There is more than just big trees in the Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks
29.08.2011 - 30.08.2011 33 °C
With lots of driving ahead of us to get to our next destination, we got up early and headed for a quick coffee and breakfast in the motel before hitting the road. At least that was the plan. Breakfast took a little longer then planned for two reasons:
First of all, a novelty caught my eye. There was a do-it-yourself waffle maker and plenty of ready to use waffle mix – it just had to be tried. With no manual in sight, it was a bit of a trial and error to operate this complex piece of equipment. The result, however, was delicious. At least a little redemption point for the hotel. Secondly, we met a nice German couple and got talking about their trip / our trip / the waffle maker and plenty else. With various degrees of proficiency in German and English around the table, M got to practice her German whilst the couple brushed up on their English. When we finally parted at 9am, the lady, being in sales for global aloe-based beauty and wellness brand, even equipped M with a goody bag for our onward journey.
We decided to not take any scenic detours this time and head down the highway. The landscape quickly turned flat and barren, but got increasingly green with endless fruit plantations the closer we got to Fresno. The travel guide didn’t convince us it was worth exploring the town and neither did the scenery along the highway. So we drove straight on, only stopping at one of the many roadside fruit stalls to stock up on plums, nectarines and peaches for a later picnic. As we approached the foothills of the Sierras again, the fruit plantations ceased and the landscape changed from hot and barren to woodland the higher we climbed up the mountain.
A little before noon we reached the entry to the twin Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks and headed straight to the Kings Canyon information centre. Nicely done with exhibits and an interesting film about the park, we learned that Sequoia’s race upwards for the first 600 years of their live and then take it easy for the following centuries or millennia by just bulking up. A short drive down the road, we stopped for a stroll along these giants. Centre piece here was the General Grant tree, one of the largest in the world. The woodland path also took us through the Fallen Monarch. Lying there for some 100 years the hollow tree served as stable, bar and accommodation in the past, but at the moment is only home to a wasp nest. Needless to say, I wasn’t keen on a lengthy photo shoot.
The next planned stop was the Converse Basin Grove, where there apparently used to be a lot of Sequoias, but virtually all of them were logged before the protection kicked in. Nowadays, only fields of stumps are left. I missed the turn and so will never know for sure. Instead, we followed the main (and only road) into the Kings Canyon.
After having spent the morning driving up the mountain we now followed serpentines down again, with some spectacular views along the way. Despite the heat, we stopped a couple of times to take some pics. The road was fittingly called the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.
Having reached the bottom of the canyon the road followed the Kings River. We stopped at the Grizzly falls which was a nice spot, but being late in the season it didn’t carry much water. Still, it was nice to take a little break and listen to the water from the safety of the shadow. Further down the road past some vista points were the more impressive Roaring River Falls. But being at the bottom of the Kings Canyon during the hottest part of the day, after the obligatory self shot we quickly retreated to the car’s aircon.
A few miles further we reached Roads End, which literally means the road ends. With ample parking provided, this is the starting point for many trails leading up the mountains into the large High Sierras part of the King Canyon NP, which is accessible by foot only. One of the shorter walks that start here is the Mist Falls trail which we were initially quite keen on doing. However, the time of the year suggested there might be no mist to marvel on and since the time was unforgivably running out, we decided to skip it – there was still a full list of things we wanted to see today.At this point it is probably worth mentioning that the King Canyon is America’s deepest canyon, so wherever you go from Road End it’s a lot of uphill to start with. Apart from a short dirt track section the other side of the Kings River near Roads End, it was all the way the same road back for us.
The first junction is almost back where the Converse Basin Grove would have been, but this time I didn’t miss it. Having given up on going back to the Converse Basin, we took the windy, bumpy back road south toward the Sequoia National Park, direction Hume Lake. Passing Hume Lake, it felt somewhat out of place with its ample accommodation, deck chairs by the beach and water sports facilities, in a complete contrast to everything else we so far had seen in the park. Truth to be told, if we had a lot more time we may have decided to just chill there for a day. Recovering quickly from a wrong turn (yeap, I was still driving), we were back on track and made our way to the General Sherman tree trail – a definite must-see in this park.
