This trip was originally planned to be a trip to Yosemite with our good friends Walt and Barb, but when we tried to make reservations back in March there was nothing available for that weekend - not even a tent cabin in Curry Village!
A few days later I received a flyer in the mail advertising the new Wuksachi Lodge that was opening in Sequoia National Park in late May, along with a coupon good for 25% off the room for the first two weeks in June - which just happened to be the time we had planned to go somewhere. :-) I had no problem making a reservation, and we were set to go.
Since the hotel was just opening the week before we arrived, we wondered what we might find...would there be beds? Hot water? Someplace to eat? :-)
Thursday, June 3 - On the Road Again
Lee and I finished packing our car that morning, said goodbye to the cats, and I drove him to work. We left work about 2:00 and stopped to pick up Walt and Barb. Fitting all 4 of us in our Saturn was a bit cozy, but we'd all packed pretty lightly, so we actually had extra room in the trunk.
We were on the road a little before 3:00, and we were amazed that we sailed around L.A. (we took the route that skirts the foothills, which actually *doesn't* add that much driving distance, and has a LOT less traffic), with very few slowdowns. We hit a very heavy rainshower going over the Grapevine (windshield wipers on high still couldn't quite keep up for a while), but we still made it to Bakersfield by about 7:00.
We stopped at Marie Callender's for dinner. It was a nice dinner, though Lee had to send his steak back because it wasn't cooked enough - that sort of thing usually happens to me. :-) And they were out of chocolate satin pie...waaaaaaah!
We arrived at Lee's dad's and grandmother's place in Visalia at about 9:30 - Gram had hot chocolate chip cookies just coming out of the oven for us. Mmmm. :-)
Friday, June 4 - Sequoias in the Mist
Gram made us pancakes and sausage for breakfast, and our sister-in-law, Dee Dee, came over with our nephew Chaney for a visit. He'll be a year old in a month, and we hadn't seen him since Christmas - he's changed *just* a bit. :-) Not quite walking yet, but pretty close.
We said our goodbyes and headed off to Sequoia - the southern entrance is only about an hour away from Visalia. It was a beautiful day in the Central Valley, but the forecast in the Sequoia region was only for a high of around 54 - and that turned out to be quite an exaggeration. :-) Lee and Walt decided to wear shorts anyways.
We got some delicious fresh cherries and strawberries from a fruit stand along the road. Yummy. And Gram had sent along the rest of the cookies, too...though I think they were gone by lunch time. :-)
It was still sunny when we arrived at the Visitor's Center
at the Ash Mountain entrance to Sequoia National Park, but the clouds
were starting to form, and the rangers were warning everyone that it
had snowed up in the Giant Forest area the day before, and to watch for
icy spots on the road. Hmmm.
We made our way up the road, stopping several times along the way so that I could photograph wildflowers. The last time we were along this road was two years ago in April, and there were different flowers then, since it was earlier in the season. This time there were a lot of Mariposa lilies in bloom, which were lovely. There wasn't much traffic on the road at all.
The road climbs very steeply - probably gains about 4000 feet in only 20 miles. As we got higher, we drove into a cloud, and everything got very foggy and misty.
When we arrived in the Giant Forest area at the General Sherman tree, it was quite foggy - we couldn't even see the tops of the trees! Kinda like hiking by braille. And it was cold (we found out later that the high was only 37 that day), and Lee and Walt were still wearing shorts. Just a balmy day, right, guys? :-) They toughed it out, though, and we did the Congress Trail, about 1.7 miles around the grove. Highlights along the trail include the President's tree, the Senate trees, and the House trees. And also the General Lee tree - so guess who had to pose in front of that one. :-)
We missed the very start of the trail, so didn't have a chance to pick up the information booklet, and Lee and I had to point out the features and interesting things about sequoia trees from what we remembered from two years ago. :-) We did pretty well, though. (All that information is in our "Sequoia Saga" trip report.)
There was some snow on the trail, and we had it almost all to ourselves -
we only saw one other couple. It was very quiet, and the fog made
everything sort of ethereal and eerie - it was a neat experience, though
not something we'd want to do all the time!
After we finished we walked over to admire the General Sherman tree, which is labelled the "World's Largest Living Thing" (by volume - 52,500 cubic feet as of 1985 - and it's grown since then). There were more people there - most of them just come to see the Sherman tree and then leave, I guess.
