We spent the day hiking around roughly 500 mature giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove near the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. The oldest tree in the grove, the Grizzly Giant, is estimated to be 1,800 years old and the tallest is about 290 feet. It was humbling to walk among these beautiful giants. What was happening in the world when they were seedlings? How long after we’re gone will they stand tall and steady?
Mariposa Grove owes its name to Spanish explorers in the 1800’s when they discovered a great cluster of butterflies ("mariposas" in Spanish) in the foothills of the Sierras and so a creek, then a county, then a grove were named.
Roots of the sequoias are usually no deeper than six feet, but may spread out more than 150 feet which helps provide a stable base. Very few young sequoias can be found because people used to suppress naturally occurring fires in an effort to protect the forest. What they didn’t realize until the 1960’s is that lightning-caused fires are a normal and necessary part of nature’s delicate balance. Lightning fires burn away leaf litter and other ground cover leaving a thin layer of nutrient-rich ash on the soil. Heat from the fire dries the sequoia cones and out pop fresh seeds on a perfectly prepared bed.
Suppressing fires is a perfect example of Maya Angelou’s “when you know better you do better”. As we walked by many charred trees from prescribed burns, I couldn’t help but wonder what else in nature we’re interfering with in an effort to “protect” something.
We noticed that as we gained elevation we lost crowds and were pleasantly surprised at how many foreign tourists we encountered on the shuttle and trails. We estimate we hiked just under six miles (one of these days we’ll get a pedometer) and total gain was about 1,200 feet. An absolute delight was when we reached Wawona Point Vista at 6,810 feet. Nothing but trees in every direction, aside from a few pockets of snow, and we were the only ones there! We sat for quite a while taking in this stunning view.
Our first experience in Yosemite definitely did not disappoint. After about five hours in the park we had just enough energy to sit by a campfire back home with our attention split between the flickering flame and the twinkling stars.
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