Sequoia and King’s Canyon (SEKI) NP is a paradise of contradiction. Or maybe there is no contradiction; maybe it is just balance. One thing for which there is no dispute: this place is beautiful.
We spent four nights camped at the Lodgepole campground in the park. There are no hookups in the campground, although water is available, and generators can be used during certain hours (in certain parts of the campground). But you are in a prime location to hike and explore much of what the park has to offer. All three of us enjoyed the two sites we used (2 sites because getting reservations is el grande difficult).
There is something unique and cool about camping in a national park, and it is not the scenery (well, it is), but it is the diversity in people. Obviously there are a number of retirees in the mix, but what is particularly refreshing is the number of young people (25-35) who are enjoying our parks. And young families are teaching their kids to enjoy the outdoors. It never ceases to amaze me how many folks from other countries (Europeans, Asians, Hispanics et al) come to our great country to enjoy and appreciate our national parks. Clearly these parks are one of our national treasures,
I mentioned contradictions. The park is high; and it is low. SEKI is generally based at about 7,000 feet elevation, but it goes almost as low as 1,000 feet elevation, and then reaches to over 14,000 feet. Only a few states even see this kind of elevation spread, much less one park! You can imagine the diversity in flora, air density, rainfall, temperatures, weather patterns and other conditions within the park – just based on this elevation spread.
And we were reminded of both how fragile this earth is – and how resilient it is. We witnessed the destruction in some parts caused by invasive beetles that have decimated entire tree falls. In the same view, we saw the resilience of massive sequoia trees that have literally been standing for 2 or 3,000 years, tower 250+ feet tall and can be 40 feet in diameter, all growing on a very thin topsoil sitting on top of massive granite mountains.
The sequoia trees, located in the Giant Forest that the park is so well known for exist almost exclusively from 5,000 – 9,500 feet in elevation – in what is a fairly narrow swath. There would be many more of these trees but for the exhaustive logging operations in the 19thcentury, where entire groves of sequoia’s were literally wiped out.
General Sherman, the largest tree on earth (by volume of its trunk) and approximately 2,200 years old is located in one of the groves. Measuring 36.5 feet in diameter (109 feet around at its base) and 275 feet tall, this is one honking big tree. Even though the top of the tree is dead, its base keeps growing every year; the Sherman Tree’s base grows by the size of a regular sized tree – every year! Its largest branch is almost 7 feet in diameter. This tree makes the ginormous tree in our front yard at home look like a sapling.
Sequoias thrive in this elevation zone, particularly where there is water, sun, a clear forest canopy, not too cold temperatures… and fire. The sequoia cones releases seeds when they sense the heat from a fire. If the seeds land on dried leaves, they will not survive. But when they land on land that has burned by fire, they can take root.
One of the other specialties of survival these trees exhibit is self-healing. When there is a fire, and the fire burns and carves out a section at the base of a tree, the tree will begin to heal itself – in part by having the bark heal around the fire burn, and thus protect itself to survive. The bark on these trees has very little sap, so the bark does not burn as hot as trees likes pines, with much more sap. And it is reported that the bark can be up to 3 feet thick!
In another example, sequoias, if they happen to grow in a particularly wet area, will grow a flared base in order to improve its stability. As you might guess, the moisture content where a tree grows, over the course of 2 or 3,000 years, will likely change; adaptation is key to survival.
It doesn’t take too much observation to realize the topsoil in this park is very close to the underlying granite. Yet these trees somehow flourish in this environment. The root system for these sequoias, even for the monarchs (the really big ones), is about three feet deep. But they spread wide, and intertwine with other tree roots to make themselves more stable.
You are faced with some of the largest trees in the world, while at the same time you can see almost microscopic plant growth; mosses, lichen, small flowers, and the beginnings of trees; contradiction, diversity, balance?
While the areas surrounding the park are steeped in 90+ degree temperatures, here in Sequoia you are bundled up and putting on a fire or a little heat at night. Our daytime temperatures were in the mid to high 70’s, and evening temperatures dipped to the low 50’s or even high 40’s. Nearby Fresno would have been in the mid to high 90’s during this same time.
We made several hikes, including on the Tokopah Falls and Little Baldy trails. Both trails offered stunning views. The Tokopah Falls trail (about 3.5 – 4 miles round trip) leads right out of the campground, runs along the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River for a great view of the falls.
The Little Baldy trailhead (about 4 miles round trip) begins a short drive from the campground, and goes up from about 7,400 feet elevation to a little over 8,000 feet, and offers 360’ views from the top of Little Baldy.
The Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park in California is a real treasure – put this on your list!