With our bicycles snug on their sparkling new rack, we motored south, then east, to Kings Canyon National Park. Our ultimate destination was Las Vegas, and the plan was to wend through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks on the way… a tree-tour-detour.
I’ve written previously, ad nauseam really, about the awe we’ve experienced walking among and connecting with these earthly giants. So, I’ll spare you from more adjectives and let the photos speak for themselves…
General Grant Tree
I’m sure all of our photos from this odyssey have been most capable of speaking for themselves all along. (Sigh)
Yet, I write on.
In honor of our last hours with the giants, here are some factoids that Trey recorded:
The General Sherman Sequoia is considered the world’s largest living tree by volume; it towers approximately 275 feet; and its base circumference is just shy of 103 feet
Redwood bark can get up to 12 inches thick, while sequoias’ bark can expand outwards 31 inches
Redwoods typically grow taller, but sequoias weigh more due to the girth of their trunks and branches
The base of sequoia branches can be 40 feet in diameter stretching out to 8 feet in diameter… sequoia’s main branches look more like trees!
Sequoias tend to live longer than redwoods, about 3,500 vs 3,000 years
Highway 198, also known as Generals Highway, led us away from the giants and out of Sequoia National Park.
We’d left Carmel-by-the-Sea for Yosemite National Park without plans for where we’d sleep for the next three nights. Securing a campground reservation had proven impossible, so our shaky plan B was to show up, stand in line, and hope there’d been a last minute cancellation.
As we detoured across California to avoid wildfires, the hours passed into late afternoon and we grew even less confident that shaky plan B was the way to go. Still, we progressed forward and climbed closer to Yosemite’s south entrance as the sun fell below the surrounding mountains. Three miles out, we came upon what appeared to be a forest oasis — a beautiful lodge.
It also appeared to be way outside of our budget, but it had spoken to both us. As we passed it, Trey and I looked at each other and in silent agreement, Trey turned the Escape Mobile around and headed back, “It can’t hurt to check it out.”
The Tenaya Lodge was definitely a splurge, but Trey and his baby blues secured a hefty discount, making it doable. Walking in without a reservation proved to us once again that, “The Universe is on our side!”
Yosemite National Park
With only two days to explore Yosemite we planned to cram in as much as possible. We hadn’t previously visited the park, but, based on everything we’d heard, we had high expectations.
Bicycles in tow, we twisted northward along Hwy 41 toward Yosemite Valley. I thought the scenery was nice, but wondered, why all the hype? That is until a sharp curve led us into a tunnel and we emerged on the other side to this view…
I wish there was a word for when everything you thought you knew gets thrust into proper perspective by unimaginable beauty and grace — those moments when you only feel humility and gratitude for the honor of the experience.
It would have to be a particularly full, bold word, one that rolls off the tongue, such as flumgustered or hyperevoluted. Well, I guess there is wonderstruck, but no; I was flumgustered to tears, my conscious was hyperevoluted as I grasped the immense power of nature’s mass and force.
We had a full day of exploring ahead, but the “Tunnel View” beckoned us to stay. So spying a trailhead above the parking lot, we headed up Inspiration Point Trail for a higher vantage. The 1.3 mile path provided even more magic: flying squirrels soared across the trail in front of us; mosaic pine tree trunks enticed us upwards…
and massive madronas painted the pathway with white blooms and redbrick limbs.
The path to Inspiration Point is steep but the views are truly inspiring and worth the climb.
By the time we left the Tunnel View area and arrived in Yosemite Valley we were famished, so we shared a generous bowl of chicken rigatoni at the majestic Ahwahnee Lodge.
Our bicycle tour was delayed further as we stuck around the Ahwahnee parking lot to gawk at freestyle climbers inching their way up Washington Column.
With its 12 miles of pathways, Yosemite is perfect for exploring by bicycle.
The remaining afternoon was spent peddling the length of the valley, crossing historic stone bridges…
…and stopping for short hikes through meadows and up to Lower Yosemite Falls, which was almost a trickle.
Free climber up Lower Yosemite Falls
The afternoon’s highlight was spotting a momma bear and her cubs loading up on ripening apples in preparation for the approaching winter.
California was in extreme drought, this was evident on the drive from Carmel, and it was obvious throughout Yosemite Valley.
The Merced River was barely flowing and the mountain creeks feeding it were bone dry. That, however, did not take away from the beauty of Yosemite.
The sun’s descent was progressing as we re-secured our bicycles to the back of the Escape Mobile — a timing that we hadn’t planned, but was perfect for sidetracking up Glacier Point Road.
