California, Day 1: Land of the Giants

ca Sequoia Sierra Nevada overlook-01

Among other items on the list of 50 things I wanted to do in this final year before I turn 50, I had included “visit another national park.” I can visit Cuyahoga Valley often enough, but I really haven’t been to many other national parks, and I wanted to try something new.

Since my friend and hiking buddy Linda has visited me twice to hike in the CVNP, she suggested several times in recent months that I should visit her in California and hike at some of her local parks. I considered it, and after a bit of research on the national parks near her home in Bakersfield, I sent her a list of my preferences and arranged a long weekend vacation.

ca almond groves-01

On the first full day in California, then, she drove me through the agricultural areas surrounding Bakersfield (especially the almond groves, above, and orange and lemon groves, too!) to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. As we followed a twisting road up the mountains, we came to the entrance of Sequoia National Park.

ca Sequoia guardians-01

Since I love trees and had been amazed by photos and stories of the giant sequoias for the better part of my life, I knew this park had to be at the top of my list. And as we drove higher and came to the Guardians of the Forest, the four giants seen here, I knew I had found my heaven.

We stopped here briefly so I could get out and hug one of the giant trees, but really, all I could do was stand close to the trunk and spread out my arms, soaking in that wonderful ancient tree energy. Photos really don’t give you a true sense of just how massive and majestic these trees are!

ca Sequoia big tree energy-01

We continued up the road and drove as far as Lodgepole Visitors Center, which was about as far as the road was open since the snow was piled up nearly 2 feet here. After visiting the center, we headed back down the road to the General Sherman grove, walking around several other giant trees before finding the General itself, the largest (by volume) tree in the world. Obviously it didn’t fit in the camera frame, and I am standing here a couple of meters in front of it — it’s massive!

Because the road through the park and over the mountain to Kings Canyon (the adjacent but separate national park) is closed in the winter, we had to backtrack down the mountain and drive about an hour and a half west, north, and then east back up a mountain and through the gate there. Let me just say how grateful I was for Linda’s excellent driving and SUV — those hairpin turns going up the mountain were no joke.

ca kings gen grant-01

All we could get to on this side of the park was the Grant Grove, home to more of the giant sequoias, including General Grant, the tallest of the giants. Known also as “The Nation’s Christmas Tree,” the General Grant sequoia is, believe it or not, a national shrine. The trail loops completely around this massive tree, so you can see the large fire scar on its back side as well as the knobbly front (above). But don’t worry about that scar: sequoias apparently can resist fire as well as insect damage, and most die simply from falling over.

We didn’t stay long at Kings Canyon, either, knowing that snow was predicted for the upper elevations not long after nightfall. Instead, we headed for Fresno, racing through the rain before finding our stopping place for the night and getting a good night’s sleep before day 2 of our adventures.

To be continued…


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