Big Things Come in Small Packages

“Size matters!” has long been considered a hard fact among those who measure the enormity of things, and eagerly justify the value of their preponderance. Yet all things big begin from most things small, and that’s the long and short of it. While this may come as a relief to many who seem challenged by the limited extension of their personality, it comes as no surprise to sequoias that have sensed this for millions of years.

Giant sequoia trees are native to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, where they grow exclusively in protected groves. Every tree starts from a firm cone no larger than a chicken’s egg–

hand and cone

–each one releasing thousands of seeds resembling oat flakes, hoping to take advantage of a litter-free forest floor made fertile by fire.

Flash forward 2400 years, and if the then-seedling hasn’t been logged…

Mark Twain stump

…or besieged by fire (although its bark can be 3 ft. thick to ward off the effects)…

Chimney Tree

the result is the General Sherman Tree:

General Sherman

the largest living organism in the world! While not the tallest tree (Hyperion, a California redwood is 380 ft.), or the widest tree (an Oaxacan cypress tree has a 38 ft. diameter), or the oldest tree (Methuselah, a 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine tree exists in California’s White Mountains), General Sherman’s statistics make it the most massive tree:

Height above base

274.9 ft

83.8 m

Circumference at ground

102.6 ft

31.3 m

Maximum diameter at base

36.5 ft

11.1 m

Diameter 4.5 ft above height point on ground

25.1 ft

7.7 m

Girth Diameter 60 ft above base

17.5 ft

5.3 m

Diameter 180 ft above base

14.0 ft

4.3 m

Diameter of largest branch

8 ft

2.1 m

Height of first large branch above the base

130.0 ft

39.6 m

Average crown spread

106.5 ft

32.5 m

Estimated trunk volume

52,508 cu ft

1,487 m

Estimated mass (wet) (1938)

2,105 short tons

1,910 t

Estimated trunk mass (1938)

2,472,000 lb

1,121 t

Each year, General Sherman gains additional new wood equivalent to a typical 60 ft. tree.

General Sherman1 (4)

Putting things into perspective, the General Grant Tree, connected by Generals Highway and located only miles away in Kings Canyon National Park, is the second largest living organism in the world, at 268 ft. tall with a trunk that’s 1.5 ft. thicker.

General Grant1

Although Sequoia National Park shares billing and borders with Kings Canyon National Park–to its north and west–it’s easily the more accessible of the two, with 18 miles of corkscrews and whiplash hairpins, climbing 5000 ft. in elevation from the foothills, until the Giant Forest trails can be appreciated.

Along the way, a view of Moro Rock–a granite dome-shaped monolith–beckons the adventurous.

Moro Rock panorama (2)

Moro Rock

A steep 1/4 mile climb up four hundred rock-cut stairs…

Moro Rock approach

to the summit…

stairs to the top of Moro

offers a forever-hazy glimpse of the serpentine road and Ash Peaks to the west,

view from Moro Rock east

and amazing panoramic views of Kings Canyon’s dominant saw-toothed ridgeline to the east,

Sierra Nevada range

which unfortunately obstructs the 14,494 ft. peak of Mt. Whitney, the highest point of the lower forty-eight.

Crystal Cave is another large attraction wrapped up in a small package that’s deserving of attention. While not the largest cave–with a network of only three miles of which 1/2 mile can be toured–it is a jewel of marbleized and crystal formations that reaches back in time nearly two million years.

A scenic 1/2 mile hike along a cliff trail of potential obstacles and hazards (poison oak, rock falls, and rattlesnakes) down to the miniature falls that begets Yucca Creek…

water fall into Yucca creek

becomes the watering hole for fifty amateur spelunkers who gather before entering through the iron spider gate.

spider web erntrance

Immediately, the presence of water dominates the cavern. From the flume of rushing water over a bed of blue and white marble at the entrance,



to the drip, drip, drip of ever-growing stalactites,


and the ripple across the calcite-rich pools that spawn glistening pearls and terraced ridges.

calcite pool

The three major rooms of Crystal Cave offer a bounty of formations packed into tight spaces…









…proving once more that bigger is not always better, and true value cannot be measured in increments of worth.

It’s easy to get lost in the details. It’s the basis of most disagreements. It’s the bellwether of how people are judged. It’s the downfall of many photographers. Taking the time to see the whole problem, the total person, the bigger picture gives us the confidence to believe that big things come in small packages.




3 thoughts on “Big Things Come in Small Packages

  1. Reblogged this on Streaming thru America and commented:

    This post originally celebrates the enormity of the General Sherman sequoia as I observed it 4 years ago. However, today it’s a reminder of the fragility of this ancient forest–currently facing a ravishing fire–where the largest living organisms on our planet are in peril. General Sherman has survived over 100 burns in its 2.200 years of existence, but the scale and intensity of today’s wildfires have become more commonplace, and threaten the world around us. I pray the fire can be contained and the forest survives, so future generations can appreciate nature’s miracle.


  2. While Sequoia NP and Kings Canyon are magnificent and beautiful, it is sad to learn that the haze shown in some of Neal’s pictures is due to pollution from cars and industry that is always present in the park.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After spending two days in the parks, anecdotal evidence suggests that weekend traffic creates more haze.

      Also, if you really, really enjoy roller coasters, and other rides that induce nausea, be sure to drive Route 245 from Big Stump Entrance to Woodlake. Just ask Leah!!


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