Sequoia National Park, CA
May 15 - May 18, 2014
Our original plan was to drive from San Diego, up the Pacific Coast Highway to just South of Los Angeles, then cut inland and head straight up to Sequoia National Park – But due to the fires North of San Diego, we had to zig-zag our way through. We did see a lot of the coastline between San Diego and Los Angeles, including all the popular West Coast beach towns like Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. I noticed many yoga studios and chakra healing centers and all kinds of new age book stores, boutiques and gift shops lining the streets – Definitely places I’d love to go back and explore one day. Then came the LA traffic, and just – Ew. I’m not sure exactly which part of LA we drove through, but it was horrible. The air was thick and heavy, polluted with toxins, and there were so many people zipping around in every direction. We couldn’t wait to get out of that madness and into the glorious forest!
We arrived to Sequoia National Park out of the desert, and knew we were getting close when all of civilization slowly disappeared to just about nothing. We rolled up to Potwisha Campground just around dusk and were happy to have a reservation since they were totally booked for the weekend. Sequoia NP is one of those places it is a good idea to have something reserved. Potwisha is in the southern region of the park, a good 45 minute drive from the Giant Forest. There were times we thought we might be happy staying closer next time around; however, the drive from Potwisha up the mountain and into the Giant Forest every morning was AMAZING! One of my favorite parts of our Sequoia adventure. It’s a zig-zag climb up the mountain, with gorgeous views of the vast Sierra Mountains and beautiful forests and rivers – A great introductory drive through the ever-growing forest. So for certain reasons, we decided that it would be okay to stay at that campground again. Potwisha is a nice campground, filled with trees, beautiful Mountain-scapes, right along a rushing river, with fresh running water and toilets that flush (Huge plus – Not all of them did). If you reserve this campground, try to reserve site 20 – It’s right along the river with a gorgeous view. It’s not the site we were at, but we decided it’s the best. Although, every morning, we had a little family of deer that slumbered under the trees right next to our tent – So maybe ours was the best after all? The deer family was so cute! They were so calm for wildlife, and more than comfortable to walk up and sit right next to us.
When we awoke our first day in Sequoia National Park, I was really trying to keep my shit together. For years, I’d conjured crazy ideas and dreams of these awesome trees we were about to see. Sequoia NP is home to the biggest tree in the world! It’s not necessarily the tallest, nor does it have the biggest circumference, but due to it’s volume – It is designated the biggest. It’s called the General Sherman, and it’s just massive, dense with life and rich with history. The General is one of the oldest living things in the world, and has been standing for 2,000+ years! I was getting lost in my own thoughts of the kind of stories it could tell – If only trees could talk! And not only was this powerhouse of a tree awaiting me up on the other side of the mountain, it was neighbored by way more sequoias that were just as big and beautiful and breathtaking! We said farewell to our dear, deer neighbors, and set off for the days adventures.
We moseyed on up the mountain and my eyes were on the horizon. It was ever-changing with the mountain peaks, and the trees were slowly growing bigger and bolder. We made a quick stop at a lookout of Moro Rock (which we didn’t know at the time but we would later climb to the top of this giant rock). Once we made it to the top of the ridge, we came around a bend and that’s when it happened. The trees, as if on steroids, became so big, so tall, so wide – I felt like reality was slapping me in the face! I remember the first, true Sequoia I spotted. It was like a massive giant, totally nonchalant, mysteriously looming amidst all it’s tall, skinny tree friends, as if trying to just blend in. For being such large trees, they have such a humble stance, as if quietly standing back, waiting to be discovered. As we meandered through the Giant Forest, our car was basically rolling on fumes because of how slow we were going. We were completely captured in awe by these giant masterpieces – Huge creatures that I just want to wrap my arms around and share in their greatness.
MORO ROCK LOOKOUT
DRIVING THROUGH THE GIANT FOREST
A huge conundrum I couldn’t wrap my mind around is: They Burn These Trees….To Preserve Them and The Forest. Yea, let me repeat that. They Set The Sequoias On Fire…..In Order To Preserve Them. This process was explained to me countless times while in the park, but I still don’t get it? Their reasoning is the fires help the sequoias by removing undergrowth. Sequoia seeds can’t germinate if the brush and dead wood pile up, so they use fires to open ground cover for the little seedlings, and also for the trees to expand and grow. You can see the black, charred wounds at the base of each Sequoia, which I guess is all part of their beauty. It’s just still hard for me to accept that they set these forests on fire – Intentionally!
