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A Guide to the Giant Sequoias of Yosemite National Park (1949) by James W. McFarland


Those who achieve the greatest enjoyment and appreciation of these primeval forests are those who walk alone or in small groups among the giant sequoias on the trail.

Some of the most popular hikes are the upper loop trail or one of the trails down to the Grizzly Giant. With the map on the center pages in your hands you should have no difficulty in planning a most interesting two hours on the trails.

Short, unscheduled, nature hikes may be conducted in summer by the ranger naturalists to local points of interest. These are seldom of more than 30 minutes duration.

The Four Guardsmen. Ranging in height from 210 to 247 feet and from 8.4 to 10.5 feet in diameter at 10 feet above mean base. Approximately 100 yards to the west of the museum porch are the Four Guardsmen. It is interesting to speculate on this most interesting formation of trees. Since giant sequoia seeds normally germinate only in mineral soil, could it be that once a great log lay here under which the Sierra chickaree burrowed nests in which to store its winter supply of giant sequoia cones; and these four trees are the ones that successfully survived the struggle for existence? In the early morning the Four Guardsmen is one of the most photogenic groups of trees in the Mariposa Grove.

The Fallen Utah Tree. Length: 233 feet, diameter 16.2 feet 10 feet above mean base. The most common

The Massachussetts Tree
The Massachussetts Tree

The Telescope Tree
The Telescope Tree

finish for the giant sequoia is death by falling; they seem never to die standing. Even after falling has severed the roots that supply them with water, signs of lingering life are apparent for several years. At 7:00 a.m. April 7, 1935, two days after it was weakened by a wind storm, the 233-foot Utah Tree fell through the calm air of the Mariposa Grove to the forest floor. 1,200 days later the prostrate trunk still waved a small seven-foot banner of green foliage 132 feet above its severed roots as a last sign of its fading life. Thus this tree showed signs of life three years after it had officially died. Severe damage by fire and erosion of the soil around its roots played their part in bringing low this forest monarch.

The Fallen Stable Tree. Length 245 feet, diameter 17.2 feet 10 feet above base. Within sight, south and east of the Utah Tree is the prostrate form of the Stable Tree. Great fires have eaten into the heart of its great trunk, forming a semicircular cavern. In the early days of stagecoach travel mangers were built in this space, thus affording a stable for the horses. On the morning of its fall there was no wind, although three days previous a severe wind storm had occurred .This undoubtedly weakened the roots of this tree. In the fall the trunk broke into three sections, all the major limbs were snapped off and the roots were completely severed from the ground. In the summer of 1936 one of the large branches was still producing a surprising amount of new growth, although this famous tree officially died August 28, 1934.


The Fallen Massachusetts Tree (0.3 mile from the museum). *280 feet height, diameter 28 feet 10 feet above base. Even the longest lived things on earth must inevitably face all-conquering death. One of the largest trees in the Mariposa Grove, two-thirds of its base was burned away by fire in 1710 which funnelled 51 feet up through the dry rot in the heartwood. In the 1870’s a road was constructed across the few roots remaining on the weakened side. In the spring of 1927, under a heavy mantle of snow, fire, erosion and man had finished their damage and gravity pulled it down.

In falling, such was its height, that it broke in many sections over the brow of the hill. It had limbs 5 feet in diameter 195 feet above its base. Sections of its 28-foot trunk may be found halfway down the ravine on the opposite side of the hill on which it grew. Shattering in its fall, the Massachusetts Tree is an example of the fact that seldom is more than 20 per cent of the larger trees recovered as lumber. Although dead, it is still a monument of unusual interest. A stairway was built up its trunk in 1933. Its diameter of 28 feet 10 feet above the base can be appreciated only by standing on its prostrate trunk and viewing the area from that commanding height.

The Telescope Tree. Height: 188 feet; diameter 16.4 feet at 10 feet above base. Much of the crown as well as two-thirds of the heartwood have been burned away by the repeated attacks of fire. Standing inside and gazing aloft, one sees branches and glimpses of blue sky as though the eye were directed through the small end of a telescope. Although 39 feet of its 74 feet of circumference have been destroyed by fire, leaving it “hardly a leg to stand on,” sufficient of the essential bark and sapwood is intact so that the hollow shell of a tree goes on living in spite of its handicap. Ax marks show where the road builders of the ’70’s started to cut a tunnel. Fortunately, they were stopped by a wise foreman who, seeing that this tree had suffered enough, realized that cutting a tunnel through this tree would so weaken it that the first storm would bring it crashing to the ground.

The Fallen Mark Twain Tree. Length: 274 feet; 17.7 feet base diameter. Before falling in 1943 this tree had a 35 foot lean due south and was badly scarred by fire on the other side. At this writing (1949) it is the most recent of the well known individuals in the grove to topple over.

The Wawona (“Tunnel”) Tree (0.3 mile from Telescope Tree). *Height: 234 feet, diameter 19.8 feet at 10 feet above mean base. Ever since a tunnel was cut through this famous tree by the two Scribner brothers in 1881 for wages of

The Wawona Tree has been famous since stagecoach days. From an old glassplate negative, probably by Boysen.

From an old glassplate negative, probably by Boysen.

The Wawona Tree has been famous since stagecoach days.

only $75.00 from the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company, the Wawona Tree has enjoyed more publicity than any other tree in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people visit it each summer. The question asked most frequently of the ranger naturalist at the museum is, “Where is the tree you can drive through?” The tunnel itself is eight feet wide, 26 feet long and 10 feet high. A favorite subject of artists and photographers alike, its portrait has been published in geography texts for over 50 years. The name “Wawona” was appropriately selected from the language of the Miwok Indians— Wah-wo-nah—meaning “big tree.” [Editor’s note: The origin of “Wawona” is unknown. It is not Miwok for “big tree,” however —dea.]


The Galen Clark Tree. Height: 240 feet; diameter 15.3 at 10 feet above mean base. Galen Clark discovered and named the Mariposa Grove in 1857, although other men besides the Indians had certainly made unrecorded visits to this area at an earlier date. (See pages 47 and 48 for more complete description of his history.)

Wawona Point (0.4 mile from the Wawona Tree). By keeping to the right at the next intersection it is only half a mile to the Wawona Observation Point where there is a fine view of the South Fork of the Merced River and the Wawona Basin. This is also a choice spot from which to watch the colorful and inspiring sunsets.

The Governor’s Group (0.5 mile from Wawona Point turn-off, see frontispiece). Just before reaching the museum area and the end of the one-way loop road, on the left, is the Governor’s Group. This name appropriately recognizes the majesty and stateliness of these giant sequoias. There are few places where one may so completely experience the sensation of being in a great outdoor cathedral, as standing here among these giant, fluted columns reaching into the vast, blue vault of the sky.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management