Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Quick Trip to Yosemite

Trees have much to teach us, and Friday I spent some time with some of the oldest, biggest trees on the planet. Meandering through the Mariposa Grove (on foot and later on the tram) in Yosemite National Park, I was in the company of Sequoiadendron giganteum – giant sequoia trees.

These trees are the biggest in volume – just one branch on the largest tree in Mariposa Grove measures seven feet in diameter -- though not height or longevity. Giant sequoias grow to an average height of 160–280 feet and measure an average of 20 to 26 feet in diameter. The oldest known giant sequoia was said to be 3,500 years old.

We looked at intact trees, fallen trees, trees with split trunks, trees with hollow trunks (you can step inside and see blue sky above) and two trees that are conjoined, covered in a singular bark. We looked at tall trees with names (Grizzly Giant, Clothespin Tree, Galen Clark Tree) and we looked at nameless sprouts, just getting started.

We also looked at trees marked forever with what the guide called “fire scars,” blackened areas left behind after the trees withstood the heat of raging fires. Lightning caused some of those fires, some took place as part of forest management and careless humans started some of the fires. The fire scars are testament to the strength -- and the good fortune -- of the surviving trees, which are still standing, still rustling in the wind, still warming themselves in the sun.

After learning about these majestic trees, I feel a lot better about my scars, external and internal. How about you?

Actually, enlightenment was not on my list of things to experience on my quick trip to Yosemite National Park on Thursday and Friday. I went to see the waterfalls, gushing full and furiously with snowmelt. I went to commune with Yosemite Valley, which John Muir said looks like “some immense hall or temple lighted from above.” (He added, “But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.”) And I went to get away (oh the irony) from one of the top tourist destinations in the United States and my home for almost a year now – San Francisco.

From my door to the Yosemite Valley floor took five hours, and that included one highway backup and two stops. The next day, I came home. In all, I drove 501 miles. I spent the night at the Yosemite Bed and Breakfast outside Mariposa. The B&B is lovely, especially quiet and restful after the crowds and traffic in Yosemite Valley, which in some ways was not unlike being in downtown San Francisco – until you looked up.

Still, the thunderous roar of the waterfalls, the grandeur of the granite and the ancient trees, scars and all, made the trip completely worthwhile. Also, much of the drive from the park to Mariposa follows the racing Merced River, a river I would follow any day. And once in town, Savoury’s serves bacon-wrapped dates, grilled shrimp and good crusty bread.

Though wildflowers are late this year due to a chilly, rainy spring, some lupine was showing off along the drive, and around one bend was a hillside of delicate pink flowers. I imagined painting them. I remembered that I can’t draw, much less paint. Then I imagined painting them anyway.

Other highlights along the way (in no particular order) include:

·      The Altamont Pass Wind Farm 40 miles east of Oakland, with 4,930 wind turbines twirling atop grassy yellow hills.

·      A roadside stand in Big Oak Flat (pop. 200) named “Tie Dye and Jerky.” That is exactly what’s for sale.

·      The first view of Don Pedro Lake, a reservoir in a beautiful canyon carved by the Tuolumne River.

·      A sign advertising “Tequila Tuesdays” at a bar outside Oakdale. (Rats, it was a Thursday.)

·      Roadside fruit and nut stands near Escalon, which features miles of orchards. At The Barn, owner Denise Crom displays a “produce prayer flag” made of brightly colored fabric squares depicting fresh produce of all sorts.

·      A turkey sandwich on rye from Dori’s Tea Cottage in Groveland, a charming place just down the road from a sign announcing “Church Meets in the Park Every Sunday at 10:30 a.m.”

All this – and trees with important lessons to teach!

In honor of the giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park, I hope you will consider helping support all 394 national parks, reserves and monuments by making a donation to the National Park Foundation at

1 comment:

  1. My sister and her husband made that same trip just last week - just to see the gushing waterfalls, too! They used to go over several times a year (a relative had a home just outside the park!). They miss those trips!