Really, Really BIG Trees.

I hardly know where to begin. I can’t rely on my photos to tell you about the giant sequoias in Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. I was disappointed in my photography overall, but I’m sure you’re willing to overlook the difficulties with shadow and inconsistent forest lighting. But how can I show you just how HUGE these trees really are?

General Sherman

Maybe another view will aid in gaining perspective?



Early in the national park history many of the more spectacularly sized trees were given names. We traveled the Generals Highway to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree, measured by volume.

The tree’s circumference at ground is 103 feet/31 meters with the height of the first large branch above the base at 130.0 feet/39.6 meters–and still growing.


The tree is a very impressive specimen, although it is not the tallest tree. That honor is claimed by a coastal redwood in the Redwood National Park.

The General Sherman has an estimated age of between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. Giant sequoias are only the second oldest living trees, with Bristlecone pines, found in the White Mountains to the east, believed older.


Giant sequoias thrive in higher elevation habitats than giant redwoods and grow naturally only along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.



The Centennial Stump is only one of many, many remnants of Gold Rush-era forest devastation. In one of the best books I’ve found on the subject of these trees, “Trees in Paradise: A California History,” by Jared Farmer, I learned the degree to which avarice and hubris could have ultimately wiped out these giants were it not for very dedicated early conservationists and the National Park system.

In an effort to prove that the claims of the trees and their size were not exaggerated, trees were cut down and even reassembled on display and “touring” all over the world. Men were searching for gold. Trees were a novelty.

It was interesting to me to learn that after news of the giant sequoias traveled worldwide, seeds were exported to Europe, where horticulturists of the 1850’s campaigned to make certain the Big Trees would not go extinct. British gardeners suggested the United States establish a national park or arboretum to protect them.

Downed tree with hollowed stump.
Downed tree with hollowed stump

European concern was warranted.

“In a gesture characteristic of their national culture, Americans simultaneously degraded and sacralized nature’s super arboreal creation. Hucksters turned the downed trunk of the Discovery Tree into a bowling alley and erected a dance gazebo on its stump.” Jared Farmer, “Trees in Paradise.”

Just like I couldn’t accurately photograph the huge trees, I also found it hard to document the areas of destruction. More than 100 years later, the giant stumps are ringed with smaller, younger trees. It’s another natural wonder that so often nature recovers. Slowly.


We couldn’t resist driving through one of the car tunnel logs.


Carved in 1938 out of the trunk of a sequoia that fell over the road in 1937, it certainly serves as a “touristy” photo shoot. Here’s our little car. There’s plenty of room for a much larger vehicle!


Sequoia National Park is only a 3.5 hour drive from Los Angeles, yet so often Southern Californians will bypass Sequoia and King’s Canyon for another hour’s drive to Yosemite.

Sequoia and King’s Canyon offer hours and hours of invigorating hiking trails and gorgeous views. We walked many trails with groups of enthusiastic tourists from all over the world, drawing our attention to the fact that European and Asian visitors had come a long way to visit one of our beautiful national parks, while many of our local friends have told us the last time they visited Sequoia was as a child.

It’s a noisy world. And for some of us living in high density  population centers it’s even more important that we find time to pull out of the noise once in a while.

“Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering…observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.” Maya Angelou

I so agree!

53 thoughts on “Really, Really BIG Trees.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing the link and Quaker Mason. I found it so interesting as I read of his part in plant propagation and the conservation of seeds, all coinciding with what I read in the book I referenced in the blogpost. Seeds from the giant sequoias went all over the world in the mid-1800s and it delights me to think of those California seeds having produced a giant sequoia grove in New Zealand. I love the majesty of the trees, but I also have such strong admiration for the people who were first introduced to these giant sequoias and caught the fever of wanting to reproduce them for themselves, and their own regions. It’s unlikely that Quaker Mason ever saw a living sequoia, but he somehow acquired the seeds and off he went! It’s lovely to think that your introduction to the trees was so far from the California Sierras. Thank you so much for sharing and contributing to the story!

  1. Deforestation in England began circa 4000BC as people settled from the nomadic way of life and became farmers. It really kicked off in Tudor / Elizabethan times with huge swathes of oak and beech cut down to make the fleets of ships to fight the Spanish. Modern farming post WWII took its toll too. Ok – that’s enough attempted history 😉 It’s fair to say I think, that the parks and gardens have been the saviour of many native tree species that would otherwise have become extinct. We now have designated National Forest’s too though interestingly they are a relatively recent thing. There is small a surviving piece of ancient forest not far from me on Hampstead Heath where you can roam amongst Beech, Oak and Hornbeam 🙂

    1. The settling of nations has always come at a cost to nature, and your country has a much, much longer record of civilization, which creates a fascinating historical record. I’m fascinated with a completely different California timeline. Before the mid-19th century only indigenous people populated this area and nature held respect. 2,500-year old trees lived untouched except by the occasional lightening strike. Along come the “new” Americans, and the trees begin to fall. I think it’s amazing and sheer wonder that our national parks aren’t parking lots! It sounds to me like you also deeply appreciate the beauty of our old trees. They have a lot to share with us.

