It has been more than a month since our last adventure and Long was itching to go to another place. He preferred more of a nature adventure this time and he suggested the Sequoia National Park located almost 4 hours from San Jose. Freeway 99 is the main highway to Visalia where a road that leads directly to the national park. We travel from 10am to almost noon and passed through the endless freeway, and small roads to reach the entrance of the park.
By the time we got in, we saw vehicles being pulled on the side and we were told that since there was snow on the path we were heading we must put on some chains. It was a challenge for both of us. I already had an experience on putting on chains so I did the dirty work and after that the ranger finally let us through.
True to his words, we have finally reached an area with snow everywhere with the giant trees surrounding us. It was a sight to behold. Giant Sequoia trees engulfed our way with the snows lying on the ground, their branches and tree trunks covered by it. We parked on the first parking we saw and didn’t realize we reached the Giant Forest. It was the Main Trail by the Wolverton Road. Here is the brief introduction in the National Park website.
“Giant Forest is a large sequoia grove, set on a rolling plateau between the Marble and Middle Forks of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park. It is the largest of the unlogged giant sequoia groves, and it contains more exceptionally large sequoias than any other grove. It hosts the largest living sequoia, the General Sherman Tree. In this grove, visitors can see the effects of decades of prescribed burning: open forest conditions and clumps of giant sequoia seedlings that establish after fire. Giant Forest has an extensive network of hiking trails that range from 1-2 hour hikes to half-day or longer explorations of this grove. From spectacular giant sequoia trees to historic structures leftover from the time cattle grazed in this area, one can learn about both natural and cultural history. Enjoy views from Moro Rock, or wildlife-viewing opportunities amongst the trees and scattered meadows. Visit the Giant Forest Museum for a good introduction, and explore from there by foot, shuttle bus, or car.“
There was a trail surrounding the giant Sequoia trees and even though we were not geared up for snow and most of it was cover with it. I walked through admiring the things nature gave us. We first went to the fallen trees where the trail leads to and a marker which explains why they fell.
“A tree’s own size can contribute to its downfall. If the tree starts to become unbalanced, its weight quickly becomes more than its shallow roots can support. Sequoias may lose their balance for one or more reasons: road building, underground pipes, or soil fungi can damage roots that hold trees upright. If soil moisture increases, the ground may soften too much to hold the tree. Heavy snows or high winds can cause a tree to lean. Large fire scars at the base of the trunk may leave trees less to stand on.
Sometimes sequoias fall for no apparent reason. First, some unknown factor can cause the tree to lean. Then, gravity and the great mass of trunk eventually bring the tree down.
When branches and cones fall from trees, they tend to slide downhill until they hit a tree trunk. Also, fire tends to linger on the uphill side of trees due to air currents. Over the course of repeated fires, large scars may develop there. Later, when something cause the tree fall, it often topples in the direction of the scar.” The reason of the fall of this particular sequoia is unknown.
General Sherman Tree
It didn’t take us too long to find the celebrity of the Sequoia trees, following the paved trail and couple of stairs we have reached the General Sherman. It was a great accomplishment now as I think of it but during that time it was just an ordinary tree to us besides that it has a name. We walked around the tree admiring while taking pictures. The General Sherman Tree- the largest tree on earth.
“Across the open space before you stands the biggest tree on the planet, the General Sherman tree. Some trees grow taller, and some are bigger around but no tree has greater mass. The amount of space taken up by its trunk is greater than that of any other tree.
From here you have an unusual view, because you can see the entire tree from bottom to top. Notice two characteristics of a monarch sequoia: The top is dead, so its upward growth has stopped at 275 feet (84 m). It has a huge, cylindrical trunk, which makes it the world’s largest tree by volume.
It stands 275 feet (83 m) tall, and is over 36 feet (11 m) in diameter at the base. Sequoia trunks remain wide high up. Sixty feet above the base, the Sherman Tree is 17.5 feet (5.3 m) in diameter.
As long as a sequoia tree lives its trunk thickens, gaining mass. Each year the General Sherman Tree’s trunk gains enough new wood to equal a very large tree of most other species.”
We continued walking along the trail looking at the other sequoia trees and we came across a stump. It was so big we were so amazed once again. Behind this stump is another cross-section story.
