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Yosemite: Its Wonders and Its Beauties (1868) by John S. Hittell

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MARIPOSA BIG TREES.

From the Big Meadow on the Mariposa trail, a trail leads off to the Mariposa Big Tree Grove, five miles distant. This grove is, in many respects, superior to that of Calaveras, but it has the disadvantage of being much further from the centre of population, and from main routes of travel, of being inaccessible by wagon, and of having, no fine hotel for the accommodation of tourists. There are four hundred and twenty-seven trees in the Mariposa grove, the largest thirty-four feet in diameter; there are two of thirty-three feet; thirteen between twenty-five and thirty-two feet; thirty-six between twenty and twenty-five feet, eighty-two between fifteen and twenty, making one hundred and thirty-four over fifteen feet in diameter. The remainder are of various thicknesses, from one foot to fifteen. The Calaveras Grove has ninety trees over fifteen feet in diameter, and about half as many smaller. The largest is thirty feet through the trunk. Tourists are generally disappointed on first visiting either grove. The full impression of the size of the trees is not derived from the sight, but from the measurement, or the statement of the figures of the hight and diameter.

Starr King thus describes his emotions when he entered this grove:

“I confess that my own feeling, as I first scanned it, and let the eye roam up its tawny pillar, was of intense disappointment. But then, I said to myself, this is, doubtless, one of the striplings of this Anak brood—only a small affair of some forty feet in girth. I took out the measuring line, fastened it on the trunk with a knife, and walked around, unwinding as I went. The line was seventy-five feet long; I came to the end before completing the circuit. Nine feet more were needed. I dismounted before a structure eighty-four feet in circumference, and nearly three hundred feet high, and I should not have guessed that it would measure more than fifteen feet through.”

A proper appreciation of the great forests of the Sierra Nevada, requires some knowledge of timber, as the [j]ust appreciation of a poem or picture demands a special knowledge or taste. Many of those who look at the Big Trees, if not previously informed, would ride through a grove of them aud not imagine that they were more than eighty feet high, or that they differed much in size from other trees about them, or were very remarkable in any respect.

Horace Greeley, who knew more about trees than any of the other California tourists, says:

“And here let me renew my tribute to the marvelous bounty and beauty of the forests of this whole mountain region. The Sierra Nevadas lack the glorious glaciers, the frequent rains, the rich verdure, the abundant cataracts of the Alps; but they far surpass them—they surpass any other mountains I ever saw—in the wealth and grace of their trees. Look down from almost any of their peaks, and your range of vision is filled, bounded, satisfied, by what might be termed a tempest-tossed sea of evergreens, filling every upland valley, covering every hillside, crowning every peak but the highest, with their unfading luxuriance. That I saw, during this day’s travel, many hundreds of pines eight feet in diameter, with cedars at least six feet, I am confident; and there were miles after miles of such and smaller trees of like genus standing as thick as they could grow. Steep mountain-sides allowing them to grow, rank above rank, without obstructing each other’s sunshine, seem peculiarly favorable to the production of these serviceable giants. But the summit meadows are peculiar in their heavy fringe of balsam-fir of all sizes, from those barely one foot high to those hardly less than two hundred, their branches surrounding them in collars, their extremities gracefully bent down by the weight of winter snows, making them here, I am confident, the most beautiful trees on earth. The dry promontories which separate these meadows are also covered with a species of spruce which is only less graceful than the fir aforesaid. I never before enjoyed such a tree-feast as on this wearing and difficult ride.”


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