A segment of a Giant Sequoia. (All photos: Ras H. Siddiqui & Family)
Our Memorial Day 2018 family plans pointed towards doing something quiet and simple. With the last of the Siddiqui daughters graduating from high school the following week, some time to relax and enjoy the natural beauty present in California was warranted. And within that realm one cannot overlook the wonders which our Golden State has to offer. One of these is the presence of some of the mightiest trees on the planet aptly named the “Giant Sequoia” indicative of nature gone wild, writes Ras H. Siddiqui.
Akin to the Blue Whale of the ocean (possibly the largest mammal to ever exist), the Giant Sequoias also remains a mystery and makes one wonder. How and why did these trees ever get so big? Just being in their presence makes one feel diminutive, and in awe of their majesty!
The Giant Sequoias can be found along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. There are several areas of preserved groves where giant trees (if one includes the taller Coast Redwoods) can be seen in our state. From the Sacramento area one can go up all the way north to Crescent City-Humboldt County region or drive down to Yosemite National Park and further south to the biggest giants of them all at Sequoia National Park. Last year we attempted to visit Mariposa Grove near Yosemite’s south entrance but it was closed to visitors. But we did not complain too much because our family had a great time travelling through Tioga Pass in the summer of 2017. The only drawback there was that we were amongst thousands of other visitors at Yosemite. This year we wanted to visit someplace quieter for a nice family hike. In visiting the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, we hit the jackpot.
Another big plus about Big Trees is that it took us just 2 hours or so to get there. It is approximately 100 miles or less from our area. For those who want to plan a single day trip from Sacramento, it can be done. But we wanted a little bit more time and looked forward to a relaxing drive back, so we included an overnight stay in the town of Murphys, Calif., off Highway 4, not too far away (about 20 minutes or so) from the park entrance. We took off from home at around 11 AM, drove south to Freeway 50 towards Tahoe and took the Latrobe Road exit driving through rolling hills to Highway 16 and connecting with Highway 49 driving south through Drytown and passing by Amador City and Sutter Creek, through San Andreas before connecting with Highway 4 at Angels Camp. There is a great deal of California Gold Rush history to be explored in this region, but our focus was on Big Trees which we reached a little past 1:00 PM.
The park entrance is a short distance from the North Grove of Big Trees State Park. The entry fee was $12 per vehicle which is $2 more than the usual, this being a holiday weekend. This North Grove area is readymade for tourists and photo opportunities. Not only does it contain a Visitor Center but the massive stump of the once mighty Discovery Tree can be found here along with a felled piece just next to it. Stairs lead visitors to the top of the Big Stump. It is rumored that it was once used as a dance floor.
Reaching the North Grove Trail is not too difficult. The numbered landmark areas point to the many of the giant trees that await visitors here. A rough estimate of the people we ran into here would run into a couple of hundred and not the thousands that one encounters in Tahoe or Yosemite. The trail is approximately 1.7 miles and we enjoyed walking through it (it was not a taxing hike). The trees one encounters here are impressive. Just as a side note, cell phones do not work in the area and we lost access traveling up Hwy. 4 just beyond Murphys. And it did bring some difficulty and some humor into our trip. The five of us ended up as two separate groups, and we somehow kept missing each other in our quest to re-group. We attributed this to Murphy’s Law (Whatever can go wrong will go wrong). We had planned a joint family picnic lunch which was delayed for about an hour because we were trying to locate each other. The lesson we learned is that one should not become too dependent on cell phones and always plan on a single designated meeting place before you venture out where there is even a remote possibility of splitting up.
After our delayed picnic lunch (or “Linner” by the time we were done) we decided to try the South Grove of the park and were sure glad that we did. To reach the access to this southern location one has to drive on another route from the Big Trees park entrance. It took us around 20 minutes (almost 9 miles) to reach the South Grove parking lot. We were there roughly at 4 pm and found the surroundings a bit more Spartan than the North Grove. It is about a mile hike from the parking lot just to the entrance of the South Grove Trail which in itself is quite a hike (but not as grueling as parts of Yosemite). One has to be in reasonably good shape because it is roughly a 2.5 to 3-hour journey going up and returning down. A creek keeps one company most of the way and the sound of running water added to the charm of the place. We did not encounter much in terms of wildlife but the blooming white flowers against the backdrop of green foliage and giant tree trunks were quite heavenly. And this time Murphy’s Law did not come into play. We all made it together up to the hollowed Palace Hotel Tree and to the spectacular Agassiz Tree, a true giant of the park where the trail ended. We only encountered about 50 people as we trekked the 5 miles through some great pathways, encountered spectacular giant trees and saw nature at its best before returning to our vehicle around 7:30 pm. We had a great time hiking and would certainly recommend this part of the Calaveras Big Trees State Park to readers.
The following day was one for some easy tourism. On the drive back (in our old Toyota Sequoia no less), we picked up some sandwiches in Plymouth on Highway 49 and drove to the Shenandoah Valley nearby for lunch. Coming home we returned through Placerville and rated this overnight trip a two-thumbs up.