The Grant Grove Trail/Sherman Tree Trail is the hike that takes you through all the biggest known Sequoias – and circles the General Sherman Tree. It is a short, paved hike to the General, filled with mossy, green Sequoias and Redwoods. It was funny watching all the tourists trying to capture these monsters of trees with their little, tiny camera lenses. I was definitely among them, looking silly and taking up-to-down panoramic pictures. I eventually captured it best I could, put the technology down and just stood in a splendid stupor of how awesome life is.
The Sherman tree Trail
A TREE HUGGER'S PARADISE
The Congress Trail is a more rugged, 2-mile trail that continues the Grant Grove Trail and takes you deeper into the Giant Forest. Some Sequoias stood alone, others stood in clusters of 3, 4, even 12. They ask you not to touch these trees for preservation purposes – But we had just driven across the whole damn country just to HUG these babies!!! So of course, we did. Wouldn’t you? I was surprised to find how light and airy and hollow the bark was. I would have thought something that old and indestructible would be hard, dense and durable, but they were the complete opposite. Not at all what I expected. We wandered through the maze of trails branching off from the Congress trail, got a little lost, and enjoyed every moment – The colors, the smells, feeling the crispness of the day as well as the ancient smile of the forest.
the Congress Trail
We spent a majority of that day in the Giant Forest. We also explored the museum before wandering out to Beetle Rock, which was behind the museum. Beetle Rock is a hidden gem of Sequoia NP – We literally stumbled upon it by accident. It’s a huge rock-balcony, jutting out from the mountain and overlooking the beauty of the Southern California Sierras. It was a hazy day and the clouds painted a blurry, swirly picture in the sky. We eventually returned to our site and took a short walk along Middle Fork River, a trail at the back of the campsite, behind site 14. We even took a dunk in the river, which was FREEZING – but refreshing!
Beetle Rock Lookout
On our second day, we woke up and enjoyed breakfast, coffee, and the crisp, mountain morning air with the deer family. We slowly made our way back up the mountain, enjoying every bend as though we hadn’t just seen it all the day before. We drove through the Giant Forest again – And it was still just as giant. Those trees don’t seem any smaller the second time around. We drove to Lodgepole Visitor Center, a little village in the park that is 15 minutes North of the Giant Forest. There are cabins, campsites, a general store with showers and lots of trailheads and picnic areas. We hiked to Tokopah Valley Falls, a 1.7-mile hike along a river with cliffside views of the mountains and forests, which ends in a huge, bowl of a valley with a monstrous waterfall funneling in over the rocky cliff ledges. The hike was beautiful, filled with tall, evergreen cedars; big granite boulders stacked and tumbled; crystal clear, rushing rivers of blue and green; wide open blue skies and cute little marmots scurrying around our feet the whole way. We had lunch at the base of the big waterfall and watched as a row of smaller, misty waterfalls trickled over the long ledge and into to the breeze, relaxed and letting the nature wrap us up in it’s brilliance. On our way back, we found a little natural pocket of a pool, perfect for a quick dunk. We both leapt off the edge and into the ICY COLD blue. It was FREEZING – but again, so nice and refreshing from the hot hike. It was funny to watch the faces of the hikers passing by, looking at us like crazy people. 🙂
Tokopah Valley Trail
Our Swimming Hole
We stopped by Beetle Rock again on our way back through the Giant Forest and sat there for a while, pondering life. The view from the Beetle is just spectacular – Vast, seemingly infinite, and a bit hazy around the edges, reminding me of the Blue Ridge Mountains back home. We called our families to say “Hi,” as it was the only place in the park we could find phone service.
