Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks

Tuesday we drove into Sequoia--Sequoia and King's Canyon are actually two separate National Parks, but they are right side by side, separated only by Sequoia National Forest, so they are operated as a single unit of the National Park System.  Anyway, when we drove into the park, the ranger at the entrance station told us they typically don't recommend any RVs longer than 22 feet in the park, but said that if we were comfortable driving ours on very curvy mountain roads, at 24 1/2 ft. he thought it would be okay.  They don't strictly prohibit RVs longer than 22 ft, just don't recommend it.  So we drove on into the park and stopped at the visitor center, where another ranger told us that their shuttle busses that drive the section of the park road that has the most hairpin turns are the same length as our RV so she said she thought we would be okay.  The first section of the road into Sequoia is the one that has the most hairpin turns, and it climbs pretty steeply, so it was a bit tricky at times--not a road to drive if you're not concentrating!  But it was a spectacular drive and the day was quite clear and full of sunshine so it was really beautiful.  Lots of places where you had to go no faster than 10 mph around some of the curves, so it was a slow drive, but we enjoyed it.  The park is full of giant lodgepole pines and, of course, huge sequoias.  The road through the park is called Generals Highway, so named because the two largest sequoias in the park are named the General Sherman Tree and the General Grant Tree.

The first stop we came to, in addition to a number of pulloffs where you had some great views, was for Moro Rock, where they had a museum about the commercial logging of the sequoias that used to happen there, before preservation of these trees in their natural habitat became a national priority.  They had a lot of hands-on type exhibits for kids and the place was hopping with lots of families and small kids and it was fun to see so many people having so much fun.  We were sorry we didn't have John with us, since this is the kind of stuff he just loves to see--he soaks up facts like a sponge and I know he would really would have enjoyed this museum.  Another thing that was interesting about this park is that it was full of folks from all over the world.  When we had been at the Grand Canyon and some of the canyons in southern Utah we had seen lots of international tourists, but this had not been the case for the last few weeks in Colorado.  While we were at the museum and other places in the park we saw folks from just about every continent on the globe.  It's been quite interesting to us to realize and see firsthand what folks from other countries apparently most want to see in the US.  Quite a cosmopolitan place!

Then it was off to see the General Sherman Tree, which is huge!  It is the third largest sequoia in the world, and it's just impossible to describe the immense size of this tree.  And once again the pictures we took really won't give you the full perspective on just how big these trees are--when you try to get the whole tree in the picture, you have to pull the zoom lens so far back the tree appears much smaller than it is.  But, even while this is one of the largest trees in the world, there are so many other trees that may not be quite as big around or as tall are huge nonetheless.  They also have several trees that have been sawn down over the years, or that have fallen and they came back and used a saw on them to show a cross section and it's so massive.  There is one stump that's over 40 feet in diameter that was a tree that was cut down for one of the world's fairs in the 1890's--they hollowed out a section of log, then cut it into smaller pieces for shipping and then reassembled it at the fair.

Then we drove on into King's Canyon, where we camped for the night.  Had a bit of a struggle trying to find a spot that was close enough to level for the carhouse--didn't want to be rolling off the bed during the night!  But ultimately we found a nice secluded spot right nestled between some great big rocks and a fair sized sequoia.  There are several campgrounds within these parks, but this area is a bit more remote and the others were full, but we were glad we could camp here, since it's at much higher elevation, and the temperature was much cooler--over 100 in the lower areas!  Wednesday morning we got an early start and hiked about 5 miles along a trail leading down, down, down through forests of massive sequoias, past some open areas with some great views, and then back up, up, up!  It was good to get back out hiking again and, if you ever start feeling a bit self important, there's nothing like hiking through a forest of these massive trees to put you in your place--talk about feeling insignificant!  Very impressive.

Before leaving the park we saw the General Grant Tree, which is the biggest sequoia.  It was named after General Grant in 1867 and for a number of years the park was known as the General Grant National Park.  In the 1920's, a man from Sanger, CA was visiting the tree when a little girl there said "Wouldn't this make a wonderful Christmas tree."  So he started a campaign, culminating in Pres. Coolidge dubbing it the Nation's Christmas Tree in 1926, and for a number of years there was an annual celebration around the tree on Christmas Day.  At one of these celebrations the then park superintendent gave an eloquent description of why it's so important to preserve such natural wonders:
""We are gathered here around a tree that is worthy of representing the spirit of America on Christmas Day. That spirit is best expressed in the plain things of life, the love of the family circle, the simple life of the out-of-doors. The tree is a pillar that is a testimony that things of the spirit transcend those of the flesh."  Well said!!

