SEQUOIA TRAIL GUIDE
Nearly one mile long, the Sequoia Trail is an easy loop that descends gently and then rises slowly. Depending on your pace, it takes about half an hour to hike. There’s no fee to walk the trail, but you do need a valid recreation pass to park in the Arboretum’s Forest Service lot.
Also, please keep a watchful eye on children, stay on the trail, ensure that dogs are on leash, and deposit all trash and pet waste in our receptacles. Thank you, too, for not picking wildflowers and for not smoking.
Important FYI: The numbered paragraphs below are keyed to the numeric posts that you’ll encounter along the trail. Enjoy your time in the National Forest!
1) Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica). This tree, which isn’t native to the San Bernardino Mountains, was introduced here by volunteers many years ago. It’s a good example of a “closed cone” evergreen, meaning the scales of the cone are sealed shut with resin. This prevents the seeds inside the cones from escaping until fire comes along. The heat of the fire melts the resin, and winds spread the seeds over a large area.
2) Coulter Pine (Pinus coulteri). The Coulter Pine (large tree to your left) has the heaviest pinecones in the world, weighing up to eight pounds apiece. Notice how the tree’s needles grow in bundles of three and are fairly long. Like those of other pine trees in the forest, Coulter pinecones have nuts in them that are a valuable food source for wildlife and also were eaten by Native Americans.
3) Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens). You’re surrounded by Incense Cedars. Take a look at their leaves. They may look like needles, but they’re actually made of overlapping scales. Native Americans used the cinnamon-red Cedar bark to make baskets, and both the bark and the leaves had medicinal uses. The chemicals that give Incense Cedar its strong smell also make its wood resistant to insects and rot, so it’s a popular building material. Cedar is used to make fencing, pencils, closet panels and greenhouses, among many other items.
4) Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii). Look at the large, lobed leaves of the Black Oak and observe their dark tops and hairy, yellowish-green bottoms. Black Oak leaves change colors and drop to the ground in the fall. The term for this type of tree is “deciduous.” Native Americans considered the acorns of this important tree to be the tastiest. Acorns are a valuable food source for wildlife, too!
5) The Lonesome Highway. Take a moment to look and listen around you. This part of the trail travels close to Highway 18, the main transportation route for people traveling in this area. Animals also have travel routes, called “corridors,” that they use to move between places where they sleep, shelter, reproduce, and find food and water. It’s important to think about wildlife corridors before building highways, streets and fences. Imagine how challenging it would be to cross this highway if you were a deer, bear, bobcat, fox, squirrel or other local animal!
6) Wildfire Resilience. Look at the scorched black tree trunks on the slope in front of you. These trees were burned in the Old Fire of October 2003. Notice how even though the trunks are scorched, the trees are still alive. Trees that live in this area have many adaptations that help them survive periodic wildfires. Young trees, however, are much more susceptible to being killed by fires. Periodic fires can help thin out small trees and keep the forest healthy.
7) Food for Thought. The acorns from the Black Oak tree (in front of you) were harvested by Yuhaviatam Native Americans, otherwise known as the Serrano, who spent their summers in these mountains. The acorns were peeled, pounded into acorn meal and rinsed many times with water. The meal was then made into a variety of foods, including “wiich,” a porridge that was a staple in Native American diets.
8) Mountain Memories. In the late 1800s, this was the site of a small lumber mill and little logging cabins. When the logging industry faded away, lots of trash was left behind. People continued to use this beautiful site for illegal dumping until the 1970s. Then a group of activist volunteers, under the direction of local teacher George Hesemann, began cleaning up the area. Hesemann eventually founded the Rim of the World Interpretive Association and Heaps Peak Arboretum. He also took the lead in creating the trail you’re hiking today!
9) Don’t Take It for Granite! Underneath the beautiful landscape of the San Bernardino Mountains lies a geological skeleton made of granite. Granite is an igneous rock that forms when molten material cools deep inside the Earth’s crust. The rock has been brought to the surface by uplift and erosion over the life of these mountains—some three million years! Feel the texture of the crystals in the rock as you pass by the large granite boulders up ahead.
10) White Fir (Abies concolor). Notice the white bark and short needles on the trees around you. If you look more closely, you’ll see that the needles aren’t in bundles. Instead, they’re attached to the tree branches as single needles. Also, you might observe white stripes along the underside of the needles. The needles, resin and bark were used by the Serrano Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments.
11) Our Diverse Forest. Look around at the beautiful scenery in our forest. Can you identify any of the trees or flowers that surround you? Now listen: What sounds do you hear in this area? How many different birdcalls can you distinguish? Although you can no longer see the highway, you may notice you can still hear cars. Think about how the noise from all that traffic affects wildlife in this area, especially birds and other animals that communicate with sound.
12) Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana). Just past the young White Fir trees upslope stand the “twins,” two old-growth Sugar Pines. When mature, this is the tallest pine species in the world. Also, it has the longest pinecones in the world, which can be up to 22 inches in length. You can see the cones dangling from the tips of the branches in late summer. Notice, too, how its short needles grow in bundles of five. Sugar Pine’s sticky sap was eaten by the Serrano, and its leaves and bark were used in medicinal teas.
13) Are You Lichen It? Up the trail on the right, you’ll observe different colored blotches on the rocks. These are lichens, which are made of two other organisms—fungi and algae. The fungi and algae live together in a “symbiotic” (mutually beneficial) relationship. They come in all kinds of colors, including dark and light green, yellow, gray and black. Over time, lichen slowly breaks down, or weathers, the rock. You might see lichens on tree trunks, too. The dark, fuzzy, thicker blotches are a different organism called moss. Try pouring a little water on the moss. What happens?
