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The Mammoth Trees of Mariposa and Fresno

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

"Go abroad
Upon the paths of Nature, and, when all
Its voices whisper, and its silent things
Are breathing the deep beauty of the world,
Kneel at its simple altar, and the God
Who hath the living waters shall be there."

FOR several years after the discovery of the mammoth trees of Calaveras county had astonished the world, that group of trees was supposed to be the only one of the kind in existence. But, during the latter part of July or the beginning of August, 1855, Mr. Hogg, a hunter, in the employ of the South Fork Merced Canal Company, while in the pursuit of his calling, saw one or more trees, of the same variety and genus as those of Calaveras, growing on one of the tributaries of Big Creek, and related the fact to Mr. Galen Clark, and other acquaintances. Late in September, or early in October ensuing, Mr. J. E. Clayton, civil engineer, residing in Mariposa, while running a line of survey for Colonel J. C. Fremont, across some of the upper branches of the Fresno River, discovered other trees of the same class, but, like Mr. Hogg, passed on without further examination or exploration.

About the 1st of June, Mr. Milton Mann and Mr. Clark mutually agreed to go out on a hunting excursion in the direction indicated by Mr. Hogg and Mr. Clayton, for the purpose of ascertaining definitely the locality, size, and number of the trees mentioned.

Well mounted, they left Clark's Ranche, and proceeded up the divide between the South Fork of the Merced and Big Creek, in a southeastern course, with the intention of making a circuit of several miles, if not at first successful—this plan being the most suggestive of their rediscovery.

When on the summit of the mountain, about four miles from Clark's, they saw the broad and towering tops of the mammoth trees—since known as the "Mariposa Grove"—and shortly afterward were walking among their immense trunks. A partial examination revealed the fact, that a second grove of trees had been found, that was far more extensive than that of Calaveras, and many of the trees fully as large as those belonging to that world-renowned group.

Early the following spring, Mr. Clark discovered two smaller groves of large trees, of the same class and variety, each not exceeding a quarter of a mile in distance from the other, and about the end of July of the same year, he discovered another large grove upon the head-waters of the Fresno.

Who can picture, in language, or on canvas, all the sub-lime depths of wonder that flow to the soul in thrilling and intense surprise, when the eye looks upon these great marvels? Long vistas of forest shades, formed by immense trunks of trees, extending hither and thither: now arched by the overhanging branches of the lofty taxodi.. urns, then by the drooping boughs of the white-blossomed dogwood; while the high, moaning sweep of the pines, and the low whispering swell of the firs, sung awe-inspiring anthems to their great Planter.

The Indians, in years that are past, have, with Vandal hands, set portions of this magnificent forest on fire; so that burnt stumps of trees and blackened underbrush frown upon you from several points. Indeed, many of the largest and noblest looking are badly deformed from this cause. Still, beautiful clumps of from three to ten trees in each, and others standing alone, are numerous, sound, and well formed.

"Passing up the ravine, or basin," says Mr. J. Lam-son, "we came to a large stem, whose top had been stripped of its branches, giving it somewhat the resemblance of an immense spear, and forcibly reminding one of Milton's description of Satan's weapon :

"To equal which, the tallest pine Hewn on Norwegian hills to be the mast Of some great ammiral, were but a wand."

Believing this to be far greater than any tree Milton ever dreamed of, and fully equal to the wants of any reasonable Prince of Darkness, in compliment to the poet and his hero, we named it `Satan's Spear.' Its circumference is seventy-eight feet.

"Several rods to the left of this, is another large trunk, with a dilapidated top, presenting the appearance of a tower, it is called 'The Giant's Tower'; seventy feet in circumference. Beyond this, stand two double trees, which have been named `The Twin Sisters.' Still further on, is a tree with a straight and slender body, and a pro-fusion of beautiful foliage; near which frowned a savage looking monster, with a scarred and knotted trunk, and gnarled and broken branches, bringing to one's recollection the story of `Beauty and the Beast.' Crossing the ravine near `Satan's Spear,' there are many fine trees upon the side and summit of the ridge. One of the finest, whose circumference is sixty feet, and whose top consists of a mass of foliage of exceeding beauty, is called `The Queen of the Forest.' Above these, stands `The Artist's Encampment,' seventy-seven feet in circumference, though so large a portion of its trunk has decayed or been burned away to a height of thirty feet, as materially to lessen its dimensions."

As the size of the principal trees was ascertained by Mr. Clark, and Colonel Warren, editor of the California Farmer, in which journal it first appeared, and as their measurements doubtless approximated to correctness, we give them below:

"The first tree was 'The Rambler,' and measuring it three and a half feet from the ground, we found it eighty feet in circumference; close-at the ground, one hundred and two feet; and, carefully surveyed, two hundred and fifty feet high. Tree No. 2, nearly fifty feet in circumference. No. 3 (at the spring), ninety feet, three and a half feet from the ground; one hundred and two at the ground; and three hundred feet high. Nos. 4 and 5 (`The Sisters') measured eighty-two and eighty-seven feet in circumference, and two hundred and twenty-five feet high. Many of the trees had lost portions of their tops, by the storms that had swept over them.

