About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Cali Pt 3: Sequoia, Kings Canyon & Yosemite

National Parks-O-Rama

Monday, May 23rd
This morning around 11am I packed up and said my goodbyes to Kyle & Alida- not an easy thing to do :(  The past 99 days with them has been a priceless gift.  They are true friends that I trust with my life and I can be completely myself around, and I love them with all my heart.  I told teary-eyed Alida that this was not goodbye, but rather an "until we meet again," and that we would see each other before long, as time flies so fast.  It really does.

I can't believe that on this date one year ago I set off on this crazy adventure around the country.  I've made so many wonderful memories and friendships, and reconnected with old friends.  I'm so grateful for this trip.  It's one of the best decisions I've ever made.

It was a beautiful drive from Alida's on I-5; I passed orchards, desert mountains, and orange, poppy-dotted hills.  Around 3:45pm I entered at Sequoia National Park.  "This landscape testifies to nature's size, beauty, and diversity – huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees!"  I handed the gate attendant my America The Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass and saved myself the $20 vehicle entrance fee, and stopped at the nearby Foothills Visitor Center to get some info on hiking trails, parks highlights, etc., and began my visit with a short 1/4-mile hike down to Indian Head River.  I snapped a few photos and took a drive up the curvy, cliff-side "General's Highway," before pitching my tent on site 25 at Buckeye Flat campground.  I got a little "caution for black bears" warning from the camp host, then went for a hike on Paradise Creek Trail, whose trail-head is located right inside the campground.  The trail parallels Paradise Creek, over Middle Creek Bridge, passing pretty wildflowers, waterfalls and swimming holes.

At night I met Tim from Illinois, when I asked him and his dad for some lighter fluid.  Tim gave me the leftovers from their DuraFlame starter log, and then he joined me at my campfire a little while later.  We got really personal, talking about religion, sexuality, politics, etc.  We hung out at the edge of the raging creek just down from my site.

Tuesday, May 24th
This morning I packed up my tent and Tim came and wished me well and told me he'd refer me for a job at Apple once my trip is over!  I took General's Highway north, stopping at Hospital Rock to view the ancient red pictographs on this site that was "once home to nearly 500 Native Americans belonging to the Potwisha sub-group of the Monache, or Western Mono, Indians. Archeological evidence indicates that Indians settled in this area as early as 1350."

View from the base of Moro Rock
I followed the line of cars (roadwork delays) into the Giant Forest area, my first stop on this 3-mile road was at "Auto Log.  Early visitors to the Giant Forest often had difficulty comprehending how big the giant sequoias are. To help give a sense of their size, a roadway was cut into the top of this fallen tree. Due to rot in the log, cars can no longer drive on it, but it remains an interesting historic feature."  I walked over to the Bear Hill Trail, and checked out "Colonel Young Tree."  The tree is massive, and isn't doesn't even make it onto the park's list of "30 Largest Giant Sequoias."

Then I visited awesome Moro Rock.  I ascended the steep, 1/4-mile staircase that climbs over 300' (91.4 meters) to the summit of the granite dome, which gave way spectacular views of the western half of Sequoia National Park and the Great Western Divide.  The panoramic views were breathtaking.

I stopped to snap a photo of 2,300 year-old "Buttress Tree," which without warning fell in June of 1953.  I checked out the trees known as the "Parker Group, considered one of the finest clusters of sequoias which can be reached by automobile," before driving through the "Tunnel Log.  Sequoia and Kings Canyon have never had a drive-through tree. The Wawona Tunnel Tree, the famous "tree you can drive through", grew in the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite National Park, 100 air-miles north of Sequoia and Kings Canyon. It fell over during the severe winter of 1968-69. Visitors to Sequoia National Park can drive through a fallen sequoia, however. In December 1937, an unnamed sequoia 275' (83.8 meters) high and 21' (6.4 meters) in diameter fell across the Crescent Meadow Road as a result of "natural causes". The following summer, a Civilian Conservation Corps crew cut a tunnel through the tree. The tunnel is 8' (2.4 meters) high and 17' (5.2 meters) wide, and there is a bypass for taller vehicles."

