During the late 1800’s unchecked logging began to pose a greater threat to the forests in the southern Sierras. In 1890 the federal government stepped in and established Sequoia National Park (map / wiki) to stem the spread of old growth sequoia logging. It became the second National Park in the system following Yellowstone.
It’s interesting to note that giant sequoias were objectively a terrible tree for loggers to target.
The largest sequoias took a two man team an entire week to saw down. Sequoias produce a relatively brittle wood that is unsuitable for most construction purposes. Often when they fell they hit the ground with enough force to shatter the trunk into sections, greatly reducing the amount of intact usable wood. Lastly, and most obviously, they were difficult to transport and process. Sawmills and log flumes had to be specially designed for sequoias.
Despite these drawbacks there were those who believed that it was just a matter of time before the process was perfected, and thousands of these giants were destroyed before (and a little while after) the park was established.
Kings Canyon National Park sits above Sequoia National Park, and it was created in 1940 by combining the already established General Grants Grove National Park with over 400,000 acres of national forest land. Kings Canyon and Sequoia are technically separate national parks but they are jointly administered.
I entered the park Saturday morning (10/10/15) and headed straight for General Grant Tree Grove in Kings Canyon to catch the 10AM ranger walk. He corralled us along a half-mile trail, stopping often to lend us interesting points about the sequoia life cycle.
He explained that for the first 500 years of their lives sequoias grow vertically as quickly as possible, elbowing their way up to unfiltered sunlight. After that point they slow down their upward growth and begin to bulk up, eventually creating tree trunks in excess of 25 feet (7.6 m) in diameter and 80 feet (24 m) around. Their immense size became even more astonishing when I learned they all start out from a seed no bigger than an oat flake.
After the ranger walk, I was hoping to drive further north to get deeper into Kings Canyon, but it was not to be.
The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway was blocked off north of General Grants Grove because a fire had recently burned through the area. It was contained by the time I got there, but the road had yet to be cleared of fallen trees and debris. I get frustrated when mother nature supersedes my plans like that, but it’s all part of the game. Instead I headed south and took up hiking the Congress Trail through Sequoia NP.
Fair warning, there are countless photographers out there who can do a much better job of capturing the size of the giant sequoias, but no picture that anyone can take will give you a sense of what it feels like to stand with one.
Considering how many people there were in the General Sherman Tree parking lot, I was surprised with how few people there were out on the trails just a few miles south.
I heard a tree fall while I was hiking.
Maybe not a giant, but it was big enough to take a few seconds to come down, and I clearly heard multiple diminishing *thump* sounds from it bouncing off the ground. It sounded so close, but when I hiked off-trail about 300 feet in its direction, I didn’t see anything that looked like it had freshly fallen.