Return to index...
THE BIG TREES
I have a vague memory as a kid of thinking Fresno was short for something else, like it's neighbor to the northwest, Frisco. But alas, Fresno is simply Fresno. The best thing about the place is where you can go to get out of it. The city lies along the flat, inland San Joaquin Valley, a north-south corridor of scrawny, tattooed, bail-bond towns, Modesto, Stockton, Bakersfield, Fresno. This is the forgotten stretch of California, wedged between the glamour of Los Angeles and San Francisco and the staggering, towering borderland, the Sierra Nevada. And it is toward this risen land that one escapes the hot, hard-bitten streets of Fresno, either north up Route 41 toward Yosemite, or east on 180 toward the less trampled Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Always one to eschew the crowds, I drive out onto the lines that crawl through the chaparral, toward the big trees.
Immediately out of Fresno I enter broad fields of cherries and strawberries, a fenced, gated land of vineyards and junkyard houses, rusted cars and wagon-wheel fences, cattle pens and perfectly engineered irrigation ditches, row upon row of brown mountains beckoning in the distance.
Seventeen miles later I hang a sharp left and enter the foothills, Spanish names adorning the ranches, broad-hatted Orientals bent over in the fields, orange groves and again the hint of hazy mountains looming on the horizon. At twenty-five miles there is a sign indicating the 1000 foot elevation level; here the hills rise up and a unique, boulder-strewn area is entered, until at thirty-five miles I'm in the mountains.
Thirty-eight miles a sign for 3000 feet, four miles later, 4000. The road curls up along the brown slopes, the foothills sliding away toward the broad valley below. At forty-six miles there are wonderful pull-overs, mountains appearing out of the haze rolling ridge after ridge down and away, to the south. Here the coniferous matting stretches over the mountainside, and at fifty miles I enter Kings Canyon National Park. Immediately to my right are some very large, young trees, moss covered to a height of thirty or forty feet, and I turn right onto the Generals Highway, toward Sequoia.
Ninety degrees in the valley at the start, an hour and fifteen minutes later and six thousand feet higher it is 58. The coolness is invigorating, I lower the window though it's really too cold to do so, and take in the deep, earthy alpine scent. At sixty miles there are patches of snow; in the distance, peeking through the densely forested mountainsides, are round-topped mountains completely covered in midwinters mantle. At sixty-seven miles I enter Lost Grove, a stunning introduction to this place's wonders, ten or twelve huge Sequoias arrayed thick about the road. I stop and step out, peer up at the ageless wonders, a marvelous, miraculous picture of life.
I continue on and cross the 7000 foot mark. Awesome pullover at this point - I get out and stare out over the vast, westward view. I wonder about the eternal silence; other than the wind rolling up the mountain and the birds chirping, not a sound infiltrates this rolling, fall-away vista of lessening blue mountains. The heights ahead are shrouded in ominous, billowing thunderclouds that seem shocked still at the beauty, the serenity of this isolated place. Granite rocks gleam with mica chips beneath trees that have lived together for two thousand years. This is a mass of life dwarfing that of whales, thriving in side-by-side silence, a family, a tribe, a civilization more successful and lasting than any recorded humanity. Whether your idea of beauty is Beethoven or the Beatles, this is nature's music.
I continue on and at the eighty mile mark I see the signs for the Sherman tree and Giant Forest. I park and get out, follow the signs for the Congress Trail. This is a primeval experience, a wondrous, mind-numbing two mile jaunt to what is called The Senate, a cluster of Sequoias so close, so huge, a scene simply inappropriate for any conventional, orderly mind. Here you walk as though in a fairytale, a Lilliputian among a gaggle of Gullivers, an astonished Dorothy in a true land of Oz. I pause and peer through the phalanx of monsters at the gleaming sun, which has cast it's rays since the beginning of time on this chosen site standing sentinel to the ground sloping west, toward the Pacific Ocean. Perpetual rays of sunlight, amounts of time incomprehensible to the human mind, dropping its potential since the very beginning of time, when this matter we call earth was first cast off. I sense a glimmer of the genius of another artist, paused among these frauds of reason:
"I don't even know where we are
Never have I sensed more wonder, more thought, more worth, from feeling so humble, so insignificant, and so small. I eventually get back into my car and meander back down into dusty, hot Fresno. It is here that I work on machines.
A writer's verbatem notes on a trip to a wonderful place:
Cherries, vineyards, junkyard houses, rows and rows brown mountains in distance yards w/cars hoods up rusted fences cattle pens perfectly engineered irrigation streams wagon wheel fences/gates cherries/strawberries Spanish signs
17 miles sharp left - enter foothills Spanish names/signs orientals in fields w/sampan hats agriculture ends - hazy obscured mountains in distance - scenic sparsley treed foothills orange groves s
24 miles rise up boulder strewn hills - very nice
25.3 - 1000 feet
4:34, 35 miles - in the mountains
38 miles 3000
42 miles 4000 ft
46 miles 4000 ft
46 miles 5000
beautiful pullovers, miles of mountains hazing off into distance
50.7 enter Kings Canyon NP - 1st Sequoia trees big trees, don't know if they're little sequoias or Redwoods, moss on trees 30, 40 feet up, "Generals Highway"
90 degrees at start, 58 degrees here
60 miles - patches of snow, views of round topped mountains still covered w/snow (May 23)
67 miles enter Sequoia lost grove 10-12 huge trees
71 miles 7,300 ft
Awesome pullover at this point - you wonder about the eternal silence, other than the wind rolling up the mountain and the birds chirping and singing, a rolling, fall-away vista of lessening blue mountains, mountains ahead shrouded with ominous, huge billowing thunderclouds that seem shocked still at the beauty, the serenity of this isolated place. the granite rocks gleaming with mica chips these trees have lived together in silence for a thousand years, a mass of life dwarfing that of whales, living in silence side-by-side, a family, a tribe, a civilization more successful and lasting than any recorded human history whether your idea of beauty is Beetoven or the Beatles, this is nature's music
80 miles - Sherman tree and Giant Forest
Congress Trail - just under one mile - do this - I pause and peer through the phalanx of monsters at the gleaming sun, which has cast it's rays since the beginning of time on this horde of life standing sentinel to the sloping ground west to the endless ocean, these rays perpetual, timeless, growing this since the beginning when this matter we call earth was first cast off, and I sense a glimmer of the genius of another artist, though our thoughts, muses and stares are but a glimmer in Gods eyes, yet I think of his verse here, paused among these frauds of reason:
"I don't even know where we are they tell me we're circling a star I'll take their word I don't know, but I'm dizzy so it must be so..."
Don Reddick May 23, 1999