After leaving the park we drove on to San Simeon State Park, and our first glimpse of the Pacific!  What an exciting sight to see, and to think that our first night out on this great adventure was spent on the shores of the Florida Gulf coast, and now we were on the Pacific shore--wow!! How incredibly blessed and fortunate we are to be able to have this unbelievable adventure.  We've seen so much of this amazing country and it was thrilling to see the Pacific Ocean.  It's so different from the Atlantic or Gulf coasts--the temperatures are chilly, the waves are crashing against the big rocks, but it is just wonderful.  The campground was full of families and tons of kids having fun--we just love staying in state or national parks to see this sight.  We got settled into our site and I took a nap outside in the recliner, but as the sun was getting lower in the sky, the chilly temps woke me up.  So we followed the path under Highway 1 to the beach.  There was a couple trying to get a kite up in the air, but the winds were so fierce on the ocean they was having trouble getting it to fly.  Trisha was about to go over and tell them they needed to put a tail on the kite, but I'm not sure even that would have made enough difference with this wind.  We didn't stay long, as we still had on our shorts, so came back to the campsite for supper.

Wednesday morning we hiked along the trail leading out of the campground up and around the area and, while it was somewhat cloudy, it was still a good hike, leading through rocky hills, thick pine forests and across a wetlands area, which, at this time of year was completely dry.  It's wet during the winter, so the raised boardwalk is absolutely necessary to cross it--the story boards described the changing environment, with the aquatic creatures leaving when the water dries up, to be replaced by ground rodents, prey to the hawks and other predators.  We saw several hawks circling, looking for lunch!  We also saw a small herd of mule deer way across the wetlands area, and just as we were taking pictures of them we met a young family coming toward us with two small children.  The kids were cute and were excited to encounter Santa on the hike so we stopped and found their names on the good boys and girls list and took some pictures.  The mom was explaining how little Noah had read the sign when they entered the hike that said the area was inhabited by the occasional mountain lion and when they looked across the plain and saw these deer, he thought it was mountain lions and was a bit apprehensive about going farther--then dad explained that the deer were the ones who needed to fear the mountain lions!

After hiking we headed on up the Pacific Coast Highway en route to Monterey.  This is such a spectacular road, for most of the way right smack dab on the edge of the ocean, with lots of steep climbs up the side of the mountain and some pretty dramatic drop-offs.  It's so amazing to look out to your left and see the ocean, and then to your right see these beautiful mountains climbing up--looks a lot like the mountains of Germany.  We've done this drive several times in the past, but as we drove it in the RV got a greater appreciation of just how close it is, with only inches to spare in places from the rocks on one side and the opposing lane of traffic.  In several places there was road repair going on, so it was down to one lane.  The fog would come rolling in so fast, you could see it moving quite rapidly, and almost completely obscure the view.  Then you would round a curve and on the other side it would be suddenly sunny and clear.  Looking down on the waves crashing into the rocks near shore you realize the power of the Pacific--white foam spewing way up into the air as the waves pounded these massive, jagged rocks--just beautiful, raw power of nature.  Just love it!  

Have to digress here for a moment--it's early on Saturday morning and a bit chilly.  Though we have the heat on, as we've been sitting here at the dinette table, Trisha was a bit cold, so she just grabbed the shawl she finished knitting a few days ago and wrapped it around her to keep her arms warm--it's really a beautiful shawl and she's just so doggone cute with it keeping her toasty warm--I'd take a picture, but she's still in her jammies, so she'd kill me if I did!  But she's been so happy to have so much time to knit as much as she has, as we're driving along.  She's made the gorgeous little tutu for our great niece, a sweater for the daughter of one couple she married, the shawl for little Sophie in Grand Junction, CO, so it's time she got around to knitting something for herself.  She also just finished a scarf last night, but I'm happy she's able to use this new shawl this morning.  She's just something else, and I am just about the luckiest guy in the world!  As we approach our 45th anniversary in a couple of weeks, I'm reminded of Harry Fiefield, the longtime senior minister at First Presbyterian in Atlanta who said when he and his wife were approaching a similar milestone--it's been 45 years, looks like it just might last!!

