The temptation to go back into the Valley, and hike more, was certainly there. But, we can get stupid when we travel. We have in mind a notion of what we want to experience, and blind ourselves to spontaneity, as I’ve said before. We rush. We ignore. We miss so much. But I wanted to see that dang dam.

CH 140, a couple miles inside the park, led to Big Oak Road. Big Oak becomes Big Oak Flat. Then head north on Evergreen. Hetch Hetchy’s down the way.

In the rear-view mirror, as I ascended out of the Merced canyon on Big Oak, were views of the Yosemite Valley. Bridal Veil and El Capitan disappeared. These views would be the last ones of this trip. Ticktock ticktock. But the drive ahead was exciting, and I would see that Valley again on future trips.

Then, along Big Oak Flat a sign appeared for for the Merced Grove. “Grove” meant only one thing: sequoias.

My Sexy Sienna screeched to a halt. Again, I’d seen sequoias before, in April of ’17 at Sequoia national park. However, I wanted to see more. They can make me come alive. They made Muir come alive. What killed him could wait.

Now, class, you know what sequoias are, right? You should. How one could be indifferent to earth’s largest living organisms – larger than blue whales – is beyond me.

Regardless, you’re getting a clarification…

Now, virtually every American has heard the term “redwood”. You may know they are tall trees somewhere in California. You may have heard of giant trees called “sequoias” too. But, perhaps, you don’t know the difference between “redwoods” and “sequoias”.

If so, no problem.

Let’s clarify. The sequoia species is called “sequoia giganteum”. The redwood species is called “sequoia sempervirens”. They are related species. But they are not the same trees.

Redwoods grow along the California coast. They used to grow in large swaths from Big Sur up to the Oregon border. They are only native to here. However, only 4% of the Old Giants remain. The rest became timber, as their wood is of a high quality. They still do grow intermittently across their original area, but, humanity will have to wait a couple thousand years to see large swathes of Giants again. Redwoods, overall, are taller than sequoias, but the diameter of their trunks is thinner. Thus, overall, even with their taller heights, the total volume of their trunks and branches is still less than sequoias.

(Incidentally, the tallest redwood in California – the tallest tree in the world – is at Redwood National Park, which is a small national park just south of the Oregon border. There grows a redwood 380’ tall. The park doesn’t tell you which one it is. But the park does lead you in the right direction to find it.)

Now, sequoias don’t grow along the coast. Sequoias grow on the western slopes – that is, not the eastern slops – of the Sierra Nevadas. They’re only native to California also. They don’t grow in wide swaths like redwoods, but rather in isolated groves, hidden amid endless firs and pines. They like growing along small drainage channels that aren’t quite creeks. They grow from elevations ranging from 4000’ to 7000’. The tallest sequoias don’t reach 300′, yet, the biggest sequoias can have trunks 30′ in diameter at their bases. Their total volume of wood, even though they’re shorter, tends to be far greater than redwoods.

So, do you understand the difference? Redwoods are thinner but taller than sequoias and grow in forests along the California coast. Sequoias are shorter but thicker than redwoods and grow in isolated Sierra groves. Both are only in California.

(Incidentally, the largest living thing on planet earth, the thing with the most volume of mass that is alive, is the General Sherman sequoia. It’s 275’ tall. It has a 36’ diameter at the base of its trunk, and is over 2,700 years old. It’s at Sequoia national park, which is southeast of Fresno, Yosemite being northeast of Fresno.)

Anyway, because I too have reverence for these gargantuan things, I felt obliged to pay my respects by walking down to that Merced Grove. Hetch Hetchy could wait. After a 1.5 mile trek along some old forest road, growing along a small, ephemeral creek, stood sequoias.

Now, this Merced Grove doesn’t have the biggest ones. And the grove itself is one of the smaller of the 95 isolated groves across the Sierras. But, they are sequoias. They are a phenomenon, and, thus, worthwhile spending some time with. Twenty-five foot thick trunks grab your attention. Often there is a cavity at their base inside of which you and several others can stand. Then you swivel your head upward to the steepest angle where their branches touch the sky, often 250′ above you. How do these things even exist?

And they live a long time. I’ve read some dead sequoias show 3,000 years of rings. I don’t think the Merced grove had ones older than 2,000 years, but certainly over 1,500 years. That is, at some point, I was perhaps looking at an organism alive when the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD.

That’s cool.

Now, why are the Sierras uniquely conducive to the growth of these giant trees? Why did they not grow anywhere else? And, why does California, and only California, have the world’s biggest, tallest and OLDEST trees? You know, sequoias, redwoods and BRISTLECONE PINES – which also play a part in this trip, but later on.

My answer is that probably only God knows. But Muir wondered why too. Spending months in his Range of Light, searching out all the hidden groves, undoubtedly compelled him to ask even deeper questions. Maybe one day I’ll consider them too.

For now, though, this small grove was enough. It only takes ten minutes to see them all. Although if you spend only ten minutes walking amid the giants, and don’t look up often, and pause, and reflect, and wonder, well, you need to slow down your attention. Seriously, contemplating in woods like these is medicinal.

However, after thirty minues, I went back along the 1.5 mile trail to my minivan. It was time to move on.