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Trees live large through the ages

December 14, 2007|Pete Thomas | ON THE OUTDOORS

PONDEROSA, Calif. -- Morning in Los Angeles. Snarled traffic. Enraged commuters. An excruciatingly slow escape to the open highway.

Polar opposite to an afternoon stroll -- on the same early-December day -- along the Trail of 100 Giants, whose shaded pathway is all but deserted.

The short, meandering trail is named, of course, after the giant sequoias that are interspersed among lesser pines and cedars.

One can apply the term "lesser" in reference to these trees because, while they may be impressive by themselves, they appear as straggly inferiors alongside the stately sequoias.

"I'm in awe," says Petra Beumer, a visitor from Santa Barbara, as she and Eric Shankula stroll among the highway-side grove. "I come from Germany and we do not have trees nearly this big."

The Trail of 100 Giants is a must-stop for travelers passing through or near the southern Sierra Nevada, though prospective visitors are advised to wait till spring because the highway closes after the first major snowfall.

It's within the Giant Sequoia National Monument and the Long Meadow Giant Sequoia Grove, and is most easily accessible from Los Angeles through the Kernville area above Bakersfield.

The paved trail is half a mile long and with only subtle gradients, so visitors in wheelchairs can likewise wander and marvel at one of nature's most impressive creations.

"I like the way the sun hits them through all the shadows; the colors are brilliant," says Don Blair, a recent transplant from Los Angeles to nearby Camp Nelson.

"It's the size and age of them that I find amazing," adds Gail Martel of Winnetka in the San Fernando Valley.

Some of the trees poke skyward 220 feet and are 20 feet around. They are believed to be between 500 and 1,500 years old.

It's hard to fathom that elsewhere in this forest there are even larger specimens, such as General Sherman, the largest tree on earth, towering 275 feet, measuring 37 feet around and perhaps having lived 2,500 years or more.

That places its beginnings at about 500 BC, an era when city-states in Italy and Greece were just beginning to experiment with something called government.

Our lives are but a flash by comparison. As I rest on a bench alongside the now-deserted trail and gaze at the nearest sequoia, I watch intently for movement of any kind, but there is none.

I wonder whether it detects my presence, then snap to with the realization that these trees, after all, are simply oversized hulks of wood, filled with sap and adorned with foliage. No brains. No emotion. End of story.

Or is there more to them than that?

Finally, I decide that there is, because these are living beings, capable of reproducing, survivors of time and change, worthy of respect as well as admiration.

But then, I suppose, the same can be said of the cedars and pines -- though to a far lesser degree.

Small-town excitement

There's a lot to appreciate about a small town such as Kernville or its nearby communities.

The regional newspaper's top stories are about Santa leading a parade and the rescue of an abandoned donkey.

Markets carry bait and tackle because fishing is taken seriously in any small town with a fishing hole.

Sadly, that's what Lake Isabella has become -- a mere fishing hole -- because of lingering drought. The reservoir is only one-fifth full and much of its bed is exposed and resembles a barren moonscape.

But spirits are high because trout are getting feisty in the cooler weather, and excitement is already mounting over the annual spring derby -- another big story in the Kern Valley Sun.

Before the March 15-17 contest, a supplemental plant of 15,000 large trout will be released from pens now being tended at French Gulch Marina.

One will carry a $25,000 tag, two will carry $10,000 tags and some will carry $1,000 and $500 tags, so prospects for riches will boost the field to about 5,000 anglers.

Reports the Sun: "The way the derby works is participants pay an entry fee to the event and then fish their brains out for the next three days hoping to catch a trout that has been tagged a winner."

Sounds like a real hoot.

So long Alpers Ranch

News that the Alpers Owens River Ranch is being sold is so distressing for some, it might as well have come from the Grinch himself.

The rustic Eastern Sierra ranch at the headwaters of the Owens is being sold to the same person who owns nearby Arcularius Ranch, and it will become off-limits to the public.

Tim Alpers delivered the news to 400 regular clients in the form of Christmas cards. He cited regulatory hassles associated with running both the ranch and its hatchery.

But he assured everyone that the famous Alpers trout operation will not be affected. In fact, he said, a "bigger and better" hatchery is being built at nearby Conway Ranch and that "it'll be ready by spring to meet all of our contracts" with Inyo and Mono County fisheries concessionaires.

Always a silver lining.

Conflict down under

Japanese whalers have arrived in the extreme South Pacific beyond Australia and on Saturday will begin a controversial assault, allegedly in the name of science, on hundreds of whales, including 50 endangered humpbacks.

Despite international opposition, the hunt will go on, with only Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Society standing between the whales and the whalers' exploding harpoons.

Sea Shepherd's vessel, newly named the Steve Irwin, is flying a customized Jolly Roger pirate flag because, as Paul Watson, the group's founder, told the Sydney Morning Herald, "If you want to stop pirates, you have to send pirates."

The goal is to stop Japan well short of its quota, which is 1,030 whales. Here's hoping for a miracle.


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