Tag Archives: General Sherman tree

Famous Trees


I think they were Russian.

The mother of the family walked in first. Her makeup was tasteful and subdued, as was her hair, which was done, but not overdone. She wore a tight t-shirt with a shiny graphic on the front.

Good morning. How are you today? I asked when she came through the door.

Not good, she said. We are lost.  Her accent was thick.

She was followed in by two teenage girls. Neither of them wore makeup, and their clothes were more suited to a day in the woods than to a day at the mall.

Behind the girls came the husband/father. He was portly and had a headful of dark hair. He wore a casual shirt, but casual as in “casino,” not casual as in “forest.” He looked ten or fifteen years older than his wife, but perhaps it only seemed that way because she was better moisturized.

Where are you trying to go? I asked the woman kindly. I was actively working on being kinder and more compassionate instead of the raging meanie I’d been for weeks.

We are trying to see this tree…the General Sherman, the woman told me.

Oh yeah. They were lost.

This tree is famous. It is a very famous tree.

The General Sherman is in the Sequoia National Park, I began the speech I give when I’m asked about the location of the General Sherman. I spoke slowly and clearly, if a bit robotically. You are about 100 miles and 2½ to 3 hours from the Southern entrance to Sequoia National Park.

Then I said more casually, You have to leave this mountain, go back to civilization, then go up their mountain.

The woman looked glassy-eyed with shock. That was a fairly normal reaction when people found out how far they were from their intended destination. The first stage of wanting to see the General Sherman but discovering the distance still left to cover is shock.

The woman spoke to the husband/father in a language I could not identify. I’ll say it was Russian, but that’s really only a guess.

I told the woman how to get to the Park. I told her which way to turn to get on the appropriate highway and where to go from there to get to the highway that would take them to the Park. The woman dutifully translated to the husband/father. Now both of the adults looked at me with glassy eyes.

I sighed and pulled out the tourist information booklet we kept behind the counter for the map which showed our location and the roads to take to the National Park. I pointed out their route on the map.

The husband/father jabbed his chubby index finger at several different points on the map and spoke in an animated way at the woman. I couldn’t understand his words, but I think he’d moved on the anger state of realizing he was nowhere near the General Sherman. I noticed he kept jabbing his finger in a location quite south of where we were, but I had no idea what that was about.

At one point the husband/father went outside (probably to take some deep breaths and try to avoid a vacation induced heart attack), but the woman remained standing at my counter.

When I make reservation at hotel, it said it was only 40 minutes from National Park, she told me.

With a little more questioning, I realized she’d made reservations online at a hotel more than an hour south of where we were standing. The hotel’s website, she said, claimed it was only 40 minutes from the National Park. I knew if that claim had indeed been made, the hotel’s website was telling a big lie, but I kept my mouth shut on that point. At least now I understood why the husband/father was jabbing his stubby finger so far south.

The husband/father came back into the store. There was more finger jabbing at the map, more animated (on his part) and subdued (on her part) discussion in the language I didn’t understand. Then the woman looked up at me and asked, Are there any famous trees here?

Oh! That was rich! Famous trees!

I explained there was a trail featuring many giant sequoias across the street. They could pay $5 to park, then walk out on the trail and see lots of giant sequoias.

She asked again about famous trees. That’s when I wanted to crash my head repeatedly on the counter in front of me. Seeing giant sequoias wasn’t enough for these people; they only cared about seeing trees that were famous.

I dug around under the counter and came up with a flyer about the most famous tree in our area. This tree wasn’t the biggest or the tallest, but it was close. It had some credentials. The flyer had directions on it. I told the woman I couldn’t give her the flyer because it was my last one, but she could take a photo of it. She dutifully took a photo, but asked me if I could give her the address of the tree so she could put it into their car’s navigation system.

Ma’am, I said, totally defeated, trees don’t really have addresses.

There was more jabbing at the map by the husband/father, more finger tracing of the route, more animated discussion I couldn’t understand. When the fellow went out onto the porch again, I was finally able to make the woman understand she was in the National Forest and the General Sherman was in the National Park.

This tree is not famous.

Oh, she said slowly, there is difference between National Forest and National Park.

I think it was dawning on her that the website for the hotel where she’d made reservations had said it was 4o minutes from the National Forest, not 40 minutes from the National Park. I wondered when (or if) she was going to confess her mistake to her husband.

