Our last excursion in Yosemite National Park was to visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.
As with Yosemite Valley, the Mariposa Grove was handed over to the State of California in 1864 by President Lincoln for protection and recreation purposes. One of the early gimmicks to attract visitors was to cut roads through the giant sequoias so visitors could drive their cars through them. The only one of these cut trees still standing is this one:
150 years later the problem isn’t trying to attract visitors. Now the problem in Yosemite is instead trying to manage so many visitors. Clearly the park is underfunded for this endeavor. The non-profit Yosemite Conservancy steps in with volunteers for a lot of this work. They maintain quite a presence in the park. We saw their booths at trailheads (Happy Isles, e.g.), on the trails (bottom of the Mist Trail, e.g.), and other places (at a search and rescue talk in Yosemite Village, e.g. — I think they even organized the talk). They answer any visitor questions, try to keep people safe, and work to protect the park.
A huge project that the Yosemite Conservancy completed just a few months before we visited was the restoration of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Too many visitors were damaging and endangering these majestic trees. The work included, among other things, removing roads and pavement and putting a boardwalk in the most heavily visited area so visitors don’t compact the soil. The goal here is to get more rain and runoff into the trees’ root system.
Another thing the Yosemite Conservancy has done is put in a bunch of informational signs so tourists like us can learn stuff about the trees, the ecosystem, and human impact. We learned that Giant Sequoias are the largest tree in the world by volume while coastal redwoods (also in California) are the tallest tree in the world. And remember that a couple weeks earlier Ferda and I had visited the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest? Those are the oldest trees in the world and are also in California. California has everything!
Even though Giant Sequoias aren’t the oldest trees in the world, some get quite old. The oldest tree in the Mariposa Grove is over 2000 years old, and there’s one tree in the grove that has a 128-year-old ponderosa pine growing in its crown!
Supposedly, Grizzly Giant, the tree in this photo, is one of the largest trees in the Mariposa Grove:
Some of the informational signs were written by Native Americans, referred to as the “Traditionally Associated Tribes of Yosemite”. The signs describe the natives’ use of the forest, travel in the forest, and stories related to the forest and the environment in general. It’s perhaps a small nod to the people who were kicked out of their ancestral homes in order to “preserve pristine wilderness“.
On one of the Native American signs was a cute story about how the chipmunk got its stripes. I’ll include it here since it seems to be a fitting ending to my series of blog posts about visits to public land in the US.
Long ago, when Grandfather Bear woke up from his winter slumber, he was very grumpy and hungry. As he turned over logs with his big paws looking for something to eat, he said, “I am the biggest and strongest of all the animals in the forest and there is nothing I cannot do!” Chipmunk, who had been listening, poked his head out of his hole and responded, “Is that so? I bet you cannot stop the sun from rising in the morning!” Grandfather Bear said, “I have not tried that before, but I am sure that I can do it.”
So Grandfather Bear waited under a sequoia tree and was awakened at dawn by the songs of the first morning birds. He rose to his feet and declared, “Father Sun will not rise today, as I am Grandfather Bear and I say so!” The light however, continued to spread and Grandfather Bear repeated his command in vain. Chipmunk laughed with joy and ran around in circles singing: “Father Sun came out today and is stronger than Grandfather Bear!”
Chipmunk ran and sang until he collapsed from exhaustion. Quick as a flash of lightning, Grandfather Bear pinned him to the ground with his paw and said, “I did not stop the sun from rising, but you will not see another sunrise.” From under Grandfather’s Bear’s paw, Chipmunk whispered, “I know I should die, but I only wish to say one last prayer to the Creator before you eat me.”
Grandfather Bear replied, “Be quick, as it will soon be time for your soul to walk the path.” Chipmunk prayed, “Thank you Creator for making Grandfather Bear the biggest and strongest of all the animals and me a small, weak, and a foolish chipmunk.” Grandfather Bear loosened his grip and Chipmunk squeezed out from under his paw and scurried back to his hole. Grandfather Bear wasn’t quick enough to catch him, but his long claws left three long scratches down Chipmunk’s back. Today, the three stripes on a chipmunk’s back remind us to be respectful of our fellow creatures, great and small.