The drive-in-and-out road is just shy of 16 miles (each way). It cuts up from Wawona Road (Hwy 41) just south of Tunnel View, and twists deep into the wilderness. (We spotted what appeared to be a wolf on the drive up, and a coyote on the return trip.)
The sunset panoramas were spectacular as was the view of the valley below. From the height of Glacier Point one easily sees how and where ancient monster glaciers cut through mountains to carve out the valley.
We hadn’t anticipated the bonus of the setting sun’s colors reflecting off the eastern rocky cliffs.
We stood mesmerized, flumgustered, until we noticed stars beginning to dot the darkening sky.
We secured ourselves among boulders a safe distance away from the mountain’s ledge and watched as the stars slowly painted the sky. We also noticed mysterious lights appearing one-by-one on the face of half-dome… climbers tethered to its ledges for the night.
As blackness fell over us, we hoped to see the milky way. However, due to a significant decrease in temperature coupled with the realization that we had no flashlight for the half-mile rocky trek back to the car, we decided to follow another couple down from the observation deck. (They had a flashlight.)
We’d already fallen in love with the giants of Redwood National Park, but had yet to experience the noble Sequoias.
A planned short hike through Mariposa Grove turned into an all-day 8-mile journey.
With soft intent we strolled through the grove, communing with the giants along the way.
The grove was declared as “Mariposa Grove” after a couple of white dudes, Galen Clark and Milton Mann, happened upon it in 1857.
However, evidence of indigenous people occupying the area dates back 3,000 years; Grizzly Giant would have been a mere sapling.
The Universe is on Our Side… Again
A reversing incident in Yosemite had somewhat destabilized our bicycle rack. So before heading to Kings Canyon National Park, Trey tightened each bolt and balanced the rack securely enough to make it the 60 miles to Fresno. (We had assumed that Fresno was the closest city large enough to have a proper bike shop.)
We’d traveled only 14 miles, to the tiny town of Oakhurst, when the rack’s arm flailed backwards and dangled our bikes sideways a few feet above the pavement. We immediately pulled into a parking lot and checked for phone service. Two bars allowed me to search for the nearest bike shop.
Gmaps seemed to be confusing our location with that of the nearest bike shop, so I looked up and around for assurance. Right there in the same parking lot, and directly in front of where our bikes had nearly crashed to the road, was Yosemite Bike & Sport. It wouldn’t open for another 10 minutes, but we walked over to the store front anyway to check out the shop while we waited.
Driving through terra incognita and having one’s bicycle rack deconstruct directly in front of the only bike shop within in a 60-mile radius is magical enough. Right? Well, not this day. As we approached the store’s display window we couldn’t believe what we saw… our exact bicycle rack sat new, fully assembled, and ready for use. (And no, it wasn’t a common brand or model.)
After four days of non-stop escapades in San Francisco, Carmel-by-the-Sea was the perfect travel oasis!
Carmel, which it is commonly referred as, was ideal for rejuvenating while basking aside the Pacific…
resting through peaceful strolls (and daily naps)…
and reconnecting to ourselves and the Universe through the surrounding beauty and serenity.
After a murky, foggy, twisty drive down Hwy 101, we arrived in Carmel exhausted and a bit stressed. Upon stepping out of the Escape Mobile, we immediately felt the city’s calming energy relax over us and welcome us with this view…
Once settled into our hotel, we walked to the nearest restaurant, Casanova for an amazing Italian dinner complete with romantic ambiance…
another welcoming gift from the Universe…
Morning arrived with temperate ocean breezes and a gorgeous cloudless sky.
So of course, we walked straight to the beach where watched a pod of dolphin fishing along the shore…
and a scattering of humans out for their morning walks.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is small and picturesque, a perfect town to explore by foot and bicycle so the Escape Mobile remained parked for the duration of our stay.
We bicycled to the southern edge of town to the Basilica of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, the second of California’s 21 missions.
The Carmel Mission was dedicated as a basilica in 1797, and is the fourth and last basilica we visited on our six-month U.S. tour. It was also the most humble – the one we sensed as the most authentic and sacred.
The grounds and structures are modest and peaceful and while we arrived too late for a tour, Trey and I enjoyed the special gift of watching the setting sun’s light play off the basilica’s chapel and gardens.
Near Carmel Mission, there’s access to parks, beaches, and several hiking trails including some that climb up and along the rocky shoreline. Since we were on bicycles, we opted to enjoy the views and laugh at grazing sheep instead.
Everything about this area is charming!
We loved exploring Carmel’s art galleries, streets, and its unique mix of architecture and styles, from streamlined cliff-side mansions to adorable tiny cottages.