  2. Wow, they are gigantic! I would love to see them one day too. The destruction of these magical monsters is hard to fathom, but then look at what people are destryoing these days still…
    Thanks for sharing these photos Debra. So glad you got to visit the park and hike among these beautiful giants. 🙂

    1. Your comment is very strong, Cathy. It is so easy to point fingers at the ignorance of people who more than 150 years ago didn’t care about protecting our natural resources and literally ravaging old growth forests. I feel as you do that we are still making the same mistakes. We’re a little more sophisticated in the way we justify our actions, but we are equally destructive and we don’t have ignorance to hide behind. Don’t get me started. LOL! These trees are protected now, and absolutely grand. I would love to share them with you sometime!

    1. Thank you for commending the photography, Amy. I appreciate it. But I really did struggle. Deep in the forest it was shadowy and darkened, but in between trees if I tried to get an “upshot” of a tree, I’d be staring right into the sun. I just couldn’t seem to find a consistent shutter speed. I was very disappointed at the result, but it was a grand experience overall. The forests were much more beautiful than any photos. Perhaps one day you’ll visit. 🙂

  3. Anonymous

    I think your photos are awesome, Debra!! I can certainly get the perspective, (my memory is giving me a boost here), and I can almost smell the conifers! Looks like another wonderful trip for you.
    : 0

    1. It truly was a wonderful experience to walk in the company of these giants! Once you’ve experienced them, you don’t forget. I’m glad you’ve also been formally introduced. 🙂

  4. I saw the redwoods when I was out in California many years ago and was amazed. These are astounding. That anything can survive that long on earth in itself is amazing. (especially with crazy humans)

    1. It’s true, isn’t it, Kate? The giant sequoias survive for multiple millennia, respected and protected by indigenous populations, and we crazy Americans come along and decide we’ll cut some down for bragging rights. It’s a shockingly familiar pattern. As I read the book I referenced I would shake my head in exasperation while at the same time almost laughing. We owe a lot to a few dozen highly motivated conservationists. And the redwoods are gorgeous, too. I love to visit them as well. 🙂

  5. Catherine Wade

    Wow, you have inspired me again. Three and a half hours is not long at all, especially here in California. Definitely going to take a trip up there. Haven’t been to the Giant Sequoias in about 35 years. It’s time for a trip.

    1. I definitely encourage you to make that visit, Catherine. I can guarantee you’d find some wonderful refreshment. And yes, 3.5 hours, along with very inexpensive Three Rivers accommodations. It’s a “win” no matter how you do it. I’ll nag you a little bit, okay? 🙂

    1. Yes, you are indeed fortunate to live so close to redwood groves, Andrew. I am fortunate to have son who lives up that way as well…so a visit to him also includes a visit to the redwoods. 🙂

  6. Every bit as stunning are the Bristlecone Pines in the Sierras. To stand in the presence of a being that is 4000 years old puts perspective on the blink that “civilization” has accomplished.

    1. It’s true, Jim, that being aware of all the giant trees have witnessed and survived helps put our “blink” on earth in interesting perspective. I think if we could all spend more time listening to these trees we could eliminate a lot of unnecessary clamor in our lives. Right now, I could do with a little less of that clamor. 🙂

  7. Big trees and I have a deep relationship that goes way, way back, probably because I was one of those lucky kids whose parents took us on National Park vacations. For this atheist, a stroll through a grove of huge trees (and we have some very big ones here, too) elicits one of the closest things I feel to the awe of entering a cathedral. While mountains make me feel large and connected to everything, the feeling I get in an old-growth forest is much more a feeling of being small… and connected to everything.

    1. Lori, I certainly draw additional inspiration from the way you express your admiration for beautiful old growth forests and the depth of emotion that you feel in communication with the trees. The giant trees certainly speak to me. I think that your comment about feeling small fits into what I’ve sensed, which is the feeling of being dropped into timelessness. I like to be very quiet and try to access sense memory of the native people that were so at home in the forests and I wonder what it was like before commercialization. I don’t feel cynical about that, just deeply appreciative that so much has been saved. I love the beauty of Yosemite, but for trees, I really do have a deep love for the sequoias. I do see how a cathedral comes to mind!

    1. How interesting, Robert! It might be the scary photography. The trees were truly beautiful in person, although at night, all the forest creatures probably come out and play, and that might scare me! 🙂

    1. So much has been said about the treasure we have in our National Park System, but I have a renewed appreciation as I have learned a little bit more about the early conservationists who envisioned the need for protection. I know you’d enjoy the wonderful hiking trails, Colleen. It’s a pleasure to be sharing a little piece of the huge Sequoia National Park!

