Sequoia National Park, California

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

In contrast to the northern Sierra, which have a very gradual western slope, the southern Sierra Nevada practically leap out of the Central Valley. You can't see the crest of the Sierra Nevada from Sacramento; you can see it from Bakersfield (smog permitting). The southern Sierra Nevada are far more tectonically active than the northern, with uplift rates of millimeters per year.
2007 was a remarkably dry winter. The snow line is around 6000 feet, some 3000 or more feet above normal, and the reservoir in the foreground is almost dry.
Left and below: typical granitic rocks and batholithic landforms.
Left and below: entrance to Sequoia National Park and Visitor Center.
Left and below: the main road snakes up a narrow and twisting set of hairpins to the sequoia groves around 6000 feet.

Seeing typical high Sierra scenery from a mid-elevation oak forest is completely impossible in the northern Sierra but is possible here because of the abrupt elevation changes.

Left: metamorphic rocks occur within the batholith.
Left: metamorphic rocks in the foreground with granitic rocks in the distance.
Left: looking west toward the Central Valley.
Some people actually come here to look at trees, if you can believe it.

Sequoias were the dominant land plants in the late Mesozoic. A sequoia forest, not a tropical jungle, was the world of the dinosaurs.

Despite growing in the snow here, sequoias are not as well adapted to cold and dryness as modern conifers like pines and spruces, and pines and spruces began displacing sequoias as climate cooled during the late Tertiary.

Left and below: the trail to the General Sherman Tree starts with a tunnel cut through a fallen log.
Left and below: views of the General Sherman Tree. These trees have such massive trunks they almost look like caricatures.

The tree is reputed to be the largest living thing on earth, but it's a matter of definition. There are underground fungal colonies that cover acres, with both larger dimensions and more mass than this tree. But who'd visit Giant Underground Fungus National Park? Aspens spread by cloning and there are interconnected aspen groves with more mass as well. But the General Sherman is probably the largest single free-standing living thing on earth.

Left, a large burl on a sequoia trunk.
Left and below: a cut section of a sequoia trunk.
Left and below: gnarled roots of a fallen sequoia trunk.
The sequoias occur only in areas that were not glaciated. They were probably wiped out in the valleys by glaciation during the Pleistocene. Cold air drainage into the valleys kept them from becoming re-established.
The road through Sequoia National Park clips a corner of Kings Canyon National Park as well (for many administrative purposes the adjoining parks are a single entity). The one potentially good panoramic viewpoint is marred by the usual park failure to keep viewpoints clear.

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Created 02 April 2007, Last Update 01 June 2020