archived photos

Repost: Calaveras Big Trees, 2009

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I first posted about this particular trip to Calaveras Big Trees in two separate posts, in March and May 2009. I was going to simply repost the originals, but they were written back in my early days of blogging — when I took a look back I realized the images were much too small and I just wasn’t happy with them in general. So I’ve retouched them where necessary and am sharing them again, this time in a size more befitting these beautiful, venerable Sequoias.

This really was a wonderful outing; the snow was falling and we were pretty much the only people in the park. I’d love to make another visit later in the spring or summer, but seeing those ancient trees in the dead of winter was very special.

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We visited the park on a Friday, so I’m not sure what the place looks like on the weekends, but (besides ourselves) we encountered a mere handful of hearty folks prepared to wade through the snow. Naturally, the carefully marked trails were mostly buried, but we managed to find enough footprints to guide us along the trail without even using a map. I was ready for the snow — I had my comfy handknit wool socks, wool cap, and wool sweater to keep me cozy.

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We followed the North Grove Trail. As I said, we were without a map and so just followed the tracks in the snow and watched for the numbered signs which indicated specific points of interest. The quiet solitude of the snow-filled forest, where we stood surrounded by some of the largest (and oldest) trees in the world, could only be described as awe inspiring. The grey clouds would periodically part, letting the sun shine on the snow-laden trees. As we stopped to examine the roots of this fallen tree, we had snow falling down upon us not from the sky, but from the tree branches above our heads.

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We spent so much time gazing up at the tops of the giant redwoods that our necks were soon hurting. But it was impossible not to look — and once my eyes found the treetops, I could barely manage to tear them away. And there are the trees that are no longer standing. How’s this for a sense of scale?

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Another fallen tree that caught our attention was hollow, with steps leading down into the interior. We weren’t able to explore it on this particular day because it had become a pool of ice-cold water. Here’s a view of both the inside and the outside:

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Not all the trees look quite so majestic; there is some sad commentary on human nature here as well. In 1854 promoters decided the best way to show off these beautiful trees was to completely strip the bark from one of them and reassemble the pieces for public display. The crowds may have been duly impressed, but John Muir wrote, “This grand tree is of course dead, a ghastly disfigured ruin, but it still stands erect and holds forth its majestic arms as if alive and saying, ‘Forgive them; they know not what they do.”

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As we neared the end of the trail, we saw a grove of trees surrounded by a wooden viewing platform. At this point, as much as we’d enjoyed our hike, the only thing we really wanted to view was the parking lot and our nice warm car. Especially when we noticed that the Warming Hut was all locked up and deserted. Darn!

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In January 2017, I was sad to hear that one of the park’s most iconic trees, the Pioneer Cabin Tree, fell during a winter storm and broke into several pieces. No one knew precisely how old or how tall the tree was, but it was already a very large tree in the 1880s, when somebody decided it would be a great idea to cut a tunnel through the trunk. There are a number of similar “drive-through” redwood trees still standing in various locations; but fortunately we now understand that the best way to appreciate these incredible trees is to let them stand tall and proud just as nature intended.

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