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There were many highlights of my recent California tour, but I think I am like many people in that these tall trees have a particular fascination. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is towards the South entry to Yosemite National Park (highway 41) and situated fairly close to the Historic Wawona Hotel. (approximately 6 miles away)
There are three areas of Giant Sequoias within the Yosemite National Park area, but it is the Mariposa grove which is most visited. There are some famous trees here, and there are more than five hundred trees in the grove.
Galen Clark had been given six months to live by his doctor, back in 1856, when he took to the mountains of Yosemite and discovered this magnificent grove. He lobbied congress for protection to preserve the area and became the first Guardian of the area. He loved teaching others about the trees and the forest ecosystem, and in fact his tuberculosis cleared up and he lived for another 54 years, only dying in 1910. It is without a doubt thanks to Galen Clark that we can still enjoy these trees today.
We arrived in the area just before 5pm not quite sure what to expect. In fact there is a tram and guided tour which takes you around the Upper and Lower Groves on a journey which last about 75 minutes. This 5pm tram was the last tram of the day, and is in fact a reasonably good time to go, as it is getting a little cooler and the area is less busy. There is car parking close to the tram stop although I understand this can be full from 10am in the morning until mid afternoon.
Tickets were around $16 a head for adults with concessions available. Each visitor is provided with their own personal headset so you can enjoy the benefit of knowledge of some of the Rangers who have looked after this magnificent forest, while at the same time avoiding any noise pollution from a public commentary from the driver's cab. Each tour could handle around 40 visitors approximately.
During the 75 minute journey the tram stops twice, and there are further opportunities for taking photos without disembarking. There is a small museum in the Upper Grove, which is open during the summer months. This is located on the site where Galen Clark built his cabin almost 150 years ago. There are also a couple of rest areas on the route and the ones at the car park are of the huge hole in the ground variety.
The first tree on the journey is the Fallen Monarch, which actually toppled over several hundred years ago. This gives an opportunity to examine the tree roots. In fact the roots are not deep, despite the massive heights of these trees, but they do fan out over 150 feet to support the weight of the trunks. There are plenty of young Sequoias in this area, although less so away from the road. The Sequoias need plenty of sunlight and trees which can grow in more shady areas gradually took over the forest, reducing the sunlight available and covering the forest floor with tree debris. Forest fires are essential for Sequoias to survive and the supression of these fires actually made it impossible for them to grow. Nowadays the National Park Service organise "Prescribed Burns" to clear parts of the forest until it returns to a more natural state. Lightning strikes have typically done this work naturally in the past.
It is astonishing to think that these trees have grown and survived for over 3000 years in some cases. They are not in fact the oldest living things, or the tallest (although their cousins the Sierra Redwoods are at maximum 20 feet taller) and they do not have the greatest base diameter, but they do have the largest VOLUME of any living thing on earth.
I found the group of four trees - "The Bachelor and the three Graces" to be particularly attractive, possibly due to the name. This group consists of one larger tree and three much thinner and younger trees, grouped together. They are so close that their roots will be very intertwined and if one were to eventually fall, then there is no doubt the others would fall with it.
The Grizzly Giant is one of the oldest and tallest trees in the Grove, and it even has a branch high up on one side which is 2 meters in diameter - wider than any other non sequoia trunk in the entire grove. The tram stops here for a while, allowing the visitors to visit the Grizzly giant and the California Tunnel Tree so named as it was cut towards the turn of the last century so that stage coaches could pass through it! In fact, two trees were cut in this way, but the other, the Wawona Tunnel Tree, fell in 1969, weakened by the hole.
The Faithful couple are a pair of very tall trees which have grown so close together that their trunks have fused together, although they are two separate trees at the top. There were other examples of this around the forest, including a pair which are inevitably going to end up fused at some point hundreds of years into the future.
The Clothespin tree shows how the fires affect the giant Sequoias. They are very hardy and will withstand forest fires, but often the bark is blackened badly, showing black scars on the trees. In some cases the bark and trunk burn right through - this tree is the shape of a wooden clothes peg at its base, and the gap is deceptive from a distance - a car could actually drive through it. The telescope tree is also affected by fire, and in its case you can stand within the trunk and look up skywards - the tree has actually become hollowed by fires, yet still does not fall.
The Tram route itself operates Mid May until the end of October. It is also perfectly possible to hike through the Grove yourself, or combine the two by walking down from the Upper Grove which would be a gentle walk for most reasonably fit people.
The tour itself is approximately 75 minutes, although you could get off at the two points and if you wished you could attempt to catch a later tram to take you back down - although this would depend on there being room, and given the popularity of this area, that might not always be the case. However if you do plan on staying a little longer while there is a small gift shop near the tram base, you may want to bring a small packed lunch with you.
The Mariposa Grove is truly a special place on earth and while all of Yosemite was stunningly beautiful, these trees are the most memorable part of my all too short trip. If you ever go to Yosemite make sure you do not miss this Grove.
Giant sequoias are also known as Sierra redwoods - not to be confused with the coast redwood, which are found in a separate range along the California coast. Giant sequoias are native only in isolated groups on the western slope of the central and southern Sierra Nevada. There are three groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park - the Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Merced Groves. Of these, the Mariposa Grove is the largest and most often visited. It contains about 500 mature giant sequoias, and you can spend several hours to a full day exploring this wonderland of towering giants.