Let me tell you a tall tale about the Kingdom of the Giants.
It’s in California, in Sequoia National Park.
From the moment one enters Sequoia National Park, scale impresses.
The park is big, the mountains are big, tourism is big. But the biggest of them all are the trees.
The southern entrance to Sequoia lies in the town of Three Rivers, Calif., at a humble elevation of 843 feet.
The giants dwell at 6,000 feet.
Giant Sequoias grow historically in only one place on Earth — on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where two of America’s premier parks — King’s Canyon and Sequoia — lie joined at the mountainous hip.
King’s Canyon is a backpacker’s park. There are sequoias in King’s Canyon and Sequoia National parks, including the world’s two largest.
Unfortunately, they’re named after military officers, one of whom was notorious for his ruthlessness.
The General Grant Tree lives in a grove of giants in King’s Canyon. The General Sherman Tree — the largest living organism on the planet — lives in Sequoia National Park.
Sequoias are not the world’s tallest tree; that title is claimed by the Coastal Redwood at 300 feet tall (The General Sherman Tree is only 275 feet tall — the equivalent of a 27-story building).
Nor are they the widest tree by circumference. That distinction is claimed by Montezuma Cypresses and Baobab Trees — some of which reach a girth of between 34 and 38 feet (Giant Sequoias only reach 20 feet in diameter).
However, the combination of height and circumference make the Giant Sequoia the largest living organism on Earth by volume — larger than a Blue Whale.
The whale is around 140 cubic meters. The Sequoia is more than 470 cubic meters. With each year of growth, a Sequoia adds another 40 cubic feet of mass.
Sequoias don’t die of old age.
They die of toppling. The wind catches them and fells them before they can expire all on their own.
The trees are naturally resistant to fire, but multiple fires can weaken a big tree.
The oldest living trees on Earth are Great Basin Bristlecone Pines at 4,800-plus years old.
The General Sherman Tree is estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. That means it sprouted around the same time that the Great Pyramid of Giza was built in Egypt, a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus.
That means that it’s survived the Mesopotamian Wars, the Middle Ages, the bubonic plague, the Inquisition, the Industrial Age, two more world wars, and the Cold War. Now all it has to do is survive global warming.
I wept helplessly when I entered the Giant Forest. I couldn’t help it. It was early in the morning, before most other tourists had crawled out of their RVs.
The sun was slicing in sideways through the massive rusty red trunks. The first thing that hit me was the ponderous size of the tree trunks, wide as a garage.
The second was the ceiling. There was none. The forest seemed to rise all the way to heaven.
The third was that these great beings still stand after so many years. I was in the company of beauty and history and majesty.
I got out of the car and walked through the maze of “super boles” to stand before the General Sherman Tree.
It was just myself and it, and I was but a pine cone beside it. I found it easier to admire the tree while lying on my back.
Sequoia National Park, like King’s Canyon, offers pristine backpacking, but the park was never designed with walking in mind.
It was designated out of awe — for what towers above the small walk of human life.
Betchkal is a freelance writer based in Eau Claire.