Even our hotel was cute…
Our second morning relaxing at the beach was cut short after cutting my foot on a piece of driftwood buried in the sand.
It wasn’t a terrible cut, but bad enough to avoid exposing it to sand and ocean bacteria. Following a generous slab of antibiotic ointment, a wrap, and elevating it for an hour, my foot was well enough for the next venture… the wine circuit.
Nearby Carmel Valley is home to thriving vineyards. Conveniently, many wineries also have tasting rooms in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We spent the afternoon sampling wines and bought five bottles: a red blend and Barbera from Silverstri; a Pinot Gris and Pino Nior from Manzoni; and a rosé from Dawn’s Dream.
Carmel Valley wines are excellent! We are not aficionados, but it’s our opinion that they can hold their own against California’s top rated regions.
In addition to Casanova’s mentioned above, we enjoyed several other great food experiences. For dinner, Flaherty’s Seafood Grill was recommended by some fellow travelers from Australia and did not disappoint. Jack London’s Pub has since closed, but its onion rings were some of the best we’ve eaten.
And Em Le’s for breakfast was as quaint as is was good, but sadly it has also since closed.
Out of necessity, out last morning in Carmel was spent doing laundry and packing & shipping wine home to Austin.
A fire along CA Hwy 140 required us to change our route and add a 70-mile detour through Fresno in order to access or next destination…
The “Redwood Forest” is a patchwork of federal and state parks along California’s northern coastline.
Together, they’re a UNESCO World Heritage site with joint missions to manage and preserve the remaining old growth forests. Before effective efforts to protect the giant redwoods were established, logging had wiped out 70% of them. Yes, 70%!
Arriving at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, located in the northern end, we’d officially traveled from the gulf stream to the redwoods.
Being surrounded by new growth trees and thick underbrush provided our campsite some privacy. And for me, senses of comfort and safety came with sleeping among the giants.
We spent our afternoon exploring the campground and forest. Trey and I had previously encountered a few giants – a young transplanted sequoia in Victoria’s Butchart Gardens, and firs around Mount Rainier and Mount Olympus – but those trees did not prepare us for the magnitude, majesty, and grace of the old growth redwoods.
It was love at first sight!
The park’s campground sits alongside the Smith River.
Being September, it was unlikely we’d catch a trout or salmon, so we didn’t purchase licenses. Instead, each evening we walked along the riverbank, admiring river rocks and wildlife, and keeping an eye out for bears.
While Stout Memorial Grove is near the campground—it sits just across the river—the old growth grove is not easily accessible by car. The grove is off a narrow dirt road about two miles from the main highway, US 199.
Because of its isolation, we had the grove mostly to ourselves. Taking a loop trail and then a break-off trail down to the river, we walked among the giants…
and basked in our quiet communion.
We were thrilled to come across another banana slug because 1) they’re awesome!, and 2) we missed photographing the first one we spotted in our campground.
Leaving the grove, we continued down the dirt road, Howland Hill Road, into the community of Crescent City.
We highly recommend this drive! In all, it’s only about six miles, but allow plenty of time for winding through the giants, braking and backing for passing cars, and stopping for photos.
Once in Crescent City, we shared a beer and filled up with good Tex-Mex at Perlita’s before heading back to camp for the evening. The sky was overcast, but the chance for rain was only ten percent.
Claps of thunder woke us at midnight followed by a downpour that continued through the night. Though dry inside, by 6:00 a.m. our tent’s floor felt more like a waterbed.
Stepping out to go to the bathroom before breaking camp, we discovered our shoes had floated away with the small stream running thru our campsite and under our tent. We found them in the brush behind the tent, then packed up our soaking selves and threw our gear into the Escape Mobile to leave.
Still raining, we took refuge in The Chart Room, a seafood restaurant that happened to be open for breakfast. The rustic restaurant sits on a narrow peninsula dividing Crescent Harbor and the Pacific Ocean, and its windows provide great views of both.
As we ate, we watched a sea otter catching his breakfast and frolicking in the calm harbor, while across the restaurant, we saw 10-foot waves crashing over the levy onto the road.
Driving south down the coastline on U.S. 101, the waves continued roaring just off the highway. Before reaching the cutoff to our detour to Redding, we stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Nature Grove.
The first First Lady from Texas played an active role in the conservation and beautification of many of our nation’s natural treasures, including a section of the Colorado River that runs through Austin. Of course we had to stop!
The rain let up as we arrived, but we’d trekked only a quarter mile and had taken a couple of photos before it started pouring again. Still, a great departing experience and perfect location to say goodbye to the lovely giants.
This is a record of Trey & Martha's 2014 U.S. travel adventures