Sequoia NP, CA 2021
In August 2021, my wife (Becky) and I visited the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. Due to the exceptional remoteness and diversity of Sequoia and Kings Canyon, several plant and animal species live here and nowhere else. In the Sierra Nevada, the region’s Mediterranean climate is altered by the mountains themselves. [Mediterranean climates occur between 30-45 degrees above and below the equator, and are defined by warm, sunny, and dry summers and wet, cool winters.]
Particularly, the sunny western slopes of the Sierra Nevada offer among the greatest tree diversity and height in all of North America’s forests. From oak-populated scrubland to the magnificent forests of the giants (sequoias, redwoods, pines, and firs) and the High Sierra’s hardy conifers (lodgepole, white-back and foxtail pines), each species is perfectly adapted to their present situation.
In the Sequoia National Park, Becky and I say the two largest trees in the world. Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron Giganteum) are the largest trees by volume on earth, measuring 8 meters wide at the base and nearly 90 meters high.
Sequoias have a rare combination of traits—-fast growth and long life. Put those together with sufficient water and you get a huge tree. Several adaptations help them to survive many challenges that kill other trees. For instance, the Sequoia has “Tannins” in bark and wood resist disease, rot and insects.
Determining the age of a large, living sequoia is hard. Coring techniques used on smaller trees would create big holes in the trunk, if drilled to the middle of a huge sequoia. Instead, scientists measure just the outer rings. Then they apply mathematical formulas based on old stumps, whose rings could actually be counted. Using this method, scientists estimate that the largest sequoias in the Sequoia National Park, are between 1,800 and 3,000 years old. In fact, adult sequoias add 30 centimeters in diameter to their trunks each year. These giants can weigh as many as 2.7 million pounds.
Pictured above, the girth at ground level for the world’s largest tree, “General Sherman”, is 31.2 meters. Pictured below, the second largest tree, “General Grant”, measures 32.8 meters around. Though Grant is wider at i’s base, Sherman is taller by almost 2.1 meters, measuring 83.8 meters in height. Even the branches of these trees are mind-boggling. One of General Sherman’s branches, when it broke off in 1978, measured 2 meter in diameter and 45.7 meters long. About the size of the Statue of Liberty, the General Sherman Sequoia is estimated to be 2,300-2.700 years old.
Pictured above, named the Nation’s Christmas Tree in 1926, the “General Grant Tree is set in a grove of it’s fellow sequoias and is estimated to be about 1,650 years old. Around the base of the vast tree, we saw many notches, fire scars and other signs of survival on the special sequoia.
Pictured below, an interesting element in the grove is a hollowed-out sequoia, known as the “Fallen Monarch”. We walked through the entirety of the fallen tree, which was once use to stable the U.S. cavalry’s horses.
Giant sequoias are found in just one place: a narrow band that runs 419 kilometers from north to south on the western side of the Sierra Nevada. They sit at an elevation of 820-2,719 meters in snow-fed canyons and hillsides. They require a specific amount of water, thanks to their shallow roots, which extend about a third as wide as the tree is tall. If the soil is too wet, the tree falls over. If it’s too dry, the sequoias cannot survive under the hot summer sun, (pictured below). However, due to climate change of the earth, changes to snow and rainfall has increased intensity in the area. The giant sequoia, although a survivor of millennia of change to the climate thus far, may be the least equipped to adapt to the increased heat. This is partly due to an inability to migrate, (most of its seeds fall close to the parent tree).
The historic drought of 2012-2016 radically altered the forest of the southern Sierra Nevada. By the end of the drought, 100 million trees had died. In some places, 90% of the trees died.
Sequoias are known for their red bark, the tannin of which works as a natural deterrent against insects. This bark can be thicker than 0.6 meters and insulates the tree’s inner layers, protecting it from fire. Actually, this summer of 2021, fire was an issue within the Sequoia National Park. After Beck and I left, wildfire damaged much of the park.
Pictured above and below; it’s fire that helps it reproduce. Oddly, the tree’s cones release seeds only after the heat of a fire fries them out.
