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Fall / spring hikes


Giant Sequoias

(Published May 28, 1999)


  When it’s hot in the foothills, but snow still blankets the high country, the place for hiking is in Giant Forest. Scenery and history combine on any number of trails that criss-cross through the ancient forest.
   Our family of four (with kids ages 8 and 10) chose a four-mile loop through the forest that began at the Hazelwood Nature Trail, the former site of a park campground. A quarter mile east of the now-deserted Giant Forest Village is the trailhead and a small parking area.
   The hike would take us through the center of Giant Forest, thus ensuring lots of Big Trees, but we were really searching for the Washington Tree, which is nearly as large as the General Sherman, but with much fewer visitors. We also planned to visit to an old homesteader’s cabin and the Bear’s Bathtub, and explore the site of an American Indian village.
   The route began on the Hazelwood trail, then we took the Alta Trail to the Huckleberry Trail. There are many trail junctions along the way, but with a topographical map of the area (available at park visitor centers) and this written description, it is easy and worth it to take this journey.
   Start the hike on the Hazelwood Nature Trail (elevation 6,400 ft.) where there are interpretive signs about the founding fathers of Sequoia National Park and the region -- Hale Tharp, John Muir, George Stewart. As the nature trail makes its loop back to the parking lot, take the trail to the right (south).
   Notice the giant sequoias all around in various stages of growth, and their different hues of cinnamon-red as sunlight filters through the overstory. Stand up against one and measure yourself; you’ll barely be taller than its buttressed base.
   The next junction in the trail comes in the midst of a recently fallen giant that straddles the trail.
   There are two trail signs -- one for Bear Hill, the other for Moro Rock. Take the Moro Rock trail to the left and immediately there’s another junction.
   Here again, take the left fork. The trail parallels a creek surrounded by dogwoods that should be in bloom within the next couple of weeks, making this trail an even more unforgettable experience. There is a switchback across the creek and then up the hill, one of only a couple of short climbs on this route.
   Once at the top of the hill, the trail cross the low ridge and we entered a part of burned forest that was part of the Huckleberry prescribed fire two summers ago. The trail heads north around the ridge and then descends to Huckleberry Meadow.
   Coming out of the trees, the Squatter’s Cabin comes into view. This is an extremely well-built log cabin with fireplace, and the homesteader obviously planned on staying awhile.
   But it wasn’t to be. The cabin was built on land already claimed by Hale Tharp, a Three Rivers pioneer and reportedly the first non-American Indian to visit the Giant Forest, and this little dream home was abandoned.
   This is about the halfway point of this day hike, and we ate our lunch in solitude on a log overlooking the meadow. We had not seen another person since we left the Hazelwood Nature Trail.
   To continue this loop hike, go east from the Squatter’s Cabin for three-tenths of a mile. From the next trail junction, Crescent Meadow comes into view just ahead, but take a left turn and head back up the hill, leaving the well-traveled trails in this area behind.
   The trail climbs back up the other side of the hill that we’ve been circling and follows a drainage that supports some delicate hillside meadows. Another trail junction is reached; to the right is the Congress Trail, but we went left where the trail sign pointed toward the Washington Tree.
   We continued for about a half mile and came upon Circle Meadow, where a deer was grazing. Another trail junction and sign, and we took a short detour to view the Bear’s Bathtub.
   The Bear’s Bathtub is a hollow chamber between two giant sequoias that is filled with water. The trees have grown close together, so it’s obvious that a bear could no long fit comfortably in this original redwood hot tub, but perhaps a century ago...
   As we retraced our steps back to our original trail we noticed movement in the forest on the other side of Circle Meadow. As we watched, six does entered the meadow and began grazing.
   We continued north and soon came to the Washington Tree. The massive tree is easy to spot; it was quite obviously larger than most we had seen that day. (Note: The Washington Tree, formerly the second largest tree in the world, was accidentally burned to death in 2003 by a prescribed fire ignited by the National Park Service.)
   On the other side of the trail from this tree is a promising and beautiful sight. Hundreds and hundreds of young sequoias are growing guaranteeing regeneration of these rare trees in this area.
   From the Washington Tree, we retraced our steps to where a trail sign points us toward the Alta Trail. After crossing the creek, start looking at the large, flat granite boulders for signs of past Indian occupation.
   This was a summer village for the Yokuts Indians. We first pass by large holes, all in a line; just down the trail are some mortar holes, marked by a metal trail sign.
   Following the creek for a ways, there is substantial flow and deep pools, which made for a reliable source of water. The Washington Tree stands as a sentinel over these exposed granite domes, the creek, and the black earth, darkened by generations of Indian campfires, making this a very spiritual place.
   After leaving the former village, we met the Alta Trail, turned left and headed down toward the Generals Highway and the parking lot. A couple more junctions are encountered, but the signage is now clear enough to find the way back to the car.
   Note: There are many “social” trails throughout the area described above that look well-worn and lead off into the forest. Keep in mind that every junction mentioned in the above article is well-marked with a Park Service metal sign. The signs can be confusing themselves, but at least they designate a main trail. A topographical map should always be taken on any hike in the forest to avoid confusion.










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