I reminded her again that her family could see giant sequoias right across the street, and she said they needed to think about it. The whole family, including the silent teenagers, went out onto the porch. I think they’d reached the grief stage of being so far away from the General Sherman.

When the adults came back into the store, they had perhaps reached the acceptance stage of being a long way from the world’s largest tree. They were far from the General Sherman, and they’d either have to embark on a three hour journey to see it, or they would go south to their reserved hotel room with their collective tail between their collective legs.

I think they’d decided to press on toward General Sherman because they tried to buy the map out of the tourist booklet. Of course I told them no. How would I help the next lost family (and I knew there would be others) if this family took away my only map?






At my jobs as a camp host and parking lot attendant, I am asked a lot of questions. After over three months, I’ve heard some questions so many times, they no longer surprise me.

Here’s a list of questions I am asked repeatedly (and my most common answers).

Where is the General Sherman tree? (In the Giant Forest in the Sequoia National Park)

What’s in that big tank on your campsite? (Water) Can I have some of it? (No)

Where are the rock slides? (I have no idea)

Is there a river or stream up here where we can get wet and cool off? (No)

How long is the trail? (About a mile and a quarter)

How long does it take to walk the trail? (That depends on how many trees you hug)

What’s the elevation here? (About 6400 feet)

How do I get to [L.A., San Francisco, the Sequoia National Park, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, Palm Springs]? (Answers vary)

Where is a water fountain/faucet/spigot where I can fill my water bottle/wash my hands/get water for my dog? (Not here)

Is there a place around here to go on a hike? (I have a map you can look at)

Do you take credit/debit cards? (No because there are no phone lines or internet access here)

Where’s the nearest ATM? (8 miles that way)

Where is Crystal Cave? (In the Sequoia National Park)

Can my dog go on the trail? (Yes, on a leash)

Where’s the closest place to get food? (11 miles that way, but it’s not very good and the people who work there aren’t very friendly)

Is there a coffee shop around here? (The restaurant 11 miles away sells coffee…if you mean a Starbucks, no)

Are there picnic tables here? (Yes, there are five picnic tables in the day use area)

Can we have a barbecue here? (Only on a gas grill, if you have a permit)

Which tree here is the oldest/biggest/tallest? (I don’t know)

Where is the nearest campground? (200 yards that way)

Is there a gift shop here? (No)

Where can I buy gas? (25 miles that way, 40 miles that way, or 40 miles the other way)

Are there bears here? (Yes, but they are timid because they are hunted here…you’re more likely to see a rattlesnake here)

Where’s the restroom? (In the little building in the middle of the parking lot)

Some questions take me by surprise.

One day a young Asian woman with a fairly strong accent asked me if we had a resting room. I thought she meant restroom (toilet, WC, el baño), so I told her it was in the little building in the middle of the parking lot. She was clearly exasperated and said not a restroom, a resting room. I was perplexed and just looked at her. She explained she wanted to leave her mother, an elderly woman using a cane, in a resting room with chairs and shade. I guess she wanted a waiting room. I told her there was no resting room in the parking lot, and she clearly expressed additional exasperation. I didn’t even try to explain to her that the only rooms in the area are the two with the toilets and a tiny one for storage.

Another time, a family asked me how to get to the Big Chief. I knitted my brow and shook my head. (I do something with my mouth too, when I don’t know the answer, but I don’t know how to explain the expression.) I told them I’d never heard of it. They said it is the 7th largest giant sequoia, and it’s supposed to be in the area. I still had no information about its location to offer.

(According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_giant_sequoias, there is a Chief Sequoyah tree located in the Giant Forest Grove of the Sequoia National Park. It is listed as the 26th largest tree with a height of 228.2 feet (69.6 m), a circumference of 90.4 feet (27.6 m), and a diameter of 28.8 feet (8.8 m). There’s also Red Chief in Long Meadow Grove. Wikipedia lists it as the 41st largest tree with a height of 245.0 feet (74.7 m), a circumference of 80.6 feet (24.6 m), and a diameter of 25.7 feet (7.8 m). Maybe the family was looking for one of these trees.)

One Thursday was the day of weird questions.

It started when two young women and their two fluffy little dogs exited the trail. They walked right up to me, and one of the women asked, Can you suggest a good hike for dogs? I was momentarily at a loss, then said, I don’t really hike, and I don’t have a dog, so I don’t know a good hike for dogs. The woman thanked me, and they all walked away. (Perhaps I should have offered use of my map, and the women and dogs could have consulted it and discussed their options.)