The General Sherman tree is the largest living tree. It’s not the tallest, not the one with the widest base and certainly not the prettiest, being dead at the top. But it’s the biggest by volume of wood and still going strong, adding the equivalent of a normal 60ft tree to itself every year. Being number one, General Sherman attracts a lot of visitors and the park authorities made sure the paths, the information boards, etc. make the trail a great experience.Needless to say, there were plenty of other big Sequoia’s around, and dare I say it, most of them are much more photogenic then the big number 1. One of the interesting facts I took away from all the info boards is that its location, location, location even for Sequoias. A board showed a life size picture of the stump of a 100year old Sequoia, which grown in a less fertile spot then the old Sherman’s pad. It was no bigger than a quarter coin. Compare that to an equally old but well fed tree with the diameter of a coffee table. The things you learn.
When we completed the General Sherman walk, our next destination was the Tunnel Log. Having missed out on a drive through a sequoia tree in the Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove, we were keen to try it out now. Driving a little south we met plenty of massive sequoias alongside the road, with a couple of impressive groves with many of these giants huddled together. Eventually, we reached the fallen giant lying across a little road, with a hole big enough for cars cut right through it. A must do photo stop on the way to Moro Rock, M got out of the car and snapped me victoriously driving through.
Moro Rock was our last planned stop for the day. A giant granite rock at the edge of the forest, it was promising to offer a great 360° view.A staircase carved directly into it took visitors to the top. By the time we parked the car it was not too far away from sun set. You may suggest that a fantastic sunset story and a picture will follow – but you would be wrong. Close to sunset also meant my little mosquito friends were out in force. As soon as we left the car, we were welcomed by a flying squad. Not put off, we quickly applied some jungle formula and slowly made our way to the bottom of the staircase. To be honest, it was more jogging there and up the first 100 or so stairs with hands waving to distract our flying companions. With the height the woodland gave way to bare rock and our friends decided to turn back to the shade and wait for our return.
So finally we had time to appreciate this marvellous rock and started to enjoy the views as we continued climbing up the stairs. A couple of hundred steps further up and the unfolding views were unfortunately paired with, from my point of view, flimsy and way too low railings. There was only one option for me and that was to follow M the remaining 100 or so steps up to the top, avoiding peeking over the sides too often. Unfortunately, we also walked past a girl with petrified look, trying to hold on to the rock, not quite knowing whether to keep going or turn back. To be fair, her high heels were really not the appropriate footware for Moro Rock, but she was to busy holding on to something to take them off.
Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with fantastic views in all directions. There is no indication that the indigenous Indians felt the need to conquer this barren peak. It was apparently the early settlers who liked the challenge to climb up and built a wooden staircase up the rock for tourists – with a handrail on only one side!. I – and everybody else with a slight dislike for heights – must be grateful that this totally scary construction has been replaced by the current steps cut straight into the rock.
We spend quite some time at the top enjoying the views; probably because we wanted to give our little friends at the bottom some time to feast on other victims, but eventually we made our way down. We reached the safety of the car with no bites – except one right on my forehead which after an hour looked like I had been hit with a baseball bat.
The plan still being Death Valley, Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree NP and San Diego before heading back to SF, we decided to drive out of the park and as far in the direction of Death Valley as possible, before stopping for the night.It was clear to me that our plans were way too ambitious, taken the progress so far, and that we would have to cut back on our travel plans. M on the other hand, was still adamant to stick to the plan and in particular keep Death Valley on the itinerary.
Eventually, my arguments to slightly shorten our route did get some unexpected support – road works on the only road out of the park. It took some 1.5h for a few miles and several thousand feet down to the park exit. To make some progress, we decided to keep driving until after dark before stopping at a motel. Around 9pm we found a Motel 6 in Porterville on route 65, by far the cheapest accommodation of our trip, but by no means the worst. Having lived of fruit and nuts since our early waffle breakfast, we headed straight out to a Bear Inn Restaurant and treated ourselves to a real American steak.
Planning the next day over dinner, I tried hard to convince M that we don’t have enough time to do everything we originally planned properly, and that she really, really would not enjoy the heat of Death Valley in August. Eventually she reluctantly succumbed to my logic and we agreed to drop Death Valley and the Mojave Desert, with Joshua Tree so far remaining on our list. Around 10:30pm we headed back to the Motel to get some sleep before an early start.