Eventually, we moved on and ventured deeper into the Giant Forest. We arrived at Crescent Meadow around 4 PM, and instantly stumbled upon a group of deer grazing. The sun was fading and the meadow was alive with a golden glow. We rounded the bend and came to the other side of the meadow to find a massive, fallen sequoia tree reaching out splitting the meadow in two. We climbed up onto the tree and spotted a brown bear feeding in the middle of the meadow about 50 feet from us. We also came to find she was a Momma bear, as she had two of the most adorable baby bear cubs playing not far away in a little baby Pine tree. I can’t even begin to tell you how cute they were!!! I felt like I was watching two of my childhood teddy bears monkey around together, playfully climbing around the little baby bending branches, both fighting each other to be the one at the top of the tree. I was overwhelmed with these baby cubs – Even cuter than puppies! One cub would climb to the top, settle in and look around, proud to be at the top, and before he knew it the other cub would climb up and push him down and take his place. And they just kept at it, climbing up and falling off for about 30 minutes. It really was too much cuteness for anyone to handle…You can only imagine the noises I was making, with Brad shushing me so I wouldn’t ruin it.
the adorable baby bears!!!
As everyone was quietly observing this once-in-a-lifetime experience, out of nowhere, came a loud, demonic “ROARR!!!” It was a distant cry, and echoed through the meadow, stopping everyone in their tracks – including the cute little bear family. We all looked around, exchanging perplexed looks. No one knew what it was. We began wondering if we all really just heard that awful sound when it came again. A deep, agonizing, terrorizing “ROAARRRRRR!” echoed from the other side of the meadow. We were stumped. All we knew was that it was getting closer and louder. The mother bear ran over to protect her cubs and whisked them away to safety, which is when I started to get scared. It got louder and louder until it sounded like it was right on top of us, and we still had no idea what or where it was.
Then, through the binoculars, Brad spotted the culprit – Brace yourself. Schlepping down the pathway came some zombie-looking child/man – And I’m not trying to be mean, really, but this person/monster looked like he had vampire eyes and rigamortis limbs, and was flinging himself awkwardly along the path, yelling deep demonic cries at the top of his lungs!!! I was terrified. All my Walking Dead fears were finally catching up with me. He proceeded to stomp and yell and zombie-shuffle through the meadow, totally ruining our quiet, precious moment with the adorable bear family. I’m still not sure whether it was a person or monster, and equally confused whether it was a mentally disabled person or just someone being an ass hole? It still makes me shudder to think about. One thing is for sure, it is something I will absolutely never forget – the bears, the beauty AND the beast.
We left the meadow, feeling frustrated and confused, and ventured up the mountain a bit further towards Moro Rock. 6,720 feet of solid rock, big and protruding far above the tree tops and into the sky. We made the scary climb, zig-zagging our way up and around the narrow passageways. I didn’t know I was afraid of heights until this hike. I cowered the whole way up, trying to convince Brad with every step that we had gone far enough and could go back down. However, once we arrived to the top of the rock, it was a 360 degree panoramic view of Sequoia National Park. I spun slowly in a circle, trying to take it all in – From the snowy mountain peaks in the distance, through the multi-level forests composed of Sequoias and Redwoods, reaching across the rivers and valleys and expanding out to the dry, desert flatlands and beyond. It. Was. Incredible!!! The sun was setting and it was just so lovely from up there. We sat up on the top of the rock for hours and listened to the birds fluttering rapidly through the sky, humming and whipping around, lost in the clouds and the great expanse of the open sky. After a while, I got used to the height and finally felt like I could relax….that is until it got darker and we had to climb back down.
Top of Moro Rock
We could see the road we took from Potwisha Campground
to the Giant Forest from the top of Moro Rock
We made it back to the campsite that night and made Mushroom Risotto for dinner, with animal crackers for dessert. We fell asleep, peacefully under the Sequoias and the stars for the last time. That night, the moon was so big and full and bright it woke both of us. The next morning, we would pack up camp and head North another 4-5 hours, en route to the #1 choice on both of our bucket lists: The majestic, Yosemite National Park.
There is SO MUCH to do between Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Parks! Our adventures really only scraped the surface. The following morning on our way to Yosemite, we drove North through the rest of Sequoia NP and into King’s Canyon NP. It was gorgeous and strewn with panoramic views of earth and water and sky. Next time we go, I’d like to river raft through King’s Canyon and check out a couple waterfall hikes there. I’d also like to go back and hug all my newfound Sequoia friends, amazing life forms I will always think of fondly. Out-of-this-world love for those Sequoias (and, let’s be honest, all trees). Mark my words – Tent Girl will be back!!!
King's Canyon National Park
Stay tuned for Yosemite, one of our favorites. And while you’re at it, go hug a tree, too. 🙂
xoxo, Tent Girl