We were hungry and chilled, so we headed off towards Wuksachi Lodge, which is only about 6 miles away. We found the right turnoff, and came to an area where there was a building...but no sign on it. And with all the fog we couldn't see any hotel buildings, either. So we took a tour of the parking lots (there are lots of parking lots...but not much else!) before deciding that this must be the place. Sure enough, it was the lobby, restaurant, and gift shop for the Lodge...we said it would be nice if there was a sign, and they sort of sighed and said yeah, but the powers that be were still arguing over the design. :-)
We got our room keys, but went to the restaurant to have a late lunch before going to our rooms. The food was quite good, and very reasonably priced - we were pleasantly surprised. Our waiter was pretty dour, though - he'd fit in well as a Cast Member at Disneyland's Haunted Mansion...
Since it was 3:00 by then and the weather wasn't conducive to any further outdoor activities that day, we decided to just take it easy and nap and read for the rest of the afternoon.
We each had a room with a king size bed (yay!) - ours looked onto the woods behind us, and Walt and Barb's looked out towards the mountains - or so they were told - at that point it was just a gray fog. :-) At least we *did* manage to find the hotel buildings in the mist.
Since the hotel had just opened, I wondered what might *not* be there...and there were a few things. The rooms were supposed to have a TV (not that we cared), and the combination dresser/TV cabinet that you see in hotels was there, but no TV. :-) We also had a small desk but no chair, a coffee maker but no coffee, and there were no telephone directories or paper/pens anywhere. (We ended up with a ton of suggestions - but no place to write them down! I guess that's one way to keep guest complaints to a minimum. :-) )
But still, all-in-all it was a very nice place - even if the bathroom walls WERE painted avocado green...ick.
We picked up Walt and Barb and drove to dinner - it turns out the main building is not far away, but we just couldn't tell in the fog! They don't have the lighting installed on the paths yet (and many of the paths are still under construction).
We got a great table in the restaurant right near the fireplace - though unfortunately there was no fire. (Yet another suggestion. :-) ) We got a brief glimpse out the window of the mountains before the fog swallowed them up again - our waitress informed us that this type of weather was typical for June. Uh oh. Anyone want to head back to Visalia???
The restaurant supposedly features "Asian-Pacific" cuisine, but it was more noveau Californian in my opinion. One of the specials that night was Veal Liver - there were no takers at our table. :-) Dinner was really good - especially the blackberry pie that we all had for dessert. We rolled out of there about 8:30, and headed back to our rooms - deciding to meet for breakfast about 7:30.
Saturday, June 5 - Lost in Sequoia
Oops, wrong title - "Lost in Sequoia" describes the *last* time all four of us were in Sequoia, when we tried to go backpacking on a trail that didn't exist (hey, it was there on the map!), and Lee and Walt got lost for half a day and wandered around the forest before finding Barb and me again.
Let's see...how about "Oh What a Beautiful Morning"! Because it *was* - I opened the curtains at about 6:50, and saw only blue sky and sunshine! Woo hoo!!!!
I got dressed and went out for a short walk, and discovered that we really weren't very far from the main building - you could see it quite easily without all the mist. :-)
We had a nice breakfast, though I started having problems with suicidal food that morning...I'd ordered a side of biscuits, which turned out to be one HUGE (over 5" in diameter) biscuit. Which had absolutely no structural integrity. I tried to cut it, and knocked the top half on the floor accidently, and it just disintegrated. I ended up eating the rest of it with a fork, because you just couldn't pick it up. The others all thought it was quite amusing. :-)
We'd brought crackers and cheese and fruit and cookies for a trail lunch,
so we assembled that stuff and headed out towards the north part of
the park, to the "Lost Grove". It's right along the road, so didn't
seem very lost to us...but we certainly didn't see very many people
stop there. None of the largest trees are there, so I guess people
aren't as interested. The trees are still pretty big, though -
and Tigger measured one and discovered that the circumference was
65 Tiggers plus a nose. :-)
As you can see, Lee had a little bit of an accident, and Walt rendered first aid...really big trees have really big splinters. :-)
We saw several deer there - they seemed pretty unconcerned about the cars and people.
From there we drove to the Dorst campground where we could catch the
trail to the Muir Grove. Nice camground, and almost no one there.
