Travels in the American Southwest

Yosemite's Big Trees - Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

See Also:
Photos of the Mariposa Grove

Labor Day had finally arrived as the Yosemite Valley slowly lightened on a comfortably cool Monday. MSO and I policed our campsite, picking up the stray bit of MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) we'd inadvertently dropped or was dropped by those who came before us. Today was mini-roadtrip day. We were heading down SR41 to view another of the park's amazing attractions - Yosemite's Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

In 1852, a professional hunter, Mr. Dowd, was the first white man to lay eyes on these behemoths while he was hunting provisions for a party of miners. He became the object of scorn and ridicule when he brought back word of the Sequoias to the miners. No one would believe his outlandish tale of gigantic trees. He again went hunting, returning to camp telling the miners that he had killed a large bear and needed assistance bringing the meat back to camp. With the thought of bear steaks for dinners dancing in their heads, five of the party followed him some seventy-five miles. On and on the small party trudged until they crested a small hill. All thought of the bear steaks quickly fled their minds as they beheld the giant trees. Dumbed with amazement, they must have fallen silent as they beheld nature's masterpieces. These trees aren't just big, they're gargantuan, enormous, almost indescribably huge. I'm not sure words even exist to properly convey the size of these trees. Later, Dowd devoted his life to protecting the trees. A small museum is located up the mountainside where his log cabin once was.

I maneuvered the RV down the narrow, two-lane Wawona Road (SR41), still amazed at the lack of traffic on this, the last day of summer. The sky was clear and blue, the sun gently warming. What exceptionally good weather the fates had provided for our trip so far. We pulled into the Mariposa Grove parking lot. A parking attendant waved to catch our attention. "Sorry sir, RVs over twenty-five feet are not permitted after 9:30." It was 10:00 AM. "Parking is available in Wawona six miles north. Complimentary shuttle busses can be boarded there." So MSO and I backtracked the six miles and patiently waited for the next shuttle which arrived fairly quickly. Although not pleased that we wasted time going all the way to Mariposa Grove only to turn around as go back to Wawona, the bus driver's informative talk quickly had me forgetting our detour. The bus ride also allowed me the opportunity to pay attention to something other than the road cut into the side of the mountain - Like what lay just beyond the road. Ponderosa Pines and Sugar Pines grew in abundance on the steep slope. From the edge of the road, the mountain dropped off at an alarming rate. The tops of forty foot trees, no more than ten feet from the roadway, were at eye level. "Mariposa means butterfly in Spanish", explained our driver. "They are most often seen in abundance during springtime. These Sequoia trees up ahead are teenagers, maybe 800 years old. Just wait 'til you folks see the mature ones." Minutes later, we were deposited at the Mariposa Grove Visitors Center. Deciding that a tour of these ancient trees would be in order, MSO and I joined the line for the open-tram tour tickets. Limited to 75 passengers, we could only get tickets for the 12:00 tour. We loafed around killing time visiting the giant known as Fallen Monarch. Perhaps you've seen the 1899 picture of US Calvary soldiers and their horses atop the fallen sequoia. The tour began promptly at noon. Again, park personnel gave a running commentary on the different sequoias as we slowly rolled by them as the tram continued to slowly climb the mountain road. The road eventually loops back, returning to the Visitor's Center but the tram stops at a small museum high up on the mountain. The stop is brief, maybe fifteen minutes, allowing passengers to disembark, visit the museum dedicated to these giants and see the nearby trees up close. Deciding to abandon the tour and walk down the mountain, I checked with the park ranger conducting the tour. "Sure you can, " she said, cautioning us to refill our water bottle at the museum before we left. MSO and I thoroughly enjoyed the easy three mile stroll back to the Visitors Center. We meandered down the mountain, stopping at the various Sequoias on the way. All of the giants, some 500 of them in Yosemite, have been named to more easily identify them. Telescope Tree, still alive but hollow on the inside all the way up to the crown, you can step inside a gap at the base and look straight up seeing the sky. The Faithful Couple, two sequoias which eons ago merged into one tree trunk at the base, you look up some fifty feet before you realized that the tree had two tops. Grizzly Giant, the largest tree in the park has a branch which is larger than any other non-sequoia tree trunk in the park This giant is believed to be 2700 years old but recently that figure has been called into question. Some believe the tree is only 1800 years old. There's the Stable Tree, now fallen but when upright, a large gap in the base served to protect horses and mules from the elements. And of course, the Tunnel Tree. Not the Wawona Tunnel tree that you could drive a car through...That particular tree fell decades ago. This Tunnel Tree had a hole six feet wide and eight feet high going right through the tree. Visitors capture photos of each other as they walk through.

The cones of the Giant Sequoia are surprisingly small...A little bigger than a golf ball. While MSO and I were strolling to the visitors center after completing our hike, we heard a whoosh followed by a thump. "What the...", I exclaimed as a few pine needles slowly drifted down. We quickly realized that a pine cone had fallen from over 100 feet up, striking the ground less than six feet from where we were standing. We exchanged glances, then hightailed it back to the shuttle bus stop before the ancient tree's aim could improve! Hopped the shuttle and then off in the RV we went, heading north back to Yosemite Valley on the narrow two lane SR41. Had a moment of excitement when a really, really big Class A RV (similar to a city bus in size) came around a blind curve, cutting three feet into our lane. I confess that a rather colorful and descriptive profanity escaped my lips as I yanked the steering wheel hard to the right. A branch caught the sideview mirror knocking it way out of alignment, then the branch caught the bicycle's tires hanging on the back of the RV. I expected the worst as I pulled into a turnout a mile later but to my surprise, there was no damage to the mirror which I easily realigned. Even better, there was no damage to the bikes. The kryptonite lock had held securely but a couple of restraining bands were snapped. While I considered ourselves lucky, this good luck did nothing to quench my desire to turn the RV around, catch the inconsiderate driver who nearly ran us off the road and apply a little frontier justice to his head with a lug wrench. Instead, we continued north arriving back in Yosemite Valley late in the afternoon.

Main | Trip Reports | E-mail | Next Report