Two centuries-old Giant Sequoia trees fell three weeks ago at the Trail of a Hundred Giants, southeast of Visalia forever changing the Trail’s natural rhythm. The Trail welcomed about 5,000 visitors each week, many of whom would only visit the Trail once. Counted in those 5,000 people were my two young sons and me who visited the Trail at least weekly from our home in California Hot Springs.
In our time there, we discovered that there are areas along the half-mile trail where tourists like to congregate, creating a natural rhythm to the short hike. In a one-time visit to this historic trail, it would be easy to miss the flow of the Trail and the importance of the two famous and now-fallen trees.
Trail marker #1 is the first opportunity to explore a Giant Sequoia up close and walk through the hole in the bottom of the tree left by a fire. At this tree we tell people that the black sticky stuff is not actually ash from the fire but a scar created by the tree protect itself from more damage. Giant Sequoias are nearly fire-proof as a result.
At trail marker #3 you will find a limb struck by lightening that impaled itself in the ground and stands sticking up like a tree unto itself. Most people pass #3 without realizing what they are seeing. My boys and I make a point of stopping tourists and explaining excitedly, “If you hear thunder while you’re here, run!”. We do take our own advice: I have myself run out of the grove with a toddler in a backpack as lightening flashed.
Marker #4 offers a cluster of trees you can squeeze into and find yourself in an open room with only one redwood exit. Early people used such trees as pens for geese and other animals. My older son was in the “goose pen” one day when we met a man walking real live geese.
Marker #9 is the next natural place to congregate. It has offered two trees grown so close together that their base became one. The trees stood in a well-lit portion of the path and a fire 200 years ago burned out a portion of their base. The light against the deep black color of the scarred Giant Sequoia made it a perfect spot for tourist pictures. The nearby foot bridges made the area particularly quaint.
Through much of 2010 the trips to the Trail with my toddler son involved walking straight to marker #9 and walking back and forth over the wooden bridges listening to the echo of our own footsteps. “Boom! Boom! Boom!,” said the bridges to the delight of my toddler. We spent hours listening to our steps and I took many pictures of tourists that summer posed in front of the two burned trees. We named the bridges affectionately: “The Boom Boom Bridges.”
Those tourists may never know that they are pictured in front of trees that are no longer vertical.
One of the two trees at marker #9 has been leaning for some time, but we noticed a dramatic change in mid-August. My mom, toddler, and I headed to the Trail early one August morning to take pictures of the fire debris that threatened the grove in late July. As we approached marker #9 we were struck by how much one of the trees was leaning. We stood back marveling at the angle and wondered out loud why we had not noticed it before. The morning light shone bright on the leaning tree making the angle hard to miss. “Maybe it’s the light this morning. Perhaps it has been leaning this much all along.” Not appreciating the significance, the leaning tree only made its way into the side of one of our pictures.
In our picture from August, you can compare the angle of the Giant on the left side of the photo to other trees in the redwood grove. In just a six week period, the massive weight of the tree worked together with gravity to break the shallow root system of itself and its redwood companion. The two trees fell together on September 30. The crushing sound was captured on video by a tourist as the trees fell, destroying a “Boom Boom Bridge” and a significant portion of the Trail.
“Boom” indeed. Marker #9 at the Trail of a Hundred Giants is in deep need of revision.
Forestry leaders are looking for public feedback on what to do about these fallen trees. The tree bases tower 18 feet and block a significant portion of a trail that had been accessible by wheelchair and, when no tourists were present, by young boys on scooters. How will Sequoia National Forest recoup this accessible trail? Should the trees be removed from the grove entirely? Should massive saws cut out slices that cross the Trail to allow people to pass? Ought a tunnel be carved out through these immense logs? The Forest Service is seeking feedback.
I put the question to my 9 year old son who has likely been to the Trail more than any 9 year old on the planet. Lately the Trail has been boring to him. The fire this summer got his attention and was good for a couple of complaint-free hikes. Holiday weekends work well too because he becomes a tour guide of sorts helping others discover the best trees to squeeze into or the easiest way to climb roots of other fallen trees. However, in August when we noticed the leaning tree, we left him home to play video games, to our disgust. This week I described to him the fallen trees and the new dilemma faced by the Forestry Service. I laid out the options for making the Trail accessible again. He lit up at the idea that there might be a redwood tunnel on the Trail, fully accessible to wheel chairs (and scooters). His young brother agrees.
It makes you wonder if the real reason for the fall of the two Giants is a kamikaze-like attempt of the Trail to compete with video games. The Trail will certainly have a new, exciting rhythm, at least for two boys.
There will be a public meeting at the Trail on October 22 at 10 a.m. so that people can see the fallen Giants and discuss the possibilities for making the Trail accessible again. Two young boys will be there, with a renewed sense of excitement, casting their votes.