Again, we seemed to have the trail to ourselves. The Grove was about
two miles away - the trail passed some meadows and ascended to the top
of a small dome where we could actually see something - though what we
saw was more trees. (My major complaint about the Western Sierra is
that there are too many trees, and you can't see anything but trees. I
prefer the Eastern Sierra. :-) )
We crossed a small stream, all of about 1 foot wide, and Walt (who was leading) sort of teetered at the edge and paused before crossing and looked downstream...we asked him why, and he said he was watching for flash floods...we told him that those usually come from *up* stream rather than *down* stream. :-)
The Muir Grove was very nice - we saw only 4 other people there. We wandered around the grove about 1/2 mile, though the trail/path kept disappearing in deadfalls - it has obviously not been maintained in several years. It was very quiet and peaceful. We had lunch (a suicidal cherry bounced out of my hand - though maybe it wasn't suicidal, it just wanted to see if could grow as big as the sequoia trees), and walked back to the car.
We drove back towards the Giant Forest area and stopped at the Lodgepole Visitor Center. They had lots of interesting exhibits. Did you know that a sequoia is as tall as 15 giraffes, and weighs as much as 11 blue whales? :-) We also learned about all the demolition in the Giant Forest area itself - there used to be cabins and a lodge and store RIGHT in with all the sequoia trees, but they have closed all that and are demolishing almost everything and converting it back to as natural a state as possible. Human habitation has packed down the soil around the sequoia trees and has exposed roots, and probably done other damage that we are not aware of. There are also few, if any, young sequoia trees in the area - fire is essential for the propagation of the sequoia, and there have been no fires in the area in over 100 years. (Though we think that the main reason they are getting everything out of Giant Forest is that all those sequoia trees that haven't been able to reproduce in over 100 years are getting really frustrated by the lack of privacy, and are starting to drop huge branches on people. :-) And sequoia branches are the size of some large trees!)
But I digress...The new Wuksachi Lodge is a replacement for the hotel that used to be in Giant Forest - it's just in regular pine forest, several miles away from any sequoias, so doesn't have the same kind of impact. (Though all the sugar pines and lodgepole pines that had to be cut down to make room for the lodge might have a different opinion about that. :-) ) And of course it's a more modern facility which should have less impact on the environment. The only building in the Giant Forest area that they are keeping is the store, which will be converted into a museum.
It's been a VERY long process, but progress is being made, especially now that the Giant Forest facilities are closed. For a while they were having to spend money to keep up those aging facilities in addition to developing new ones, and that was very expensive.
So, after that, we drove down past the Giant Forest area (too bad we couldn't volunteer to help them demolish some of it!) to the Hazelwood Nature Trail. This is a very pleasant, easy walk around a sequoia grove (less than a mile), with signs pointing out some of the features. Again, we had it almost all to ourselves, even though the parking lot was full - the other people must have been off on some of the other trails that take off from there.
That had been a little too easy, so we went to do something a little more challenging - Moro Rock. This trail is only 1/4 mile but it climbs up 370 steps (though I only counted 345). We saw more people here than we had all day! There's a nice view from the top, though most of the mountains were in clouds. But the view was a LOT better today than it would have been the day before. :-)
We felt like we'd had a pretty full day, so we headed back to the lodge to relax and clean up before our 7:00 dinner reservation. For two hours Lee and I got to listen to the child in the room upstairs run back and forth, back and forth...argh.
We were VERY glad we had a dinner reservation, because the restaurant was full, and there were a lot of people waiting. (One bad thing about the lodge is that the restaurant is the ONLY place to eat - there isn't any food in the gift shop, and not even any vending machines! The only other choice for food is the snack bar and grocery store in Lodgepole several miles away - which closes at 8:00.)
We had the same waitress, Carrie, that we'd had the night before. She remembered what we liked to drink, and also that when she brought coffee she needed to bring sugar and *two* creamers - since Walt and Barb and Lee like a little coffee with their cream. :-) The veal liver was *still* one of the specials...wonder how long before they finally get rid of it? :-) Lee's problem with undercooked steak continued, and he had to send it back, and I had a suicidal cucumber slice jump off my plate. :-) I got the last piece of blackberry pie, and Barb and Walt had cherry and apple pie, and Lee tried the creme brulee. They were all good. Still, Barb and I were amazed and dismayed that on both nights there was NOTHING chocolate on the dessert menu...time for another suggestion! :-)
We still thought the food was good, and the prices were very reasonable, especially considering that *everything* has to be brought in via mountain roads. The menu needs some more variety, though (I would NOT have wanted to see the same menu a third night), and a lot of that "Asian-Pacific" cuisine is not going to appeal very much to the meat-and-potatoes Mr. and Mrs. Middle America crowd.
