Oakhurst, CA: In 1903 famed naturalist John Muir brought President Theodore Roosevelt to Yosemite National Park in California’s High Sierras. They spent three days hiking, riding and camping in the wild. Roosevelt was smitten with the beauty of the place and he and Muir declared “wilderness saves the human spirit.”
These two pioneer conservationists began their Yosemite journey at Mariposa Grove, home to the world’s oldest tall trees, the giant sequoias. These massive trees can live 2,000 years, their diameters often reaching 20 feet.
Driving to Yosemite’s south entrance from nearby Oakhurst you climb two thousand feet. It is late February and the road to Mariposa is closed for the winter. The only way in is a two-mile hike on the wilderness trail that is open year-round.
Within minutes I’m part of another world, feeling small amid the solemnity of a wondrous place.
Alone at mid-morning, the stillness is disturbed only by the crunching of pine needles under foot and the occasional screech of a distant bird. For a moment I’m confounded by a steady whooshing, a faint roar that might be passing traffic. But, of course, it’s not. It is wind sweeping through the tops of trees far above.
I come upon a hiker returning from the grove. He is a forester visiting from Scotland and holds in his hand sequoia leaves he has plucked from the ground. Nothing in Europe, he tells me, compares to the size and age of the sequoias.
Later a park service sign explains the difference between sequoias and the taller redwoods found along the northern California coast.
Writer Bayard Taylor, visiting a nearby stand of sequoias in 1860, was in awe of what he saw.
“The air perceptibly increased in coolness, clearness, and delicious purity. The trees now rose like colossal pillars, from four to eight feet in diameter, and two hundred feet in height, without a crook or a flaw of any kind….Taking a last look at these immemorial giants of the forest, as they stretched their tufted boughs in the sunshine over the heads of their vassal trees, we drove down the mountain through aisles of pine and between the gem-like sprays of the thickets.”
Arriving at Mariposa Grove after an hour of steady walking, I too behold the majesty of these mighty trees, some of which must have sprouted when the pyramids went up in Egypt or the Parthenon was built in Athens.
After 30-minutes of a further hike through the grove, I begin my return and arrive back at the welcome area where my car is parked at 2 p.m. It’s been a wonderful three hours, a five-mile hike in beautiful mild winter weather.
February has been a great time to visit Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove. #