“This slab from the stump of a giant sequoia tells a story of fire and survived. The annual growth rings show that the tree lived about 2,210 years. Marks within some rings show that, during that time, at least 80 different fires burned hot enough to leave a scar. Mature sequoias survive all but the very hottest fires. Thick, fibrous bark insulates the tree from killing heat. The bark holds very little sap or pitch, so it was not very flammable. In the slab, even if fire does penetrate the bark on occasion, it doesn’t often kill the tree. Mature sequoias live quite well despite large fire scars.
This slab was sliced from the base of a giant sequoia that grew not far from here. In 1950 the park cut the tree down because it threatened to fall on rental cabins. Recognizing the hazard to visitors and trees, the park eventually moved overnight facilities out of the sequoia grove. Visitors no longer risk having sequoias fall on them while they sleep. Two-thousand year-old sequoias no longer risk being felled because they lean over little cabins.”
We moved on after the slab and came across another unique tree in the trail, a pair of sequoia trees.
“This pair of trees provides evidence that fire plays a natural role in the life of giant sequoias. In fact, most owe their lives to fire. The evidence lies not only in their obvious fire scars, but also because they may be twins. Century ago, they probably started life at the same time after a fire prepared the ground for them. Fire creates ideal conditions for sequoia seeds to germinate and for seedlings to grown. Heat rising from a fire dries overhanging cones, causing them to open. Cones then rain seeds onto fire-cleared, ash-fertilized ground-a perfect seedbed. Millions of sequoia seedlings sprout after a fire.
Fire also kills many trees of other species that don’t survive fire as well as sequoias. That helps sequoias by reducing competition for sunlight, water, and nutrients. Fire’s heat may also kill soil fungus that could harm sequoia roots. Groups of same-aged sequoias like these tough twins are fairly common.”
We finished the loop of the trail after walking along the boardwalk, bridges, and split- rail fencing by coming back to the General Sherman tree and after that we decided to drive around the park and came across our next destination.
Giant Forest Museum
There weren’t a lot of people today so the parking was free for all. Covered in the snow we just parked across the road and to the Museum. Slippery and cold we tried to step on the rocks to make our way and as we enter the museum to the heated rooms here is the history of the victim.
“Giant Forest Museum, together with a connecting nature trail system leading to Round Meadow and vicinity, provides a basic introduction to the primary features of Giant Forest including its giant sequoias, meadows, and human history. The renovation of the historic Giant Forest market building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began in 1999, and conversion to a museum and visitor center was completed in summer 2001.
Designed to serve as the starting point for visits to the grove, Giant Forest Museum provides an opportunity to learn the story of the giant sequoias and Giant Forest. Self-guiding interpretive trails lead from the museum to the Round Meadow and Hazelwood areas.
To support the museum, the Beetle Rock building was retained to serve as a classroom and auditorium for educational purposes, run by the Sequoia Parks Conservancy. The ranger residence and comfort station join the museum and Beetle Rock Educational Center as the only four buildings retained in Giant Forest.”
We went in the warmth of the building and it was lightly dim and we saw some exhibit of the Sequoia trees. Here is an introduction to the natural wonder, “Sequoia survival depends upon conditions created by natural processes. For example, sequoias need frequent fires in order to reproduce. Prior to the 1960s, all fires were suppressed and sequoia reproduction virtually stopped. Without the effects of fire, the Giant Forest could not grow new sequoias and endure. Sequoias have dominated the Giant Forest for about 4,500 years – only two or three sequoia lifetimes. Before then it was probably too dry here for the Big Trees. Slow, natural shifts in climate have since made conditions ideal here for sequoias.”
In 1890, local citizens protected the sequoias from logging by convincing Congress to create Sequoia National Park. Today, sequoias face other threats. Trampling damages roots. Ozone pollution injures seedlings. Air pollution may be causing global climates to change, affecting where sequoias can survive.”
After exploring the museum and learning more about the sequoias such as how they have survived from seedlings, to maturity and the dangers around it we went out to continue our adventure. Outside, we came across another tree, and like the General Sherman this one has a name “Sentinel.”
“The Sentinel a 2,200 year old sequoia, is a monster compared to most trees. But in this land of giants, the Sentinel is just average. In the grove of sequoias that surrounds you, some trees are nearly twice as large as the sentinel. At 700 tons (635 m tons) the Sentinel Tree weighs more than two fully loaded jumbo jet airplanes – yet it is still just an average sequoia tree.”