We stopped in Big Sur to have lunch at one of our all time favorite restaurants, Nepenthe.  This is such an amazing setting--the restaurant is right on the side of the mountain, overlooking the ocean, with a huge patio area with outside seating, and concrete stadium type benches with cushions scattered around for folks to sit on and have a drink while waiting, to just soak up the sun.  There's also a great big fire pit in this area where they build a huge fire each night.  We've never been there at night, but I can imagine how wonderful that must be.  But for us, the greatest feature is this expansive railing seating area that bends around the outside edge of the place, where it's like sitting at a bar, except you're just hanging out over the edge of the cliff, looking out and down to the ocean.  When we checked in there was quite a crowd of people waiting and the hostess said there was a really long wait for outside seating, so we just signed up for first available.  When she asked what name to put it under, she noticed my "Santa on Vacation" hat, so she put down Santa--she had fun announcing later "Santa, you're table is ready!!"  And I think she was doing all she could to make sure her stocking would have some goodies in it come Christmas, because she was able to seat us on the outside railing on the back patio.  Had a wonderful veggie burger with a salad of garbanzo and kidney beans with a really delicious and unique dressing.  But as we were sitting there, the sun would alternate with shade from the cloud cover, and we still had on shorts and tshirts, and it was a remarkable role reversal for Trisha and me.  For so long, with my weight I was always hot, no matter what the temperature was, and she was always cold, needing extra layers to keep her warm--well not that day!  She was quite comfortable, but since I've lost the weight, I was really cold at times--pretty funny!

Had a long leisurely lunch and spent some time walking around the grounds and then the gift shop, which has so many interesting and unique things.  Then on to Monterey, one of our favorite places to visit.  It was late afternoon when we got here and the traffic was quite heavy, but we found the RV park, which is on the fairgrounds property, basically a parking lot, but they do have full hookups, which we needed for a day or so, and the location is really good for visiting all the places we wanted to see.  Had to go out to do a little shopping for some warmer clothes, since all the long sleeved tshirts and sweatshirt I had left home with are way too big--always fun to be able to shop for smaller size clothes!!

Some shots as we drove into Sequoia--here, Tunnel Rock
 Looking down onto the river below--first thought these trees in the lower left were dead or dying, but a ranger explained that they're just buckeye trees in hibernation during this time of the year
 Moro Rock

 Couple of shots of the road we had just traversed

Curvy road!
 Some of our first sightings of the giant sequoias

 A tree near the General Sherman, where the loggers cut a hole through the trunk

 Here we are at the base of the General Sherman Tree

 Pretty massive burl--Todd would dearly love to have this for his woodworking shop!

 Some views around our campsite--just gorgeous!

Our hike on Wednesday morning

 Hard to actually tell from this photo, but this cone from a sugar pine tree is about 18 inches long!

 Interesting interior of a pine cone where a squirrel has been chowing down

Evidence of an earlier fire

 Lovely thicket of ferns
 Can you believe this tree growing right out of a rock??

View of Sequoia Lake
 On the way to see the General Grant Tree
  A log hollowed out in the 1800's--like a long tunnel

 This is the 42 ft stump of the tree cut down for the world's fair

 The other end of the "tunnel" log
 Driving out of the park

Orange trees at a fruit stand where we stopped along the way toward San Simeon

Along the way to San Simeon

 First glimpse of the Pacific!

Looking under Highway 1 toward the beach

 Trisha is always excited to be at the beach!

 Love this kelp which is all over the Pacific coast
 Looking back across Highway 1 from the beach

Some scenes from our hike at San Simeon State Park on Wednesday morning--interesting pine cone pattern

Some wild blackberries, just coming into ripeness!
 Boardwalk across the wetlands area
 Moss is a little different here than back east!

 The trail, leading back up out of the wetlands area

 Mule deer way on the other side of the wetlands

Some shots from the drive along Pacific Coast Highway, toward Monterey

 Pretty dramatic bridge
 Tried to get a shot of these lovely roses

Hard to focus as we were driving past these fields of yellow wildflowers


Some shots at Nepenthe--we forgot to take the camera when we went in so only had iphone camera; Here's the main patio, with a large carved figure of a Phoenix--hard to see with this camera
 Looking out over the ocean from our railing seating

 Hoping someone will toss him a morsel--one raven flew right up to where someone was sitting and stole a french fry off the plate!
 It had been over 20 years since we were last at Nepenthe, but it's always a favorite!
 Beautiful flowers!


  1. I'm downright jealous now! Haven't done the coast highway and it's a dream of mine...I just pray that trip is in my future! Thanks so much for your happy travelogue.

    Mary Lou

    1. Mary Lou, I sure hope you can do this trip sometime as well--it's truly a spectacular drive--so unlike anything we have on the east coast down where we all are.

  2. Nice story, nice photos!