Sequoia National Park - Walking among giants

Sequoia National Park - Walking among giants

Whichever way you look at it, the superlatives that describe size come rolling off the tongue when you visit Sequoia. From the drive up from California's central valley, passing from 2,000 to 7,000 feet in a matter of minutes, to the impressive vistas that open up when standing on Morro Rock, to the trees themselves, the visual senses are overloaded by the super-size dimensions all around you.

We headed up to the park during the Thanksgiving weekend, and having expected snow we were greeted by temperatures in the 70s. The 4x4 we had hired did not get put through its paces, but we certainly put in the miles on foot. Sequoia has some of America's greatest short hikes, and because they are concentrated in such a small area they can be inter-connected to form a 15 mile loop that covers pretty much all the main areas of the park. This was our schedule, and given the typical American-sized packed lunch we were presented with at the lodge, we struggled to get through the food even with our strenuous exercise.

The sheer size of these ancient giants was stunning. Healthy, growing trees that shot hundreds of feet upwards and created their own canopy in places. Some were upturned and had been carved into a road tunnel; others resembled hollowed chimneys, where lightning had destroyed their structure.

The park is not just about trees - the climb up to Morro Rock is perhaps the must-do on most visitors' lists; around 20 minutes of a stepped ascent takes you to a platform on the rock that affords views of the snow-capped mountains to the east, and California's fertile plains to the west (although when we were there they were shrouded in an eerie mist). Closeby is a less-visited Hanging Rock, and despite the big crowds at Morro Rock we had this equally impressive spot completely to ourselves for our lunch break.

We saw a pack of wolves wandering not far from a lodge in the twilight on the day of arrival, and they strolled through the forest without a care for those who had stopped to see them. And then as we drove from the park and down towards the exit, we were treated to a black bear, foraging in a clearing by the roadside in the early morning gloom.

America's national parks are a real treasure, and the NPS manage them in a way that I have yet to see done as well anywhere in the world, especially given the challenges of the millions of car crazy, exercise averse visitors that they receive each year (the park wardens in every park love to tell their anecdotes on this subject, off the record of course). Sequoia is right up there with the best of them, and well worth a few days to explore.

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