Blended into the setting for this climatic spectrum stands an extravagant race of trees, native only to the moist western slope of the Sierra. And a man moving into the wilderness comes upon them almost by chance as the way climbs up the northern edge of Kaweah Canyon. Suddenly, set back in the forest will be a tree trunk perhaps 14 feet across. The massive shaft, its cinnamon-red bark fluted like a Grecian column, rises bare of branches for perhaps 90 feet to disappear into the canopy of white fir and sugar pine clustered in attendance about its waist. Above those lesser trees, themselves more than 100 feet tall, the great creature crowns at a height of 200 feet or more. Botanists classify these trees as Sequoiadendron giganteum; old Sierra hands know them, more humbly, as the Big Trees. Either name is correct. For the sequoias are the largest living things on earth. And this first giant is, like Small Porgies in Kipling's Just So story of the colossal creatures that live on the sea bottom, one of the younger, smaller members of the family.

     There are 3,500 more here in a single grove called Giant Forest, with another 13,000 in scattered stands nearby and north to Yosemite and beyond. Everything about them is on a heroic scale, so much so that a first-time visitor tends to lose any sense of perception and must stand among them awhile to absorb their true size. In any mature grove the most ordinary are 20 feet in diameter; and the very largest measure 35 to 40 feet through--enough to block a city street from curb to curb. Their bark is as much as two feet thick and deeply scarred by ground fires that raced through the forest in years past, cleaning out the lesser growth and leaving black gnawings among the root buttresses of the Big Trees. The branches, where they begin to occur high overhead, are heavy, twisted, bullish, ungraceful, yet they taper into smoke puffs of evergreen leaves as delicate as those of a young cedar, with tiny cones no bigger than a baby's fist. No one knows when these regal monsters first germinated, but probably they have been growing for 3,500 years or more. A few are over 300 feet tall, though the tops of many older trees have been blasted off by lightning as they reared above the surrounding forest centuries ago. The smell that fills these groves is the rich, dry scent of ripe redwood shavings. And the sound of the wind in the sequoias' crowns is high and soft and distant, like the rush of a cataract far off, a sound of prehistory, agonizingly pure and haunting, a sigh from a lost time when there were no men here.


- Excerpt from The High Sierra, a Time Life American Wilderness book by Ezra Bowen