Marveling at the eternal sentinels of Sequoia National Park
Pay homage to the General Sherman Tree, verified as the world’s largest single living thing.
The giant sequoias are a sight to behold, towering overhead so high to make one feel insignificant.
Photo by Kristan Lawson
They stand in the mountain mist—stoically, regally, as they’ve stood since nearly the beginning of time.
They’re the largest self-contained life-forms ever to exist anywhere on Earth, and although they don’t speak—exuding instead an intense, eternal silence—they must know that they’re the ultimate culmination of nature’s strivings.
They’re sequoias: Sequoiadendron giganteum, which grow nowhere else in the world but in 70 discrete groves. They’re among the most wondrous of natural wonders, and they’re practically next door.
Head to the Central Valley, turn south on Highway 99, then hang a left at Fresno, from which Highway 180 leads straight to Sequoia National Park.
Because growing conditions there are so perfect, many otherwise “normal” tree species within the park also grow to freakishly immense proportions. Driving or hiking mile after mile— or surveying the landscape from grandly woodsy Wuksachi Lodge, whose Peaks Restaurant rivals your trendy East Bay favorites—you lose all sense of scale and might find it hard to identify which trees are sequoias: They have thicker, redder bark than other pines do and wear distinctive, irregularly rounded canopies.
Sequoias were only “discovered”—at least, their existence and size were first publicized to an amazed world—as late as 1853. Loggers arrived soon afterwards. The poor sequoias, having endured everything nature could throw at them for millennia, finally met their match in the crosscut saw. Tragically, sequoia wood is too brittle to be used as construction material, so the majestic trees were mostly rendered into shingles, matchsticks, and—legend has it—toothpicks.
The logging era ended abruptly and mercifully in 1890, when Congress anointed this region a national park, only the U.S.A.’s second after Yosemite.
Most of its vastness comprises inaccessible “high country”: snowbound Sierra peaks including the highest point in the Lower 48. Visitors generally adhere to the thin ribbon of road wending through the park’s unique “Goldilocks zone,” the only ecosystem on Earth that can support sequoia growth.
After entering the park, head south along Generals Highway, a winding mountain track leading to the aptly named Giant Forest, one of the most extensive and accessible sequoia groves in existence. Pay homage to the General Sherman Tree, verified as not merely the world’s biggest sequoia and the world’s biggest tree of any type, but actually the world’s largest single living thing.
Continue onward and escape the crowds by exploring the less famous but no less awe-inspiring Parker Group on Crescent Meadow Road: It’s a tight family of cinnamon titans disappearing into the heavens.
Nearby Moro Rock is a bald granite outcropping jutting into the blue and etched with labyrinthine, acrophobic walkways leading to a pinnacle with a view to, well, seemingly to eternity.
Everything about Sequoia reminds us of our short-lived puniness; we humans come and go like fruit flies. A millennia hence, these trees—the very same trees alive today—will still stand in that mountain mist, aloof.