The article The Nation's Christmas Tree" by Robert Griego was published on the "RoadRUNNER Travel & Touring" magazine website on 12/06/2017.
Reflecting back on my last National Park Service assignment, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park were managed as one giant park with a huge Sierra heart. After all, these parks have two of the largest living trees in the world. The largest sequoia tree resides in Sequoia National Park and that is special. However, Kings Canyon National Park has the honor of having the Nation’s Christmas Tree and that is where this story begins. I don’t have a current picture of the General Grant Tree, so that is my rational for this impromptu motorcycle trip.
The weather is mild so I decide to ride my motorcycle from Three Rivers (elevation 900 feet) to Grant Grove (elevation 6,300 feet) in Kings Canyon National Park. The weather in the Sierra Nevada range can change abruptly so this mild weather is my opportunity to visit this iconic sequoia tree to celebrate, a bit early, our Nation’s Shrine.
The General Grant Tree, in Kings Canyon National Park, was dedicated in April 1926 as the National Christmas Tree. The General Grant Tree was made a national shrine to honor the nation’s fallen military. National Park Service officials, the Sanger Chamber of Commerce, and the Fresno International Guard 144 Fighter wing will place a wreath at the base of the massive tree on December 10.
The Nation’s Christmas Tree was named after Ulysses S. Grant in 1867. The General Grant Tree reaches upward to 267 feet tall and is nearly 29 feet in diameter. This giant sequoia is second in size only to the General Sherman Tree which is located in Sequoia National Park and is the world’s largest tree, measured by volume. The General Sherman Tree stands 275 feet tall and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base. These giant sequoias were here some 2,000 years ago.
In April 1925, President Calvin Coolidge designated the General Grant Tree as the Nation’s Christmas Tree for all to enjoy. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the tree a memorial, calling it a “National Shrine” to the men and women of the armed forces who served, fought and gave their lives for our freedom.
Park officials have said that entrance fees to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will be free to those wishing to experience the celebration. Find your park online, or for suggestions, check out our series “In Pursuit of Wildness,” about exploring America’s national parks.
My trip home can only be described as “ice cold” as a wet fog covers the top of the big trees along the Generals Highway at about 7,600 feet with patches of snow. When I arrive home well after dark, my wife has a cozy fire burning in the fire place and simply asks, “Did you get your picture?”
Text and photography: Robert Griego