Yosemite Trekker @ thecityedition.com ----- Post #14 Sept. 19, 2009
A thousand-year-old Sequoia dwarfs a sapling -- 9/01/09
Trip to the Mariposa Grove and Wawona Hotel
Skip to Wawona Hotel photos.
It took weeks of handringing, whining, begging, skulking and maybe a few dozen card tricks, but one morning my clever tactics paid off, as a co-worker sputtered up beside me in her 2001 Saturn and said she'd drive me to the Mariposa Grove.
About an hour and a half from the valley, the grove houses the "big trees", or what botantists refer to as Sequoiadendron Giganteum. Among the oldest on Earth, sequoia trees date back 70 million years to the time of dinosaurs, which sort of makes sense when you think about it. They were once the dominant stalk of North America, but now just 75 small tracts remain, all in the Sierra Nevadas. Perched near the south entrance, the Mariposa Grove is one of the two original parcels earmarked for protection back in the 1864, when Yosemite became a state park.
The Saturn on left is parked on Highway 41. The trees are The Bachelor and Three Graces.
On a pleasant morning around 11 a.m., Edie and I reached our destination, just as other tourists were starting to swarm the place in droves. Lucky my co-worker is not the sleep-till-noon type, because finding a parking spot gets a little hairy by that hour, causing the park service to sometimes close the road. (An alternative approach is to park at the Wawona Store some miles away and take the free shuttle.) At the height of summer, the weather can also get pretty toasty, so the earlier you come, the better.
From the parking lot, it's a short walk to see most of the main attractions, but be forewarned, the mile-long upward trail to the pioneer museum is a real slog. A prescribed burn several years back in the grove was augmented more recently by a lightning-strike fire that did a lot of damage. I was surprised to find such devastation, but the rangers here say the scorched-earth strategy allows Sequoia seeds to take root. Only one seed in about three million, they say, ever makes it to adulthood, with fire suppression efforts over the last century partly to blame.
That's Edie Howe in the photo above on the left, the owner of the 2001 Saturn. As I mentioned in an earlier post, she publishes LittleRedTent.com.(To view some of her Yosemite work, select "Portfolio" on the website home page, which links to a blog she writes.) As we strolled past, park employees were busy installing a new exhibit on tree rings and hammering stakes for new interpretive signs. The latter will give visitors a little more insight on the size of sequoias, their history and native habitat.
Naturally, both of us took our time shooting what may be the second oldest tree in the world (below), called the Grisly Giant. (The oldest is a bristle-pine found in the Coast Redwoods.) Fomerly estimated at 2,000 years old, the experts have revised the time frame for the Grisly Giant, thinking maybe 1,700 years is more like it. We'll know for sure when and if the tree ever dies and someone gets to count its rings.
Some of those branches on the Giant are six feet thick, by the way. Other trees in the grove include the Fallen Monarch, Clothespin Tree, Galen Clark Tree, California Tree, Tunnel Tree (shown in an earlier photo) and the Faithful Couple. But we didn't linger much in the lower grove, committed as we were to ambling on up to that museum. What we didn't realize was just how wearing a walk through a burned-down forest can be. After only a few scant minutes in the upper grove, we hitched a ride back down on the open-air tram, which was just then departing. This motorized tour costs a hefty $25.50 for two people (even if you make only half the trip). Regardless, Edie and I would have sacrificed a week's wages to plant our tushes on the green cushioned tram seat and complete the remaining leg of our journey in comfort.
After disembarking from the tram, we managed the few steps over to the gift shop, where we feasted on a nourishing repast of honey-covered nuts and ice cream bars. Then we headed off down the road towards Part 2 of the day's adventure, the Wawona Hotel. (For more info about the Mariposa Grove, check out the park service brochure, which is available here in PDF format.)
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