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Lights and Shadows of Yosemite (1926) by Katherine Ames Taylor


Yosemite’s Giant Sequoias

In the deep peace of the solemn old woods stand the Big Trees, the Sequoia gigantea, just as they have stood, many of them, since before the birth of Christ, defying the storms of thousands of years, impervious to the rise and fall of antlike nations, living, growing, blossoming, and germinating again, century upon century. Ageless, raceless, for all time and all peoples, they are a living link between the distant past and the more distant future. Though estimated to be between two and three thousand years old, some of these trees, it is said, may not yet have reached their prime. Yet age is but one phase of their great glory. Coupled with this is their amazing size and rare beauty which make them truly one of the wonders of the world.

Within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park are three of the twenty-six groves of Big Trees. The Tuolumne Grove, about a mile and a half west of Crane Flat on the Big Oak Flat Road, contains forty trees. The Merced Grove, about three miles east of Hazel Green, off the Coulterville Road, has thirty-three trees. The Mariposa Grove, best known of all, four miles south of Wawona, boasts four hundred and ninety mature trees. Among these is the Grizzly Giant tree, fully entitled to its world-wide fame for being the oldest living thing on earth.

The height of the full-grown tree averages from 150 feet to 250 feet, though there are many instances of Big Trees which exceed these figures. The Mark Twain tree in the Mariposa Grove towers 331 feet heavenward, tallest of any of the Big Trees on record. The diameter of the trees, measured four feet from the ground, averages about twenty feet. Their age is a matter of greater speculation, owing to the difficulties of measuring the age of any living tree, the age of a tree being determined by the number of rings in its trunk. A conservative estimate is that the mature trees range anywhere from 1500 years old to 3000, and there is evidence that some few of them may be as old as 5000 years.

Though naturalists say that the genus of this tree was once to be found on three continents, Europe, Asia, North America, during

The Grizzly Giant, 93 feet around, 204 feet high, monarch of the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
[click to enlarge]
The Grizzly Giant, 93 feet around, 204 feet high, monarch of the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees
one of the glacial ages all the species became extinct except the two which still survive in California, and are to be found no place else in the world, the Big Tree, or Sequoia gigantea, of the Sierras, and the Redwood, or Sequoia sempervirens, of the Coast Range.

Sheltered in warm spots and thus spared by the Sierra Nevada glaciers which may have swept forests of the venerable giant sequoias away, the surviving Big Trees are to be found only between 36 and 38 1/2 degrees north latitude, and between 5000 and 7000 feet above sea level. They have a strong family instinct and group closely together, a straggler rarely being found more than a mile from the family circle.

John Muir points out that in every grove of Big Trees running water is to be found. It was generally supposed that the trees grew there on account of water. On the contrary, he points out, the water is there because of the trees. The roots of these immense trees fill the ground, forming a thick sponge which absorbs and holds back the rain and melting snows, only allowing it to seep out and flow gently. Drain off the water, and the trees will remain, but cut off the trees and the water will vanish, so he declared.

There is a perfection and symmetry in the beauty of the Big Trees quite in keeping with their dignified stateliness. No fantastic, wind-blown contours, or picturesquely gnarled branches. Their great trunks rise like fluted columns, free of branches a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet from the ground in the more mature trees. At the age of two or three hundred years, when they have attained a height of from seventy-five to a hundred and twenty-five feet, these lower branches drop from the trunk. Their foliage is densely massed and regular in outline. These trees show no weather side and the branches taper up to the leafy crowns with beautiful precision. The bark of the trunk is reddish brown in color, ridged, and sometimes a foot and a half in thickness. It contains little resin, is very fibrous, and so is not readily inflammable.

Toward the end of the winter the Big Trees bloom. The female flowers are pale green, about three eighths of an inch long, and grow in countless thousands on the ends of the sprays. The male blossoms are pale yellow and grow in even greater profusion.

Galen Clark Cabin and a giant sequoia in the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. PHOTO BY GEO. E. STONE
PHOTO BY GEO. E. STONE
[click to enlarge]
Galen Clark Cabin and a giant sequoia in the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees

Unlike the rest of the Sierra trees, the Big Trees are not subject to disease, insects, and fungi. They are never sick nor do they show the least signs of decay. Lightning and fire are their greatest enemies, and, within the last century, the axe of man. The tops of many of the oldest trees have been lost repeatedly through lightning, but immediately the branches beneath turn upward and begin the slow race to achieve supremacy and to become the new crown.

A little aloof, then, and lofty, they stand, but what incomparable majesty and grandeur is theirs! Age, size, and beauty are not all. Their most precious gift is the spirit of peace, quiet, and great strength which comes to those who commune with them. Those who come to stare, remain to worship, and to receive the benediction of these High Priests of the Sierras.

The Temple of the Trees, in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. PHOTO BY GEO. E. STONE
PHOTO BY GEO. E. STONE
[click to enlarge]
The Temple of the Trees, in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias


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