Our first stop, as always when we visit National Parks, was the Foothills Visitor Center. The park rangers always provide really useful information. There are exhibits and maps that help sort out how you want to spend your day. Since we knew we would visit several times during our one-week stay in the area, we planned to to visit the Giant Forest Museum, General Sherman (the largest) tree, and make some stops along Generals Highway today.
Our first stop along Generals Highway was to snap a photo of this cool rock formation. Today, the road makes a slight detour around Tunnel Rock.
We also stopped at a turn out to get a closer look of the river that runs along the highway. Signs can be seen in multiple places that warn of death by drowning here. It is the #1 cause of death in the park each year. The rocks along the river can be slippery and the water is very swift and cold.
Historical information about the Native Americans who lived here can be found on interpretive signs. An excavation in 1960 revealed artifacts of a village here 500 years ago. The rock with holes was the site of a communal kitchen for the village. Pounding acorns (and other seeds) created these holes in the bedrock. The flour from the acorns was used to make cakes or mush, a primary source of food at the time. Native American rock art can also be seen on Hospital Rock.
There is a short trail down to a cascade on the river that is well worth the short hike.
Although the weather had been clear in the valley, as we reached higher elevations it became very foggy. After entering the Giant Forest, we stopped at the Museum. The parking lot is across the street from it and there are 2 paved trails that lead to it where you first encounter an up-close look at the majestic giant sequoias. In front of the Giant Forest Museum is The Sentinel, a 2,200 year old monarch that is just of average size (although it seems massive). The largest giant sequoia, General Sherman, is double The Sentinel in weight.
It was so much colder at this altitude than Three Rivers (where we are staying), that the warm fire was so inviting!
Be sure to check out this museum the exhibits are very interesting and informative. Here are some facts about about giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum) that I found fascinating:
- 3,500 years = age of the oldest
- 3 feet = thickness of fibrous bark
- 165 to 275' = average height of a monarch
- 1.2 million pounds = weight of the biggest
- 36.5 feet = diameter of the base of largest
- 8' = diameter of largest branch
- 110 feet = circumference of the base of the largest
- 11,000 = number of cones found on an average tree at any given time
- 1.6 by 2.8 inches = size of cones
- 68 = number of remaining groves (found only on 36,000 acres of the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California). The largest grove is 3,000 acres and the smallest only 6 trees.
- 5,000-7,000 feet = elevation where giant sequoias grow and reproduce naturally
There has and continues to be a gradual decline in the number of giant sequoias since European settlement in California. Many giant sequoias have been planted elsewhere in the world, but none reproduce naturally other than the Sierra Nevadas.
These trees are very resistant to fire (which occur naturally here every 3 to 9 years due to lightning strikes). The giant sequoias can self-heal after being damaged by fire (in large part due to the thick bark). Scars from fires are evident on all mature giant sequoias, but they just continue to grow for centuries. I was very curious as to how water reaches the upper reaches of these enormous trees. The sequoias are able to take in water from mist/fog through air roots at the upper portions of the tree.
We were anxious to see The General Sherman, the largest living thing (by volume) on the planet. There is handicap parking along the road near the tree, but all others must park in a lot about a mile away (right turn off of Generals Highway). The paved trail is a one-mile round trip and well worth the hike as there are many other huge giant sequoias along the way.
The top of the General Sherman is dead (lightning strikes), but the tree continues to grow each year increasing the size of the base. New green limbs will grow from fire-damaged trees.
Sadie is not permitted on any trails in the national park, but she was excited to see the snow on near the parking lot.
Our final stop for the day was at an overlook that provides a perspective of the gorgeous views here even on a cloudy day.
Admission to the park is $30/vehicles for a 7-day pass. Of course, our senior pass gets us in for free. For in depth information about the park, check it out online.