Later that day, I did pull out my map for a family to look at. The man asked me about the Pinnacle Trail. I said I’d never heard of it. He allowed that he possibly had the name wrong. I offered the map to him. He found the trail for which he was looking (the name of which has two syllables and does not begin with the letter “P”). They had a bunch of questions about the trail. I told them I’d never hiked it and could only say what I’d heard about it from other people. They kept asking me questions, and I kept saying I don’t know. Finally the oldest kid said, Are there big trees on the hike? I said, I don’t know; I’ve never been there, and I was done with them. Sometimes people insist I answer their questions, even after I’ve told them I can’t.

That afternoon I was patrolling at the nearby campground, and two men flagged me down to ask about the yurts. After I answered their questions ($75 a night, sleeps five, no cooking inside, bring your own bedding), they wanted to know about the closest rivers. I told them about the two rivers in the vicinity, and one guy asked me if the fishing were good. I said, I don’t know. I don’t fish. It seems to me he should have first asked me if I’d fished either river recently.

The strangest (or at least most strangely phrased) question of the day happened back at my campground. I was checking in two young Asian men (brothers). I pointed out my van and told them to let me know if they had any questions or problems. The one doing the talking asked if I stayed in the campground, and I said yes. The he asked, If someone arrives late at night, will you be here to assist them? I told him I would be here if someone arrived late, but when people arrive after dark, I stay in my van and check them in the next morning. I wondered what kind of assistance he had in mind. There are definitely certain kinds of assistance I will not provide!

Giant Forest Museum and the Sentinel Tree


The shuttle I took from Visalia, CA to the Sequoia National Park dropped me and the other passengers at the Giant Forest Museum, so I decided to start my day there.


This is the building which houses the Giant Forest Museum.

According to http://www.hikespeak.com/attractions/giant-forest-museum-sequoia/, “The rustic building that houses the museum was built in 1928 on a design by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood.”

I think the museum is intended for people who don’t know anything about sequoias because the information presented seemed pretty basic to me. One exhibit I did find informative was the comparison of giant sequoias and coast redwoods to other trees and things like the Statue of Liberty and skyscrapers. I also enjoyed the pound of giant sequoia seeds in a large plastic jar. The sequoia seeds look so much like oat flakes that when I saw the jar, I thought Why did someone leave a jar of oatmeal there? Upon closer inspection, I realized I was actually looking at over 80,000 giant sequoia seeds.

According to http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/seqgig/all.html

The average number of cleaned giant sequoia seeds per pound
is approximately 81,000 (200,070/kg).

The Sentinel Tree stands outside the Giant Forest Museum.


The Forest Service schtick for the Sentinel Tree is how average the tree is. The informational sign goes something like this: You think this tree is big, don’t you? In fact, it’s just an average size giant sequoia. It weighs more than two fully loaded jumbo jet airplanes–700 tons–but it’s just average! Ha!Ha! Tricked you! This tree’s not so big after all. There are bigger trees around here.

According to http://www.hikespeak.com/attractions/giant-forest-museum-sequoia/, the Sentinel Tree is about half the size of the General Sherman Tree.

There are two lines on the ground outside the Giant Forest Museum representing the Sentinel Tree. One shows how wide the base of the tree is, and the other shows how tall the tree is. By walking along the line representing the height of the tree, a person can pretend s/he is climbing the Sentinel Tree. Every twenty or so feet, there is a metal tile with a drawing showing the height represented and the width of the tree at that height. I was walking that line, metaphorically climbing the tree, when the rain started coming down hard, sending me into the Giant Forest Museum for the second time that day.

After the museum closed and I was waiting outside for the shuttle to pick me up for the ride back to Visalia, tourists started hopping the fence around the Sentinel Tree so they could have their picture taken with it. The older couple who’d been working at the gift shop in the museum tried to tell the first group (teenage boys) why they should stay off the tree’s side of the fence, but the mother of the boys was the one with the camera, and she would not be swayed from getting the photo she wanted. Later, as the photo family walked near me to get to their car, I heard them laughing at the improbability of their actions killing the tree. Humans can be so short-sighted while imagining their own specialness.


The whole view of the Sentinel Tree.

All of the photos in this post were taken by me.

Read more about giant sequoias.

The General Sherman Tree


The main reason I decided to visit Sequoia National Park was to see the General Sherman Tree for myself.

For weeks I’d been answering visitors’ questions about the location of the General Sherman Tree. No, the General Sherman Tree is not here. It’s in the Sequoia National Park. It’s about three hours away.