While having dinner we came up with an idea for a new VERY politically incorrect restaurant...we thought we'd call it "Nearly Extinct". It would specialize in endangered cuisine - serving dishes like Sauteed Spotted Owl, grilled Bald Eagle, and Blackened Black Rhino, and use sequoia sprigs as garnishes, and bristlecone pine toothpicks. We also thought we'd have an "Extinct" section of the menu, with Passenger Pigeon Picatta, dodo egg souffle, wooly mammoth steaks, Pterodactyl Tetrazzini, etc. Think it'll fly? :-)
(And no, we hadn't been drinking. :-) )
Sunday, June 6 - The Long and Winding Road
Not a very restful night for Lee and me - the running child upstairs got put to bed and was quiet, but then we got to listen to the baby next door wake up and cry every two hours during the night...including a regular tantrum at about 5:30 that lasted for 20 minutes. Guess we forgot to request the "Adults Only" building. Sigh.
At least it was another nice day, though a few more clouds than yesterday. We packed our bags and had breakfast - I had no suicidal food, yay! Though Walt threw bits of toast beside my chair to make it LOOK like I'd been messy...we just can't take him anywhere. :-)
Check-out was a bit of an adventure...we had that 25% off coupon, but they didn't have anything in their system to handle it, and the first way they calculated it they only gave us about a 5% discount! Walt and I were there for 30 minutes before they finally got it right - but we're still going to be checking our credit card bills very carefully to make sure.
Once we got done with that we headed off towards Kings Canyon National Park, and the General Grant Grove. (You got General Sherman in the southern part, General Grant in the northern part - anyone see a civil war connection here? :-) ) Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are right next to each other, and the "Generals Highway" connects the two. Most of the sequoias are in Sequoia, but there are some in the very western part of Kings Canyon.
There weren't too many people in the Grant Grove - this time we got the map before getting on the trail, though. We still had a long drive ahead of us so didn't want to spend too much time, and only did the 3/5 mile walk around the Grant Grove. I like the Congress Trail in the Sherman Grove better - they don't have all the trees surrounded by fences there, so you can actually get right up next to them. That will probably change in the next few years, but for now it's a nice feature of the Congress Trail. (The Sherman tree itself is surrounded by a fence, though.)
We saw several Douglas squirrels (chickarees) running around, and
I tried to get a picture, but just when I was ready they'd dart
out of sight again.
On our way out of the park, we stopped at the Big Stump area. This area is now within Kings Canyon National Park, but back in the 1880s beofre the park existed it was logged, before they realized that logging sequoias just wasn't profitable. :-) The trees tended to shatter on impact, giving them lots of instant mulch rather than board feet of lumber. There's a trail here that goes by many of the stumps - and a few trees that were somehow spared.
The stumps are quite impressive - you get a much better appreciation for how huge the trees are when you can stand on one of the stumps, as opposed to just looking at it. (Similarly, a fallen sequoia gives you a much better idea for how tall they are than one that is standing. Hmmm...interesting that dead trees offer better perspective, huh? ;-) )
We had a lot of fun taking pictures and climbing on the stumps. One
interesting thing about sequoia stumps is that they are VERY high -
they usually cut the trees anywhere from 4-12 feet higher than ground
level. In the picture you can see that we are on 3 different
stumps of varying heights -
Lee was probably 15' off the ground.
Walt, Barb, and Lee decided that since a druid is a tree-lover, I must be an Anti-Druid, or Diurd. Who of course was very much at home amongst a bunch of huge stumps - they make a nice throne, don't you think? And of course a dead branch is the appropriate scepter. :-)
We saw the "Sawn Tree", which is a sequoia tree that was sawn through about 1/3 of the way before they suddenly quit. I'm not sure why this tree got a reprieve (maybe the Governor called at the last minute? :-) ), but though you can clearly see where it was cut, the tree seems perfectly healthy otherwise.
Walt had his Wheaties that day! :-)
Once we got back to the car (I assured them that the trail DID loop
back to the parking lot, but they were doubtful for a while) we hit
the road, and wound our way back down the mountains and foothills
and back to Highway 99. We made good time, and were back at our
place in about 7 hours.
Some Final Thoughts...
But we'd still stay here again in the future - though we hope there will be some chocolate desserts on the menu!
Go to Tigger's Treemendous Tale
Text and photographs copyright © 1999, by Laura Gilbreath and Lee Zimmerman. Feel free to link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holder.Laura Gilbreath, firstname.lastname@example.org
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