As I entered Sequoia National Park through the south end at Three Rivers, you see the Sierra Mountains with orange and apricot groves along the side of the road (Photo #1). At the edge of town there is Lake Kaweah, a nice spot to have a picnic and watch sailboats on the water, as the yellow mountains seem to blend in with the sunny skies (Photo #2). Then immediately as you enter the park, you are in the Giant Forest, full of thousands of year old Sequoia trees (Photo #3). They are two cars wide and continue their thickness all the way to the top, compared to the famous Redwoods, which are thinner at the top but taller (Photos #4-6). The roads are winding and dark as the tree canopy shields you from any signs of daylight. I stopped and asked the rangers where to camp because my first choices of Buckeye Flats, Potwisha and Cold Springs were all pretty isolated with less then ten sites and for some reason, I thought that meant more bears. She suggested Dorset Creek because it was right on the water and in close proximity to everything in the park. As I headed north, I stopped at the General Sherman Tree, the oldest living tree on Earth but so did all the tour buses (Photo #7). In the winter, you can walk right up to the tree from the handicap parking lot but in the summer you must walk down a half-mile and then take the steep hike back up. I arrived at my campground and like always I didn’t let the camp host pick as I drove around instead. They always seem to suggest weird ones, for instance, I said I wanted to be by the water and she suggested site 187, which is the furthest from the creek and by all the loud families. Anyways I settled on the walk up site, 63, right by the water and I could not have been any closer to the creek (Photo #8). It was very quiet and private considering it was one of the largest campgrounds at the park, with over 200 sites.
Now something new I had to learn was about the bear boxes, where you have to not only put your food but also toiletries, pots and pans and even tobacco products (Photo #9). So my theory that seclusion meant more bears was wrong because bears come where the people are. It is a serious offense with fines up to $5000 if you leave garbage out, food even cans or unopened beers in your car or your dog food bowls out. The bears do actually come into the campgrounds twenty-four hours a day and they are very capable of breaking into your car. Luckily or maybe not, I did not see any bears but I was ready. I bought Lucy a bear bell so she wouldn’t startled one if she roamed away from me and I got a whistle so I could be very loud and obnoxious if need be, which I am pretty good at. If a bear approaches you, you are to act large and loud, even throwing rocks. You don’t want to let them get to your food as it will reward them and most often they have to be killed then. Also, I learned if you are approached by a black bear you are to fight back, whereas with a grizzly bear you are to play dead, however most black bears in California are brown. Sounds kind of like a Dr.Seuss poem so try and keep it straight. Anyways, I booked the site for two nights as it was Fourth of July and I wanted to stay off the roads for a day but I was constantly looking out for a bear behind me and Lucy for that matter.
Sequoia was like Yellowstone or Yosemite but way less crowded so enjoyable to see the sites. The next day I went to Lodgepole, a larger and very clean campground that has showers, a store and restaurant, to do my laundry (yes you still have chores on the road). As I waited I tried to use a payphone for the first time since 1996 and to my embarrassment it was somewhat difficult. I put the money in and then dialed the number – that was wrong - it is the opposite way. Anyways I gave up and went into the very enticing store where I got some postcards, stickers, a magnet for grandma and a big local beer (Mammoth Brewery, Hair of the Bear). Laundry only took an hour and cost under $3 since I brought my own detergent from home, so pretty painless. Then I headed to the General Grant Tree, which is among a wonderful set of paths leading every which way to hundreds of Sequoia trees (Photo #10). I really enjoyed walking around and could have spent the whole day wandering, if Lucy wasn’t in the car. They had all kinds of Sequoia, living and dead and other trees covered in neon green moss and I got some really great photographs (Photos #11-21). On our way back, we stopped at Halsted Meadow Picnic area since Lucy could walk around there and I just love meadows (on a side note, Shirlee means “flowing meadow” or so I was told at a mall kiosk). It was a great spot with even a little creek where a father and son were fly-fishing (Photos #22-23). After that, I returned to the campsite to relax by the creek and read all day, or so I thought.
I was sitting at my campsite thinking I will just hang out at the creek until my best friends, the bees arrived so I was out of there. While I am an outdoorsy girl, i don't like bees, snakes and spiders - thats all. But let me tell you since I am alone, I have to handle situations I wouldn't usually want to be confronted with. Like a half dollar size spider crawling across my dashboard while I was driving. Yes I freaked out a little or maybe a lot but I took care of the situation. Back to the current story, I ended back south to check out Moro Rock (a famous rock climbing site), tunnel log (a log you can drive through) and crescent meadow full of wildflowers. However, during the day it is only open to the tram so I said to myself Ill return at sunset when the road is open to private cars. So where to go? I guess I will head north an hour and a half to the dead end that is Kings Canyon. So happy I did, as it was one of the best days of my life. Not that anything in particular happened, I just was in the rest mindset and in the right places. Kings Canyon is probably my favorite National Park so far (I have been to 16 total) and for that matter one of my favorite-est places ever. It is often overlooked and I almost did not even go to the Northeast end of the actual Kings Canyon as it is way out of the way.
