Stories from Calaveras Big Trees

My family, dwarfed by a giant sequoia.
My family, dwarfed by a giant sequoia.

I was at Calaveras Big Trees State Park over the weekend for an event celebrating the grand opening of the new visitor center and commemorating the 150th anniversary of California State Parks. I was there to speak at the event, but my family joined me in celebrating the park the best way possible — by hitting the trails and exploring the spectacular forest!

As a father, there’s nothing I treasure more than spending time outdoors with my family. And while I admit to being biased, I’ll choose a redwood forest any chance I get. We’re our best selves here; happy, relaxed and a little overcome with the beauty of the planet. It is a unique experience to be so acutely aware of moments that you will remember forever, even as they are happening.

The giant sequoia forest at Calaveras provides this special experience to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Thanks to the work of Save the Redwoods League (we protected over a third of the land that currently comprises the park), Calaveras Big Trees Association and California State Parks, this land was set aside for everyone to enjoy, and that’s exactly what happens here!

My family and I joined folks from all walks of life in enjoying the natural wonders of the state park. Scout troops, veterans groups, college students and families were hiking the trails, swimming in Beaver Creek, fishing in the Stanislaus River, and standing in awe at the center of the gigantic stump of the “Discovery Tree.” I believe these kinds of experiences were just what Calaveras’ early protectors, like John Muir and our League predecessors, envisioned for this special place.

At the weekend’s event we paid tribute to the early conservationists who worked to create the very first state park at nearby Yosemite in 1864 (now a national park). That was the first time in our national history that a special, natural place was set aside purely for preservation and public enjoyment.

The Discovery Tree stump. Photo by Peter & Joyce Grace, Flickr Creative Commons.
The Discovery Tree stump. Photo by Peter & Joyce Grace, Flickr Creative Commons.

A dozen years prior, in 1852, hunter Augustus Dowd chased a bear into the forest at Calaveras, and was stopped in his tracks by the sight of trees many times more massive than any he’d ever seen. He began spreading the word of the amazing trees. Calaveras became a popular tourist attraction, but unfortunately, one of its most sizable trees — the one that made Dowd’s jaw drop — was cut down for exhibition and profit shortly after its discovery. Its huge stump is still there, large enough for a house to sit atop.

As we all stood together on that gigantic stump with a mixture of awe and sadness, I remembered that the felling of the Discovery Tree 162 years ago sparked outrage among people like John Muir, and was an early catalyst for the conservation movement. In 1931, Save the Redwoods League helped establish the state park at Calaveras with the acquisition of the North Grove, and we have since been engaged in expanding and protecting this special park.

If you haven’t been to a giant sequoia park, I encourage you to go. I guarantee you’ll be amazed by the behemoths that helped inspire the U.S. conservation movement. Have you been? Which park is your favorite? Share your stories below!



About the author

President and Chief Enthusiast for the Outdoors (CEO) of Save the Redwoods League, Sam brings more than 25 years of experience in overseeing land conservation programs from the remote wilderness to the inner city.

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