14) Snags. As you look across to the far slope, you’ll notice a group of standing dead trees, or snags. These trees were burned in the Old Fire of 2003, but it wasn’t the fire that destroyed them. The pines were actually killed by a Western pine beetle infestation that affected this area before the fire happened. The dry, dead trees burned readily in the Old Fire. You might wonder why the Forest Service leaves snags standing instead of cutting them down, since they can be a fire hazard. Snags are left standing because they’re valuable wildlife trees. They provide hunting and nesting sites for birds of prey, and many other wildlife species feed on the invertebrates that live in and break down the dead wood.
15) Joe’s Creek. This is a seasonal creek, which means that it runs only when we have lots of winter rain and/or snow. During drought years the creek stays dry. But when there’s enough water to refill the underground aquifers that feed it, the creek flows downhill once again. The bridge here is the trail’s approximate halfway point.
16) Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides). Listen and you may be able to hear the “quaking” of the leaves as the breeze blows. Young Quaking Aspen provide a habitat and food for many animals, including birds, small mammals, deer and even bears. Aspen were also a food source for the Serrano. These trees are good firebreaks as well: Large stands of Aspen can drop a crown fire back to the ground. Aspen that are burned in forest fires can recover by sprouting from their extensive root system. Can you see where these trees were burned in the Old Fire of 2003?
17) Fire Ecology. We’ve already spent some time on this trail observing the effects of the Old Fire of 2003. Fire is an important force shaping ecosystems of the San Bernardino Mountains. Some tree species rely on fire to scorch their seeds or open their cones so that their seeds can germinate. Others benefit from the additional sunlight that reaches the forest floor after the trees are thinned by fire. Still others need the nutrients released from ash after a fire in order to grow and thrive. For more information about wildfires, check out the sign to your left.
18) Meet Me at the Watering Hole! This is Horseshoe Springs, a natural seep where water from underground aquifers breaks through the bedrock and pools at the soil surface. It’s a vital watering and feeding source for local wildlife. Mule deer and black bears have been seen drinking here. Also, various birds come to feed off the insects that live here.
19) Change Is in the Air. The slope in front of you was once densely covered with pine trees. These trees were removed by the Forest Service after they were infected by bark beetles during the 2001-2003 outbreak. Now the slope is covered with mountain lilac (Ceanothus spp.), and wildflowers grow in great abundance during the spring and summer. Over many decades, as long as there isn’t another massive forest fire, this part of the forest will continue to change. The lilacs will eventually die and be replaced by oak trees. The oak trees will slowly be replaced by pines, and over the centuries this forest will return to the way it once looked. This process of gradual change is called “succession.”
20) Oh, Shoot! Look carefully at the Black Oak trees in front of you. You might notice that underneath all of the new green leaves are white, dead trunks and branches. Black Oaks, like the Quaking Aspen and a number of other shrubs and trees, can recover quickly after a fire by sprouting new shoots from their base and, in some cases, from their branches. In a few years, do you think other hikers will still be able to notice that these trees were once badly burned?
21) Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi). You may notice that the bottom branches of this large Jeffrey Pine are all dead. Look up! The top of the tree is green and healthy. Eventually, the dead branches will fall off, making the Jeffrey Pine less likely to catch fire when wildfires burn through. You may also notice that both this tree and its cousin across the bridge (on the left-hand side of the trail) were burned in the Old Fire. However, the Jeffrey Pine’s bark—up to six inches thick!— insulates the living tissue inside the trees from the heat of the fire, helping to prevent damage.
22) Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). This majestic stand is the largest grove of Sequoias in the San Bernardino Mountains. Although these trees aren’t native to this area (they were planted here in the 1930s), they blend in well with the surrounding forest. If they stay healthy, they may live to be over 3,000 years old! Although the bark may look like the local Incense Cedar, if you look closely at the needles you’ll notice they have a unique structure unlike other trees we’ve seen along the trail. Sequoias have seeds that can’t germinate without fire: They need bare, freshly burned soil with no leaf litter in order to grow. Do you see the young trees growing back from the trail towards the left side of the grove? Some of these are Sequoia seedlings that were able to grow because of the Old Fire.
23) Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii). The Pacific Dogwood is definitely an Arboretum showstopper. These trees put on a spectacular display in the spring and then another show in the fall when their leaves begin to change color. Read the sign here to learn what this tree’s showy “flowers” really are.
24) Knobcone Pine (Pinus attenuata). Do you see any whorls of knobby cones clinging to the branches of this tree? That’s one of the best ways to identify the Knobcone Pine. These trees, like the Arizona Cypress at the beginning of the trail, have closed cones. When the cones are exposed to fire and the resin sealing their scales together begins to melt, you can hear the cones give a crack! If the cones sit on the forest floor long enough, it’s possible for them to eventually open and release their seeds—even without fire.
25) Birds of a Feather. Did you notice any of these nesting boxes in trees along the trail? If so, you might have seen local birds using them for their nests. Western Bluebirds are the ones most commonly seen in the boxes. You may also have observed or heard some of the many other bird species in our forest. Now take a moment to listen one more time. Do you hear any new birdcalls? The wildlife poster on our Information Kiosk, where the trail begins and ends, will help you identify many of the birds you saw during your hike.