Unlike Galen Clark, I couldn’t tell you an Ash or a Blue Elderberry if it slapped me in the face during a hike. There are many trees in the Sierra I will not know for years. But I bet I am not much different than you for we all have our favorite trees, yes?
You can read a ton about Mr. Clark or his writings, but his inspiration for me is the determination to protect the Mariposa Grove of Sequoia trees he stumbled upon near his Wawona settlement. Outside of the immense respect I have of another hotelier making something from nothing, he clearly loved the land and the living trees around him. When you wander about the Upper Mariposa Grove where he had a cabin, still standing, you cannot help but be immersed in another plane of existence. It seems after the Lower Mariposa Grove and the drive, I am dragging others through the pre-dusk Sequoia forest when the orange red colors of the bark seem to glow in the half light. It is enchanting and worth any camera, including the most sophisticated, your eye.
For more colorful tales, you must come in the autumn. Sure, in California this season doesn’t seem to show up until the last minute in late October after a warm Indian Summer. But you know instinctively the color changes as the cold slowly spreads down from the peaks of the High Sierra into December. Yes, we have heard recently that the broadleaf trees are always yellow or red underneath the green at all times. That the chlorophyll the trees make is the green you see, and when the sunlight gets thinner the tree makes less of it to cover the other colors. Romantically, I prefer to believe the trees are giving their last shimmering display before the deep winter breath puts them in hibernation.
Outside of the Quaking Aspens & Cottonwoods up the Eastern Sierra’s canyons you must see when driving to or from LV or LA in October, you will find yourself focusing upon Yosemite Valley. This is for good reason since the fall colors in the Big Leaf Maple, White Alder, Black Oak, Pacific Dogwood & Black Cottonwood are easily accessible there. The first maple section on loop road alone makes you want to double park and walk down the centerline for the view. Give yourself the time and explore the entire or a few sections of the underrated Valley Loop trail to find the secrets you desire. Spend extra time at quiet & still sections of the Merced riverbanks.
At the Tunnel View parking area you cannot miss the lush spread of evergreens that appear to be freshly laid dark green shag walk-to-wall carpet of Yosemite Valley. Hiking up around Tuolumne Meadows during summer the Lodgepole, Mountain Hemlock & Whitebark Pine show you how they thin out and shorten closer to the tree line. Yes, in fact, you can never escape the cloaking, reassuring presence of the conifers about Yosemite. But it is winter that shows how very much alive they are. The mixed conifer forests about Wawona and Crane Flat trails are the most fascinating.
The Rockefeller Grove is a case in point. Though I want to send you there to look for a hidden grove of sequoias, what you must always be paying attention to are the specimen Sugar Pines, Jeffrey Pines, White Pines, Dogwood, Douglas Fir, White Fir, & Incense Cedar. The frosted Sugar Pine foot long cones are irresistible to touch. Rub and smell the sweetness of the sugary sap that drops off them and be happy. The nearby trail to Merced Sequoia Grove is also outstanding.
What comes down must go up, no? It is unclear why I see summer as the midpoint of the year, but I feel that is the way California is. The warmth slowly moves up from the blooming pink fruit & nut trees in the Central Valley. The first line of Blue Oaks come into view with the most true fresh green leafing buds opening up as you drive past the old barns & grazing cattle. The evergreen Live Oaks even have new bright red & green serrated leaflets further up the hill. Of course, the Black Oaks leafing above the Bug is what makes me the happiest, you can feel youth flowing in your veins. The flowers litter the ground everywhere shortly afterwards. Just follow youth all the way up to the highest peaks in July to hear the tiniest alpine flowers trumpeting for all animals to drop by for a visit.
In the land of fire we all understand the risks. The forest seems to to want to embrace the flame for health because regular low burning fires do help California forests. Look at the relationship the Sequoia and the Bristlecone pines have with fire. Both have seeds that need fire to open and help germinate. The red bark on the Sequoia has so much tannin it can resist the regular fires throughout it’s long life. Burn areas open ground to a variety of tree seeds that would find it hard to penetrate the forest floor cover. unless another tree fell over. You know you are in a healthy Western American forest when it is easy to wander through and get lost in your mind rather than in person. Well then at last, summers hot wind brings out the earthy resin-piney smell that Sierra forests emit just for you,
Yep, that’s what I like most about all these trees. The air is so fresh and healthy because they exhale the cleanest oxygen ever! Even the water seems to breath in all that sweet air while spraying over cliffs and sloshing whitewater over boulders to get as much of it is possible before becoming meandering laggard rivers on the flatlands and out to sea. But not before I get to frolic about in it’s refreshing and clear eddies below my home here at the Bug.