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Hiking: Sequoia National Park

A Walk From Tree to Shining Tree

October 13, 1996|JOHN McKINNEY

I think that I shall never see,

A politician as lovely as a tree.

With all due apologies to poet Joyce Kilmer, I can't help wondering why so many magnificent trees in Sequoia National Park are stuck with the names of politicos and obscure presidents. OK, the Washington Tree I can see, but the McKinley Tree? The Cleveland Tree?

Don't look for the Bill Clinton Tree or Bob Dole Tree any time soon; the park service abandoned the practice of naming big trees after World War II.

If you want to forget about the campaign trail and take a real trail, I suggest a walk, short or long, through the magnificent Giant Forest. Congress Trail visits groups of trees named the House and Senate, as well as trees named for presidents and assorted famous people. It's an interpreted nature trail that loops through the forest where four of the five largest trees dwell. Despite the crowds, the park's most popular path is an enjoyable and educational walk for the whole family.

Sure it's a tourist attraction, reached by the masses via a paved trail, but no visit to Sequoia National Park would be complete without a look at the Gen. Sherman Tree, the world's largest living thing. The tree's vital statistics: 275 feet high and between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. Gen. Sherman is about 52,500 cubic feet in volume and weighs an estimated 2.8 million pounds. The contractors among us figure Gen. Sherman contains enough wood to build 40 houses.

The tree was named for Civil War Gen. William Sherman, but renamed the Karl Marx Tree for five years in the mid-1880s by the Kaweah Colonists, who founded what they hoped would be a socialist utopia here in the forest.

About 50 miles of trail wander the Giant Forest, offering the hiker bountiful options for exploration. Forest temperatures are comfortable--neither too hot nor too cold--and the terrain is nowhere near as steep and rugged as it is in other areas of the national park.

The trees are ancient but not frozen in time. They display their individuality: some lightning-struck sequoias have lost their crowns, others have been blackened by fire. Some long-dead specimens still stand.

The National Park Service has made a couple of major changes in its Giant Forest management policy: After many decades of fire suppression efforts, the agency has instituted a program of controlled burns designed to improve the forest's health and to reduce the risk of uncontrolled fires by removing accumulated brush and thinning vegetation.

Another worthy project is the removal of most buildings from the Giant Forest. Tourist facilities and services are being relocated a few miles north to Wuksachi Village.

Trail of the Sequoias is a half-day ramble through the Giant Forest. You'll begin with Congress Trail before joining Trail of the Sequoias for a tour of the tall trees.

Directions to trail head: From Giant Forest Village, follow Generals Highway two miles east to the turnoff for the Gen. Sherman Tree and park in the gargantuan lot. Be patient in summer; gridlock is not uncommon.

The hike: Pay your respects to the Gen. Sherman Tree, pick up an interpretive brochure from the dispenser and join the paved Congress Trail. Cross Sherman Creek on a wooden bridge and begin your tour of the giant sequoias, including the aptly named Leaning Tree and some fire-scarred old veterans.

About a mile out, you'll pass a junction with Alta Trail and soon reach a group known as the Senate. A short descent along the fern-filled forest path brings you to the House. The path visits McKinley Tree, then continues a half-mile back to the trail head.

To hike the longer, six-mile loop of Giant Forest: Accompanied by visitors from around the world, march along paved Congress Trail a short mile to a junction with Trail of the Sequoias. Join this path for a half-mile ascent to this hike's high point, then descend gradually 1 1/2 miles among more sequoias to Long Meadow.


Congress Trail, Trail of the Sequoias

WHERE: Sequoia National Park.

DISTANCE: 2-mile loop or 6-mile loop with 500-foot elevation gain.

TERRAIN: Giant Forest of Sequoia.

HIGHLIGHTS: World's largest living tree.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Sequoia National Park, Three Rivers, CA 93271; tel. (209) 565-3341.

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