However on the way, I remembered a write-up in one of my park’s books about Panoramic View behind Crystal Cove Campgrounds in Sequoia. There are no signs marking it as the road would not be able to handle the tourist traffic but it was off the beaten path so right up my alley. You drive up through a rough, winding one way road covered by colorful trees. Then at the top, you must hike a very steep fourth mile trail up and the view is one of a kind for the park. No where else that is easily accessible can you see this view of Sequoia National Park including Hume Lake, which is a great campground right on the water but crowded in the summer (Photos #24-25). After I ran all the way down which was a lot of fun, I continued on my way to Kings Canyon.
As you drive up and then back down about 3000 feet in elevation, the canyon appears as grey and full of trees (Photo#26). It is not like the canyons of the Southwest, orange and bare. It was huge with layers of ridges and pines. The King’s river cuts through and eventually after an hour the road evens out as the raging river turns into a calm creek (Photo#27). I drove all the way to the dead end because I figured why not if I went this far. There were hundreds of cars parked but no one in sight. That is because the back country trails for all three of these National Parks are unreal. Almost 95% of these lands are untouched in the sense of pavement and accessibility. I hope one day to return for a week of backpacking, especially in Kings Canyon and Yosemite where there are endless waterfalls and lakes that are unbelievable or so I hear. Almost at the end and only about a fourth of a mile from the road, down a paved path, you reach Roaring Falls, a picturesque oasis that was hard not to jump into (Photos# 28-30). It felt like no one else had ever been there except there was a paved pathway. There were Sequoias along the bank of the creek as I returned to the car and the lighting just seemed to be perfect in that moment (Photo# 31). Then about two or three miles south and right off the road on the north side is a picnic area called Grizzly Falls, which is a beautifully small waterfall right off the roadside (Photos# 32-33). On our way back out we stopped at the south end of Kings River where it forks off because we saw some people swimming and lounging at the creeks edge (Photo #34). The the water was much calmer and so clear you could see the large pebble rocks twenty feet ahead of you (Photo #35). We conversed for a moment but I was dying to go swimming now so we stopped further down again to bathe in our birthday suit, well not Lucy just me. It was one of the best instants of my life just lying in the clear, crisp water as the sun beat down near a little sand filled cove (Photo #36). I did not want the moment to end but it was getting late and I still had an hour and a half drive back to camp.
I was tired after all the driving and there was a lot of driving. I made ramen a la campsite with canned veggies to spice it up and had my local beer, which was warm because I don’t bother with the hassle of a cooler, along the creek next to my camp (Photo# 37). I was very lucky to have a nice family from the LA area that were friendly but not overbearing. It was so refreshing to see a family together with well mannered kids enjoying each other’s company while camping. It was also nice to have some people to engage about my day to and they even invited me for smores by the campfire. Lucy was in love with the two girls as they would just rub and scratch her all day. They were truly genuine people and it is people like that, that restore my hope in humanity – for real. Those family memories they were making are priceless and I know that now. I did miss my father a lot this weekend probably because we always would do fireworks together or maybe I am still grieving and I am been numb for about eight weeks. Anyways, it was a reflective and relaxing week but now I had to move on to Yosemite before the weekend hit.
The next day, I headed out early because getting a campsite in Yosemite in the summer is a nightmare supposedly. When I first arrived in Yosemite, I was disappointed. I think I really built it up in my head because it was Ansel Adams’ favorite National Park and his most famed photographs come from there. The first hour of driving in from the south was somewhat uneventful and then once you reach Yosemite Village, it is like Black Friday at a mall but in July at a National Park. Rude people and stupid drivers everywhere. I had to go there to sign up for some activities but even for a Thursday it was just awful. The big grand hike I wanted to do to Yosemite falls was a fourth mile hike from the road and the falls were not majestic but trickling over the edge (probably better in the spring after the snow melts). However, the Valley with Half Dome in the distance is somewhat impressive even if all the sites are visible right from the parking lots (Photos# 38-39). Right across the Valley from Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls was Bridaveil falls, which seemed to have more water but again did not even require a walk to view (Photos #40-41). I had a dilemma picking what activity to do within Yosemite because the park does offer wonderful free activities like Ansel Adams Photography walks and art lessons. Well both were things I enjoy and free, they were not all day and rather did not challenge me so I choose to go rock climbing, since I always wanted to do.
You must sign up at the Yosemite mountaineering store at Curry Village on the way east end, so you must drive through all the crowds and traffic. I signed up for the beginner’s eight-hour class for $150 and could not wait. However, I knew I would have to board Lucy or get a hotel outside the park since it is over $400 in season for even the most basic room. They do have day dog boarding at Yosemite Valley stables but Lucy dislikes horses and other dogs so I did not see that going well. Anyways I had a reservation for a cheap hotel in Oakhurst, an hour south for the next night so I could enjoy my challenging day on the granite.
