Wednesday, October 6,2010 Filtered sunshine and 43 degrees in the morning; rain, thunder, hail, and wet snow in the afternoon and 35 degrees
We really enjoyed our drive from Fresno to the parks this morning. The route the GPS was sending us on didn't make sense to us, but what we saw on the way was a real bonus. We drove past miles of vineyards, orange groves, and fruit orchards. And miles is not an exaggeration. We also saw strawberry fields and raisins drying in the sun. Farm stands were open, and for a Northerner it was strange to see "summer" fruits next to "fall" vegetables and pumpkins. I think almost every fruit imaginable was available. How wonderful that must be! But we've yet to find an apple in the west we really enjoy. Honeycrisp comes close, but nothing compares to NY's Cortlands that crunch and drip juice down your chin when bitten into.
We drove into the Grant Grove VC when we arrived in Kings Canyon NP. We thought our string of bad weather had come to an end when we were able to walk the General Grant Tree Trail in filtered sunlight. This tree is a magnificent specimen of the Giant Sequoia. At 267 feet tall and 108 feet in circumference, it is one of the world largest trees and may be over 2,000 years old. It also has been designated "The Nation's Christmas Tree."
Sequoias not only are impressive in size, but I think they are one of the most beautiful trees I've ever seen. Their trunks extend many feet toward the sky before any branches can be seen, and it's almost impossible to see their crowns. The bark is smooth with large ribs, and it is a wonderful shade of red that makes them easy to identify. With all the parks we've been in and all the different types of trees we've seen on this trip, I thought I'd seen just about enough trees. But these trees are so magnificent that I could stand gazing at them for a long time.
Next we went in search of the Big Stump Trail, an area that had been logged before the park was established. All day we were very unhappy with the lack of signs in the park. There was nothing to tell us where this trail was, and we had to get directions from a ranger twice before we found it. That was when the rain and hail began. We decided stumps weren't all that exciting and took a break for lunch.
Trying to outsmart the weather, we headed into the adjacent Sequoia NP. We stopped at the the park's largest Visitor Center, Lodgepole. Again we were disappointed with the paucity of displays and information, so we left for the Giant Forest, a large grove of Sequoias. This is the home of the General Sherman Tree "considered the largest tree on the planet although it is neither the tallest or the widest. At about 2,100 years of age it is still growing. It's top is dead, but every year it adds enough new wood to make another 60 foot tree." This tree is also part of the Congress Trail, containing trees named for presidents and the House and the Senate.
Because there are so many huge trees around, it's hard to view this tree and say "Yes, this tree is the largest." It is impressive, but by this time I was so in awe of them all that I found it hard to find this one exceptional. We walked down the steep trail to The Gen. Sherman Tree and started around the Congress Trail when we decided we were cold enough and headed back to the car. I neglected to mention that when we drove into this parking area, a black bear cub was nosing around looking for something to pilfer, and a short way down the trail another was trying to hide behind a fallen log. Of course, people were going crazy taking pictures of them, but all I could think of was "where is their mother?"
To thaw out, we thought we would go to the Giant Forest Museum and then head out on the Big Tree Trail. But by the time we got there it had closed for the day, so we gave up and head out of the park. Easier said than done. As with every other park, road construction is underway. Fortunately we caught the right side of the "on the hour" one way road and only waited a few minutes. But the line of traffic behind the pilot car was extremely long, and it was a very slow trip down the mountain to the main road.
Another interesting thing today was the number of buses in the park, at least twelve. We can attest to the fact that the euro is doing well against the dollar. Throughout this whole trip we've been amazed at the number of people who come as far as they do to tour our national parks. We've talked to Brits, Australians, and Germans who are spending weeks here, traveling from park to park as well as city to city. A few times we felt that we were the foreigners when we were hearing everything but English.
From the park's website: REDWOODS OR SEQUOIAS: Redwoods thrive along the Northern California coast in the moist, humid climate, and the nearly daily fog provides them with the conditions they need to grow. Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, up to 378 feet tall, living up to 2,000 years, and reproduce by seed or sprout.
Sequoias grow on the western slope of the California Sierra Nevada Mountains between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation. They need mild year round temperatures and dry heat for their cones to open and release seeds. Giant Sequoias are the largest trees in the world with bases up to 40 feet in diameter, living up to 3,200 years, and reproduce only by seed.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Fresno, CA 99S to CA 180E into and through the parks, then CA 198S to Visalia, CA