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Iregeo Jun 19th, 2011 07:12 PM

My solo jaunt through Sequoia/Kings Canyon and Death Valley Nat. Parks
 
I spent a week visiting these three national parks on a solo roadtrip. I had an incredible time, filled with lots of hiking, natural beauty, peace and quiet. I've posted my pictures on Facebook. Here's what I did.

Day 1

I left L.A. around 8:30 a.m., and stopped for lunch in Fresno at a Basque place, the Shepard's Inn. I had a roast pork sandwich, topped with melted cheese, grilled onions and peppers. Mmmmmm.....

My first destination was Sequoia and Kings Canyon. On arrival, I oriented myself at the Visitor's Center in Grant Grove Village, and then took a short hike in Grant's Grove, taking in the General Grant tree, among the other giant sequoias. Their size is mind boggling. I was actually struck by the amount of fire damage the trees have suffered.

Next up was a drive along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. I highly recommend this beautiful drive. As I drove east, the landscape changed from forest to mountains; the weather got warmer (60's to 80's), the snow drifts melted, and the Kings River was raging!
I parked and explored the Roaring River Falls in full bloom, then hiked a few miles along the river to Zumwalt Meadow. It seemed that I was beginning to lose sunlight, as well as strength, as I had been going all day. I made my way back to the car, for the hour plus drive back to my lodging. Along the way, I stopped at the restaurant at the Grant Grove Lodge, and had a really good burger and cup of tomato bisque. What a surprise! Good service, too.

A few words about lodging...I chose to stay in the 12 room Stony Creek Lodge, about midway between the parks, and I'm glad I did. The accommodations are basic and clean, and the staff was so nice and helpful. They added to my enjoyment of the place. There's a big great room with a large stone fireplace, books, games, etc. Best of all, it was quiet, with a family of deer living in the woods behind the lodge. They serve a below average continental breakfast, which is included in the room price, and I think only pizza for dinner. It is about a half hour drive from the more upscale Wuksachi Village and Hotel, where decent dining options exist.

Another good choice would have been the even smaller Cedar Grove Lodge, which I visited during the day near the end of the scenic byway. Though not convenient if you want to visit both parks, it is in a beautiful wooded area, right next to the river. I think 2 of the rooms have riverside patios. Food options are not good, but I don't guess that's why we come here.

My last choice for lodging would be at the largest lodge right in the middle of Grant's Grove Village. While it has the best dining and shopping options, it is loud and crowded with people and automobiles.

I think I fell asleep as my head hit the pillow, following a day filled with driving, hiking and excitement.

Iregeo Jun 19th, 2011 08:39 PM

Day 2

Big day. Covered lots of ground. Started with a visit to Wuksachi and Lodgepole Villages. Made dinner reservations at the former, bought a trail map at the latter, and hit the ground running.

I drove to General Sherman's tree, the 3rd largest tree in the world, and parked my car there, hiking the remainder of the day. Note: Sequoia National Park has free shuttle bus service; Kings Canyon does not.

I took the Congress trail through the Giant Forest which is filled with, well, giant trees. The weather was beautiful, sunny and low 70's. As I got deeper into the forest, the trail became covered with a bit of snow. I got lost, as is so easy for me, and since I knew there were bears out there, I decided to seek out company. Luckily, I was adopted by a nice family of 4 who allowed me to tag along with them for the remainder of the hike through the forest. As we did, while crossing Circle Meadow on a long, wide log, we came across a single black bear grazing in the grass, and a cute beaver playing hide and seek on a neighboring log! Lot's of good photo opps here.

Anyway, my adopted family and I made our way through the forest, parting ways at Crescent Meadow. These meadows are very wet, lush and green, but I didn't see many wildflowers. I am told this is where the bears hang out at this time of year.

I continued my hike through the mountainous forest along the Sugar Pine trail, passing more beautiful trees, small waterfalls, and Crescent Creek. At the end of the trail was Moro Rock, and my long lost adopted family! We got reacquainted, and I climbed the 300+ steps winding around the mountain, and finally reached the summit at 6,725 feet. The view was breathtaking! Tall, snow capped mountains to one side, and thick green forest on the other, as far as the eye can see. You get the sense that you're on top of the world, especially your knees, as you make your way back down!

After a very full day of hiking, I was more than happy to take the shuttle bus to my car, and drove to Wuksachi for an early dinner. I had a surprisingly good salmon, and a piece of cheesecake which was served frozen.

Back to Stony Creek and fell into bed.

