Sequoia/ Kings Canyon National Parks

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Bigness—big trees and big canyons—inspired the separate founding of each of these parks. In 1943 Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks began to be jointly administered. The two contiguous parks are 66 miles long and 36 miles at their widest point.

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Nearly 97 percent of these vast parks is wilderness. A backpacker can hike to a spot that is farther from a road than any other place in the lower 48 states.

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Sequoia National Park is one of the eight national parks in California. Located in the foothills and mountains of the south central section of the Sierra Nevada range, Sequoia is famous for big things–some of the largest trees in the world and some of the highest mountains in the U.S., including Mt. Whitney, at 14,495 feet the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states.

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Sequoia National Park contains gigantic specimens of a number of different types of trees, but the most memorable are surely the giant Sequoias which inhabit several groves scattered through the park. These gargantuan trees may grow to a height in excess of 300 feet. Among all species of trees, they are second in height only to their close relatives, the redwoods of the northern California coast, although they are considerably larger in bulk and girth.

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With its deep valleys, skyscraping trees, and distinctive rock outcroppings, Kings Canyon National Park is the place that John Muir once called “a rival to Yosemite.”

We found that we personally preferred these parks to Yosemite, its northern California sister. As we stepped into the cool shadowed world of the sequoia grove we felt as though we were fairies in an enchanted forest, dwarfed in size next to these enormous trees.

It was unreal stepping inside the hallowed out base of this giant tree. Our entire family fit inside.

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Located next to Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon Park is composed of two distinct areas – Grant Grove (home to the General Grant tree, also known as “the Nation’s Christmas Tree”) and Cedar Grove. Grant Grove visitors snap photos and marvel at the sheer size of the sequoia grove.  Kings Canyon is also home to Redwood Canyon, the largest remaining grove of sequoia trees in the world.

Standing beside the General Grant Tree:

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The sequoia, which sprouts exclusively from seeds, continues to grow throughout its life. It usually dies only when toppled by wind or other catastrophic event.

Even fallen, these trees are resistant to decay, lasting for hundreds or thousands of years on the forest floor, as seen by these photos of the Fallen Monarch. There were photos on display from 1900 of people climbing through this fallen giant just as we did yesterday, 116 years later.

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The trees are virtually impervious to disease; the oldest specimen on record lived approximately 3200 years. Their cinnamon color is an effect of the presence of tannin in the thick bark and heartwood which also contributes to their resistance to fire, insects, fungus, and decay.

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The giant sequoia trees cluster togther in groves. In fact, all of the earth’s sequoia trees are contained in 75 groves which lay at an elevation between 5000 and 7000 feet in the Sierras. Thirty of these are in Sequoia/Kings Canyon parks. Four of the earth’s 5 largest trees are found in this grove, which contains a total of 10,657 trees, 8411 of which are greater than one foot in diameter. The trees in this grove, named by John Muir, enjoy ideal climatic conditions which include some 44 inches of precipitation per year.

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Although the trees are massive, sequoia wood is relatively light and brittle. It often shatters when the tree falls, a factor which played no small role in preventing even more of the trees from having been cut before they were preserved in a national park.

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It is often many feet up to even the lowest limb of the largest trees, as the lower limbs typically die for want of sunlight. The root system of these giants is surprisingly shallow, often going down only 3 to 6 feet. The trees depend on balance to remain standing, which explains how straight many of these trees grow.

Look at the roots on this fallen giant!

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Fire, the enemy of many forests, is actually an essential ingredient in the growth and survival of sequoias. The mature sequoia is quite resistant to fire, but fires clear and prepare the soil of the forest floor for the growth of sequoia seedlings and open the forest canopy to allow light to reach the young trees. The heat of fire also causes the sequoia cone to release its seeds.

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What a magical place to visit!

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