Day 19: Sequoia

Yosemite National Park—Sequoia National Park, California

We made no effort to get up early today. We packed our things and left the campground around 9 A.M. Swimming and the cool temps hide the fact that we haven't had a shower since Fitz's.

We exited the park going south on CA 41 through Fish Camp and Bass Lake again. This is not a road that you should expect to gain time on. There are so many hills, curves, and busses that you hit 45 miles per hour and you think you're going to fly off the road. Eventually we came out of the Sierra National Forest and the large pines began to disappear. The hills became flatter and were now covered with brown grass instead of the greens that we were used to. By 11:30 A.M. we were in Fresno, CA and the hills were long gone. We were now in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley and it had become hot, dry, and dusty. Fresno is a flat, spread-out city. Not the nicest looking place I must say. The populace looked primarily Hispanic and both English and Spanish were seen and heard everywhere. We found a Denny's and ate something there (I asked for the non-smoking section in the restaurant, the quickest way to detect out-of-staters in California). We then got gas and got the hell out of Fresno.

The San Joaquin Valley is a shocking contrast for the eye when just this morning we were in Yosemite. We headed east on CA 180, a straight shot over to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. This valley is one huge farm. They grow all kinds of fruits and vegetables here. Passed many orchards, grapevines, and, of course, fruit stands, where Andy bought two bags of plums and pears for $1.53 - about the only cheap thing we've encountered in California thus far. Soon the grassy hills were returning and the hills were getting bigger and bigger. The elevation in Fresno is 296 feet. Once into the Sequoia National Forest and the parks, the elevation is around 7000 feet.

Sequoia National Park has the highest peak in the lower 48 states; Mt. Whitney at 14,494 feet. The park resembled Yosemite, nice to see the evergreen trees with the fluorescent green moss again. The road first enters Kings Canyon National Park where we stopped at the Grant Grove Post Office. There was some guy listening to some religious radio station in the post office which was only a shack really. Anyway, this religious station sounded so fanatical that it was worth mentioning here. If it weren't for the separation of church and state, I'd wonder if the station was being broadcast right out of this little shack in the park.

We decided to concentrate our efforts on Sequoia Park since we'd seen plenty of canyons on this trip and we'd also seen Yosemite, so we figured you put these things together and you'd have Kings Canyon to a certain extent. We headed for Sequoia on General's Highway, the only main road in Sequoia. We arrived at Dorst Campground around 2:30 P.M. and I must say we got another nice spot. Not as nice as Yosemite but there was a pine forest behind us.

The world's largest living thing, General Sherman, is a 275-foot tall, 36-foot wide sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park, California

The world's largest living thing, General Sherman, is a 275-foot tall, 36-foot wide sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park, California.

Here, as in Yosemite, were bear boxes, large, metal storage containers for food and other bear desirables. There was a ranger at the campsite next to us leaving them a nice little note about leaving their coolers and bright colored objects out. Apparently bears go for bright stuff, like coolers, even if it has no food in it they'll still destroy it looking for something. There was a nice picture in the Yosemite paper of the top half of a car door totally bent down. Bears are determined creatures.

Andy in a sequoia grove

Andy in a sequoia grove.

The elevation here is 6,720 feet so the cool weather was back. We set up camp and drove to the Giant Forest part of the park - sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it? We parked at the General Sherman Tree, the largest and oldest tree here. How large and how old? Here are the stats and facts about the park: this is the second oldest national park (Yellowstone is the first). John Muir was one of the first white men to discover the park but American Indians used the area for hunting and fishing centuries before he came along. The sequoia is the largest and one of the oldest living things on earth. General Sherman is 275 feet tall, 36 and a half feet wide at the base, 103 feet in circumference, and has branches that are 8 feet in diameter. Their soft bark is 31 inches thick and is very fire resistant, it does scar but usually will not die in fires - this accounts for their old age. The fire does, though, open the cones on the tree, releasing the seeds to spawn new trees. So without forest fires the tree would cease to exist. Kind of ironic. The age of these giant trees can be in excess of 3000 years, usually dying by toppling over. With over 2 million pounds of tree, combined with their shallow root system, they are vulnerable to toppling over. There are only three places in the world where these trees are found, some lady, who appeared to be an expert, was giving an amateur question and answer session beneath the giant General Sherman. California has the largest number of them with 75 groves on the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas. I tried to get a picture of the giant general but people would not move out of the way so we got a picture of the tree with strangers in front of it. It took two shots to get the tree and probably could have used another.

Uprooted tree

Uprooted tree.

Scarred tree from fire

Scarred tree from fire.

We walked on Congress Trail, a two-mile stroll through groves of giant sequoias. Some of the trees were scarred from fires of the past, one had toppled over - its roots exposed. By now it was around 5:30 so we decided to head back to camp. As we were driving back I saw a bear crossing the road about 2000 feet in front of us. It was going slow like it owned the road. By the time we were able to drive up to its crossing point, it was about 200 feet up a hill and into the woods, but we could still see it. Of course, we took a picture of it.

Cooked an interesting one tonight, spaghetti and corn. Played a little "May I" while these guys across the way from us tried unsuccessfully to get a fire going. They would douse it in lighter fluid, throw a match in for a rousing combustion and within a minute it would die, then they would douse it again and it would die again, this went on for a while.