Visitors to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park can still see the Centennial Stump, the remains of a gigantic sequoia cut down for exhibition at the 1875 Centennial in Philadelphia. Nearby is the Big Stump Trail, a one-mile path that leads through an incredible wasteland of downed logs, stumps, and fallen trees, sad reminders of an earlier era when these giants were only valued for their wood.
The bigness of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks that is evident in these great trees is also reflected in its spectacular alpine backcountry. Made up almost completely of wilderness, its boundaries encompass most of the Sierra Nevada. These mountains are the longest and highest unbroken range in North America, stretching more than 400 miles from north to south.
A jagged, sawtooth chain of rocky ridges punctuated by sheer granite peaks, the section of the Sierra Nevada within Sequoia-Kings Canyon is not a range of individual mountains but a great upheaval of solid granite. Its western side rises somewhat gradually from foothills to more than 13,000 feet, then plummets dramatically down its eastern flank to Owens Valley.
Several major rivers rise within the drainage basins of these mountains, which contain areas extremely remote from civilization. This high-mountain walking route, John Muir Trail, runs through this area and took 23 years to construct. From Yosemite National Park it leads south for 218 miles across the snow-swept top of the High Sierra all the way to the flank of Mount Whitney.
Dozens of supplementary trails connect with the Muir trail, giving hikers good access to the stunning alpine world of knife-edge ridges, glaciers, high mountain tarns, and meadows filled with wildflowers.
Parts of these parks are so remote that a backcountry hiker may not see another person for days at a time. There is one spot in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon that is said to be more distant from a road than any other location in the lower 48 states.
Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks Photo Opportunities
From the Sierra Nevada peaks to the incredible sequoias, the natural beauty of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks must be captured on film. Here are some ideal shots:
- General Sherman Tree: This giant sequoia is the largest (by volume) tree in the world. You have to see it to believe it.
- Mount Whitney: The summit of Mount Whitney reaches 14,491 feet, making it the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states.
- : Located in the Grant Grove area, Big Stump Basin allows you to compare the remnants of destroyed sequoias with the live giants.
- Crystal Cave: Crystal Cave has been one of the parks' primary visitor attractions since 1941. This and other caves in the park contain Pleistocene-era fossils, rare minerals, and unique animals.
The General Sherman Tree
The statistics of the General Sherman sequoia, the biggest living thing on earth, are staggering. Its bulk, estimated at anywhere from 2-1/2 to 12 million pounds, far exceeds any other tree on earth. Its 275-foot height, although not as tall as some redwood trees, is certainly respectable. Its lowest branch is 130 feet above the ground, which is high enough that a 12-story building would not reach it. This branch, incidentally, is itself larger than any tree in the United States east of the Mississippi River.
The General may be as old as 2,500 years, and it is still growing. Botanists believe that the tree adds enough wood each year to build another 60-foot-tall tree one foot in diameter. The total lumber contained within the General's huge bulk would build more than 50 three-bedroom houses.
Among the last of their species, thousands of giant sequoias still remain in the park. Fortunately, they are reproducing themselves in logged-out areas at a rate that ensures their survival for centuries if we continue to protect them.
Some of the stumps cut during the 19th century show rings dating back 3,000 or more years. Experts believe it is likely that some of the trees now standing were alive during the Bronze Age, 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.
The longevity of the sequoia is due to several factors. For one thing, its bark, which can be two feet thick, is unusually resistant to fire, insects, lightning, and disease. The trees also are exceedingly vigorous, outgrowing and dominating other species in the forest. Their only known weakness is a shallow root system that occasionally allows them to topple over without warning in a mild breeze.
On the following page, we'll tell you about the history behind the parks' forest giants and beautiful valleys.