The naming of a sequoia is an honor bestowed on prominent members of society, Several of these giant trees are named for people who played a role in their early conservation—and their destruction. Many of Giant Forest’s named trees are political in nature. However, the Sequoia that Becky and I are standing next to is called the Sentinel. Outside the museum, the Sentinel Tree provides an example of an “average” sequoia. Amazingly, this seven hundred ton giant is about half the size of the General Sherman Tree.
Pictured below, Becky and I took a stroll around an easy paved trail encircling “Round Meadow”. The Round Meadow trail is surrounded by immense old sequoias, and epitomizes the distinctive scenery of the Giant Forest, (pictured below: no other old-growth sequoia grove has big meadows like this).
Round Meadow is one of the best meadows in the Giant Forest, with a lot of really big sequoias right at its edge. The biggest trees are at the beginning and end of the loop, but there are some more big trees and great views of the meadow at about the halfway point, (pictured below).
Bare knobs of granite rise along the trail to this mountain meadow. The course sand into which the granite weathers—sand made up, like the granite, of both quartz and feldspar grains. Mica and hornblende have altered to clay minerals and hematite, the latter giving the sand it’s rusty color. The meadow itself, now filled with fallen trees and marsh vegetation, was once a small lake formed in a shallow depression on the poorly draining west slope of the Sierra block, (pictured below). Note that the bedrock is very close to the surface and the Sequoia root system stays relatively shallow to the surface.
Timber seekers, lured by the groves of giant sequoias, imported equipment and teams of men and mules into the forests in the late 1800s. From 1893-1907, the Sanger Lumber Company operated Converse Mill, cutting down 200 sequoias in Indian Basin Grove and clear-cutting the Converse Basin, which had been the largest of all the sequoia groves in the world.
When logging operations were finally restricted in 1920, 200 million board feet of sequoia wood had been harvested, accompanied by many other species of trees. Pictured below are some of the other species: Red Firs, Sugar Pines, Ponderosa Pines & Gray Pines.
Early explorers told of giant trees, but the public remained skeptical. At least three sequoias died to prove that they lived. Cut into pieces, they were shipped across the country to exhibit as freaks. All that remains of the tree that once stood in the Giant Forest Grove is the Centennial Stump. Cut in 1875 for America’s Centennial Exhibition. Five meters of the trunk were hollowed out and then reassembled in Philadelphia. People laughed it off as the “California Hoax.” It took 2 men, 9 days to chop down the tree. Ladies from a nearby logging camp, conducted Sunday School Services for their children upon the stump.
The drive from Grant Grove to Kings Canyon took us from the plateau-like west-dipping slope of the Sierra Nevada to the bottom of the deepest canyon in the range.
The rocks through which we passed were typical Sierra rocks; (assorted granites of the Sierra Nevada Batholith interspersed with roof-pendant metamorphic rocks such as quartzite, phyllite, marble, schist, and gneiss tilted on end).
Almost 2,500 meters deep, Kings Canyon is North America’s deepest river canyon. Partly the result of erosion by the Kings River, and the action of glaciers over several ice ages scouring their way down the valley, the river drops 4,051 meters along it’s course, the greatest vertical drop for any river in the United States.
Thunderously powerful after the spring melt, it still grinds down the region’s rock.
Located in California’s southern Sierra Nevada, kings Canyon is mostly granite, with black pillow lavas and delicate green serpentinite offsetting beautiful, light blue-grey limestone with giant marble bands, (the remnants of a seafloor uplifted 200 million years ago).
Pictured above, the highway enters the park just below Cedar Grove, having come upriver through the spectacular V-shaped gorge of the South Fork of the Kings River, in places nearly 2500 meters deep. Above Cedar Grove the canyon profile changes from the V-shaped of the river-cut gorge to the trough-like U-shape of a glaciated valley.
While exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Becky and I stayed at Lindsay, California. This intrigued me, because my last name is Lindsay. Below are photos that I took of the town.