Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sequoia National Park

We woke up in Kings Canyon to a very cold morning, but the sunny skies were encouraging after all the predicted rain and snow for the Sierra's this weekend. We arrived at the boundary of Sequoia National Park in the early afternoon after driving some seriously rough roads throughout the national forest, the national monument, and the national park. Sequoia doesn't lend itself well to much in the way of sightseeing aside from the major grove that is home to the General Sherman Tree and what is called Giant Grove.

There were several roads that were limited to us because of our length over 22 feet, but we still had time to walk the major groves, see the really big trees, and find a place to camp at the open campground called Lodgepole. It was still cold enough that we needed hats and gloves for hiking, and the warmth of our furnace was really welcome after we got set up for evening.

The campground at Lodgepole is extensive, more so than we realized at first, and there are loops that are by the river, and other loops that say "no generators", and many delightful places to camp among the granite boulders. Lodgepole has a market and a visitor center that is open year round, although I wouldn't particularly like driving those rough curvy roads in winter, even if they are plowed!

The store provided a nice bottle of wine and the heater made for a lovely afternoon nap in the sunlight streaming in through the window, and we didn't need much else to be perfectly content.

The little coyote (photos at the Picassa link) was our camp mascot, trotting into the camp as we set up, and lying down to see if we were going to leave anything around for him. We saw him several times during our stay, always alone. He really liked Abby, so we kept a close lead on her while he let out playful little growls in his throat, and finally couldn't help himself and he howled. In spite of his early visit, we never heard coyotes in the night, but Mo was careful to keep Abby on the leash when she went out. After a great bbq supper we went for a little hike in the twilight and found the trail for tomorrow, came back to camp and started the generator and watched a movie. Especially nice because there wasn't anyone in the campground close enough to be bothered by it. Relaxing!

The next morning dawned bright and clear and just a bit warmer after only 28 degrees for the low and we decided that the hike was doable, gloves and hats of course. The hike was lovely, about 3.5 miles round trip and never steep enough to be a problem in spite of the 7200 foot elevation. The rock cascade was dry, with just a trickle of water that was mostly frozen, but it was still nice being there, and you could imagine just how magnificent those falls would be in the spring. Returning to camp we were entertained by a couple of trout playing in the shallows of the crystal clear river under the bridge.

We packed up the rig by noon and headed down the long slide of HWY 180 to the flat valley below, filled with smoke and smog and traffic. I would love to figure out a way to enjoy California without having to cross that valley! As mentioned in the Kings Canyon post, we were really glad that we did this trip this way, since we might not make it this far into this part of California again.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Kings Canyon

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!