Living Here

Winter Wonder in Sequoia

It's a gray gloomy day in the Valley, but above 1,500 feet, the sun is shining brightly. You're heading up from Visalia on that winding 198 road past the little village of Three Rivers – up the Generals Highway – to the top of Sequoia National Park.

The highway is so named because it connects the General Sherman Tree – the world's largest living thing – to the General Grant Tree over in Kings Canyon National Park – a little under an hour's drive from each other (carry chains in the winter).

It's a steep climb beyond Hospital Rock. The views are awesome looking up to big Moro Rock, but the real reward is at the top where the Giant Sequoias are a humbling experience, often up to 300 feet in height with some of them thousands of years old. The luminous red bark totally dominates the snowy white landscape of the forest at 6,000 feet.

You have arrived in Giant Forest where early settlers came to escape the Valley heat and visitors from all over the world pay pilgrimage year round.

To enjoy the power and splendor of a Sequoia forest, travel to the parking lot at the General Sherman Tree. Here is a great network of intertwined trails through the Congress Grove of Sequoias once appreciated by naturalist John Muir.

In Tulare County's backyard, Muir found and named the "Giant Forest" – staying in Tharp's Log in Crescent Meadow and using it as a base for a while to explore and note the groves nearby. He found the Big Trees were each grander than the next. “Every tree of all the mighty host seemed perfect in beauty and strength, and their majestic domed heads, rising above one another on the mountain slope, were most imposingly displayed, like a range of bossy upswelling cumulus clouds on a calm sky.

“Nine-tenths of the Big Trees are between the Kern and Kings (rivers),” Muir stated, and at the time he wrote the article in 1875, he feared about half the lands where the Big Trees stood were in the hands of either speculators or lumbermen.

Muir went on to play a prominent role in preservation of our own Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, far beyond the original small acreage protected at Grant Grove. Kings Canyon was originally proposed to carry the name of John Muir. Today his name is on the cross-Sierra trail on the eastern side of the Sierra.

Even in the wintertime, you can walk some of these trails or try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing along these crisscrossed trails. You can rent ski equipment and snowshoes in nearby Wuksachi.

Getting away and immersing yourself in a grove of Sequoias in winter is like walking through a hushed cathedral– it's a moving experience.

Snow ghosts cover the small trees and on the Big Trees the white stuff hangs on every branch hundreds of feet into the sky. Ah – the sky is true blue in contrast, and the nights are as chock full of stars as you would want. Dress warmly at night, in layers if you can – and don't forget those big parkas – it's likely to fall into the teens. Daytime temperatures can be expected in the low 40s and 30s.

Normally, the Generals Highway tying Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will remain open, depending on the snow level (ask at entrance gate). Along the route, there are a half dozen insulated groves of Sequoias before you reach Kings Canyon.

It's quiet in Sequoia in the winter and that lends the right mood to appreciating this special place. As you drive along the Generals Highway, you catch a glimpse of what looks like a sea of clouds covering the Valley below. It's clear these trees – that grow nowhere else on earth – have carefully selected this place.

The Giant Forest Museum is located in the heart of the
big trees and is open year-round.

**Article borrowed with permission from Discover Magazine/Valley Voice Newspaper.

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