Though we could have enjoyed the coast forever (And really, who couldn’t?), we packed up early and hit the road for Sequoia National Park to meet with The General. (Sherman, that is.) We were on our way early and fully prepared for hitting LA traffic in full-on rush hour. Yeah. Well. It’s one thing to say that and another to do it. We weren’t really prepared.
Los Angeles traffic only added an extra hour to the trip and I guess we should have been grateful for that. It could have been worse.
One thing we discovered along the way was that most of California looks like this:
With the exception of the times it looked like this:
Or like this:
Seriously – weird, grassy, rolling hills or orange orchards or vineyards. That was it. I’m certain there must be more to California than this, but in all the miles we traveled (from San Diego to the Redwoods) this was, more or less, what we saw.
We reached Sequoia National Park at three in the afternoon and headed straight for the world’s largest tree. But first, a massive downpour. It was hard to imagine that California was in a drought when the view through our windshield was hardly visible at all.
When we finally got to into the park and had our first views of Sequoias, our jaws dropped. There is nothing that can prepare one for the sheer mass that is a few-thousand year old Sequoia. They are awesome in the true sense of the word. The gorgeous rust-hued trunks are not what you would expect. I put my hand on one and expected to feel a tree trunk (duh, right?), but I was shocked to feel a soft texture, almost spongy.
We made our way down the path to General Sherman, and while he was not the most gorgeous specimen, he was regal nonetheless. There was a line to take photos next to him. Dutifully, I stood in line so that Nate could get a picture of me with the tree, but no camera could really capture the stunning presence that these trees have. (So go see them in person! You won’t be sorry!)
If Sequoias can convince Nate to hug a tree, they can convince anyone.
We made our way to Lodgepole Campground, which was, hands down, one of the best sites we booked on the trip. The park ranger who checked us in quickly reminded us that we were in bear country and that just the night before, they’d had to shoo away a black bear from the campgrounds. This made me somewhat nervous, as I’d booked a campsite on the outskirts of the grounds. Oh well. You only live once, right? And that’s what bear boxes are for.
The campsite was perfect, and right next to the Kaweah River (which was more like a creek at that point in time) and you know exactly where Nate went. Fishing, of course.
The native brook trout, though tiny, were feisty and Nate caught several. Since they weren’t used to people, Nate discovered that some stealth was required to catch them. If they saw you, they were gone…
Of the woods, Sequoia National Park was one of my favorites. It’s a long and windy drive to get to (But unlike the Rockies, there were guard rails and stone walls!) and it’s a hike to see General Sherman (although there is handicapped access available), but it was worth every second.
And we managed to avoid a bear encounter. Woohoo – that’s two for two in bear country! Safe!
We’re up at 5:30 and on the road by 6, but not without first appreciating the views that early morning Kansas plains have to offer. Deer in the tall grasses, pheasants calling unseen, and the golden sun rising over the horizon.
We decide to stop for gas early in the trip, since we’re low and we want to make sure we get a full day of driving as long as we can. What’s this? Oh, gas at the next exit. So, off we go, but there’s no gas station in sight. Instead, we drive two miles down the road to a “town” that wasn’t yet awake. Though the sign in the window proclaims it to be open, it’s quite obvious the gas station is not. And given the other sign they’ve posted, I think I’ll pass on the hospitality offered in this town anyway…
We eventually do fill the gas tank and I am especially glad to be on the road to Colorado. At the very least, it has to be cooler, right? It was a long drive, longer than we expected, coupled with an extra 1-hour delay in Denver. Denver…what’s that smell? As we sit in traffic, waiting to get back on our way, we realize that we’re smelling…wait…could that be what we think it is? Yes, pot. Hey man, a mellow traffic jam is the best kind, I suppose. At least the road rage will be kept to a minimum.
When I planned this particular leg of the journey, I noticed that the roads we’d chosen happened to be marked with “Closed in Winter” warnings on the maps. But, hey, we were journeying in the very middle of summer. Surely the roads would be fine. No, it’s true that we didn’t encounter any snow or ice on the road. But, we did encounter roads only 1 1/2 lanes wide with more hairpins than any elegant bridal up-do.