For that night, I choose to get away from the crowds and stay at Bridaveil Campgrounds, which surprisingly was not full the whole weekend (whereas the other main campground were). It was secluded, nowhere near the craziness of the Village and close to Glacier Point, the highlight of my trip sites-wise. I choose site 19 in loop A, along a valley full of wildflowers but first you must make your way through rows and rows of skinny yet organized trees as your feet crunch pine cones beneath (Photo #42-45). After setting up camp, I headed to Glacier Point for the best vantage point of the park. On the way however, Moran Point has a better view in my opinion of just Vernal and Nevada Falls (Photos# 46-49). The view was spectacular and if you look at the Vernal Falls photo you can see Emerald Pool and the trail through the falls, off the John Muir trail. I had planned on hiking it but just did not find the time so one regret. At Glacier Point, it is still somewhat crowded was spaced out enough not to notice with a nice shop and restaurant, which for being so developed Yosemite did not have a lot of facilities spaced throughout park. From multiple viewpoints, you can see a whole panoramic of the park from Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls and Vernon Falls along with the famous half dome Ansel Adams made so famous. (Photo# 50). In addition, you also see the parking lots, hotels, pools, baseball diamond and basically cement stabs of development. Everyone was enjoying ice cream so I too joined in and it was so good in the hot weather.
When I return to camp, I immediately could tell someone was in my site and quickly realized someone stole my firewood. This is unheard of while camping as you leave everything all day. My Chicagoness was starting to emerge, as I was so mad I was looking around at all the other people, throwing my empty box around, you know, real mature about. After about twenty minutes of anger, I approached the nice father and son group next to me and asked if they had seen anyone at my site. Supposedly the teenagers were walking through my site and thought it was empty, even though I had a tent up and all my supplies in the bear box, so they helped themselves to my firewood, which is not sold at the campgrounds in the park. As they returned it with a sorry apology, I stumped off with my wood. Then probably because I was blinded with rage, I went on to make the worst meal ever. I tried to make some chili a la camp side with a small thing of ground beef I bought at the store and corn, kidney beans and well ketchup and green chilies since that was all I had. Yes, when I write it all out of course it would be horrible and ended up throwing it out (Photo #51). It was a rough day in the sense of enjoyment but the park was very beautiful, don’t get me wrong, I think I just expected too much.
I woke up around 8am, which is late for me now, cleaned up my camp after making breakfast. Some hearty oatmeal and against all I love and know, for the first time some instant coffee that was not so bad. Then on our way back south out of the park, Lucy and I checked out the only pet friendly trail in Yosemite, the Wawona meadow trail along the Wawona golf course. (Photos# 52-53). We proceeded to Oakhurst, where we had some time to kill so I bathed Lucy at a self-service car wash where they had the coolest machine to wash dogs. It would release soap from the water hose, had scented conditioner, no heat dryer and was only $5. After checking into the hotel, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner at Erna’s Elderberry House and it was quite amazing. It is somewhat rude to take photos of the food and the grounds without permission at a fine dining establishment so the only food porn I have is dessert. Every dish of the nine courses surprised me in a different way (Photo #54). Starting with a seared duck over a crispy lentil cake with golden raisins, which was not on the prix fix menu. Then they brought my favorite dish a crisp trout with spinach and mushrooms. The meal continued dish after dish and just when I thought I could not eat anymore, they invited me to the courtyard to enjoy my dessert and champagne (Photo# 55). The weather was perfect as I listened to the fountain. The desserts included a mocha tiramisu and white chocolate almond truffle to name my favorites (Photo#56-57). The staff was impeccable and the ambiance a true delight. I would definitely recommend, as it was truly one of the best meals of my life.
I woke up really early to drive an hour and a half to the middle of Yosemite to rock climb all day but when I arrived, they informed me no one had signed up and so I might not go. This would have been a huge disappointment but after an hour they decided to let me go into the more advance class of Cracks and Slabs with a nice young couple from Denmark. The day was amazing, challenging and I really feel I got to take in the park in a different way. My instructor Lysa was so non-pressuring and patient and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. We even did a ninety-foot climb and for being my first time I felt I pushed myself to my personal limits. Just when I thought I could not go anymore, my instructor would coax me through and I conquered it. We did about eight climbs in eight hours and did not even take lunch(Photo#58-59). I loved it and hope to start rock climbing more, but now it will have to be on real rocks outside. While on Saturday nights at the old Wawona Resort they have a BBQ, I was just too tired and hurting so I returned to Lucy to blog, pack and plan the next leg of my journey…
And that was one of my greatest weeks of my life. Doesn’t sound like much but I am simple in the fact of enjoying life to the fullest and as I told my mother if I died tomorrow I would be a happy woman.