Sunday, May 3, 2015

Now this is what I'm talkin' 'bout!

After the major disappointment of the Nelder Forest of Dead and Dying Tall Trees and Dead Trees Lying on the Ground, I knew I had to brave the crowds at the Mariposa Grove in the southern end of the park. When HH and I drove through the southern entrance one day to go to Oakhurst, rangers were all over the place directing traffic, turning would-be circling vultures away from the full parking lots, and generally looking frazzled. Whew!, I thought at the time, because we were headed to the Dead and Dying Tall Trees where I would find nirvana and solitude, but we all know how that turned out. So when I decided I was going to see the "real" giant sequoias we knew we had to get there early, if only to get a parking space.

We left the house at 6:40 and got to the grove an hour later. It's that far from El Portal to the south end of the park. There were three other cars in the lot but I could already feel the multitudes breathing down our necks, so we gathered water, camera, and a hiking stick and set out.

The first tree we came to is called the Fallen Monarch. It fell centuries ago and because the wood is tannin-rich it's rot-resistant and unpalatable to insects, which accounts for it still being in the grove.

The tree provided a backdrop for the U.S. Army each summer from 1891 through 1914 when cavalrymen rode from San Francisco to Yosemite to protect the park. Buffalo soldiers of the 9th and 24th Infantry also performed this role. Among the first park rangers, the cavalry held a tradition to ride out onto this giant sequoia to pose for photographs. 

Today it's not only frowned upon, it's forbidden to climb on the fallen trees. Below is the Fallen Monarch as it looks today. 

Sequoias don't have tap roots; instead the roots spread out near the surface, usually not more than six feet deep - but fanning out more than 150 feet - to catch water. 

HH returned to the truck to wait out the rest of my hike with a book on his iPad. He's the best and most patient waiter I've ever known. 

I continued to the Grizzly Giant. It's estimated to be between 1900 and 2400 years old and is the largest tree in the grove at 210 feet, with a buttressed base measuring 30 feet in diameter. I'll give you a minute to remember high school geometry to figure its circumference, or I can just tell you: 92 feet. Above the buttresses the diameter is 75 feet. This tree won't blow over in a storm.

The first branch up from the base, on the right, is about seven feet in diameter.

The Park Service has excellent graphic waysides here. Here's one about the Grizzly Giant that puts it in perspective. 

Next up for me was the Tunnel Tree, eviscerated in 1895. It's the second tree in the grove to have been tunneled, and the only one still standing.

Standing inside the tunnel one can see the tree trying to heal itself by continuing to grow bark. Unfortunately, people are still trying to kill it, as evidenced by the graffiti carved into the walls of the tunnel.

There were a few other people at the Tunnel Tree and when they took the left fork of the trail, I went right. As I glanced back at the tree to see it from the other direction, I saw these two deer, placidly watching the activity.

Another tree along the way is the Clothespin Tree. Fires have excavated a natural tunnel wider than a car. It doesn't look that large from a distance.

It's impossible for my camera to take in an entire tree without my having to stand so far back that its presence is diminished.


Look at the bottom of this photo for the post-and-rope fence that will give a sense of the dimensions of these giants.

Another excellent wayside is this one showing the different kinds of trees in the grove and their respective cones.

There are Ponderosa pine cones littering the ground around the house. They're huge, larger than will fit in my hand, but look at the compact size of the giant sequoia cone I found in the grove. It's a beautiful piece of engineering.

There wasn't a lot in bloom yesterday. I have yet to identify this one but the color was too good to ignore.

This tiny yellow wood violet was one of just three or four.

Another noteworthy sequoia is the Telescope Tree.

A giant cavity allows you to walk inside, look straight up, and see the sky. This amazing tree is still alive and producing viable seeds.

From the time I left the people at the Tunnel Tree, I saw and heard no one for the next couple of hours. The tweets, trills, chirps, and whistles of birds, the jackhammering of woodpeckers, the rustling of squirrels in the forest debris, and distant wind through tree tops were all I heard.

Most birds were visually elusive and I felt lucky to see this one, a long way off.

Another fallen tree is called the Stable Tree. During the days of stagecoach travel, mangers were built into the fire-scarred center and the space served as stables for horses. The base of the tree is behind the sign.

As much as I hate to see the graffiti that's everywhere in parks, I have to admit to an appreciation of the wit who carved into the Stable Tree's sign. You will perhaps appreciate my plagiarism of the history of the Stable Tree, taken directly from the same sign.

Finally, the Wawona Tunnel Tree. Carved in 1881 and falling under a record snowfall in 1969, it was a portal for untold numbers of visitors and undoubtedly contributed to the popularity and preservation of Yosemite.

This section of the tree is about one-fourth its length.

This is a closer view of the base.

I returned to a packed and frenzied parking lot with people creating their own spaces wherever they could squeeze in. HH told me there had been a steady flood of visitors into the grove throughout the morning. I had seen no more than a dozen since I left the people behind at the Tunnel Tree and don't know how I had been so lucky. I'd found nirvana and solitude in one of the busiest areas of the park.

As a postscript, I'm adding a couple of photos from an afternoon forward attack HH and I made on the park. We live about 20 minutes from the entrance and it's one lane in all the way. A second lane for employees and vendors opens up just yards from the fee station, and it doesn't matter who you are, you wait in line. On this trip in we waited in line about 20 minutes. On days like this, rain or snow or shine, a ranger moves down the line, handing out the park newspaper and answering questions so all people have to do is pay their money when they get to the booth.

What is it about waiting in line like this that makes it so much more palatable when you look in your rearview mirror and see a lot of cars behind you? Suddenly the line ahead doesn't seem so bad. What a weird phenomenon.

Anyway, we stopped at the Pohono Bridge, a small one that crosses the Merced River, and took a little stroll. There are dogwoods in bloom everywhere along here but the light wasn't right for them. I think it did fine for the river, though.

A road loops around the Valley floor in one direction. I don't know if that helps or hurts the traffic, but almost every time we go in, traffic is at a crawl. People are gawping, they don't know if they should pull over, they're looking for a place to pull over - they're on vacation. This time I didn't mind too much more than usual because the stopped traffic let me take in this cross-Valley view in softening afternoon light.

In violation of every rule about not feeding the animals, we have put out a hummingbird feeder at four parks now and haven't been busted yet. The family bird expert thinks this is an Anna's hummingbird.

And finally, a scrub jay that visited the yard last week. It looks like it was taking home carryout.

Thought of the day:

And this, our life exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. 
- William Shakespeare, As You Like It