March 2004: The Converse Basin Grove


Kings Canyon, California

Like Yosemite National Park, its neighbors to the south, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks, boasting the largest concentration of giant sequoias in the world, do not allow dogs on the trail. About five miles north of Kings Canyon National Park and the famous General Grant Grove, however, is the Converse Basin Grove where your dog can get up close to a famous giant sequoia, the Boole Tree.

Converse Basin is a giant sequoia graveyard where once the largest living things on earth grew in majestic abundance. This area was once quite possibly the finest sequoia grove that ever was. Massive trees over 300 feet high were enthusiastically felled by loggers - often for little more than shingles. One 285-foot sequoia known as the General Noble Tree was cut in 1893 to display at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the Chicago Stump can be seen today. Among the trees destroyed in the Converse Basin was the oldest known giant sequoia to have been cut down - 3200 annual growth rings were counted. So many trees were taken that the area is known as Stump Meadow.

The hiking trail in the Converse Basin is a 2 1/2 mile loop to reach the Boole Tree. Leading straight out from the parking lot you are quickly on the edge of Kings Canyon and you'll enjoy open, sweeping views as you switchback up the ridge. Shortly after finishing your climb you reach a short side trail that leads into a depression containing the Boole Tree, once thought to be the largest giant sequoia in the world but more exacting measurements have placed it eighth. No one knows why this great tree was spared when equally large trees were brought down.

If you have spent the day looking at giant sequoias in the landscaped national parks, your encounter with the Boole Tree might come as a bit of a shock. It is related to its brothers in Kings Canyon National Park like the wolf is to your dog. Surrounded by dense forest growth, it is actually possible to not immediately recognize the Boole Tree from the main trail. But once you see your dog up against its massive trunk - its ground perimeter of 113 feet is the greatest of all giant sequoias - there is no mistaking this special tree.

(Be aware that the access road leading to the Boole Tree Loop is nearly three miles of rough, dirt road) 

Nelder Grove (From Oakhurst, go north of Route 41. Take Sky Ranch Road for seven miles and follow signs for the Nelder Grove after the pavement ends. )
Five miles south of Yosemite National Park, and north of the Converse Basin, is the Nelder Grove. Naturalist John Muir discovered this redwood grove in 1875 and as he investigated he happened upon a retired miner named John Nelder who was homesteading there. The area was heavily logged thereafter, mostly sugar pines, firs and cedar and the largest sequoias still stand. The Shadow of the Giants Trail, now a National Recreational Trail, was built in 1965. The self-guiding interpretive path meanders for about a mile through the Nelder Grove, one of eight growing above the Kings River. Unlike sequoias in national parks, the 100 giants here remain in dense forest and you can walk right up to the largest trees. Those would be Old Granddad and the Kids, a grouping of giant sequoias on a ridgeline and Bull Buck, one of the world's five largest arboreal monarchs. After a half-mile hike from the lower campground you reach Bull Buck, nearly 250 feet tall, 99 feet around at the base and probably 2700 years old.

Converse Basin is a few miles north of the Grant Grove Visitor Center in Kings Canyon National Park on the main road to Cedar Grove Visitor Center, Highway 180. The Chicago Stump and Boole Tree are reached by separate dirt roads off Highway 180.