Wednesday, June 30, 2010
On Day 8 of a 16 day epic trip, we arrived at Sequoia National Park in California. By this point, we have driven almost 2,000 miles and had spent 3 days at the beach and 2 days at some of California's theme parks. It was time for a little relaxation and enjoying the great outdoors. This was to be the first trip to Sequoia by anyone in the family. We had no idea what to expect apart from seeing some of the largest trees in the world.
We arrived from the south, through Bakersfield. Of the nearly 2,000 miles we had driven to this point, about 1,900 of it had been through various parts of the desert that is the great Southwest United States. The sudden emergence of pine forest was a welcome sight. Equally as welcoming was the cooler temperatures. We went from 100 degrees in Bakersfield to 68 at our home for the next 4 days in the Lodgepole Campground. Overnight lows, in June, were expected to be mid-30's to lower 40's with daytime highs in the low to mid 70's. The perfect camping weather.
We arrived later than we had planned, requiring a fast camp set up in the dark, along with a mad dinner prep. Having done this many times over the past 10 or so years, our family has learned to work well with each other. Everyone knows their assignments and carries them out quite well. My oldest son, Fire Man, is responsible for setting ablaze the camp fire and preparing the grill for some well deserved meat. My wife, daughter and oldest son take care of setting our tents up, a two-man and a four-man tent. I offload all of the gear and distribute to the appropriate family members while I also prepare the dinner. The two little guys, are responsible for playing and staying out of the fire. They also help carry small gear and setting up the camp chairs. Within about an hour, the gear is unloaded, the tents are erected and dinner is almost ready to be eaten. This same ritual will be replayed a few days later when we arrive around the same time on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
After dinner, we had the chance to meet our neighbors, who kindly provided us with some firewood for the evening, until we could get some from the store the next day. They were a kind family from San Diego, up for a few days. They had brought their dogs with them, which I had concerns about, but the dogs proved to be very well behaved and caused no issues.
Prior to turning in for the evening, we started what would be the nightly ritual of loading everything with a scent into the campground-provided bear box. As we would find out over the next few days, there is a fairly substantial bear population in Sequoia National Park. And as these are siblings of the Yosemite Bears, there are strict regulations that must be followed to protect you and the bears.
The next morning, we awoke to a brisk 40 degree morning, it was 35 overnight. My morning ritual began with getting water boiling for tea and coffee and starting a campfire to warm my troop when they would arise. Our plan for the day was to go on a hike near General Sherman's Tree, the largest tree in the world, through the Giant Forest and then determine if we wanted to make it a loop or come out and take the shuttle back to the car. After breakfast, we gathered the gear and the kids and headed to the trailhead.
From the Sherman Tree Parking lot, we would descend a couple hundred feet in a half-mile to the General Sherman Tree. We had seen several of the Giant Sequoia trees coming in, but this one is massive. It doesn't come into perspective until you place something of known size next to it.
We continued down the Congress path through several groves of Sequoias, including the Senate and the Presidents. We stopped for lunch underneath the Senate grove. Continuing on after lunch, we headed towards Circle Meadow and the Bears Bathtub, where we encountered our first bear. It was a cub, playing and eating in the meadow.
You can see in this picture, we were close enough. The boys kept trying to get closer, but we pulled them back. Knowing this was a cub, I surmised that Momma couldn't be too far behind, so I directed us away from the bear and up onto a ridge away from the meadow where we would meet the trail on the other side of the meadow. As soon as we got up high enough on the ridge and around a grove of trees, we spotted Momma Bear, right on the trail. She spotted us, let us know she was there and that she didn't want us any closer, but stayed put. We went about our business and carried forth. Definitely an exciting first day. We would spot several more bears in meadows, but none as close as this pair.
After about 3.5 miles, we arrived at the Crescent Meadow parking lot. Everyone had had enough excitement and danger for the day, so we caught the next shuttle back to the parking lot. Although, the shuttle driver added to our danger and excitement by driving well over the posted speed limit around the many curves through the park.
Back at the Lodgepole Campground, we made a stop into the Lodgepole Village Store. If you ever come to Sequoia and camp here, I definitely recommend a stop in the store. They have quite a variety of items including a full grocery store, camping gear, souvenirs, beer and wine and firewood, something we were in desperate need of. We purchased some kindling and firewood and ice and went back to the campsite to start preparing dinner and turn in for the evening.
On Day 3 in Sequoia, we planned a hike up to Tokopah Falls. The trailhead leaves directly from the Lodgepole Campground. This is a moderate out-and-back hike, 1.7 miles each way with an elevation gain of probably 500-700 feet. The payoff is a giant waterfall at the back of Tokopah Valley.
The trail starts with a fairly strenuous stretch of switchbacks up a series of rock outcroppings alongside the roaring Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. We stopped many times to look at various waterfalls and rapids along the way. The kids found many different species of lizards on the trail as well. About halfway up, we started finding large patches of snow, which the kids loved to jump and play on.
At the end of the Valley, we stopped in front of Tokopah Falls for lunch on a large boulder within the Mist from the waterfall. The temperature dropped probably 10-15 degrees from the trail to the point where we took this picture. It was a terrific place for a picnic lunch.
After powering up with some protein and chocolate, we headed back the way we came. We stopped to filter water once on the way down. The kids enjoy using my water filter and drinking "Glacier Water". Near the end of the trail, we stopped to take a break. Everyone was exhausted and leaned on Daddy.
We arrived back at camp with enough time to explore the area near our campsite. The Lodgepole Campground is a wonderful area. There are plenty of trees to shade your sites. They have full-hookups for trailers, they have semi-primitive and primitive campsites as well. All are near the Marble Fork and are all near the Lodgepole Village, which includes a visitor center, store, post office and public showers. I would highly recommend this as a spot to camp any time you come to Sequoia.
The next morning, we were to pack up and head out after 4 nights, 2 short days and 2 great long days of exploring. This is definitely on the list of places to come back to.
Next stop, a short visit to Yosemite National Park.