 for a car to enter both parks for a period of up to one week, quite reasonable when you consider just how big an area you are talking about. Now, most of that area is wilderness and to see much of King's Canyon in particular, you would have to do some serious hiking and truthfully, some backpacking.
We were traveling with the America The Beautiful Pass which allows access to all National Parks, Monuments, and Federally Administered Lands for a period of one year for $80 per car. If you were to just visit Sequoia and Yosemite, it would cost you half that amount so it is one of the best travel values going.
The teenagers in your party, and closely monitored younger children will enjoy a photo opportunity on top of Tunnel Rock. You used to be able to drive through it. I guess they had to put that to an end with the advent of SUVs...? The clearance did seem a little low.
The stop at Tunnel Rock is on the way from Three Rivers to Moro Rock and the Giant Forest. It's a good spot to get out and stretch your legs. There's a great view into the valley on the other side of the road. Be careful crossing from the pull-out to the rock - eager travelers coming out of the park don't have much warning of your presence.
I think many people have heard about the California wildfires and the damage they have caused. But I was surprised to learn that many fires are started by the park service in certain areas and are considered necessary for the areas that are being burned.
Apparently, Sequoias sprout from seeds so small and light, they look like oat flakes. Mature trees may produce each year, 2,000 chicken's egg-sized cones, collectively bearing 500,000 seeds, dispersed only as cones are opened. Cones hang on the tree green and closed for up to 20 years. Douglas squirrels or the larvae of a tiny cone-boring beetle may cause cones to open, but fire is the key agent in the dispersal of seeds. It causes the cone to dry, open, and drop its seeds. The fire also consumes logs and branches that have accumulated on the forest floor. Their ashes form fertile seedbeds and enhance sequoia seedling survival. The fire cycle ensures seed release and seedbed fertility.
In the summer, signs are posted in the areas where fires have been started, stating that the fire was started voluntarily and asking visitors not to report it as the park service is aware of it.
Sequoias grow naturally only on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, at an elevation between 5,000 to 7,000 feet. While most trees die of disease, the Sequoias are practically immune from such common ailments. Chemicals in the wood and bark provide resistance to insects and fungi and make the wood impervious to decay. Since the sequoias continue to live and grow, they become the oldest and tallest living things on our planet.
These young sequoias in the picture can live for another 3,000 years if they remain in a sturdy environment. The main cause of death for sequoias is toppling. Despite their impressive size, the trees have a shallow root system. Soil, moisture, root damage and wind can cause sequoias to topple over.
My friend Scott (Herzog63) noticed that there was an eye in the front sequoia in the photo featured on my intro page. Scott thought it looked like George Washington's left eye on the one dollar bill. His wife looked at the photo and saw an entire face. I suggested to Scott that maybe this was the face of the Virgin Mary and he said that some other folks to whom he had shown the picture in Kodiak had thought the same thing.
So what do you think. Is this a mystical appearance?
The giant sequoia tree in the foreground is called the Sentinel Tree and it is perhaps the most perfectly formed sequoia in the park.
Inside the museum (no charge) there is an atractive set of displays that present information in an easy to understand format with plenty of visual aids. We learned that there are 91,000 sequoia seeds to the pound.
The museum is no more than a brief pit stop, however. It does not take more than twenty minutes to view and read all the displays, and see the short movie. But that is fine because you don't want to spend time indoors in a museum when the giant trees themselves are lurking just outside the front door.
The sequoia live for thousands of years. During those centuries there have been many, many, fires. But the fully developed sequoia laugh off the destructive forces of the incendiary flames. A fully grown sequoia will not be vanquished by a forest fire. They may show burn marks as portrayed by this photo--but it is a minor hurdle on the way to becoming a full grown multi-hundred foot sequoia.
Sadly, whenever we tell people that we visited Sequoia National Park, the first thing that pops out of people's mouths is: "Did you drive through a Sequoia?" Believe me--it is not the greatest thrill driving through a toppled sequoia that has been tunneled to allow a drive-through. But there is no question that it is a family favorite for those tourists who drive from one must see attraction to the next must see attraction without ever taking the time to go for a stroll in the woods. These days the National Park Service does not tunnel through dead sequoias for the amusement of its visitors--though it does maintain these few remnants of a past era when the park was more of an amusement arena than a national treasure.
Just for fun.
How to pronounce a few local words:
Tulare (Tuh-larry or To-larry)
Yokohl (rhymes with "local')
Local residents outside the park are casual and friendly for the most part. Don't be afraid to ask a question or ask directions. If you stray off the beaten path in Tulare County, you might be surprised to find that you are sharing the road with a tractor or harvester. Haha
A good deal of the fresh produce in the US is grown in this part of California. Buy some seasonal fruit from a roadside stand --- skip the grocery store. It's so good!
Sequioa is prime habitat for Black bears. They can be seen anywhere in the park but tend to love the meadow of the big trees trail.
Get some people in the picture. This helps to show the real size of the trees...and keeps the family entertained.