Road Trip Day 22: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Today, to celebrate Dave’s 31st birthday, the two of us and my mom went up to the Sierra Nevada mountains to visit the giant sequoias.

From Fresno, we took Highway 180 east, up the foothills and into the mountains. It took about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, to get to the park. We entered Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which are essentially all one park, at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center.

General Grant TreeThe first place we went when we entered the park was Grant Grove, which features the General Grant tree. According to the signs in the park, this is the third largest living tree in existence (though info available online suggests it is now #2). We walked the loop trail in Grant Grove, which also includes a number of giant sequoias, including one that has been fallen for decades that visitors can actually walk through.

We then drove across the park on the Generals Highway. We stopped a couple of times at overlooks to admire the vistas of the high sierra and the expansive sequoia groves. About halfway across the park, we got stopped due to construction. It turned out that the road was completely torn up and closed, except once an hour. We arrived at 1:30 pm, and the next time they would open the road would be at 2 pm. There was not much else do to but wait. I took a little cat nap while Dave went and talked to the flagger and Mom read the park newsletter. As promised, the road opened at 2 pm. Driving through the construction, we could certainly see why they didn’t have any way to allow through traffic while they were working – in places the road was nothing but a big mud pit with bulldozer tracks in it.

Not long afterward, we arrived at Lodgepole Visitor Center and had lunch at the snack bar. We ate at a picnic table outside, where the weather was sunny and a perfect temperature – probably in the 80s. We poked around in the Visitors Center (the exhibits were very dated) and then continued along the road.

Jenn at the General Sherman TreeJust a little further down the road was the park’s other main attraction, the Giant Forest, which is home to the General Sherman tree. The trail is somewhat steep, but well paved and marked, and of course teeming with visitors. The trail begins at approximately the height of the tree (about 275 feet) and winds down the hill into the heart of the grove. There are wonderful views at various points of the tree, and of course at the bottom you can walk all the way around it. We walked around the grove, admiring the other large sequoias, and spent some time pondering the hugeness of Sherman.

The giant sequoias are quite impressive. After visiting the Giant Redwoods and the Giant Sequoias in a short timeframe, we can’t help but make comparisons. The redwoods are more elegant and tall, while the sequoias are rugged and massive. The redwoods of course are much taller, while the sequoias are bigger in volume (and on average also larger in girth). The redwood groves have a serenity to them, probably because of the lack of diversity – the old-growth redwood groves are really just redwoods, ferns, and sorrel. The sequoia groves tend to have a number of other kinds of trees and undergrowth. Both are an impressive experience.

We left the Sherman tree and continued along Generals Highway for a while longer. We stopped to experience such wonders as the Auto Tree and the Tunnel Tree – throwbacks to an earlier era. We then climbed Moro Rock. It’s a large granite dome that overlooks a canyon and has a spectacular view of the high sierra. It’s a heck of a climb – 400+ stairs over a 300 foot elevation gain, ending at 6,725 feet in elevation. It was good exercise, and the view was well worth the effort.

Intending to avoid the construction road closing, we continued toward the southwestern entrance of the park, out Highway 198. That was a steep road, full of switchbacks. The great thing about owning a hybrid is that the engine was off for most of the ride – a fun glide down the hill.

Heading out of the park down Highway 198, we passed through Three Rivers, an unexpectedly picturesque foothill town. We then drove through Lake Kaweah Recreation Area, where there were some really great looking campgrounds and a lake that looked pretty inviting. Mom and I were really surprised, because it’s not that far from home, but we had no idea about it.

Fresno SunsetWe finally got home around 8:15 pm, somewhat later than we expected, but we had a great day.

To celebrate Dave’s birthday, we went out for pizza and beer with Mom, Dad, and Renae. It was relaxing, and a great way to end the day. The pizza was brought out with candles that said “3 1”, which Dave had to blow out before we could eat. =)

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