Once again, John Muir bequeathed this area an entirely appropriate yet simple name. Amid these giant trees, and the remnant glacial boulders on the hillsides, it does feel like you’ve stumbled into an environment on another planet. The sequoias are so tall and wide that they’re nearly unphotographable. Attempts to capture one, either up close or from a distance, are frustrated by their impressive tendency to grow close together: backing up to get one tree in frame brings you past a dozen more that now block your view. That’s made possible by their relatively small root system, which takes up a surprisingly small amount of space, making them vulnerable to wind. As you hike the trails in any of the groves here, you’ll come across a few that have toppled, which always generated a sad feeling in me, particularly when the dead tree had been hacked into a house, or bored through to create an auto tunnel, or a passage way along a trail. No respect for the dead.
I can’t escape the feeling that the sequoias are generous to allow us into their home. On their unfathomable time scale, our 100-year flurry of activity, with all its attendant changes in intentions, must look comical. We arrive, we cut trees, we build roads, we construct a small city, we save trees, we tear down the city, and we move off of their property.
The meadows that dot Giant Forest serve as a reminder of the narrow niche they occupy. Dependent on water, the meadows contain too much water, filling depressions in the granite with runoff from the surrounding area. The sequoias thrive on the edges, drinking up the moisture as it trickles into the small basin. The beautiful open spaces, lush greenery and blue skies provide a contrast that enhances one’s appreciation of the trees and their forest: they’re all the more amazing when you see the openings, the places where they’re not.
As the evidence mounts that our planet is warming, I wonder how rapidly they’ll be threatened. Their niche is a small one, and they thrive where temperature, moisture, and slope are just right. Elevation changes of a few hundred feet eliminate their ability to grow; a temperature increase of a few degrees certainly has a equivalent elevation change in that neighborhood.
Even with the removal of the Village, the Giant Forest area is still rumbling with human activity. The trail map looks like a random web of threads, and we encountered a lot of company on the trails on our mid-day hike near Crescent Meadow. The next morning, we had General Sherman and the Congress Trail to ourselves, an experience that still stays with me, and left me hungry for more time and more quiet.
There are 30 groves within Sequoia and Kings Canyon, only a handful of which are marked on the park map (the highly visited Giant Forest and General Grant Groves; Lost and Redwood Mountain Groves along Generals Highway; Muir and Atwell Groves reachable by a few miles from park roads, and the more remote Garfield and Cottonwood Groves near Seqouia’s southern boundary). We spent time in the first four, often alone; but hiking to some of the others will definitely be a focus of my next visit.