Remember back on Day 2 when I said I wasn’t afraid of heights? At this particular point in my life, I seriously began to reconsider. At one time in the drive, Nate pulled off to one side (where there actually was a small side…) and pointed my camera straight down the ravine below. The result was this:
And it doesn’t nearly do it justice. I won’t lie. During the time we were pulled over, my heart actually might have tried to leap out of my chest. (Probably just trying to cling to the road in case the rest of me went tumbling below with the car and all of our belongings.) I am not afraid of heights, but I’ll fully admit to having a healthy fear of landslides and could only too clearly picture our car slipping off the shoulder and into the empty space below.
You can image my relief, then, when Nate pulled the car back on the road and we resumed our drive. When we finally reached the summit at 11,318 feet we had to pull over one more time. Why? To do this, naturally:
Who doesn’t want to throw a snowball in June? By the time we are on our way down the other side, we’re happy for an excuse to stop at a rest stop and trailhead not only to use the rest rooms, but also to check out the ice cold stream flowing with impressive turbulence just off the trail. Naturally Nate can’t resist and he throws in a line. He catches two cutthroat trout, but both make it off the line before he can reel them in. A disappointment, but then, he hadn’t really expected to catch anything at all at a rest stop.
As we walk back to the car, the one thing that strikes me as odd is a slight dizzy feeling that I can’t seem to shake. Before we’d left, a coworker had asked me if I had ever suffered from altitude sickness and up until that point, it hadn’t even been something I’d thought about. I laughed it off, thinking it sounded ridiculous. “I’m not even leaving the country!” I’d thought. But, after she’d brought it up, of course, I did a little research on it to familiarize myself with the symptoms…you know…just in case (Hint: Read – “to add to my repertoire of things about which to worry”). Now, as I fought a funny lightheadedness, I realized it might actual be a real threat after all!
Thankfully, dizziness was the only symptom I experienced in the Rockies. We camped at the Silver Queen Campground in the White River National Forest near the Maroon Bells Recreation Area. The campsite, our first true tenting experience on this trip, was perfect. Gorgeous tall aspens and reed-like grasses made the campground. The only downside – bear boxes! Yikes, that meant we were really in bear country now (black bears, anyway). I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I told you that I made sure every last smelly, aromatic, scented item in our car or on our person ended up in that box. According to the brochures, bears find the scent of soap, deodorant, detergent, and many other odd things attractive. They’ll come around to investigate dish soap just as quickly as they will for a cooked ham. (Well, I didn’t actually test that one. It’s entirely possible they’ll move a little faster for a juicy ham, but I took the brochure’s word for it and stashed everything smelly into that big metal box, regardless!)
After setting up camp, we debated just calling it a night, but we were both too excited to actually relax. So…off to Maroon Lake for some stunning views of the Maroon Bells and the amazingly clear waters of the lake. Nate threw on a pair of waders and was in the lake without even having to be asked if that’s what he wanted to do. He caught (and actually reeled in) his first cutthroat trout. Though the fish here are small, they are native to the area and brilliant in color…which kind of makes sense because just about everything is brilliant in color. It’s an amazing view and breathtaking (literally – remember the altitude involved).
When we finally get back to our campsite and climb into our sleeping bags, we’re surprised to learn that at 9:30 pm, it’s still as bright as 5 pm back home. How is this possible? It seemed to take forever to finally get dark. We’re up early (and several times during the night to use the bathroom – high altitudes = peeing a lot) and at 5 am we decide on one more trip to the lake to see the sunrise before we go.
Getting up early sure does have its benefits. Not only are we treated to an amazing sunrise on the peaks above, but we’ve also gotten to see our first elk, mule deer, marmots, and grouse. I’d call that a successful Rocky Mountain trip.
Next destination? Funny you should ask. We actually have two in mind for Day 5 – Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon. It promises to be another long day, but I guess they all are when you get up at 5 am. I just looked forward to finding a lower altitude where I didn’t have to pee so often.