Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

By this point, I think we’d all had enough of the desert. Ann commented that she’d been surprised at how lush the desert landscape can sometimes be – whispy grass on a sand dune, a zillion succulents, dwarf Pinion Pines or tall Cottonwoods lining a seasonal wash – but there’s still something a little hostile about the dry air, dust and wind. Okay fine, it’s the boogers. No problem, we were headed to about the most opposite place you could imagine with waterfalls, ferns, moss and majestic trees reaching hundreds of feet into the air were the norm. The goal for the night was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.


The southern entry road was another one I’d researched online. There I was told (I remembered as we approached) that there was a 22 ft maximum vehicle length (we’re 36 ft with truck and trailer) and that anything longer would endanger both the vehicle occupants and everyone else on the road. But it was late in afternoon and we didn’t have much choice after committing to the turn off leading to the park. Sure we could have probably grabbed a spot in a private campground, some of which looked pretty nice tucked down along the North Fork of the Kaweah River, but we only had one night in the park if we wanted to make it all the way north to see all our friends at a mini music festival in the foothills that weekend. At the entrance station, the ranger leaned forward out the window of his kiosk to look along the length of the trailer. He said, “We have a 22 ft maximum vehicle length on this road… but it’s just a recommendation. Take it easy on the switchbacks. Have a nice visit.”

The dreaded switchbacks were steep, yes, and sharp, true, but there was plenty of road and shoulder space for us to swing around them. Everyone’s temperament and comfort driving is going to be different, but I wouldn’t have hesitated to pull a 25 footer up there. Maybe 27. 30? Er… probably not. And coming downhill with any of those trailers might be another story as well. But this evening, we only climbed the steep turns that wound in and out of dense Sierra forest dotted incongruously with blooming Yucca who, like daring climbers, were attempting to scale the slopes.

We chose a campground close to the Giant Sequoias we wanted to see the next day. We’d driven through the grove on the road in but figured that, if I took my eyes off the road for too long, in the battle between Toyota Sequoia and Giant Sequoia, it was pretty clear who would win. Lately I’ve read a couple threads on the Airstream Forum about trailer lengths in campgrounds in National and State Parks and there are always several posts saying “We have a 30 foot trailer and NOT ONCE in 20 years on the road have we had a problem fitting into a spot.” Well, we’ve got a 19 foot trailer and in 5 weeks on the road, there have been a number of spots when we’ve been glad we didn’t have even a foot longer and tonight’s was one of them. I had to kinda jackknife ourselves in with the rear bumper of the trailer hanging over the stop block to get the nose of the truck off the road. Heeding the warnings about high bear activity in the area, we followed the recommendations of removing all traces of food from the car, including the baby car seat which they correctly assumed smelled like smushed crackers, peanut butter and spoiled milk.

The next morning, we headed out early to the Giant Sequoia Forest, one of only 68 groves - all within a 250 mile long and just 9 mile wide stretch and between 4,600 and 7,000 ft in the Sierra Nevada mountains - where they are native. We’d seen the huge Coast Redwoods on the motorcycle during a ride up to the Avenue of the Giants (including running a 10K!) a few years ago (read the whole story which I think is pretty entertaining or just the part about the Coast Redwoods), and while they hold the title of “The Tallest Trees on Earth” at almost 400 feet, the Sequoias have them easily beat on volume. Yes, I’m saying the Coasts are longer but the Seq’s have more wood.

We might not have taken the stroller if we’d known how many stairs there would be on the trail. Fortunately, it was all downhill (if “one of us” was sent back up to get the car on the shuttle bus). Ann was incredibly careful wheeling Wynne down each step while I was watching.


Which is weird since Wynne had to have learned this behavior from somewhere…

Standing in the footprint of a giant. The outline of the base of the trunk of a little fella called “General Sherman” didn’t even fit in the picture.

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A mature Giant Sequoia typically tops out at just over 250 tall. Of course, it can take 500 to 700 years for them to get there. The General is estimated to be more than 2,300 years old.

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A few ridonkulous statistics from the NPS:

  • General Sherman is widely considered the largest living thing on Earth (unless you wanna count the Great Barrier Reef or some bulbous fungus in the soil in Michigan).
  • Its volume is estimated at 52,500 feet. That’s 630,000 board feet of lumber, enough to build 120 average-sized houses. This one tree would likely contain more wood than several acres of forest in the Pacific Northwest.
  • The trunk would weigh 1,400 tons, the equivalent of 15 adult blue whales, 10 diesel train locomotives or 25 military tanks.
  • Each year, the average mature giant sequoia adds enough wood to make a 60 ft tall, 3 ft diameter oak tree.

As the trees mature, they become more rounded at the top, losing their lower branches. The two below are mere “pups” compared to Ol’ Shermy. 



Speaking of things that are growing quickly…


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