“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” Martin Luther
Calling all tree lovers! Among Giants: Mariposa Grove
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park is the largest such grove in the park. Containing over 500 giant sequoias snuggled in the south-western section of the park, it is easily accessible, being located very near the main entrance.
Although Yosemite Valley is where the majority of the park’s famed features such as the brilliant waterfalls and unique rock formations lie- along with the masses of tourists and traffic jams, the Mariposa Grove should not be missed and will most certainly impress.
In fact, sequoias are the largest living things by volume on the planet, reaching heights of up to 280 feet tall and ages approaching 3000 years! Requiring just the right mix of elevation and moisture, they grow only at an elevation of 4,600-7,000 feet on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California.
One of the more famous trees in the grove, the Giant Grizzly is over 30 feet in diameter at the base and estimated to be 1800 years old. To put its age into perspective, it was already over 1000 years old when Columbus arrived on the shores of America and more than fifty billion people have been lived and died during its lifetime!
Requiting fire to maintain health, the groves have struggled since European settlement. While common orthodoxy once was to prevent any and all fires in the grove as a means to protect them. It is now known that without fire, the cones will not open and the seeds will be unable to germinate. Moreover, without fire, invasive, shade-loving plants begin to proliferate on the forest floor and crowd out the young sequoia seedlings needed to continually keep the forest replenished.
First widely encountered by non-native Americans in the 1850s, the grove, alongside neighboring Yosemite Valley was the first parkland ever set aside by the federal government for preservation. This act of Congress, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 gave the land to the state of California “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation” and helped set the precedent for the preservation of magnificent natural places such as this.
Of course this early protection didn’t guarantee the preservation of nature in the grove. In fact, as with many national parks, early overseers saw the park not only as something to be preserved, but also as a place for a sort of tourism. One tree-the Wawona Tree, had a tunnel cut through it in the nineteenth century that was wide enough for horse-drawn carriages and early automobiles to drive through for example.
Today, there is a paved road with a tractor-drawn carriage and at least one other tree sports a cut large enough to allow visitors to walk through it. On pleasant days it may feel like everyone in California is in the grove, but many of them are there for the carriage ride and once you venture off onto some of the trails away from the paved road, you can get a sense of quiet and peace.
Today’s keepers know much more about what the forest needs to survive and remain healthy. Fire has returned to the grove, whether it be by natural lightening strikes or when needed, prescribed burning to rid the forest floor of competing vegetation. There is also a project underway to remove the parking lot at the grove, which would require all visitors to come by the park’s shuttle.
Like Yosemite Valley, The Mariposa Grove may not be the epitome of wilderness, it is certainly still a marvel to see!