Then I got out of the car for a hike in beautiful Crescent Meadow, where several miles and wrong turns on the snow-covered trails later, I made it to "Tharpe's Log, a fallen sequoia that provided a rustic summer home for the Giant Forest's first Caucasian resident, Hale Tharp.  I was also lucky enough to see a bear!  A great hike, though my feet were freezing.  Note to self:  Never wear crocks if there's a chance of snow!

I stopped at the Giant Forest Museum to get a load of "Sentinel Tree," which at 2,200 years-old and 700 tons (the weight of two fully-loaded jumbo jets) is considered only average for a sequoia.

I saw another black bear before hiking a 1/2-mile to "General Sherman, the "World's Largest Tree," at 274.9' (83.8 meters) tall, and 102.6' (31.3 meters) in circumference at its base, with a total of 52,500 cubic feet (1486.6 cubic meters) of wood! 

I continued hiking the 2-mile Congress Trail through the heart of the sequoia forest.  Famous sequoias along the trail include the House and Senate Groups, and the President, Chief Sequoyah, General Lee and McKinley Trees.  The most fun was walking through a section of one of these giant things!

I drove up to neighboring King's Canyon National Park, via the Scenic Byway, stopping at a few overlooks and for groceries at the market at Lodgepole Visitor Center & Village, before arriving at Azalea Campground in Grants Grove area around 7pm.

From several unoccupied sites I picked #88, pitched my tent got a fire going, and had some wine, oysters and sardines before journaling and bed.  At about 6500' elevation, versus 2800' at Buckeye Flat last night, the difference in temperature really makes a big difference.  I think it was about 10 degrees!  Thank god for my THREE sleeping bags, lol!

Wednesday, May 25th
I left my campsite at 9:30 this morning (90 minutes earlier than yesterday, woo-hoo!), and went to Grant Grove.  I spotted a couple of deer close to the road, which were nearly run over by the little park service vehicle that stormed through!  I walked around the trails of giant trees, stumps, and trees scorched by forest-fire, walked through the hollow trunks of massive fallen sequoias (awesome!), and stood in awe of General Grant tree.  With a height of 268.1', circumferences of 107.5' and cubic volume of 46,608', it's the biggest tree in King's Canyon and the third largest tree on Earth!

I drove a few miles up to Panoramic Point, which offers spectacular views of the High Sierra, but was unable to take advantage due to the several feet of snow that covered up whatever trails led to the viewpoint.  I wasn't too let down though, since was able to take in stunning views on the drive to Hume Lake, a beautiful lake with nice beaches formed by a rare and historic multiple-arch dam, and continuing on Kings Canyon Scenic Byway for stops to take in the grandeur of the water-carved canyon at Junction View (amazing views of both the Middle Fork and the South Fork of the Kings River) and Yucca Point.

Hume Lake
As I drove out of King's Canyon National Park my check engine light came on, and I called several Honda locations to check prices on diagnosing the problem, and renewed my AAA membership!

I arrived at Yosemite National Park at around 5pm via Highway 41 at the south entrance into Wawona.  There I stopped in at the Visitor Center where I felt overwhelmed by all the confusing information they gave me , and was disappointed to find that all the campsites in all the campgrounds were reserved, and the one campsite for available (Camp 4) for walk-ins was full.  I would have to arrive at Camp 4 tomorrow morning between 7-8 for a shot at getting placed at a site there, and I would have to sleep in the car tonight :(

I drove into the Yosemite Valley (the most popular district of the park), first stopping at "Tunnel View" for expansive, post-card picture views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome.

