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Sequoias - A trip to California's sequoia trees

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The world's largest trees grow in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Wilhelm Bootsveld went to California's Sierra Nevada with his camper and camera to explore the imposing - but endangered - giants.

Report: Wilhelm Bootsveld

It's blindingly bright and hot in California's San Joaquin Valley. Even in Visalia, only about 40 kilometers as the crow flies from the Sierra Nevada, the high mountains cannot be guessed from the haze. Only on the way to the east do the so-called foothills (foothills) of the Sierra Nevada slowly slide out of the plains into the picture until the silhouettes of the mountain ranges can be seen.

The Sierra Nevada now emerges steep and high. Not everyone is aware that several peaks of this high mountain range in the western United States are over 4,000 m high. At 4,421 m, Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the United States - outside of Alaska.

In the high altitudes of the western Sierra Nevada there are still several groves over a length of around 300 kilometers in north-south orientation in which the "Giants", as the sequoias are also called here, grow - usually in mixed forests. The scientific generic name for the giant trees is Sequoiadendron giganteum, Sequoia for short, and is derived from a Cherokee Indian. Giant Redwood, or Sierra Redwood, are other well-known names for the gentle giants because of their red wood color.

The Sierra sequoia trees thrive at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,500 m, where, especially in winter, there is abundant rainfall in the form of snow to supply the sequoia trees with water. Most of the groves are in protected nature parks, but some are also privately owned - attempts are being made to transfer them to nature parks. Unfortunately, the sequoias, which belong to the order of conifers and to the cypress family, are considered an endangered species.

Gentle, threatened giants

As the suffix “giganteum” suggests, the sequoias are the largest trees on earth and therefore also the largest living beings on our planet. They are evergreen trees. The bark has a high tannic acid content and thus protects itself from vermin and fires - and given their old age they have to withstand many a fire. The oldest giant sequoia trees are over 3,200 to 3,500, some even say 4,000 years old.

Via the small village of Three Rivers we drive into the Sierra and the Sequoia National Park. In the visitor center, the Foothills Visitor Center, we first get information and a park map.

On the further journey into the mountains, it goes higher and higher over many serpentines. Occasionally we catch glimpses of the barren and ravine-rich hinterland from the road.

Suddenly, after one last climb, the giants are standing around a bend like sentries in front of us. We get out briefly and look around before we continue a short stretch to the “Giant Forest” at 2,000 m altitude and its museum of the same name. Here, alongside many other giants, stands the “General Sherman” sequoia - “the biggest tree in the world” and “the largest living thing on earth”. Estimated age: 2,300 to 2,700 years, height: 84 m, circumference on the ground: 31.3 m, diameter on the ground: 11.1 m.

Mystical forest

Only little light penetrates to the ground, so that a mystical, mysterious atmosphere prevails in the high forest. It is quiet and the visitors to the national park get lost in the vastness of the forest.

We meander through the forest on the “Big Trees Trail” and can experience that the ground here is relatively moist and can therefore give the giants the water they need. Many trees show burn scars - they have surely survived several forest fires.

Later we get a lot of information about the sequoia trees at the Giant Forest Museum. A detailed visit to this area, the groves here are called “groves”, takes several hours.

So that we don't have to go that far tomorrow to Grant Grove, named after the sequoia “General Grant Tree”, we continue on the “Generals Highway”, which connects the Sequoia National Park with the Kings Canyon National Park, to the neighboring national park. There we stay overnight on the Azalea Campground.

The campsite is located at an altitude of about 2,000 m in a mixed grove with firs and redwoods. Often you can see azaleas, small rhododendrons, hence the name. Overall, it is quite simply equipped - after all, there are flush toilets here, which we are happy about. Easier places in the national park often only have an outhouse.

What we pay particular attention to: You shouldn't leave any groceries in the car here, because hundreds of black bears (Ursus americanus) are at home in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. You can smell the food from a great distance and try to get at it. As you can hear, some vehicles did not survive well.

Hungry bears

To protect against the bears, there are metal lock boxes for food and hygiene items. You should never feed them, and this is for your own protection as well as that of the bears themselves. Because if they change their feeding behavior and instinct, they may even have to be killed. You can get more information about bears from the National Park Service, for example.

