The Muir Woods in northern California and the King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Forest in central California – two different locations and two different visits yet, I have clubbed them together here in this write-up for the similarity of experience I had in both places.
Living on this earth for eons, these redwood and sequoia trees stand grounded in the soil that has given them birth – so strong and beautiful, their sturdy trunks reaching up to the heavens as if in supplication to their creator, their branches out of reach to mere mortals, yet providing a perch for the tiniest of creatures, powerful yet protective, imposingly tall, yet firmly rooted into the earth from which they obtain their sustenance. As I stood under their massive presence and stared in awe, I felt very small and insignificant, as I so rightly should.
Muir Woods lie 12 miles north of San Francisco. The Redwood trees here are over a thousand years old and grow to over 250 feet in height.
They are surrounded by their smaller (in comparison) cousins like the oak, the maple and the fir, forming a supportive family cluster around the tall giants – yes, even giants need family support. The Redwood creek flows through these lush woods, as if providing a tinge of frivolity to the otherwise solemn surroundings, its cheerful bubbling path providing sustenance and growth to the diverse plant life that thrives there.
I looked up and up and up at the trees, cupping my palm at the base of my nape to ease the strain. The tree tops were shrouded in an ethereal fog, formed by the condensation in the Pacific ocean nearby. The sun seemed less powerful in these woods as it struggled to shine its light through the dense foliage. My eyes followed some of the sun’s rays as they penetrated through the fog and needle like leaves, casting a shimmery golden glow through the woods, lighting up patches of the trail and revealing the small darting silvery fish in the creek.
The entire Muir woods consisting of the Redwood forest is a national monument managed by the National Park Service and they make a pretty good job of looking after it. As we walked through the woods, I saw signposts pointing to several clearly marked trekking trails that lead around the forest terrain. The trails were varied and came with safety tips. Signposts instruct all visitors to walk on the path provided as walking under the base of the redwoods can lead to soil erosion and compaction. The ecosystem here is carefully preserved so that the redwoods can live on in legacy for many future generations to come.
We did a lot more walking down the visitor’s path, most of it in silence, for to speak much would have been disrespectful to the wonders of nature that abounded around us. I came upon other tourists talking in hushed voices as if reluctant to disturb the silence all around. The stillness was occasionally broken by the rustling of leaves, perhaps pointing to a reptile species in the lush undergrowth.
On the way back, I collected some redwood seeds or acorns as souvenirs. They now lie in a turquoise ceramic bowl in my living room, nestled between dried flower petals and seashells, a constant reminder of the capacity of a tiny acorn to produce a tall and imposing redwood.
A year later I visited the Kings Canyon and the Sequoia National forest which are right next to each other.
As soon as I stepped into its cool shady environs, I was besieged by a sense of déjà vu. Just like in the Muir woods, there was a strange stillness in the air. There were sequoia trees all around us, their thick trunks and towering heights making us feel very small and insignificant. They all stood close together like a race of proud warriors, as if ready to take on anyone who threatened their existence. It was one of nature’s most significant illustrations of sturdiness, resilience and power. I was in the presence of giants and I stared once again in awe, respect and a whole lot of humility.
The drive through the San Joaquin valley to arrive at this place from Fresno had taken us about an hour and a half especially as we had stopped on the way to take pictures.
The dizzyingly scenic views of the canyon, the misty Sierra Nevada mountains and the tall beautiful conifers of the sequoia, rising up against the azure sky at an elevation of up to 7000 ft were captures we didn’t want to miss.
In terms of volume, the sequoias are the world’s largest trees. They live for as long as a mind boggling 3000 years. The tannin which is found in their thick reddish barks protects the trees from rot, insects and fire and contributes to their unusual longevity.
I found many massive stumps lying around the area. A quick read of one of the signs revealed that the stumps were from forest logging that took place in the 1800’s.
A tranquil walk on the Grant tree trail in the Grant grove led us to the General grant tree which is the second largest tree in the world, again in terms of volume. This grove lies in the Kings Canyon.
Then we went looking for the General Sherman tree (THE largest tree in the world) which lies in the Giant forest in the Sequoia national park and somehow our search led us deeper and deeper into the forest. To make matters worse, we split and went in different directions – in hindsight, I realize it was a stupid thing to do. By the time we found General Sherman and each other, it was evening and the first shroud of darkness had descended on the forest. We kept walking until we came to an exit that led straight onto the general grants highway.
A couple of our group members sprinted back to get the car which was a good distance away at the King Canyon visitor center entrance, while the remaining three of us waited by the side of the road. It got darker by the minute and there was no one around – the tourists had all left. The giant Sequoia trees which had seemed so friendly and enveloping in the daylight now suddenly seemed to look very sinister in the descending darkness. The undulating shadows of the branches seemed to welcome the rustling sounds of the night, like two friends familiarly greeting each other after a short absence. The cricket’s shrill cries were faint at first but grew sharper as if gaining confidence with the disappearance of light. There was a healthy population of black bears here, so we joked very nervously about possible escape routes if a bear surprised us from the forest behind. When our car finally arrived we scrambled in hurriedly and heaved a sigh of relief.
Oh yes, one very fascinating fact about both the Redwoods and Sequoia trees is that, periodic wildfires are induced in the forest in order to help them to regenerate and grow. Information about this makes for very interesting reading and is found on this blog: http://www.savetheredwoods.org/blog/forest/setting-fire-to-the-forest/