  8. Still my heart . . . oh my, oh my!
    First of all, I am in awe. Your photography is great, Debra. It is hard to capture the majesty of such enormous specimens as these, though I understand your frustration.
    These destinations are on my wanderlust list (how can we put a Sequoia into a “bucket” list? haha). I have been even more enamored after reading a novel that fictionalized the harvesting of seeds and seedlings during the era of the Gold Rush. I think our rather current push for “seed savers” is another attempt at saving what we have before all is lost. As mentioned in other comments, we never seem to learn from the past. Sad, for sure, but, still – the eternal optimist in me has me hanging on to hope.
    I loved this post. LOVED IT.

    1. I’m glad you mentioned the seed savers efforts, Penny. I am continually fascinated with how conservation movements often take action with a very long view towards a future reward. It was clear throughout the national parks we visited that effort was significantly expended to educate the public concerning not just the current ecology, but very focused on the future. Simply addressing the drought was uppermost in minds as trees are dying. Thus, the need to save future generations of trees even if large numbers are threatened right now. I’m definitely ready to read the book you reference. I was interested before, but now it’s moved to top reading lists status! 😀

  9. Awesome shots of an inspiring species! Visited the Giant Sequoias some time ago. Hard to hug trees that size without feeling “small”

    Glad you enjoyed your time under that majestic canopy.

    Love how you captured the tiny Lilliputans in the 2nd shot!

    1. Ha! Yes, the other tourists do look like “miniatures,” don’t they? They help to illustrate the size of these trees and yet somehow the perspective still can’t be photographed in the way I would like. I think it’s clear, however, that I was truly awestruck. It was fun to share.

  10. Photos never do landscapes justice you just have to be present to be able to appreciate the wonders of Mother Nature. Thank you for sharing these amazing photos of the spectacular trees , I wish I was able get out of the noise to experience these beauties.

    1. I think you’re absolutely correct to remind us all that natural settings are to be enjoyed and experienced. Photos serve as a good reminder to get out there and find the quiet and peaceful beauty and can never be a substitute. I can hear that you’re having a hard time with the absence of your at-the-ready ocean view and the ability to access the quiet that came with that refuge. I just know that in time you’re going to find a new spot for peace and contemplation, Cristina. I’m looking forward to hearing what you discover, my friend.

    1. It’s true, Karen. I feel like I keep using words to insist and convince that the trees are truly huge, and maybe that gives me some understanding of the misguided actions of the early pioneers intent on sending felled trees all over the world as proof of the enormity. I think they just need to be experienced!

    1. I think a lot of people overlook Sequoia National Park, Frank. There are very nice redwood groves all over northern California, but sequoias are specific to the Sierras, so I think many native Californians haven’t even experienced them. The trees are under tremendous stress with climate change and specifically the drought, but that’s another post! 😦

    2. Not at all … coast redwood is now the widest girth tree species in the country, and some new discoveries exceed virtually every giant sequoia except maybe a handful. “Sequoia” are specific to the coast range, that’s the genus of coast redwood. The Sierra Nevada have “giant sequoia” or Sequoiadendron. Most mountain rangers don’t know about the new discoveries and the coastal rangers don’t utter a peep. But you can review updates at this page >>

    1. Thank you, Otto. It pleases me that you’ve experienced these wonderful sequoias. I hadn’t visited Sequoia National Park since my children were young and I think at that time I was more interested in making sure that they got the most out of the experience. I felt like this time I really experienced the trees. I would really like to visit again before too long and in a different season!

  11. Really fascinating. One simply cannot get a proper impression of scale without a familiar reference point like a person or the car. Our Big Tree (Stinkwood) in the Cape is a sapling by comparison.

    1. I’ll have to take note of the Stinkwood, a tree I don’t know! There are many people in California who have never experienced the giant sequoias and I hope I’ve encouraged a few of them to see for themselves! 🙂 Thank you for stopping by, Col.

  12. You’re being humble. You totally gave your viewers measure of scale on how big the trees are over there. I was there during winter. I enjoyed the view with the snows. 😉 But then, I saw the pictures of it during spring and I’ve hoped to see it in spring since then.
    When my friends invited me to join them to go to Yosemite, I didn’t understand why they left out Sequoia and King’s Canyon. If only I had more time, I would have gone to Mammoth as well. 🙂

    1. Yosemite is of course spectacular, and the more popular park, Rommel, but my favorite really is Sequoia. I think part of it is that some of the more spectacular views from Yosemite require more climbing than I am comfortable with. They’re all pretty great. Mammoth and the eastern Sierras are favorites of ours, but I will admit we’ve never seen any of them in winter! I think I’d like to visit next spring, and see the parks when they aren’t so dry. I think you’ve seen more of California than many of my friends who live here permanently, Rommel! 🙂

  13. Pingback: Now for some really, really big stumps! | breathelighter

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