In this life, some things just have to be seen to be believed. One of these things is the General Sherman, the largest tree by volume in the world. I realize that statements like the “largest tree by volume in the world” provide no context, so let’s talk hard facts about the General Sherman. First, the General Sherman is a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that was named for General William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the famous generals of the American Civil War. In terms of essential information, it is 275 feet tall from its base to its top; the circumference of its base is 102.6 feet, its maximum diameter at its base is 36.5 feet, and its estimated total volume is a whopping 52,500 cubic feet!
One of the most iconic things to see in Sequoia National Park is a relic of a bygone past. It is not a hiking trail. It is not a perfectly natural feature. And, it is not alive. Yes, I am speaking of something that requires no effort to see - the infamous Tunnel Log . It's not to be confused with the Tunnel Tree that existed in Yosemite National Park, but both involve Giant Sequoias. In 1937, a Giant Sequoia fell across the Crescent Road in Sequoia National Park, and rather than remove it, the Park Service elected to cut a tunnel through it which people have been happily driving through ever since. On the plus side, since the the tree fell from natural causes, the tunnel log does not represent any wanton destruction of nature, or Giant Sequoias. The tree also represents a different wilderness philosophy of the National Park Service; one that preserved nature while also making it a bit of a spectacle with things like this and the infamous Yosemite firefall. This different wilderness ethos, along with the sheer spectacle of the Tunnel Log make it worth visiting while you can, as it is a curiosity of a time long gone.
The first thing you notice when you enter the Mariposa Grove in the dead of winter is the silence. (http://youtu.be/uImXDsJ4VNA) The distant rumble of buses, the clarion call of horns, and the screech of car brakes are all gone. The babble of a multitude of voices speaking the languages of the world is also gone. Even the mild chatter of squirrels and scrub jays fighting over food is gone as well. There is nothing but silence. Then, you hear it. You hear the slight sliding sounds of snow shifting off of tree limbs before hitting the ground with gentle whumps. You hear the distant rustle of branches being shifted by the cold winter wind. Then, you hear the voices of the trees, groaning and cracking under the weight of snow and ice, shifting their limbs, and delving their roots into the sierra soil, and you realize that even though man is gone, and there is no noise, the grove is not really silent, it has just reverted back to its state of nature.
And that is what you realize second, as you stand before the Grizzly Giant, and other massive monoliths of the Mariposa Grove. You realize that Yosemite only became a park in 1864 when Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, and before that, these Giant Sequoias were there. You realize that even before that, when Galen Clark “found” the Mariposa Grove in 1857, these trees were already there. That when the Declaration of Independence was signed, these trees were still there. That the trees were there when Columbus discovered the New World, and that they were there well before that, as the Grizzly Giant is over 2,400 years old, and was there, in that spot, well before the modern world. That’s when you realize that you’re standing in a spot that is timeless, meaning in this case, that it is almost outside of time – these trees have existed like this, withstanding the depredations of hot, cold, fire, ice, and more in the same spot and in the same manner for millennia. If standing in that spot doesn’t blow your mind and make you feel like you could be standing there at any time for the last 2,400 odd years, or that those trees have stood there before man knew them, and will likely be there after man knows them, then there’s nothing I can say to you to make you wonder and marvel at this aspect of nature. But for the rest of us, let me give you some directions!
Directions: If there is enough snow, NPS will have closed the summer access road to the Mariposa Grove, and there will be parking immediately next to the Entrance Station off of Highway 41 at the South Entrance of the park. From this lot, it is a two mile ski/snowshoe/walk to the Grove. Astute readers will note that I have provided three options to get to the grove and have not recommended one particular method. This is because you yourself will have to judge how the conditions are to determine which method of transportation will be the best for you. Last year, I walked in as there was a solid base layer of snow that I would not posthole through. I also chose to walk because I had torn off my cross country ski boot binding the day before, but that’s another story. In any event, the two miles up the road is an easy, mildly sloping trek/ski/snowshoe. Should you elect to stop here, your mileage will be four miles roundtrip. Should you elect to continue on (as highly recommended above), your mileage will vary between six (6) to eight (8) miles roundtrip. All of the mileage that you will accrue heading through the grove is mild; and even if you elect to go the full eight miles, or longer, I would rate this as an easy to moderate trek/ski/snowhoe.
Tips: Snowshoers, don’t walk in the cross country ski track. Cross country skiers, don’t ski over snowshoers. Hikers, don’t walk in the cross country ski track, and don’t fall on snowshoers. Do note that the bathrooms at the Grove will likely be closed due to winter conditions, so plan accordingly. And, speaking of planning accordingly, be prepared for winter conditions on your excursion, because if you’re doing this in the wintertime, it will be cold. Above all else, take your time, and be prepared for a magical experience. Aaaaaaaand, don’t shout, just in case there are other people there trying to have their own magical timeless moment. Also, watch out for falling snow from tree branches. It can be a cold, sudden surprise.
See you on the trail!
More Information: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=134999, http://www.yosemitehikes.com/southern-yosemite/mariposa-grove/mariposa-grove.htm, http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/mg.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariposa_Grove