Iregeo Jun 19th, 2011 09:23 PM

Day 3

I got up early, and went to get something from my car. The moment I walked out the door, my eye caught the most beautiful crested blue bird. I have no idea what it was, other than beautiful. I spent the next hour or so photographing the family of deer poking around the forest behind the lodge. I knew it would be a good day.

It was time to say goodbye to Kings Canyon and Sequoia. I decided to drive by Hume Lake on my way out. Am I glad I did! I think Hume Lake is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen! Picture a natural, crystal blue lake, surrounded by sweet smelling pines, snow capped mountains in the background, all under a sunny, bright blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. I was in heaven. I pulled out my camping chair, sat and drank it in for an hour, then hit the road.

I decided to visit an old friend, his golden, Jesse, and his big black cat, Sam, in Oakhurst. Spent much of the day on his back deck overlooking a pond, watching the hummingbirds, listening to the frogs, and catching up. Dinner that night at El Cid's Mexican in town. Pretty good, pretty cheap, and really crowded. A little reading, and a good night's sleep to cap off a peacful day.

emalloy Jun 20th, 2011 02:26 AM

Great to hear you are having a wonderful time traveling on your own. Keep it up!! Thanks.

Iregeo Jun 20th, 2011 06:50 AM

Thanks, emalloy! Hopefully I'll get to finish up today.

maj Jun 20th, 2011 09:38 AM

We were there a few years ago and I felt like I was reliving it reading your descriptive trip report. Thanks for posting and enjoy the rest of your trip.

sf7307 Jun 20th, 2011 09:42 AM

It sounds wonderful - I could never do it because my sense of direction is so pitiful (I'd still be wandering around that forest looking for a way back to my car!), but it sure sounds like it was the trip you were looking for.

Iregeo Jun 20th, 2011 09:55 AM

maj, I'm so glad someone is enjoying reading this! I'm home, though. My trip was last week.

sf7307, boy, can I relate! I usually get lost, even WITH my GPS. Pitiful.

sf7307 Jun 20th, 2011 10:27 AM

Me too! It really is sad, isn't it. I've been known to ignore the GPS, even though it was right and I was wrong :-)

mlgb Jun 20th, 2011 11:22 AM

Steller's Jay?

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/stellers_jay/id

travisblue Jun 20th, 2011 12:03 PM

Great trip report and I enjoyed reading it. I always think of myself as pretty adventurous and have travelled to many capitals of the world on my own. But I don't think I'd do a trip on my own to any national parks as much as I'd love to. I get so lost (saw more of the cities that way) that I'd be scared to death to be out in a great big park on my own. And I'm SUPER clumsy, and trip & fall on a regular basis. Very sad, my doc says there's nothing wrong me...just clumsy! My hat's off to you!

Dayenu Jun 20th, 2011 02:07 PM

You are a great report writer! I'll be waiting for you to continue.

Iregeo Jun 20th, 2011 02:15 PM

mlgb, a steller's jay! That's it! While looking through the photos I took of the deer, I found that I had inadvertently photographed one of the birds. That was a nice surprise.

travisblue, I, too, love solo city travel. Heck, I love any kind of travel! I had the guts to do these national parks alone because I've successfully visited Yosemite alone many times before. The serenity I am able to achieve from these active, outdoor solo trips is unmatched. I know, however, that hiking alone is not the wisest choice. That, combined with the knowledge that bears WERE present, is why I sought out company when I lost the trail in the forest.

Iregeo Jun 20th, 2011 04:22 PM

Day 4

Today would be a long day of driving, with a few stops along the way in California's Gold Country. Destination: Death Valley. I loaded up with sunscreen, loaded the cd changer, put the top down and hit the road!

My first stop was Mariposa, a sleepy little town about an hour's drive from Oakhurst. There, I toured the historic old stone jailhouse, in use from 1858 through 1963.

Next stop, Coulterville, where I photographed the Hotel Jeffrey and the Magnolia Saloon (California's oldest operating saloon), both built in 1851. An old west style gun battle was about to begin. I passed.

Next stop, Columbia, and the Columbia State Historic Park. This little town, founded in the 1850's during the California gold rush, is now an outdoor museum, costumed employees and all, dedicated to recreating life as it was back in the day. Think old west: saloons, sasparilla, horse travel, general stores, gun toting men and bonnet clad women. It was sort of interesting, if a little kitschy. The surprise of the day...Columbia Kate's Teahouse, with excellent food, service and literally hundreds of teas to choose from. I had a savory bread pudding, a delicious iced tea that my server chose, and a homemade strawberry shortcake, made from french macarons. I was one happy camper.

Time to hit the road again. Sorry I had to miss the belching contest, scheduled for 4pm.

