Winter Wonderland

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img_7642It wasn’t even winter yet, when I visited Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It was only December 1, but already ice and snow covered the ground.

I hadn’t considered how a 1,500 feet increase in elevation can make a big difference in temperature and weather, so I was a bit surprised to see ice and snow on the side of the road as the van climbed above the 4,ooo feet mark. This is going to be fun, I thought.

Luckily, I was properly dressed with hiking boots, jeans, a warm sweater over a long sleeve t-shirt, and my jorongo over it all. Thankfully, I remembered to grab some gloves before I left the van.

The Calaveras Big Trees State Park is proud of their trees. It costs $10 per vehicle for admission, unless you’re arriving in a bus. Buses carrying up to 24 passengers have to pay $50 for admission. It costs $100 to bring in a bus carrying more than 24 passengers. You can bet I’m going to inform people of these prices next summer when they complain about paying $5 to park where I work.

I started my State Park adventure in the visitors center. The very friendly man who took my $10 at the entrance img_7643told me that’s where I could pick up a guide for the North Grove trail. The man didn’t tell me they want 50 cents for the guide. I hadn’t put any money in my pockets because I hadn’t planned to buy any souvenirs, and I didn’t think the trees were going to panhandle me. When I told the women in the gift shop area of the visitors center that I hadn’t brought any money in with me, she told me to pick up a guide from the metal box at the start of the trail.

I took the guide that looked as if it had already been borrowed and returned. Upon seeing the guide, I understood why the park wants to collect some money for it. The guide is a booklet (not one page folded in three parts, which is what I think of as a trail guide due to what I’ve given out where I work), five letter size pages folded in half. The guide includes a lot of information.

Before I took the guide and started my icy hike, I walked through the gift shop to the exhibit area of the visitor center. In the middle of the room was a display of taxidermied animals. I didn’t stop to examine them, as I don’t particularly like seeing animals killed so humans can look at them. I did look at the exhibits on the walls, which started with information about the native people who lived in the area before the miners and pioneers showed up. There was also information about the “discovery” of the trees in the park by white folks and the subsequent destruction of some of the largest ones.

The stairs lead up to the stump of the Discovery Tree, planed smooth for dancing.

The stairs lead up to the stump of the Discovery Tree, planed smooth for dancing.

One of the trees destroyed was called the Discovery Tree. According to the guidebook,

[i]n 1853…[this tree] was stripped of its bark and felled by ambitious speculators. Since no saw was large enough, the tree was felled with…long-handled pump augers and wedges…It took five men 22 days to drill all the holes, but the perfectly symmetrical tree did not fall for several days.

The stump was planed smooth to serve as a dance floor, and a two-lane bowling alley and bar were built on the fallen trunk.

John Muir…was so angered by these events that he wrote: The vandals then danced upon the stump!

The North Grove trail took me to the remains of the Discovery Tree. It is enormous! It’s difficult to understand from photographs how huge this

This photo shows the fallen trunk of the Discovery Tree, upon which a bar and bowling alley were built.

This photo shows the fallen trunk of the Discovery Tree, upon which a bar and bowling alley were built.

tree is. I climbed carefully up the icy steps and stood on the stump of the Discovery Tree. I felt very sad when thinking about  this tree being killed by people who wanted to make money exhibiting its parts. The trail guide says the tree was only 1.244 years old when it was cut. Since some giant sequoias live to be over 3,000 years old, the Discovery Tree may have had many more years of life ahead of it, had it not been destroyed in its prime.

Another tree in the park destroyed by humans was the Mother of the Forest. The trail guide says,

In 1854 the “Mother of the Forest…” was stripped of its bark. Promoters schemed to ship the bark strips back east for reassembly at exhibitions…A crew of men worked at the tree’s systematic destruction for  ninety days…It was through the Mother of the Forest’s great sacrifice that a heightened awareness about the need to protect these trees was born.

The Mother of the Forest stripped of its bark

The Mother of the Forest stripped of its bark

At the back of the exhibit area in the visitors center is a theater running a couple of documentary films on a loop. The films give a history of the park, including how the destruction of the Discovery Tree and the Mother of the Forest led to people working to protect the trees, including the creation of Calaveras State Park.

After my time in the visitors center, I started out on my walk through the trees. I found the trail was covered in ice and snow: no clearing the trail or shoveling snow here! The trail was only visible because the snow had been packed down where people had walked. The packed snow in the middle of the trail had turned to ice and was very slippery. I wished I had remembered to carry my walking stick with me. To avoid the worst of the icy slippiness, I mostly walked on the edge of the trail, where the snow was still crunchy and my boots could gain some traction. Unfortunately, walking through the snow meant repetitively sinking up to my ankles.

Still, I was glad I was there. I didn’t feel uncomfortably cold, and I enjoyed the img_7674extra quiet the blanket of snow brought to the forest. When the sun broke through the clouds and trees and hit the ice and the whole world shimmered, well, those moments were glorious.

The North Grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park is the sixth grove of giant sequoias I’ve visited. I think my trek through the ice and snow to look at new giant sequoias makes it official: I’m a fanatic!

This photo shows me walking through a gap cut in a tree called Hercules. The trail guide says Hercules "was one of the largest in the grove. It was blown down during a violent windstorm in December 1861.

This photo shows me walking through a gap cut in a tree called Hercules. The trail guide says Hercules “was one of the largest in the grove. It was blown down during a violent windstorm in December 1861.”

 

 

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

2 Responses »

  1. I find it pathetic (for lack of a better word) that so many people concentrate on money to the exclusion of all else. It’s like they’re totally incapable of thinking in any way except in that direction.

    Re: walking on ice. I have just been reminded that I was going to get a pair of those ice traction/stabilizer things that go over the bottom of your shoes. It’s been snowing here in WA, and every time it does, I wish I had a pair. They average about $20/pair, much cheaper than a broken knee or ankle: https://www.amazon.com/OuterStar-Traction-Stainless-Crampons-Footwear/dp/B01M7QPSSE/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1481839914&sr=8-3&keywords=shoe+traction+stabilizers

    • When I lived in the Midwest, I had a pair of those devices that go on the bottom of shoes to help with walking on ice and snow. They were great! I highly recommend them. And yes, MUCH cheaper than a broken bone.

I'd love to know what you think. Please leave a reply