"The whole number measured, was one hundred and fifty-five, and these comprise but about half the group, which we estimate cover about two to three hundred acres, and lie in a triangular form. Some of the trees first meet your view in the vale of the mountain; thence rise southeasterly and northwesterly, till you find your-self gazing upon the neighboring points, some ten miles from you, whose tops are still covered with their winter snows.

"Some of these were in groups of three, four, and even five, seeming to spring from the seeds of one cone. The groups of trees consisted of many of peculiar beauty and interest. One of those, which measured one hundred feet in circumference, was of exceeding gigantic proportions, and towered up three hundred feet; yet a portion of its top, where it apparently was ten feet in diameter, had been swept off by storms.

"Near by it stood a smaller tree, that seemed a child to it, yet it measured forty-seven feet in circumference. Not far from it was a group of four splendid trees, two hundred and fifty feet high, which we named the `Four Pillars,' each over fifty feet in circumference. Two gigantic trees, seventy-five and seventy-seven feet in circumference, were named `Washington' and `Lafayette'; these were noble trees. Another group we called `The Graces,' from their peculiar beauty. One mighty tree that had fallen by fire and burned out, into which we walked for a long distance, we found to be the abode of the grizzly; there he had made his nest, and it excited the nerves to enter so dark an abode. Yet it was a fitting place for a grizzly. Another tree, measuring eighty feet, and standing aloof, was called the `Lone Giant'; it went heavenward some three hundred feet. One monster tree that had fallen and been burned hollow, has been recently tried, by a party of our friends, riding, as they fashion-ably do, in the saddle, through the tunnel of the tree. These friends rode through this tree, a distance of one hundred and fifty-three feet. The tree had been long fallen, and measured, ere its bark was gone and its sides charred, over one hundred feet in circumference, and probably three hundred and fifty feet in height.

"The mightiest tree that has yet been found, now lies upon the ground, and, fallen as it lies, it is a wonder still; it is charred, and time has stripped it of its heavy bark, and yet across the butt of the tree as it lay upturned, it measured thirty-three feet without its bark; there can be no question that in its vigor, with its bark on, it was forty feet in diameter, or one hundred and twenty feet in circumference. Only about one hundred and fifty feet of the trunk remains, yet the cavity where it fell is still a large hollow beyond the portion burned off ; and, upon pacing it, measuring from the root one hundred and twenty paces, and estimating the branches, this tree must have been four hundred feet high. We believe it to be the largest tree yet discovered."

This grove of mammoth trees consists of about three hundred, more or less. It must not be supposed that these large taxodiums monopolize the one mile by a quarter of a mile of ground over which they are scattered; as some of the tallest, largest, and most graceful of sugar pines and Douglass firs we ever saw, add their beauty of form and foliage to the group, and contribute much to the imposing grandeur of the effect.

Crossing a low ridge to the southwestward of the large grove, is another small one, before alluded to, in which there are many fine trees. We measured one sturdy, gnarled old fellow, which, although badly burned, and the bark almost gone, so that a large portion of its original size was lost, is, nevertheless, still ninety feet in circumference.

An immense trunk lay stretched upon the ground, that measured two hundred and sixty-four feet in length, al-though a considerable portion of its crown has been burned away.

Leaving the South Grove, we struck across Big Creek and its branches, in a course almost due south, as near as the rugged, rock-bound mountain spurs would permit, in the direction of the Fresno group, some of whose majestic and feathery tops could be seen from the ridge we had left behind.

Apparently, these trees were not more than six miles distant from the Mariposa Grove; but, owing to the trailless course we had to take, down and across the spurs of Big Creek, were not less than ten miles. About six o'clock P.M., we arrived at the foot of some of the mammoth trees, that stood on the ridge, like sentinel guards to the grove. These were from fifty to sixty feet, only, in circumference.

This grove consists of about five hundred trees of the taxodium family, on about as many acres of dense forest land, gently undulating. The two largest we could find measured eighty-one feet each in circumference, well formed, and straight from the ground to the top. The others, equally sound and straight, were from fifty-one feet to seventy-five feet in circumference. The sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) were remarkably large; one that was prostrate near our camp measured twenty-nine feet and six inches in circumference, and two hundred and thirty-seven feet in length.

There are no less than ten groves of these remarkable trees (Sequoia gigantea) already discovered in California. The Calaveras, containing about one hundred trees; the great South Grove, having one thousand three hundred and eighty; the South Tuolumne grove, thirty-one; one unnamed, on the south side of the dividing ridge between the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, below Crane FIat, forty-two trees; the Mariposa groves numbering three hundred and sixty-five ; the Fresno, about five hundred; the San Joaquin (estimated at) seven hundred; the Kings and Waweah River belt of big trees, extending for some ten miles, thought to contain thousands; the North Tule River, and the South Tule River, the trees of which are scattered over several square miles. These last-named groves were discovered by Mr. D'Heureuse, of the State Geological Survey, in 1867.

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