In Kings Canyon National Park, sequoia trees are our goal again the next day. After a few minutes we can park in the Grant Cove area at an altitude of almost 2,000 m, named after the sequoia "General Grant Tree", the "second largest sequoia in the world". For this position, however, he competes with the sequoia “President”.

Another title of the "General Grant Tree" is undisputed: because of its age and size it has been officially "the Nation`s Christmas Tree" since 1926, after a little girl in self-talk in front of the tree said in 1925: "What a lovely Christmas tree that would be ”. At 3,000 years old, however, it is much older than Christmas. It measures 81.5 m and has a circumference of 32.8 m on the ground. So its height is only a little less than that of the General Sherman Tree, its circumference at the ground even a little wider. Since 1926, a small ceremony has been held under the tree on the second Sunday in December, with singing and prayer.

Obviously, the sequoias of California always looked so imposing that they were given a "state-supporting" meaning. The largest sequoias are given names that reflect American history: Sherman, Grant, President (Harding), Lincoln, etc ...

We walk in peace through the beautiful mammoth grove and take a close look at all the giant trees. A well laid out nature trail leads as a circular route of almost 1.5 kilometers through the hilly terrain. From here, there are also other hiking trails in the national park. This is how you get to the “Fallen Monarch”, a redwood that fell over 300 years ago and was previously hollowed out by fire. Due to its size, it served the US cavalry for several years from 1890 as a shelter and stables for 32 horses. The burn scars inside are still clearly visible today.

You can leave the park in the direction of the San Joaquin Valley via the "Big Stump Entrance" at the CA-180. From here you continue north to Yosemite National Park. Head south via Bakersfield south of the Sierra Nevada to the Mojave Desert, Death Valley or Las Vegas. To the west you come to the coast of California and thus to Los Angeles or San Francisco. In the hustle and bustle of all these metropolises, you will think back to the gentle giant trees of the Sierra Nevada.


Info and addresses: Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada, California

Getting there: Either from the airports on the west coast of California or from Las Vegas. It takes around 5 hours from Los Angeles Airport to the parking lot in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park, and around 7 hours from Las Vegas.

Best travel time: For a camping trip in this area, autumn is particularly suitable, because compared to summer, the travel activity of Americans at this time of the year decreases considerably. With luck, the weather in autumn is relatively stable, the days are still mild (the nights are cool or already cold), the summer thunderstorms are over and the discoloration of the leaves, the time of the "Indian Summer", reaches its peak, often before snow-capped mountain tops .

National parks: The visitor centers of the national parks offer good opportunities for information and orientation. General maps with sightseeing points are usually given at the entrances. The entrance fee to the national parks is 35 dollars (per car), alternatively there is also the national park annual pass (for all American national parks) for 80 dollars per year.

Camping and staying overnight: There are campsites both in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and in their immediate vicinity, e.g. the Horse Creek Campground on Lake Kaweah. Three Rivers, quasi the entrance to the Sequoia National Park, offers several hotels. The next larger town at Sequoia National Park is Visalia. Around an hour's drive away, it offers every desired infrastructure with hotels, shopping centers, etc.

Taking photos in national parks:

The area is unique and varied. For many, the dream of outdoor and animal photography is fulfilled here. If you are lucky, you will see native animals such as black bears, deer, coyotes, small mammals such as rabbits, ground squirrels and marmots as well as birds in front of the lens. Animals are mostly nocturnal and are therefore best seen early in the morning or in the late afternoon or evening.

Sequoias are so big that it is difficult to photograph them with standard lenses. In addition, it is quite dark in the forest and you look up into the sky and sun, so you have to struggle with very high contrast values ​​and shadows.

Tip: Stargazing (stargazing). The national parks have the darkest night skies in the US. Light pollution is minimal. The air is clear. Big cities like Los Angeles or Las Vegas are far away. A trip to the Sierra Nevada is also a good idea to capture the spectacle in the night sky on the memory card. In the northern hemisphere, however, the Milky Way season is only from March to October. In autumn, this photographic fun can take place from 8 p.m. onwards.

Surroundings: The parks presented can be easily integrated into a California or Southwest trip. It takes around 3.5 to 4 hours to drive to Yosemite National Park in the north, 5.5 hours to Death Valley and 6 hours to San Francisco.

Spring in the mountains

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