Trip Report: Sequoia National Park

I visited Sequoia National Park this past August and it was everything I’d been told it would be. Or rather, it would have been had I ever been told anything tangible about it beyond the fact that Sequoias are gargantuan. Beyond that, the park had been described to me in ways that were anything but objective or easily defined.

Words that objectively describe this: Awesome, Really Awesome, Really Really Awesome, and "Like finding a winning lottery ticket while eating breakfast in bed, in Paris."

I understand the reasoning behind describing places of almost unimaginable beauty as breathtaking, majestic, surreal, or mystical (I’m often guilty of it myself and its not necessarily a “bad” thing). The problem is that descriptions that rely heavily on subjective language like that end up being so much window dressing compared to the real thing.

This is Majesty. I suppose?

Lets put it this way. It is a rare author or orator who can adequately describe natural beauty to his or her audience. Most of the time a description simply isn’t the same as being there. You know majesty when you experience it, but you can’t experience it second hand.

Because of that, I’ll endeavor to be a bit more specific with my own descriptions of my experience with the park, I’ll even try to leave out the flowery language that manages to say so little with so many syllables.

                         I will probably fail. I apologize.

Canopy

Sequioa, like so many other places of almost absurd natural beauty, needs to be experienced to be believed. You need to be there, dwarfed by the towering trees around you, to truly get a feeling for the place. By all means look at my pretty pictures, I took them for a reason after all, but when you’re done here go add an entry to your bucket list.

It should read: Visit this place.

Certainly THIS is Majesty?

The history of the park is about as storied as any of its contemporaries. It was discovered and lauded as a great place of natural beauty. Eventually it was tarnished and despoiled by idiot tourists (the worst sort of tourist) and finally “saved” by the modern vision of the Parks Service. Who’s most notable achievement (in my view) is making the place look as if it isn’t tromped on by thousands of people a day.

Because it is, and as much as I’m not a huge fan of crowds, this is a good thing. Many, possibly most, people have only as much respect for the natural world as is convenient. In theory, exposing people to areas of supreme natural beauty will make them more likely to be more nature friendly in the future.

Sort of. Maybe.

Wasn't kidding about the crowds.

Imagine you’re in my shoes. You’re visiting Sequoia for the first time and you want to see “General Sherman” the largest of the Sequoias in the park (volume wise at least) and to that end you park your car at the closest lot and hike in. Immediately, things seem different than you’ve grown to expect from national parks. For starters, the path is paved and has wooden railings. Although you are surrounded by giant tree’s, dozens of people stand side by side in order to get their pictures taken in front of the main attraction’s massive trunk. Disabled individuals in motorized scooters zip haphazardly through the thick crowds, trailed by laughing children and concerned looking parents. The path is lined with waste bins and in a ten minute walk you see signs for two separate bathrooms. For me at least, it is unnerving. Its simply too much, true the trees are beautiful, but there are just too many people. I’m thrilled they’re enjoying the place, that’s at least part of why it was set aside in the first place.

More Crowds.

                                                                               However…

If you’re like me you take the first turn off the paved path that you can (possibly at a dead sprint), and at every fork in the path there after you choose the smaller option. The crowds are thick in the area immediately surrounding General Sherman, but within half a mile they’ve vanished. Gone is the paved path. Gone are the motor-scooters and the dashing children, gone are the tourists… all of them.

I spy with my little eye... something that begins with "no" and ends with "one in sight"

In twenty minutes, maybe less, I walked from General Sherman, where the press of the crowd made breathing difficult and decent photography nearly impossible, to The Senate, where I was wholly alone.

The trees in The Senate are close together, and like all Sequoias they are absolute behemoths. Their size borders on the absurd. Their roots must be massive, clutching balls of ground and rock the size of suburban homes in a centuries old iron-grip. Nothing grows on their ancient bark, its fire-charred and wispy, and (at least in places like The Senate) they shade-out most ground-level vegetation.

See the fire line?

Sitting at the base of a Sequoia it is hard not to put them in the context of their history. The genus which they now solely represent first evolved during the Jurassic. These are trees that evolved in response to mega-herbivores and now stand as towering giants above anything the biosphere is capable of throwing at them.

In retrospect I’m happy that there were so many people surrounding General Sherman, had I known how busy it could get there I probably would have just skipped that part of the park. No big deal. However, I’m sad that it was as easy as it was to escape the pressing crowds. Almost no one strolling along the paved paths left them in search of different trees or more lonely stretches of forest.

I don’t know why.

I'll part with this.

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Posted on December 29, 2011, in Exploring and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Maybe it’s selfish of me, but I’m always pleased when few people leave the paved paths.

    • Oh I agree, I always enjoy the privacy, and if the crowd surrounding General Sherman spread out they’d unintentionally do quite a bit of damage to the surrounding glades (assuming they all weren’t protected like General Sherman). I just hope they understand there’s a lot more to the park than the paved path between the biggest trees and the parking lot, even if they choose not to visit the rest.

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