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Part 2 – Big Trees State Park, Calveras County, California
The Big Trees State Park contains two campgrounds with a total of 129 campsites, six picnic areas and hundreds of miles of established trails. Located in the Stanislaus National Forest, Big Trees S.P. has a water spigot near every site, but not close enough or compatible with the RVs city water connection (unless you have a “water thief” or serious plumbing skills to temporarily extend a hose over to the RV to fill the fresh water tank.). There’s also no electric or sewer hookups. Well, that’s not too much of a problem, you might be thinking, as long as they have a dump station, but they don’t (we were told that the dump station was “out of order.” It’s been that way for quite a while; coincidentally during California’s budget crisis, when parks were being closed to save money). We guess that it’s easier to tell campers that the dump station was out of order than to tell them that it was working, but no one was allowed to use it so that the state didn’t have to pay to have it pumped out.)
Even so, we were not complaining. The park was a beautiful mixed hardwood and conifer forest, with a thick carpet of pine needles and a wet meadow beside our site that was full of wildflowers and songbirds. And, much to our delight, two groves of our favorite trees, the Giant Sequoias. We had visited a Sequoia forest in Kings Canyon National Forest years ago when the kids were young and had come away feeling blessed to have experienced it. We felt as if we were walking through an ancient cathedral, with huge tree trunks supporting the roof and a quiet majesty that took our breath away. Really!
On this trip, we just happened to pull into the north grove of Sequoias campground, not realizing that there is also south grove with more Sequoias and more campsites. The 100 or so Sequoias and other giant redwoods in the North Grove are spread out along a level trail. A larger collection of about 1,000 Sequoias is in the southern grove, which we didn’t get to see (always leave something more to see so that you have a reason to return, I always say).
In the southern grove you can view the largest Sequoia tree in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It’s called the Louis Agassiz Tree, named after a famous zoologist. That particular tree is 250 feet tall and is over 25 feet in diameter when measured 6 feet off the ground. To get that big, the Sequoias have to live a very, very long time. The largest Sequoias are estimated to be as much as 2,500 years old!
BTW, the largest tree in the world (by volume) is the General Grant tree, located in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Forest (Redwoods, which include Sequoias, are found all over the world, but nowhere as numerous, or as large, as in Western California) (The tallest tree in the world is a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), named “Hyperion” after a person in Greek mythology. He is no less than 115.55 m (379.1 feet) tall! This enormous tree was discovered only in August 2006 in a remote part of the Redwood National Park). The General Grant measures 271 feet tall and is 28 feet in diameter when measured 6 feet above the ground. They measure the diameter of the trees that way because Sequoias flare out at the bottom where the roots begin (so-called “Butt Bulge,” something that not only Giant Sequoia’s suffer from as they grow old). The General Grant is so big that words cannot describe it fully; you have to see it to believe that something that big and that old even exists.
The park became a major tourist attraction in the 1850s after word spread about the amazing trees. And that fact; that such wonders even exist, has been the cause of many sad stories about the giant Sequoias. One of those stories is about a tree that is not the biggest nor the tallest tree in the forest; in fact, all that’s left of it is a gigantic stump and a section of its trunk. Another giant was destroyed to create a movable display for money-making tours. Their stories are sad chapters in a tale about fabulous trees and the greed that caused many of their deaths over 150 years ago. It began when men visited the Sequoia groves at that time and saw not just trees, but lots of money that could be made by exploiting them.
(Come back for Part 3 – Big Trees State Park, Calaveras County, California – Exploitation of the Sequoias)