After spending a weekend at nearby Murphys, California, some friends and I decided to visit the Calaveras Big Trees before heading home to the Sacramento area.
It was a beautiful day; the first full day of autumn. Although the temperature suggested summer was lingering, some of the leaves were changing color and the light had the muted glow of early fall.
It was the perfect afternoon for a walk in the trees.
(Most of the following information was gleaned from Calaveras Big Trees State Park Activity Guide, brochure, and “A Guide to the Calaveras North Grove Trail.”)
Three miles north of Arnold off Highway 4, the colossal trees of Calaveras Big Trees State Park stand in quiet testimony to prehistoric times. These massive relics, which can reach a height of 325 feet and a diameter of 33 feet, care descended from trees that were standing when dinosaurs roamed Earth, and birds, mammals and flowering plants began to appear. Some of today’s trees are thought to be as old as 2,000 years.
Giant Sequoias – the world’s largest trees – are native only to the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Two groves of these magnificent trees are protected within the park. The easily accessible North Grove is historically significant as the Giant Sequoia discovery site. The more remote and pristine South Grove contains the largest trees in the park.
Opportunities for wildlife observation are abundant in the park. Bird species include pileated woodpeckers, northern flickers, Steller’s jays and dark-eyed juncos. Raccoons, foxes, porcupines, chipmunks, chickarees and flying squirrels are among the native animals. Black bears, bobcats and coyotes are sometimes seen.
North Grove Trail
This gentle 1.7 mile loop will take you through the historic grove of Giant Sequoias discovered in 1852. The Big Stump, Mother and Father of the Forest, and the Pioneer Cabin Tree (at one time a “drive-through” tree) are all located along this trail, as well as about 100 very large Giant Sequoias. The trail begins and ends at the far end of the North Grove parking lot. This trail is “stroller-friendly” when dry. Allow 1 – 2 hours.
Numbered trail markers correspond to numbers in the booklet: A Guide to the Calaveras North Grove Trail
#13 The Father of the Forest – “This tree has always been a favorite setting for photographers.”
“Mother of the Forest” – so named for its beauty and size – was stripped of its bark in 1845 for the purpose of exhibition in New York City and in London.
“… A crew of men worked at the tree’s systematic destruction for ninety days. While some were eager to see evidence of the Sierra Nevada big tree, the act of the tree’s ruin also sparked outrage. Though nineteenth-century views defined nature as vast, unending, and forever renewable, people condemned the event as a botanical tragedy and an act of sheer vandalism. It was through the Mother of the Forest’s great sacrifice that a heightened awareness about the needs to protect these trees was born.”
#21 “… when the Wawona Tunnel Tree in Yosemite was carved out in the 1880s, the owners of the North Grove responded by doing the same to this tree.”
“The Pioneer Cabin Tree was chosen because of its extremely wide base and large fire scar. Because of the huge cut, this tree can no longer support the growth of a top… The opening also has reduced the ability of this tree to resist fire.”
#26 – Platform built near this group of sequoias so that people could have a close-up view of the trees.
The thick protective bark often grows to be two feet thick, lacks flammable pitch, and contains high amounts of the chemical tannin, which makes it fireproof and also protects against diseases.
The North Grove and Beaver Creek trails and the River Picnic Area are all accessible.
Campsites and restrooms with showers at the North Grove Campground – some visitors may need help with sloped terrain;
Wheelchair seating spaces, parking, assistive listening system at the Campfire Center;
Restroom and adjacent parking near warming hut off North Grove parking lot.
Accessibility is continually improving. For current accessibility details, call the park (209-795-2334) or visit http://access.parks.ca.gov
Located 3 miles east of Arnold (California) on Highway 4
Open daily from sunrise to sunset
No cell phone service in the park
Latitude / Longitude: 38.2719 / 120.2867
Elevation at North Grove: 4,750 feet
Calaveras Big Trees Association: www.bigtrees.org