Me and Dad parted ways in Idyllwild as it was time for him to make his way back to New Zealand, but my adventure was far from over. Instead of jumping on a plane, I was making my way up to Oregon…but of course there’s not harm in exploring some of California along the way. First stop: Sequoia National Park!
I push my luck and roll into Sequoia after dark, hoping to spend the night there and do my exploring in the morning. I’m in luck, Sequoia isn’t anywhere near as packed as the other parks I’ve visited and there are plenty of campsites, but the ranger that ushers me in warns me not to pay for more than one night. The odds are the government is going to shutdown tomorrow and that means all the National Parks will be closing up shop until congress gets their act together. Of course. I’d been vaguely watching this stuff on the news but it hadn’t occurred to me that the parks would be affected. Good thing I rushed to get in here tonight. Once I’m inside the park I wont get kicked out for 48 hours, so I’ll still be able explore the place in the morning. It does change my plans after this though. I was planning to stop at Yosemite next but I guess that one’s off the cards for now.
It’s already getting late, so I camp at the first campsite I come to. I have to set up camp by torchlight, but I’m getting pretty familiar with my little tent by now. October tomorrow, so it’s starting to get a bit chilly up here in the mountains, but I’ve got a brand new thermal liner for my sleeping bag so I’m nice and snug for the night. It’s a nice surprise waking up somewhere that I couldn’t see properly arriving in dark. The Foothills are by no means the most impressive part of the park, but they’re still very pretty. The campsite is quaint with lots of trees, and the drive further up into the park quickly begins a steep climb with beautiful views over the area.
The entrance to the Giant Forest happens pretty suddenly. One minute the trees are fairly small, with vast views over the Foothills, the next the road is completely ringed in with the giant sequoias. The air up here has such an amazing smell to it that I can’t resist driving with my windows down. It’s a chilly morning though and my hands freeze if I do it for too long, so I have a cycle of keeping the windows down for as long as possible and then blasting the heater until my fingers have thawed. After a while I hit a sign that informs me that I am “now entering Giant Forest”. Thank you sign. The enormous trees did not give this away 10 minutes ago at all.
My first stop is the trailhead for the General Sherman tree, where I’m in for a treat as soon as I get out of my car. A mama bear and two baby bears are making their way across the car park. Close enough for a good look, but far enough away that they’re completely unconcerned about the people watching them. Such a cool experience. I stand stock still with a huge grin on my face until they pass into the forest and out of sight.
The trail down into the giant sequoia grove has plenty of animals as well. I don’t see anymore bears but there are more than enough chipmunks and ravens to satisfy my critter curiosity. The trees here are well worth getting out in the chilly morning for as well, even before the grove proper. I’m expecting something a little more strenuous, but despite the various warning signs at the entrance, the trail is an absolute cakewalk. I can only assume morbidly obese people come down here occasionally and then can’t get back up the stairs. I mean, maybe the altitude causes problems for some people, but it’s really not very steep or very far. I can’t imagine any normal person having trouble with this one.
The General Sherman tree is about half a mile down the trail and is the world’s biggest tree by volume. There are wider trees and taller trees, but this one is wide AND tall. It’s impressive, but what’s really cool about the grove is that there are so many huge trees in one place. General Sherman is already setting records, and it isn’t exactly dwarfing its neighbours by a large degree.
The little half mile stroll was a bit of a tease for me and it’s simply wonderful wandering among these giants, so I decide to head off on the Congress Trail for a ways. There are a lot of trails intersecting around this area and I don’t have a proper trail map, but it should be fine as long as I don’t go too far.
Wandering through the grove of massive sequoias is an amazing feeling. I’m not sure if it’s how big the trees are, how old they are, or a combination of the two, but there’s a presence about them that not many forests have. The trees feel like these grand beings. I can’t help but feel like they’re whispering things to each other while my back’s turned.
The walk is interesting from a scientific point of view as well. I’m fascinated by the scorch marks that mar the giants where healthy fires have passed through. Redwoods actually need fire to reproduce. When the park was first opened we mere humans didn’t realise this and would good-naturedly put out any fires that came through. It wasn’t until later that we figured out we were doing more harm than good. These days there are regularly smaller ground fires smouldering in the park, which clears the forest floor to make room for the sequoia seedlings which are easily crowded out by shade-loving vegetation.
And on a slightly silly note (if you’re a regular reader, you may see a theme here), I can’t help but notice that quite a few of the trees look a lot like grumpy old men. Just sayin.
Once I’ve had my fill of the wonderful grove, I get back in car and go for a drive around King’s Canyon. My head is still half in forest, but the grand vistas over the Sierras certainly offer a nice bit of variety. I’d love to come back here with a bit more time and go for some longer hikes in mountains here. The landscape is spectacular.
Since my Yosemite plans aren’t going to work out, I head back a friend’s place in Santa Cruz while I decide what I’m going to do this week. And guess what? Turns out Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free festival in San Francisco with an amazing lineup, is on in couple of days. I think Yosemite can wait…
Listening to: Mahk Jchi (Heartbeat Drum Song) – Robbie Robertson