After exploring Yosemite’s high meadows and granite domes on our first day in the park, my mother and I had an easier–but no less exciting–second day planned: visiting the Mariposa Giant Sequoia Grove.
After breakfast at the Wawona Hotel, we parked and rode the shuttle into the Mariposa Grove. The grove itself feels like a typical Yosemite forest. Even upon spying our first few Giant Sequoias, we weren’t blown away.
The problem, of course, is scale. It takes time for the mind to make sense of the massive trees in the same way that your eyes adjust slowly to a dark room. Then a person or a car provides a bit of perspective and suddenly you realize that you are looking at the largest living organism on Earth (depending on your definition of organism).
You simply cannot imagine or understand the size of these trees from a photograph. They are enormous. While redwood trees are taller, sequoias have the largest mass and still grow to be over 200 feet tall. Growing this big takes time, lots of it, and giant sequoias can live thousands of years. These trees don’t die of old age. They grow and grow and grow and grow until they eventually fall over, usually in a large storm.
Our experience in the grove will likely be different than yours should you choose to visit because big changes are coming. This summer (2015) the National Park Service is closing the grove for 2 years in order to do major work on the area’s roads and pathways. One reason is to eliminate the narrated tram tour that my mother and I took to the top of the grove.
The narration on the tour was fantastic (and done through headphones to avoid noise-pollution), but riding on a diesel tram with one hundred or more people is no way to experience a forest. While the tram ride is a loop, my mother and I elected to get off at the top and walk our way back down to the car.
After the tram moved on, the top of the grove was nearly empty. This is because the grove lies on the side of a fairly steep hill, and most folks elected to take the full tram ride or walk around the lower section.
In the photos below, my mother is standing at the base of the fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree. A tunnel was cut through this massive tree in 1881, and it survived until 1969. Visitors used to be able to ride their stagecoaches through the tree; and, for a while, small cars could still fit. My mother even rode through the tree on a cross-country road trip as a child. To no one’s surprise though, cutting an SUV-sized hole through a tree did not help it remain stable, and it was blown down in a large storm. The photos below are also the only ones that come close to representing the scale of these trees.
You may have noticed that many of the sequoias have fire damage at their bases. This is their main method of survival. Frequent small forest fires whip through the grove scorching the smaller shrubs. The sequoias thick bases allow them to survive the fires, and with the competition eliminated, they flourish. In the photos below, my mother and I are standing in front of a tree with an enormous fire scar.
Whether you are a nature lover or not, there is something powerful about these trees. You keep catching yourself staring up into the air muttering, “Oh My God.” Exploring this grove has made me excited to visit other ‘big tree’ parks like Redwood and Sequoia. Here are a few more photos of the grove.
After exploring the Mariposa Grove, my mother and I drove up to Glacier Point to watch the sunset on half dome. Glacier Point provides a commanding view of Yosemite Valley and its crowned jewel, Half Dome.
Half Dome was definitely on my mind this evening because that was my objective for the next day. Months earlier I had applied for and won a permit to summit Half Dome on a grueling day hike that meant gaining 4800′ feet and hiking over 15 miles (especially when you take a wrong turn!). More on that in the next post, but until then, enjoy the view.