It was time to cross the mountain range of the Stanislaus National Forest via the Sonora Pass. It was a beautiful, snowy(10 ft. drifts), winding drive through the mountains, while the temps dropped from the 80's into the 50's. Thank goodness for seat heat, because the top never went up. It was here I learned how to downshift my automatic in order to save my brakes.

Coming out the other side, the drive continued through Mono Lake, June Lake, Mammoth Lakes, Bishop, Big Pine, and Independence, before stopping for the night at the no tell motel in Lone Pine, 75 miles from the entrance to Death Valley. The interesting thing about this drive, down the 395, are the snow capped mountains to the west, across from the dry, desert mountains to the east. Sometimes, California seems confused.

A big, thick, blood-rare filet at Season's restaurant, and I was out for the night.

Iregeo Jun 21st, 2011 01:55 PM

Day 5

Death Valley is HUGE. I had a lot of ground to cover in 2 days. With the heat, I knew I wouldn't be staying in any 1 place too long, to hike, picnic, what have you. I packed my days full, saw a lot and LOVED it!

I started the morning at Father Crowley's Point just inside the park entrance in the Panamint area. It was about 10 am and only 74* at this elevation. Nice surprise!

I parked my car and took the mile or so easy trail to the end. A beautiful, panoramic desert vista was my reward. Huge, barren mountains (lava?), punctuated only by the outline of a long, winding road in front of me; sand dunes behind me; orange/red, deep blue, yellow and white wildflowers at my feet.

Standing there completely alone, in the beautiful stillness, I experienced something for the first time in my life: PURE. SILENCE. No breeze, no birds, no humans or airplanes. It was as though someone had turned off the audio, but left on the video! I knew it was one of those special moments of a lifetime; my world is seldom quiet, let alone silent. I'll remember it always.

Next stop, Panamint Springs. It reminded me of a 1 horse town in Texas! Not much there, other than a small lodge, general store and gas pump ($5.50/gallon for 87!) Looks like a great place to stay to explore the east/north cooler part of the park. Not real convenient to the rest of the park, but small and quiet, which, on a trip like this, I prefer to convenient and crowded.

From there, I drove on to the Wildrose charcoal kilns. The paved road was lined on both sides by yellow wildflowers. I called it the yellow brick road! The last 2 miles of road are loose gravel, so getting there was painfully slow going, in my effort to try to protect the finish on my car!

Built in the 1800's, these kilns look like huge bee hives and were used to convert local wood into charcoal. They're apparantly the best preserved of their kind in the west.

Continued along to Stovepipe Wells, in nearly the center of the park. At this elevation, sea level, before noon, the temperature was into the 90's. By day's end, it was 104*.

Here, I found a camping area, motel, restaurant, general store and gas pump (only $4.50/gallon here.) Behind the motel are mountains; within view from the front, sand dunes. I chose this as my home for the next two nights.

I had half a day left to explore, and chose to make my way north to Scotty's Castle. This spanish style mansion was built in the 1920's as a winter getaway for a wealthy insurance broker from Chicago. There's a really interesting story behind it's ownership and occupation, and I took a tour of the beautiful interior and its grounds. The temperature here? A really pleasant 83*.

Before heading back to Stovepipe Wells, I stopped at Ubehebe Crater, a 600' deep hole in the ground, created over 300 years ago when the earth let off some steam. Pretty cool.

Back at home base, I had an early dinner so I would be free to photograph the sunset. I noted that there were a lot of international visitors, from all over the world. I spoke with some French, Germans, Italians and Romanians. The food at the restaurant was pretty basic...burgers, chicken, nothing fancy. I got a kick out of watching some foreign tourists photograph their burgers and fries, the way we might photgraph our fine meals when visiting Paris!

Sunset was pretty; not gorgeous as I had expected, but I'm glad I saw it. Lingered on a picnic bench to stargaze a bit, then a good book and light's out.

dbdurand Jun 21st, 2011 02:13 PM

I'm enjoying your trip report and would like to see the pictures that you have posted on Facebook. I have a Facebook page, but I don't know how to access your pictures.

Iregeo Jun 21st, 2011 02:18 PM

dbdurand, I'm proud of my photos and would love to share them with you! What's your FB name? I'll "friend" you.

dbdurand Jun 21st, 2011 02:25 PM

It's Richard Durand.

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1495825298

Iregeo Jun 21st, 2011 02:32 PM

Okay, Richard. I've sent you a friend request. I hope you enjoy the photos, and thanks for asking!

Dayenu Jun 22nd, 2011 11:58 AM

It was a wonderful trip, the photos are great. I cannot believe you did it by yourself! You are so brave.


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