Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Visit to the Giant Sequoias

We were all astounded by the size of this trunk. Little guy, not astounded enough to stop chomping his apple for a pic, but whatever.
After a frustrating evening spent trying (unsuccessfully) to get a camping reservation, I decided to plan a day trip for our family instead. Have I mentioned how hard it is to get camping reservations in California? Okay, maybe I've gone into that before, but anyway, it's a real pain!   Extremely annoyed that I didn't have any luck finding a spot at my favorite campgrounds, and determined to avoid another Clear Lake disaster, if possible, I decided to go on a scouting expedition for new camping opportunities.

 I decided on Calaveras Big Trees State Park for my first destination. There are two campgrounds within this park, and several more about a half-hour drive north of the park. I thought this would be an area well-worth exploring.
A really sweet couple we met offered to take our family picture. Love meeting new people on the trails! Thank you.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is located just northeast of Arnold, California, along Highway 4. It's about an hour and a half drive from Sacramento. It was an easy drive, first through slightly rolling hills and pastures of dried (at this time of year) grass. The kids and I loved spotting horses grazing in the fields. Soon enough, we started climbing up the mountain and the gnarled oaks gave way to pines. The weather cooled significantly and soon we were surrounded with lush woods. It was beautiful up here!
We drove through the quaint town of Arnold, and just a few miles later we saw the sign for Calaveras Big Trees State Park. There is a $10 Day Use fee which we gladly paid. Since we only had one day to explore, we decided to start with the North Grove loop, which is directly adjacent to the Visitor Center at the main entrance to the park.
Gorgeous Day Use area complete with boardwalks. What fun!
Since my crew is all about food, and since we arrived to the park right at lunchtime, we drove past the visitor center to the day use picnic area. Wow! This is the nicest, and largest day use area I think I have ever seen in a State Park. There were tons of picnic tables, in groups, and also spread out for privacy. You could choose a table in an open space, in a wooded area, near a firepit, or even adjacent to the beautiful grassy meadow surrounded by the woods. It was spectacular! While I made lunch, my kids explored the meadow and walked along the fallen logs. Feeling the buzz of mosquitoes around me, I grabbed the homemade repellent I had stuck in our travel bag at the last minute this morning. I spritzed myself and the kids. Warning: the repellent will not be very potent one year after making! Ha ha. I know one should probably already know this, but we don't usually get many bugs in our area, so I really only use repellent for camping trips. Note to self: RE-MAKE bug repellent for this year, STAT!

I almost didn't mind taking time to make sandwiches with this view!
After a lovely lunch, we were all extremely excited to explore those big trees we'd been reading so much about.

 And wow, the Big Trees were amazing! I really do feel such a sense of awe when I look up at these towering silent giants. Even though there were quite a few people at the North Grove while we visited (it was a Sunday), because the trail meanders through the grove for about a mile and a half, it's pretty easy to find some quiet space if you would like some. Just adjust your walking speed accordingly to the other visitors around you.
Little girl, big trees!
The North Grove trees reminded me of the sequoias we had seen in Yosemite, even some of the names were the same. But the trail was much longer here in the Big Trees, and there was so much forest surrounding the sequoias. It was amazing to see how a full grown pine tree was dwarfed next to a giant sequoia! Walking through this magical forest reminds me again why it is so hard to get reservations in California. So much beauty, so many people, so few campsites.
I love this crew!
To our surprise, we came across these cuties just off the trail!
We couldn't get enough of watching them stretch, scratch their nose with their hooves...
...and eat! We loved them!
Whenever we visit groves like these, I'm torn. The trees themselves are just spectacularly beautiful. I can imagine sitting under them, looking up, for hours. When I walk among the trees, I feel a calm peacefulness that is the reason I drive for hours to visit them. I stare at their massive trunks, and compare their size to my kids and to myself. They are trees like no other!

Then I see the scars on the "Mother of the Forest" and read about the early explorers stripping off her bark and sections of the tree to take back to New York to show people. I see the stump of the "Mammoth Tree" that had been cut down and sent to San Fransisco. I walk through the tunnel in the "Pioneer Tree" and read that its only sign of life is one tiny branch still growing. I almost feel guilty taking our picture under her carnage. And I feel sadness and regret that these gentle beauties were desecrated like this. I have respect for nature, I love to admire the trees and woods without harming them. I watch all of the other visitors looking up at the trees and exclaiming about their beauty as well. I teach my children to respect nature too. I think we'd all like to believe that we've evolved into a society that would make different choices today. And I think most of us would. However, while walking through the woods, I see people ignoring posted signs about walking in fragile areas, climbing on protected trees, and even littering. And while leaving the park, I saw the most heartbreaking of things...graffiti. So some people do not seem to have evolved at all.

The good news in all of this is that the destruction of these large trees brought such anger to the people, that the conservation movement in the United States really began. And the "Yosemite Grant" was passed, and soon after that the first National Park, Yellowstone, was established in 1872. So even if all people do not revere nature, at least the majority of us will protect it!

But back to the park...It truly is a beautiful outing that I recommend for all ages. The trail is relatively flat and very easy to walk. Portions of it are boardwalks which are elevated over the forest floor. The kids loved walking/running along the path, and so did we. We were even lucky enough to meet three very young deer on the path. So cute!!
Giant sequoia, sweet little deer!! How could you hope for anything better than this?!
Now our little man was eager to move ahead and find more deer!
There are many flush restrooms and even showers available in the park. The campground has water and a dump station along with the normal amenities (picnic table, firepit, amphitheater). We will definitely be back to camp and to explore the South Grove as well! Now if we can just get a reservation....

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