Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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Getting to Sequoia National Park wasn't as straightforward as it could have been, but I had nobody to blame but myself. Basically, the decision to get there rather than stay in Death Valley until the end of the week was a hasty and unprepared one. I had never researched Sequoia NP before, and as such I contented myself with setting the route in DeLorme StreetAtlas by clicking my current location, and then clicking on a road that seemed to lead in to the park. Had I scrolled a little more to the left, I would have seen that there was a bigger road (with the official park entrance) there. But as is, GPS navigation brought me towards that little road... up some mountains, over roads ever-diminishing in size and importance. Finally, the road just ended, even though I still had miles to go. So much for the accuracy of StreetAtlas. So I backtracked, trying to circumvent the spot that I had reached before and... ended up at a gate that blocked all further progress. Presumably, the road went through private property, and I wasn't welcome.

Not willing to spend more time erring around, I decided to just backtrack a lot, driving back to a major highway and taking the official road to the park. On the way, I stopped to fuel up at what must have been the world's slowest fuel pump. I could literally see the gerbils in their spinning wheel as they pumped the gas into my car, steadily but ever so slowly. I got bored just standing there.

Then finally, at around a quarter to 9, I reached the official park entrance. So much for being there as close to sunrise as possible! The weather still seemed nice enough - there was some minor haze and a few clouds. I stopped at Tunnel Rock, and then got back into the car to gain more elevation, towards the trees that game the park its name.

I briefly stopped at Auto Log. This fallen sequoia tree with a base diameter of 21 feet is famous for its flat top, which can be driven on. Nowadays, the park service has either permanently restricted access, or is only granting it in special cases; but the end result is the same... there's no cars on Auto Log anymore.

Then I did a short hike up on ??? Rock, which gives a nice overview over the Great Western Divide, a range of mountains that separate Sequoia National Park. There was some cloud cover at 12,000 feet, hiding only the tips of these peaks; but more worrisome was the rain that seemed to be approaching fast from the foothills.

I did a quick stop at Tunnel Tree, a spot where the road is heading through (and around, for larger vehicles) a fallen giant tree; and took a few pictures of my car. Its white paint didn't do any good to mask its bulk, and compared to the sequoias it seemed to be a behemoth of ancient times much more than the dead wood it was posing with.

Then, not far from there, I stopped again to take a few pictures of the Parker Group, a bunch of sequoias standing next to each other in a picturesque setting. Another car was already stopped there, and I was just about to take my first shot of the trees when the car's owner addressed me and pointed out that there was a bear going through the underwood not far away.

I quickly changed to the other camera with the tele lens, and started shooting from a safe distance. Unfortunately, it was pretty dark (giant trees do a good job of filtering out the light), and I had to push the ISO fairly high. Even then, exposure times were pretty long. Soon, the bear disappeared behind a hill (very much oblivious to me), and I quickly went back to the car to drive around said hill and maybe get another chance to see it.

I did, but so did a group of tourists with small pocket cameras. The annoying bit, which might have sent the bear away sooner, was when one guy decided his zoom capabilities weren't enough, and proceeded to walk towards the bear. Not only was it potentially dangerous, but it also ruined other people's shots. I still got my closest bear picture yet, and even though it wasn't a magnificent pose that other photographers have been able to get elsewhere, I still felt lucky and glad that I had gotten this shot.

My last hike for the day was to see General Sherman Tree, at that point in time still considered to be the "largest living thing on earth" (I've since read that at least one larger tree has been found somewhere else in the Sierra, but the location wasn't disclosed to protect it). Shortly afterwards, it started raining hard, and I decided that since it seemed unlikely to stop raining, I'd call it a day and get out of the Sierra while it was still light.

It turns out this was a good decision, because the road I took was very twisty, with one bend after another. Needless to say, roads like that are easier to navigate when you can see where the road is going beyond what the headlights illuminate. Surprisingly enough, the Trailblazer seemed light-footed and at ease on these small mountain roads, and driving it around the bends it didn't really feel like I was navigating a 2-ton SUV.

Miles driven: 340mi (547km)

Campground Accommodation: (?): $0

Written September 22nd 2006 in Oberau, Germany.