Having planned to stay in the area three nights, I had a whole day to spend relaxing. But a bit of “driving madness” took over and I decided that a day trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks would be a great days outing. They were east across the San Joanquin Valley and it was a bright clear day. Of course this would also satisfy my bent on eventually visiting all the National Parks in the new few years. I thought I might “bag” a couple more and get the lay of the land and answer the question of whether I would want to return someday and backpack through them. I think some observers might say this has become an obsession of mine. Especially since this is no easy drive or straight shot across, but lots of hills and low-rise mountains to negotiate. There was fantastic scenery for most of the drive, but with stops etc., it took almost four hours.
My mood began to plunge as I could observe, the closer we got, a huge bank of clouds seemed to be settled in over the Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevadas. My hope was that it would be the early afternoon storms accumulating and they would dump their load and things would clear out. I stopped at the Foothills Visitors Center for mapsI took a some pictures at the first couple of pullouts in Sequoia National Park at around 2000 ft elevation and then began ascending about 5000 feet from the foothills, up the Generals Highway.
I hit a wall of fog that was dense and made for treacherous driving on this park road that was extremely winding and curving up the mountain. It probably can go without saying but I will say it anyway, I never saw any more of the canyon that I spent four hours getting too. One positive thing I can say about the fog is, it quelled my vista hopping and prevented me from taking 1000 pictures over the several mile drive.
The main positive experience was seeing the gargantuan Sequoias reaching for the heavens. I felt so diminutive in this grove of elders and was grateful to be able to take the Big Trees Trail through the Giant Forest and gaze at the General Sherman, the worlds largest living tree. As the weather was so miserable and cold, I felt ok leaving the dogs in the car for the 30 minutes. There is something so awe inspiring about these massive hulking stout giants – many of which have survived fires and everything else mother nature has shown at them. To me it would be an egregious crime to allow logging and cutting of these grand old guardian of the forest.
At the northern end of Sequoia National Park I had to make a decision . Should I be rational and turn left and head back to Pinnacles NP or should I choose the irrational and hope that by driving down into Kings Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the US, the shroud of fog might be high enough that the lower reaches of the canyon would be visible. I bet on the absence of that gray scrim and that I might get a glimpse of the canyon walls. I new Kings Canyon also had some of the largest tree in the world. It was now 5 o’clock and I would have about 1 1/2 hours daylight for the 60 mile round d trip. I knew if I did not go I would be very disappointed in my self now that I was there so I headed east. The first stop was at the majestic General Grant sequoia, looming 267.4 feet up into the fog. It is noted as being the third largest living thing in the world. It was another giant ancient guardian of the forest . Then Another short but quite spiritual path circled this grove with numerous large relatives of the general residing. I was the road again and as I lost elevation and started going down, down, down the canyon, the walls began to appear and soon there were good views of the canyon and the South Fork of the Kings River.
I am sure with the sunlight to highlight its land forms it would be quite a bit more spectacular but with the grayness and the sky darkening, the walls seem lifeless and devoid of the lively shading and shadows created by the sunlight. But never-the-less it was a wonderful adventure and of course one that took until dark settled in to reach the bottom and the dead end of the road. So I had another exciting driving adventure coming out of the canyon on this very dark, relatively narrow winding and curving road. There was an occasional car on the road so I didn’t feel totally alone out there. By the time I reached the exit it was now 7:30 and I had minimally a three and a half hour drive back, if I took some interstates so I succumbed to expediency and the desire to be home by 11:00. It was Friday evening and a bit of a shock to pull into the campground, see a full sign, and then wind my way back to my campsite, seeing every site occupied. On the he previous 2 days I was there, it was probably only 20% occupied. I can’t say that it was noisy but there was a generalized low murmur of voices about. I missed the total quiet and solitude of the previous days.