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The General Sherman Tree and the Sequoia National Park
by Jean Knill

Planning expeditions for 2008? How about visiting the largest tree in the world in the Sequoia National Park in California?

This claim for the General Sherman Tree is based on its volume of wood. At 275 feet, it is not the tallest, nor are the statistics of its base - over 30 feet across and 102.6 feet around - the greatest. But the volume of its trunk, at 52,500 cubic feet, is unsurpassed.

Scientists have recently been reconsidering the age of the living giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman. Their estimating techniques have changed over the years and become more accurate. While they used to believe it was between 5 to 6000 years old, the most recent theories place it's age at little more than 2,000 years. Its size is apparently due to the fact that it grows so fast, not that it is particularly old.

The tree was named after one of the generals in the civil war. While his war tactics were ruthless, he is remembered for taking over command from General Grant, capturing Atlanta and then marching through Georgia and the Carolinas, crippling the Confederate army and bringing about the end of the war. In his later career, as Commanding General of the US Army up to 1883, he oversaw the campaigns against the native Indian tribes, to bring communications and prosperity to western settlers.

As well as his famous tree, you can find memorial statues to the general at the main entrance to Central Park in New York, and close to Washington's President Park. His final memorial is in the naming of the Sherman tanks first used by the British in World War II.

It is perhaps appropriate that the General Sherman Tree is located in the Sequoia National Park, which covers 632 square miles of the Californian edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This was the mountain range through which the Central Pacific Railway, protected by Sherman's troops, was built. Undergoing great hardship and loss of life, work gangs broke through the mountains in 1868, to meet up with the Union Pacific and complete the transcontinental line.

Sherman's tree has a number of lofty neighbors, including: the President, Chief Sequoyah, General Lee and McKinley Trees. You can get directions at the visitor center and see them all by following the paved two-mile Congress Trail.

Of course, your visit to Seqouia doesn't have to be confined to seeing the trees. Plenty of other activities await, and they cater for every taste. You could choose longer hikes, wildlife watching, horse riding, cave visiting, fishing, campfires with the rangers, even shopping in the markets and gift shops. If you choose to go in the winter, you can ski, sled and hike with snowshoes.

The range of accommodation is varied as well. Drive into the park to try the Wuksachi Lodge, a recent hotel development in the Giant Forest area. Here you'll find spectacular views and luxury rooms with all the amenities you'd expect in a 3-diamond hostelry. And you can dine in style whether resident or not.

You could stay closer to the General Grant tree grove at the John Muir Lodge for a more intimate experience and a chance to find out about the life and work of this passionate naturalist. Nearby you could rent your own cabin at the Grant Grove Village.

If you prefer to rough it a bit, you could camp in one of the park's seven sites and make use of the barbecues, picnic tables and bear-proof storage boxes available. You'll need to visit the Lodgepole Market Center to stock up from the grocery store, the Watchtower Deli or the Harrison BBQ & Grill. If you want to take an RV, check first which campgrounds will welcome it.

Seasoned hikers could take the 11.5 miles of the High Sierra Trail to Bearpaw Camp. Bearpaw is always ready for ravenous hikers, with sumptuous home cooked meals and desserts, and then a big breakfast to set them up for the next day. It would take you around seven hours to arrive and find most of the comforts of home, but in twin-bedded, canvas sided tent cabins with wooden floors. There are only six though, so make sure you book ahead. And organise your Wilderness Permit to be picked up when you arrive in the park.

However much activity your tastes and energies run to, be sure to make time to say hello to the General Sherman Tree and its companions. No visit to the Sequoia National Park is complete without this.