A lot of people wanted to see the tree, and I wondered what the fascination was. At first I chalked it up to the American obsession with superlatives. We want to say we saw the biggest, oldest, tallest, heaviest. But it wasn’t just Americans who asked about the tree, and I got curious. What was it about the tree that caused so much interest?

I first saw the General Sherman Tree from a distance. Even from a distance, the tree is obviously big.

The General Sherman Tree from a distance.

The General Sherman Tree from a distance.

However, the General Sherman Tree lives in the Giant Forest. There are big trees all over the place. (Four of the five largest measured giant sequoias live within the three square miles of the Giant Forest, which was named by John Muir in 1875.)  I didn’t fully appreciate the tree’s size until I got close to it.

Close to the General Sherman Tree. It was difficult to get a shot of the tree without tourists standing in front of it. There was a nearly constant parade of people standing behind the sign so someone they were with could take a photo of them with the tree. I was alone and didn't want to ask a stranger to take a photo of me standing there, so I have no photo of me standing in front of the tree. You'll just have to believe I was really there since I have no photographic evidence.

Close to the General Sherman Tree. It was difficult to get a shot of the tree without tourists standing in front of it. There was a nearly constant parade of people standing behind the sign so someone they were with could take a photo of them with the tree. I was alone and didn’t want to ask a stranger to take a photo of me standing there, so I have no photo of me with the tree. You’ll just have to believe I was really there since I have no photographic evidence.

I don’t even know how to describe the size of the General Sherman Tree. Start with big and multiple by massive. Contemplate immense. Imagine tilting your head back, back, back in order to get a look at its crown, then keeping your head leaned back until it starts to cramp. I have no words to adequately describe the tree. And photographs? My little camera is certainly not capable of capturing the majesty of this tree.

Measurements of the General Sherman Tree were made by the American Forestry Association in 1975. Here’s what they reported forty years ago:

The height above the base of the General Sherman Tree was 274.9 feet.

General Sherman’s circumference at the ground was 102.6 feet.

The diameter of the tree’s largest branch was 6.8 feet.

The height of the first large branch above the tree’s base was 130 feet.

The General Sherman Tree is as tall as an average 27 story building. Its first significant branch is as high as the 13th story of such a building.

If the General Sherman Tree were placed in the middle of a California three-lane freeway, it would completely block all three 12-foot-wide lanes.

It’s ok if you can’t comprehend the tree’s size from reading these facts and figures. I stood right in front of the tree, looked up into the sky to see its crown, walked all the way around it, and I still can’t quite comprehend its size. It’s big. B.I.G. Did I mention massive? Have I used the word “enormous”?


That really big log? That’s a branch from the General Sherman Tree that crashed to the ground some years ago. A branch!

There’s a wooden fence around the General Sherman Tree. It’s more of a psychological barrier than a physical one, since most folks in reasonable shape could easily get over the fence. It’s to keep an honest man honest, as my father would say. (Of course, at the Grand Canyon, a ranger had to give my father a stern talking to when Dad climbed over a wall that was obviously meant as a barrier. Perhaps the fence around the General Sherman would not keep my father and his ilk honest after all.)

This one's for Dad.

This one’s for Dad.

The fence is there to protect the General Sherman. It’s there to keep millions of visiting feet from compacting its root system and/or eroding the surrounding soil and exposing its shallow roots. It’s there to keep idiots from carving names and initials into the tree’s bark.

I understand why the fence is there, and i wouldn’t do anything to hurt the General Sherman, but I was a bit sad that I didn’t get to hug that tree. I did walk around the tree slowly, silently, trying to block out the chatter of the other visitors and feel the tree’s energy. (Luckily, I visited the General Sherman early in the day when there were relatively fewer people around.)

The other side of the General Sherman Tree. Notice the large fire scar.

The other side of the General Sherman Tree. Notice the large fire scar.

I’d like to be able to explain how it felt to be in the presence of a living being of such age and size, but really don’t have the words. I hope someday you can visit the General Sherman Tree and have your own experience.

Here's one more look at the General Sherman Tree.

Here’s one more look at the General Sherman Tree.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Much of the information in this post came from the booklet The General Sherman Tree by William Tweed. I picked it up for 99 cents at the Giant Forest Museum gift shop. It was money well spent.

To read more about giant sequoias and the Giant Forest Museum, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/08/13/giant-forest-museum-and-the-sentinel-tree/.