Yes, I know the plans were to go to the Bristlecone Pine Forest on the eastern edge of California. One more time, Mother Nature had other plans. There were rumors in the air of bad weather, and sure enough on our expected travel day, we woke to snow falling in the High Sierra and closed passes. Even if we could have made it across HWY 50, the only pass open across the mountains, we would have run into more than 100 miles of 3 inch snow depths on HWY 395 traveling through the Mammoth area. No wayaround it, we had to come up with some other plans for our last trip out this year.
Before we left, the only requirement I had was that we not travel again across the wide, flat, and very boring Central Valley. We decided on a destination that was quite a way down on our to-do list, but was at least accessible, even if cold weather was predicted. With the days of tent camping behind us, cold was do-able. So we headed for the west side of the Sierras instead of the east side as originally planned, and set our sights on Sequoia National Park.
No matter where you travel in this state, however, it's impossible to avoid the central valley, and we found ourselves headed south on HWY99 one more time into the smog and flatness of Fresno. Once out of town, east on HWY180, we again approached the Sierra Nevada. Only here, very different from my home near Jamestown, the mountains rise very abruptly from the valley floor. HWY 180 is a long steep road climbing 1000 feet every couple of miles until you reach the Kings Canyon National Park entrance at nearly 7000 feet. We were glad we had decided against towing the baby car, also glad that our 26 feet wasn't any more than that. In fact, at 26 feet, we were too long for several of the national park roads that have a 22 foot limit.
The brochure for these two parks suggests that if you are towing a car with your rig, you should leave the rig and explore by car. The only problem with this plan is that most of the park is only accessible on foot, and what you can see by car isn't exactly spectacular. The exception to this is the long downhill winding road into Kings Canyon. I would hate to have to drive down that road, and then turn around and drive back out the same day because I didn't have my home with me. I was also very glad again for the tow-haul on the MoHo that helped with the constant downshifting as we traveled into this wild deep canyon that John Muir compared in all respects to Yosemite.
At the upper limit of the park boundary, however, is a section in the sequoia belt that had some groves of the huge trees, and the General Grant Tree. We stopped to hike the interpretive trails and wonder at these amazing living things before we continued on to our explorations of the park. The ranger was helpful, assuring us that our rig could handle the downhill road into the campgrounds on the Kings River, but also assuring us that we definitely should NOT attempt to go travel on the southern route out of Sequoia to Three Rivers on HWY 198. The maps said, "over 22 feet not advised" not prohibited, but that was a decision for another day.
The trip down the Kings Canyon was a bit obscured that first day by all the clouds in the mountains, and rain and snow falling at varying elevations. The temperature at the top was 37 degrees, and when we reached our campground at 4500 feet or so, it was still in the low 40's. The night only dropped to 28 degrees at that campground, so again we were happy that we had decided to camp in Kings rather than in Sequoia at a higher elevation where the temperatures dropped to 12 degrees. F. Ahh, camping in October.
Our campground was one of two open on the Kings River, the Sentinal Campground, and when we arrived in mid afternoon was very nearly empty. A couple of people trickled in throughout the evening, and a surprising number of campers were in tents. I didn't envy them as I watched them curled up in sleeping bags and woolen hats trying to enjoy their campfire, and sometimes there was a funny image of a person huddled over a sterno stove with their partner huddled in the passenger seat of their truck trying to read a book. Cold camping. ugh. We didn't even opt for a campfire, and instead cooked warm soup and enjoyed the view from our warm cozy home.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny once the sun actually made it over the high mountains, and we traveled further into the park to road's end and a short hike to the Roaring River Falls before we traveled up that long pull out of the canyon on the way to the next day's adventures in Sequoia.
We were happy in a way to have been thwarted on our east side Sierra trip, because both of us knew that we might not ever come back in this particular direction and so might not make the effort to see these parks. We also both know that no matter where we live, the eastern Sierra is always calling us, and sooner or later we will find Laurie and Odel's boondock paradise in the Alabama Hills, and see the Bristlecone Pine Forest. But probably not in October!