Yep, these trees are big. Looky:
This one is the biggest tree in the world, the General Sherman Sequoia:
When you're standing by it -- or rather, by the fence that prevents you from getting too close to it -- it's hard to believe it could be not merely the largest tree, but the biggest living thing in the entire world. How crazy is that? Looking at it, standing by it, somehow, it doesn't seem that big. It's not the tallest tree (it's "only" 275 ft), and it doesn't have the biggest circumference ("only" 102 feet), but all in all it manages to have the highest volume of wood in cubic feet: 52,508. And it's not that it's not impressive, it's just that somehow my brain couldn't really compute that it was that big. I had the same feeling at the Grand Canyon, but for a different reason. I mean, the Grand Canyon does look that big. So big, in fact, that its depth kind of flattens itself out, like the human eye can't quite. . . I don't know, triangulate something of that scope. But the Sherman tree wasn't quite as impressive as I expected.
But what was impressive was just walking through the Giant Forest. The trees in the Giant Forest don't have fences around them like the General Sherman do, and you can get close, and also, they're all around you, making you feel the size of a bug. The overall effect is incredible.
This is all at Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevadas. Sequoia is adjacent to King's Canyon National Park, which is vast and does not appear to be crossed by a single road. I could be wrong, but on the map it doesn't look like it. Being up in the mountains on a day trip, hitting only high-volume tourist sites, really made me want to go on a backcountry trip, which I've done only a couple of times in my life. I always want to start camping again, but we just haven't gotten around to it, and dang it, that must change.
Some basic Sequioa facts: they are not the same thing as redwood trees. A lot of people think they are; they're related but distinct. Redwoods grow only at the coast. Sequoias grow nowhere else on Earth but here in the Sierras, at around 6500 feet. Unlike redwoods. they are brittle and make crap lumber. In fact, when they topple, they tend to bust into a bunch of pieces. (Idiots logged the hell out of them anyway.) They are virtually indestructible. They're highly fire-resistant, they self-heal from forest fires (which are an essential part of their ecology and the main way their seeds are released from their cones) and are totally pest-resistant. The only natural cause of death of a Sequoia is toppling, which is not unusual, since they are really big and have really shallow roots, like redwoods, which are likened to a pin standing on its head.
Here are the roots of a toppled giant (and me and my brother-in-law Perry):
In the 19th century, folks back on the East Coast flat didn't believe reports that trees grew in California with a diameter of 20-30 feet. They didn't even believe the photos. So what do you think people did? They cut down trees and hauled cross-sections all the way across the continent in ox carts. But the cross sections were too dang big for ox carts, so the people had to cut them up and reassemble them. And of course, since they were in pieces, people didn't even believe they were from one single tree! Many of these tree chunks still remain in museums. (Feh.)
Since Sequoia wood doesn't decay, it's impossible to tell the age of a toppled giant. Many such trees are strewn around the Giant Forest, and no one knows how long they've lain there. Many are hollow and they're huge inside:
One was used as a stable and could hold over 20 horses! Twenty horses inside one hollow tree!
I love trees. I read a book recently I keep meaning to blog about -- I keep meaning to write an "Earth's Greatest Hits" about trees, but I haven't gotten around to it -- the books is The Wild Trees, and it's about the botanists who pioneered redwood canopy ecology in the 1990s. Until then, no one had climbed a redwood to see what was up there!!! On a mature redwood tree, the first branches that can bear a person's weight occur at the equivalent of the 20th floor of a building (geez!) so they're, um, not easy to climb. This book goes into the way this group of botanists gradually figured out how to climb them with relative safety (it's still crazy-unsafe. don't try it.) and it's a very exciting book. Read it! There's lots of obsession in it, as well as really cool trees, and it's a love story too. Cool!
Here are Jim and Perry eating ice cream at Lodgepole Visitor Center -- Jim's wearing my sunglasses.
And the very polite trash cans in the park:
Go hug a tree! Ooh, that reminds me of a very lame bumper sticker I saw on a teenager's car here in Flat City. It said, "Tree-huggers suck." What? In what possible vision of the Universe do tree-huggers suck? Tree-hugger-haters suck! Hug a tree-hugger!