This grove is a really fun one to explore, and we’ve had plenty of opportunity to do so in the process of trying to find the largest sequoia in it. After visiting the grove four times, we still haven’t seen the whole of it. It has only one of the trees from the Top 40 list in Flint’s book; however, this area has a lot of nice sequoia forests that are well worth hiking.
On our first visit to Freeman Creek Grove, we went in from the east side and easily found the George Bush Tree. From there I did some bushwhacking and found a big tree: 79 feet in diameter at breast height, hollow, with a large flare and a big pile of duff around its base. Could this be the large sequoia on Flint’s list, the Great Goshawk?
When we returned to the campground, we told the camp host, an old-timer and big sequoia fan, about our find. He told us we hadn’t found the Great Goshawk after all but rather the mythical Sierra Ghost, a tree with an allegedly 155-foot perimeter. He said with a rope wrapped around it they used to use this tree as a corral for horses. If the duff mound was swept away from the tree, it would certainly get a lot closer to that periphery—but I doubt it would quite make the number... without digging. My understanding is that there have been multiple Sierra Ghost stories and claims, none of which have really been proven to match the reported 155-foot circumference dimensions.
During our hike that day, we’d made another interesting discovery: a delightful “campsite” beside a sequoia, including a large fire ring and a creek with a fallen sequoia crossing it. We went back the next day with hot dogs and enjoyed a fine lunch, utilizing a mere fraction of its potential. But we still hadn’t achieved our original goal of finding the Great Goshawk.
On our second trip to this grove, I walked down the Freeman Creek Trail from Quaking Aspen to see the sequoias along that trail. I located the Bannister Tree, sometimes called the Freeman Snag or Sequoi-yah. It has a mighty trunk of impressive proportions; however, it’s been topped, so it isn’t as tall as some of the biggest sequoias, consequently it’s not on Flint’s Top 40 list. But it was large enough that I decided to measure it. Near the Bannister Tree is a nice chimney tree with an opening I could barely fit through. Inside it I found a small fire ring—interesting, though probably a bit dangerous. Unfortunately, I still had not found the Great Goshawk, our original goal.
On our final day of this trip, we happened to drive past some landmarks resembling what Flint mentioned being at the trailhead for the Great Goshawk: twin fallen sequoia boles at a wide spot in the road. Inspiration struck and I knew immediately that this was the proper trailhead for this grove's biggest trees hunt! Since it was the end of the weekend, we didn’t have time to do the whole trail, but we had to at least start on it. We followed Flint’s slightly vague directions to the best of our ability, and we got far enough to find his next landmark, a large sequoia we call the Rattler Tree. At least I confirmed that I was in the right area, but I would have to try for that elusive Great Goshawk on our next trip.
On our third attempt, we started at the trailhead, passed the Rattler Tree, then continued on to the second landmark: the incomparably impressive Ride-Through Tree. However, its beauty must have distracted us because after that we seem to have gone astray. Not surprising, Flint says the trail ends there and the rest of the way is off trail. His directions say to go through a rocky area and a small meadow, then cross the watershed on a fallen sequoia, go upstream a bit to a huge telescope tree … and from that point you’ll see the Great Goshawk. We went the wrong direction across the rocky area and consequently found the wrong small meadow and crossed the wrong stream on the wrong fallen sequoia. After a couple of hours without finding the next tree landmark, we admitted defeat for that trip.
This past weekend, on our fourth trip to Freeman Creek Grove, after we crossed the rocky area, we headed in a different direction. This time we crossed the right small meadow and went off trail up the correct stream. The Telescope Tree there was indeed enormous—every bit as big as Flint said and about the largest one I have seen.
Time was passing, and it was getting near dark, but I was not going to be denied this time. Just when the lateness of the day was about to make us withdraw, we spotted the Great Goshawk! I had to take some measurements and a few pictures, even though that would make our walk out even later and the photos would be poor quality because of the fading light. We started back in twilight and fortunately got through the off-trail sections before full dark, so at least the nighttime part of the hike by moonlight was on the trail.
It took us four trips, but we finally found the Great Goshawk. Score us one more hard-earned point!
George Bush Tree above and right, Sierra Ghost below
Telescope Tree right, inside view and upwards view below