Looking around the area we saw the Moro Rock Trail, and Long suggested we should follow that trail without realizing how far it was from the parking and the museum. We followed the road covered in snow, and since it was close for vehicles we have the big trail to ourselves. Later we found out its only .4 miles from the parking lot. We walked and kicked the snow and saw the sun setting down. It was almost dark when we reached the base of a stairs. Curious, we read the information beside it and we learn it was a stairs leading up to the Moro Rock. As always we thought it will be an easy climb, just follow the stairs to the top. Here is the history of how the Rock is formed.
“Deep within the earth, more than 100,000,000 years ago, hot, molten rock moves slowly upward, cooling as it rises. Finally, its upward progress halted, the semi-liquid mass solidifies. Masses of black and white crystals form. The making of Moro Rock granite is complete. The movement and collision of great blocks of the earth’s crust produces enormous stresses and strains. These forces cause earthquakes and faulting, lifting the Moro Rock granite high above sea level. Erosion removes the overlying material exposing the granite.
Relieved of the tremendous pressures, the rock expands, cracking in concentric circles. Further erosion causes the rock to slough off like the layers of an onion. This process of granite dome formation is called exfoliation. Other examples of granite domes, formed in a similar manner include Half Dome, Yosemite National Park and Tehipite Dome, Kings Canyon National Park.”
Now we knew where the Moro Rock came from but we don’t know how hard to climb the top with slippery snows on the trail! Some of the path we passed through has a space for one person, with no rails and at the edge of the rock. The other hazard we faced was it was getting dark and we don’t have any flashlights. As we walked here is the first recorded trek to the beautiful Moro Rock.
“Indians roamed here for several thousand years. Neither sign nor record indicate they considered Moro Rock a special place. Indians led Hale Tharp, the first white man in the area, to the rock in 1858. Three years later, Tharp with his stepsons John and George Swanson were the first to climb it.
The summit was reached by the first stairway in 1917. Built entirely of wood, it ran straight up the crest. Not the absence of a second railing on most of the stairway. In 1931, the National Park Service built the present stone steps. Because of the sensitive design of the stairway and the craftmanship present in its construction, the stone steps were entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Moro Rock is one of the places in Sequoia National Park where, in 1922, naturalists began “translating” the landscape for early park visitors. Naturalists offered walks, talks, and campfire programs, which combined information with inspiration, and visitors loved it. Sequoia’s First Naturalist Walter Fry came to the Sierra Nevada to log. After counting more than 3,000 rings on a cut sequoia, he turned instead to protecting the trees. Fry eventually became the first civilian superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Later in 1920, Stephen Mather (first director of the National Park Service) concluded that every park needed naturalists. Two years later the Sequoia Nature Guide Service was born when Superintendent John White called on his predecessor, Walter Fry, to volunteer. Working part-time, Fry thus became Sequoia National Park’s first naturalist.
No one knows the origin of Moro Rock’s name. Moro is a Spanish word and can mean a roan-colored horse (such a horse often grazed at the base of the rock) or a snout or promontory or an unwanted place. Other rocks named “Moro” or “Morro” are found in California, New Mexico, and Puerto Rico.”
The climb was steep and the quarter mile stairs leading up to the top was dangerous, we held on to rock walls and railings if available. We stopped several times to take a break and admire the beautiful views and it was breathtaking. We continued on our way and taking each turn the rock leads us. Halfway to the peak, we saw the Great Western Divide. “The ridge of peaks “divides” the Kaweah River drainage from the Kern River drainage on the other side. The Great Western Divide rises high enough to block the view of Mount Whitney, tallest of the Sierran peaks at 14, 494 (4417m). In 1890, Sequoia National Park included the Giant Forest but not the peaks. Over time, ideas of what should be preserved in a national park changed. In 1926, this view became park scenery when Congress enlarged the boundary to the crest of the Sierra Nevada.”
Finally, we reached the top of the Moro Rock and once again we had the view of I think the entire Sierra Nevada and the western Valleys as the eye can see. The sunset was beyond the horizon and yet picturesque. We stayed there for a while relishing our achievement and it was worth it. The air was getting colder and before a snow storm can come we went down the stairs. It was much harder going down because of the gravity and so we were extra careful. Fortunately, we made it safely back to the bottom of the stairs. We hurried back to the parking lot for it was completely dark and we only had the stars and moon to guide us back. Once we got back to the parking lot there were barely any vehicles left. So we drove down the road and head to the exit because we have a long way to go. It was nice adventure learning about the Sequoias and the amazing Moro Rock. Nature’s wonders are still awing us until today.
Here are the links for more information: