National Geographic : 1951 May
681 Andrew II. Brown Big Tree Visitors for a Hundred Years Have Made Murphys Hotel a Way Stop Long before automobiles, stagecoaches stopped at Murphys (formerly Sperry's) Hotel (page 682). From the town of Murphys travelers rode 16 miles to North Calaveras Grove. The inn has changed little in a century, but it now advertises, in glowing neon (right), drinks unknown to forty-niners. sections of foot-thick bark were shipped off to exhibitions in New York and London to silence skeptics. Soon the North Calaveras Grove was known as one of the wonders of the world. Visitors from many countries flocked to it. A hotel built in the grove became a renowned resort. Lumbermen inevitably coveted the Cala veras trees, a threat that evoked the sarcasm of naturalist John Muir: "No doubt these trees would make good lumber after passing through a sawmill, as George Washington after passing through the hands of a French cook would have made good food." It was the peril to the Calaveras Big Trees that first aroused the Nation to the defense of Sequoia gigantea and, later, of the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) of the coastal ranges of California and southern Oregon. (The generic name given to the two species by botanist Stephan L. Endlicher undoubtedly was in honor of Sequoyah, the half-breed Cherokee Indian who devised an alphabet of 86 characters for his tribe's speech sounds.) Of the two Sequoias, the Big Tree of the Sierra grows older, craggier, more massive, and attains greater girth. The coast redwood, glory of California's Redwood Highway, towers higher and has a more graceful, sym metrical look. Redwood lumber-abundant, durable, and beautiful-always has been a premium construction wood.* The redwood's tall bole suggests a mighty mast; the Big Tree's broad-based pillar, a lighthouse. Unique to California (except for transplan tations), Sequoia gigantea grows in scattered groves among other conifers along 250 miles of the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Much more abundant at the south end of its range, the Big Tree lives between 4,000 and 8,000 feet elevation. Estimates of the total population of all the * See "California's Coastal Redwood Realm," by J. R. Hildebrand, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1939.