2014, Bedell Photography, Berkley Bedell, California, joshua tree, kings canyon, landscape, national parks, National Parks Service, nature, North America*, outdoors, photography, Sequoia, travel, USA, vacation, yosemite
Behemoths, ancient relics that had begun their lives at the peak of our continents first civilization, the Olmec, more than 3,000 years ago, towered over us once more, their shadows casting darkness onto the forest floor. These giants however, while similar, were merely cousins of those we had encountered a few days prior, occupants of the same subfamily, Sequoioideae – the third member is a much smaller species native to China. Both the Coast Redwoods and Giant Sequoias, those which we were currently amongst, exist solely within the Pacific Coast states of California and Oregon; Coast Redwoods occupying a range along the northern California and southern Oregon coast while Sequoias occur inland along the Sierra Nevadas.
While Giant Sequoias don’t grow quite as tall their 380 foot coastal cousins – the difference being a mere 60 feet – they are almost double the size by volume due to their massive trunk size, capable of growing up to 40 feet in diameter. Giant Sequoias, in fact, are the largest living things on Earth, the largest, General Sherman, having an estimated volume of 52,500 cubic feet and measuring 274.9 feet tall with a 102.6 foot circumference!
Our trip began in Yosemite Nat’l Park, taking us through Mariposa Grove – a small forest in the northern region of the Giant Sequoias range – as we headed south en route to Kings Canyon & Sequoia Nat’l Parks. As we entered the parks we came first to the General Grant tree – located in a grove of the same name – the largest tree in Kings Canyon and the 3rd largest in the world. It was our first real encounter with these incredible giants, and to say I was amazed would be an understatement. Every aspect of these Giant Sequoias furthered my astonishment, from bark nearly 3 feet thick to massive fire scars large enough for people to stand in comfortably, yet appearing to have no impact on the health of the tree. It didn’t take long for me to understand how they have managed to survive for so long.
On the following morning, we found ourselves standing beneath the General Sherman tree, the king of all the behemoths and the largest living thing on Earth. The 1 mile Sherman Tree Trail began at an altitude equal to its height, winding down to the base of the giant. As we approached the end of the trail we came across a viewing platform displaying the actual size of the base of the tree. Standing in this space, a space larger than my apartment, gave a sense of the General completely unique to standing beneath it. I began to wonder how much wood this tree actually contained, it made my head spin. From the viewing platform it was only a short distance until we found ourselves gazing up at General Sherman. No amount of pictures or reading could prepare you for how truly gigantic this tree is, it was truly incredible. The uniqueness of its size so clearly illustrated in the frustrated faces of those standing around, struggling to determine how to photograph the entire tree in one frame on their phones. One photo could never tell the story of this ancient giant though, a being that has existed in this one place for over 2,000 years, watching over the forest stoically as the rest of the continent continued to change into something unrecognizable from the world it had been born into.
The final day of our journey took us through Joshua Tree Nat’l Park in southern California. The 789,745 acre park lies at the crossroads of the Colorado and Mojave desserts creating 2 distinct ecosystems. Most prominent of these ecosystems, and the reason for the parks name, are the vast Joshua tree “forests” that cover the western half of the park. The largest species of yucca, the Joshua tree was given its name by Mormon pioneers crossing the dessert in the mid-19th century. The tall trees with limbs outstretched appeared to them as the Biblical Joshua leading them to the Promised Land.
The individualism of the trees was fascinating yet still couldn’t compare with the incredible rock structures occurring throughout the park. Geological formations arranged in seemingly impossible ways protruded from the dessert, a mass of boulders that looked both completely solid yet ready to topple at the same time. They were a puzzling sight. I could’ve spent days photographing them alone.
As we exited Joshua Tree Nat’l Park our adventure came to a close and before long we had arrived in Anthem, at my Mom’s home. The experience was unforgettable though, and I’m looking forward to the chance to return and once again explore these incredible places.