The road to California – Part 4: Land of the giants.

(continued from Part 3: Desert)

There is a place where you can wander a forest full of giant trees.  Isolated in a spot of high elevation between two deserts, these trees are left alone to grow, and grow, and grow.  Taller than 26 storey buildings, wider than some roads, and with 2500+ years of life experience under their bark…these trees are humbling.  Every once in a while I stumble upon a place that is so surreal it feels as if I am dreaming, and the giant sequoia belt just east of Death Valley, California, is one of those places.

Had someone tried to explain this place to me before I experienced it myself, I would have had a hard time believing them.  It is difficult to put it into words, or even photos as I found out.  You really need an element of the ordinary within the frame to try and give a photo the perspective that it needs to portray the feeling of the place.  Here is an attempt, however I must add that I think everyone should try and find their way to the paths of Giant Sequoia National Park at some point in their life.  There’s nothing quite like hugging one of the largest trees in the world.

Sun rays against a sequoia tree

Early morning sun rays.

Amidst a grove of giant sequoias

It is humbling to stand amidst a grove of sequoia trees.

Looking up at giant sequoia trees

Looking up.

Camping under the giant sequoias

The large trees create a thick canopy high up above the forest floor; they outcompete any sort of brush that might try and grow here.  Soft dirt made for great camping and hiking.

Hugging a giant sequoia

One of the many friendly giants that stand as sentinels in Redwood Canyon.  The 15km trail meanders through the world’s largest giant sequoia grove.  Pro tip: allow longer than you would on another hike of this length, due to awe rather than difficulty.  Frequent stops are what this hike is all about.

Beautiful tree bark

Similar to cloud gazing, beautiful patterns can be seen in tree bark.  I believe this is a white fir tree, but, since they are larger than normal here as well, their appearance is much different than their smaller relatives that I am used to encountering.

Fire marks on giant sequoia bark

The giant sequoia’s bark often bears evidence of forest fires that it has survived.  These trees survive all but the largest fires and, in fact, require them to be successful in their unique ecosystem.  Fire prepares fertile soil and its heat triggers sequoia pinecones to release their seeds, ensuring that the sequoia will continue to dominate these forests.

Hammocking in the forest

A general rule is that a five minute walk that diverges from any accessible spot will land you in place of true peace and quiet.  This ridge was a short scramble over rock and valley from our campsite, and a prime spot to set up and watch the sun set over the forest.

Roasting peaches over the fire

Before this, we had never roasted peaches over an open fire – I am happy to report that it is a delicious evening snack.  Highly recommended.

Fallen sequoia tree

Could you imagine the noise that a sequoia tree would make when crashing to the forest floor?

Walking through a sequoia tree

Sequoia trees are strong and take a long time to decompose even when they die.  Here, a tree that has been lying on the forest floor for 100 years is a tunnel to explore.

A contrasting little tree

Where light does penetrate the forest ceiling, life tries to survive.  If fire comes however, they will not be the ones left standing.

Brown on green

Brown on green.

The Hart tree

This is the Hart tree: the third largest tree in the world.  The Sherman and Grant trees are the two trees larger than it (also in this forest) but, being closer to the road, they are both roped off and inaccessible.  Deep in Redwood Canyon however, you can touch the huge burned out grooves of Hart’s massive trunk.

Huge sequoia pinecone

Also surreal: the huge pinecones that litter the forest floor!

Giant sequoia against moon

Grateful for several days of calm in this forest, the time inevitably came to continue pushing west to the coast.  As hard as it was to leave, we knew we would be back.  Maybe in winter next time?

Previous: Part 3: Desert.
Next: Part 5: Coast.