"Tunnel View" of Yosemite Valley
 I grabbed some groceries from the Village Market, then attended the ranger-led presentation on Native Americans & The National Park Service - a look at the hardships endured and continued struggle for peaceful coexistence.  Ranger Ben, a Native American himself, shed light on the treatment of Native Americans as the national park service claimed their lands, sent them to boarding schools, and paid them to dress like the Plains Indians give tourists more of a show.  He also explained common misconceptions of Native Americans.

Mist Trail
Afterward, a man named Rob from San Francisco took notice of my Chargers sweatshirt and we got to talking and he invited me over to him and Pete's campsite.  They had a fire going on probably the largest site in the whole park - a half-acre!  The three of us got acquainted and after they discovered I didn't have a site, they generously offered for me to stay at theirs! :)

Thursday, May 26th
This morning Rob fixed up a delicious grilled munster cheese sandwich and they sent me off with trail mix before I hopped the free park shuttle and hiked the "Mist Trail" up to Vernal Fall (moderate, very wet hike with 1,000' elevation gain and 600 slippery steps up a granite stairway to the top) and Nevada Fall (strenuous; another 2,000' elevation gain - a total loop of 5.8 miles, drenched with spray along the Merced River surrounded by massive granite cliffs, glacial features, and views of at least four of the valley's biggest and best waterfalls.  Yosemite instructs to allow 5-6 hours; I completed the hike in 3h45m with a pat on the back :)

I got back to the site in time for lunch, where Rob again cooked some food for me, before I set out for hike #2, the hike to the top of upper Yosemite Fall - a steep, 7.6 mile up and back trail with 2,700' elevation gain.  "One of Yosemite oldest historic trails (built 1873 to 1877), the Yosemite Falls Trail leads to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall."  I took in spectacular views from Columbia Rock, and once at the top of the falls, I took a load off and enjoyed even more stunning views of Yosemite Valley.

Lower Yosemite Falls
I made friends with James Michael from Louisiana, a ranger who just started working at Yosemite a couple weeks ago.  We got to know each other a little, and he put his ranger knowledge to work, pointing out trees as birds (like "Steller's Jay," a beautiful black and blue bird sporting a mohawk, with a very distinctive/annoying call).  Yosemite says to allow 6-8 hours to complete the hike - I charged up the mountain in 2 hours, and made it down in 90 minutes.  Yeah baby!

Afterward, Pete showed me to the free hot showers (hallelujah!), then they treated me to a fantastic dinner and '02 Shiraz, before two young, hilarious British guys from a nearby site came to provide us entertainment, lol.

Friday, May 27th
El Capitan from Yosemite Valley
This morning after yet another yummy grilled munster cheese sandwich, we all packed up and I said my goodbyes to my new friends Pete & Rob.

I went to the Visitor Center to ask about Glacier Point Road, and to my luck found that it would indeed open today!  It's usually open a lot sooner, but it's been delayed due to massive snow this year.  It would open at noon.  I walked through the back door of the visitor center to the amphitheater and watched "The Spirit of Yosemite," showing "the rare beauty of Yosemite with the historical influences that helped to create it."

Afterward I stopped at a few points of interest along the 7-mile loop around Yosemite Valley, including popular Bridalveil Fall, which with all the snow melting, was so intense you couldn't even see it through the cloud of spray at the viewpoint, which had inches of water running down the trail to it!

Half Dome from Glacier Point Road
I arrived at Glacier Point Road at about 11:30am, and took my place in one of the several lines of cars that had already formed.  At about 11:45 I watched a worker replace the "Closed" sign to "Open," and the enthusiastic crowds excitedly waited for the traffic controller to flag them up the road.  I was one of the first (yay me!) to drive up the watery tree-lined snow-banked road, stopping at Washburn Point, boasting the most breathtaking views of the high country and Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome and Vernal & Nevada Falls.  I followed the road up to the end of the line at Glacier Point Overlook, which had similar views, but added in the grande Yosemite Fall.

Then off to visit my friend Justin in Oakland!


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