This morning the line for camp sites was growing well before seven thirty. As we packed up to leave, more joined the line. I imagined a silent cheer each time people like us left the park. It would mean one more space open for camping.
Adding two hours to our journey, we headed south to see the large trees that lived there – that had lived there for thousands of years. You know, it's interesting. We don't know much about trees from their early days. The oldest in the world if four to five thousand years old. What about the ones from dinosaur times, hundreds of millions of years back? How did they grow? What defenses did they have? We know so little – and it's nearly impossible to learn a thing. You'd think 1600 years is old (the age of some of the trees around here) but really – just a drop in the bucket.
On our way to the grove, we passed a look out stop full of German tourists. The French go to the Grand Canyon, the German's come here. This seems to be the way of things. Why the divide? I'm not sure – but just as most of the people at the Grand Canyon were French, so too are most of those in this park German.
You can tell them, at times, from the Americans. They're the ones who look like they're about to go clubbing, rather than climb a mountain. It's strange, it's surreal, it's really quite wonderful. What are they thinking? Clearly in their mind it all makes some sort of sense.
We passed through a tunnel that transported us from one section of the park to the next. Gravel roads, and tight turns took us from place to place. Here we were not surrounded by tourists, but for the most part, on our own. Until we neared the southern part of the park. The area with, “the trees.”
We pulled into the visitors centre and I asked, rather foolishly, if this was the place with the big trees. (It wasn't as bad as yesterday when I asked if stop ten was next – boarding the bus at stop nine. “Oh, very good counting,” the driver said to me. I didn't realize the same stop going the other way was stop four.)
We were told that we could drive down, and then hike the grove, or take a tram for twenty five dollars a person. Twenty five dollars a person to take a tram a few miles? No thanks. Getting to the lot we started out.
Our legs had not forgiven us our hike the day before. Thighs and calves still hurt. But we could not not see the trees. The trees! Only two and a half miles, round trip. That would be nothing – right?
I seem to recall it being more than nothing, but my memories are what last – and those are the memories of the Grizzled Giant, and the California Tunnel.
The Grizzled Giant is nearly one hundred feet around at the base. Standing one hundred and ninety feet tall, this tree was a monster. A monster with a fence around it.
It seems that the park service didn't want people walking around the tree. Standing on the roots could hurt it. For a tree nearly three thousand years old, and having suffered fire damage, I figured it would do just fine – but that's not my call. No – this tree was out of bounds for touching. You could stand back and take pictures, though.
There's only one problem – from a distance there's no sense of scale. There's no way to appreciate its size. Not without someone next to it. And so I did what anyone in my situation would do (the situation being one who thinks protecting something can end up destroying the true beauty of it.) I set my tripod up, hopped the fence, and got my shot of me standing beside the tree. I have two shots – one with me, one without. In the one without, you just see a tree. It could be any size. But the other? It's in the other that the true monstrous size is seen.
I'd always regretted not seeing the big trees out in British Columbia back in two thousand and six, but now – standing beside this giant, everything was right in the world once more.
The California Tunnel Tree is a tree which had a hole cut in it, large enough for carriages to go under. Why chop down a tree when you can cut it up and allow it to live even still? Of course i walked under it, and looked around – but little compared to standing beside the truly awe inspiring giant.
Once we'd left the forest, it was back on the road – heading towards Red Bluff. We would spend the night there, and press on to the Red Wood forest in the morning. I thought of all the things I'd have time to do – catch up on email, blogging, tv watching – but as soon as we got there (after hours of near exhaustion driving where I had to take over for Kath who couldn't even keep her eyes open) food was our priority – ice cream and Domino's pizza. Never again. Tasty – but, doing terrible things.
With food done, just before nine I was ready to do all those things I'd thought about earlier. I was ready – but my body? It protested. Eight fifty something. That was the last time I saw before the world slipped into dark.
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