Although we’re staying in the closest town to the entrance of Sequoia, it’s still quite a windy trek to get up there. Thankfully the Visitor Center is close to the entrance so we spent some time in there, exploring the displays and chatting with the Rangers about road closures and incoming weather.
It’s incredible to think that we’ve spent a lot of the last month at elevations of 7,000ft and seen some snow but not too much, here, at those elevations, they still have at least 6ft of snow in some areas and plenty more coming in. As with everywhere else this year, they were commenting that this has been a particularly bad winter. They had checked last year’s temperatures and they were up to 90° this week, not so this year! A storm was fast approaching for Tuesday evening, so we decided to come back in the following day to ensure we saw the important sights, before snow potentially closed the roads.
The drive from the Visitor Center is insanely windy and zig-zags up the mountain, taking you from 3,000 to 7,000ft in about 20, slow, miles! It really wasn’t practical to drive any faster than the posted 25mph speeds; the road was SO bendy and narrow. We made a couple of stops on the way up to our destination of the General Sherman tree, to look at Tunnel Rock (crazy huge rock just hanging between two areas) and Hospital Rock (so named because one of the first explorers was wounded and then cared for here).
Driving through the sequoia trees on the way up was quite an experience, they are enormous! These trees are some of the biggest on earth, by sheer volume. The General Sherman is the biggest in the world, some are taller, some are wider but by wood amount, this takes top honors. It is estimated to be 2,200 years old. Bizarrely, it is actually dead on top (still 275 feet tall though!) but still happily continues to grow outwards each year (sadly, Dave and I can sympathize – growing out, rather than up….!). Every year it grows enough new wood to make a 60 foot tall tree of usual proportions. Its circumference is nearly 103 feet, even if all six of us joined hands and stretched around it, we wouldn’t come close to meeting up – amazing.
To walk out to it, you have to go ‘through’ a fallen sequoia. A section has been tunneled through sideways; I didn’t even have to duck to go through it. There was so much snow still on the pathway and by taking the path to the far overlook – definitely one that not many people had taken – we really were walking on a good couple of feet of packed snow. At the overlook sign, we could barely see the sign as it was on the same level as our feet, the snow was so high!
On that trail, there was also a slab of cut-through tree trunk on display which we could touch and get close to. We could clearly see the rings and fire scarring the tree had experienced throughout its, obviously, very long life. The kids had learned that the tree grows better in a wetter season than a drier one and that the rings are therefore thicker on wetter-growth years – how cool for us to actually be able to see that. Also the sequoias need fires to get rid of the ‘fluff’ and assist in germinating their seeds. All the trees we saw had some kind of fire scarring, even within the slab, it was easy to see.
We passed through two towering sequoias on the path and were able to touch their bark and feel how soft their ‘fluff’ is, it’s almost like fur. The bark is also very springy and spongy which was a definite surprise, not at all what you would expect from such a solid looking tree!
We had been told by the Ranger, the day before, that there was still good sledding opportunities out on the hills a little further up from the General Sherman in the Wolverton area. There was absolutely no way the kids were passing up an opportunity to get out in the snow on their sleds, so we were fully kitted out in as much suitable clothing as we could find (there are no snowpants or ski wear with us on this trip!). Those sleds we got for the sand have been well worth the effort of schlepping them across the country, talk about getting your money’s worth!
As we got out of the car, a light ice-rain began to fall, they were undeterred. We found a great little hill, still very well covered with reasonably tightly packed snow, although we did lose our feet a few times to our knees – Nate was fine, clearly we are not as light-weight as he is. Dave and I located a huge pine tree at the bottom, from where we could observe the kids and still gain a little shelter from the ice, now coming down quite quickly.
The kids had a BLAST! They trudged up the hill and whizzed down, flipped off, wiggled, it was hysterical watching them. Within minutes, they were absolutely drenched and as the sled path led them to the tree, under which there was no snow, only mud and they were rocketed out, they were also covered in mud. All I could think as I watched them was, thank goodness there’s a washing machine in the camper! I never worry about them getting dirty, of course, I wouldn’t want to be getting that muddy, but if it’s fun for them, then go ahead, don’t let me stop you, I’ll deal with the aftermath later!
We eventually had to beg them to stop, after many, ‘just one mores’; we were cold just looking at them! As part of their Junior Ranger program, they were required to collect a bag of trash. There was, sadly, so much around that we loaded three of the sleds with litter and took photos. The program had requested that the litter be brought in but we figured the Rangers really wouldn’t appreciate receiving all that we’d collected and a photo would suffice, plus we had no plans to hold that much trash for another day! It is such a shame that anyone thinks it’s OK to leave things for others to pick up – good lesson for us all.
So, back down the twisty roads we went, past the Four Guardsmen (a quartet of sequoias), with the kids stripped down to T-shirts and covered in dry sweatshirts and blankets, I’m not quite sure why we didn’t think to bring a change of clothing, most unlike us! We laughed as we stopped at the Eleven Peak Overlook – it was raining so hard and we were in the clouds that we could just about make out the closest peak, we would’ve had no idea there were eleven out there unless we’d read it!
As we rounded one of the hundreds of corners, Dave said, “Is that a deer?”, as we got a little closer, we both said, “Nope, that’s a BEAR!” He slowed right down (an added bonus of being in the park at 8pm in the rain, not so very busy!) to a stop and we were able to sit and watch the black bear (they come in all colors, this one was a cinnamon color but they’re still referred to as black bears) munch on grass by the side of the road, unconcerned by our presence – we stayed in the car of course. After a few minutes, it ambled across the road and meandered along the grass verge past the car, wow, wow, wow, so cool to see an animal like this up close in the wild; we were all gazing out the windows in silence.
When we showed pictures to the Rangers the next day, they said we were pretty lucky, not many people get to see one in the Park, despite how many live there. Much of Sequoia is designated Wilderness Area, probably about 90%, so the bear population tend to stay in the Wilderness areas and rarely venture where there are people and vehicles – apparently there are about 500 bears here, so not an insignificant number wandering around out there!
We returned on Wednesday, in slightly drier conditions, to get the Junior Ranger badges. This program had a few tougher requirements than others we’ve done, one being that the older two had to write a story about the Park. I was glad to have them do this as part of their Language Arts earlier in the day and plan to submit it in their portfolio. They wrote it up really neatly and the Ranger read them both out loud, which was great – some are good about really checking what’s been completed, others just glance through – this one was thorough and I’m happy to report they did a wonderful job and were complimented on their efforts, he was especially pleased to praise them on how much litter they collected too, so a good day. While we chatted with the Rangers, the kids, once again, found a spot on the floor and read!
States visited: 49!
visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800
Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)