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Mountains & Redwoods: Sequoia National Park
At the oldest national park in California and second oldest in the country, just one visit cannot do justice to the sheer drama found in every corner of the Sequoia National Park visitors writes Al Auger.
(Above): The sheer, mountainous perch at the Sequoia National Park offers breathtaking vistas.
So there we were, be-bopping down ol’ Highway 99, me and Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx and all the rest of the beat souls of the world heading for Sequoia National Park. To be truthful, Jack Kerouac (aka Sal Paradise) and his name-changed beat friends were on an audiotape edition of his classic “On the Road.” They were great company as I cruised down what is probably the most boring and inescapably the ugliest stretch of asphalt in California. But even ol’ 99 couldn’t diminish the anticipation of the legend waiting for us at the end of the line.
Nor could it lessen the synergy of driver and machine. Sequoia National Park is far more than a destination point. As we approached the high country Highway 99 became a driver’s delight with sinuous curves as you seem to be climbing into the Lindsay-blue sky above. The mountains are heavily forested and beckoning to the lover of adventures outdoors. A cliché, but true in this case: Getting there is half the fun.
Turning left off 99 onto Highway 180 East, the fun really began in earnest. Into the foothills of the Sierras, we began the ascent pumped by the adrenaline of the snake roadway taking us to the Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park. The road climbed and curved its way to the 7,000-foot level where a seductive lodge and surrounding beauty of the landscape with a view seemingly at the ends of the earth.
(Above): The legendary General Sherman Tree, which stands 274.9 feet tall and is estimated to weigh 2.7 million pounds. Relatively young at 2,100 years, like America, it is still growing; the General Sherman Tree is one of the five largest living giant sequoia trees in the world.
Named after the tribe of American Natives who populated the region thousands of years ago, the Wuksachi Lodge complex is the first half of the envisioned $15 million complex as planned by the operators, Delaware North State Services and the National Park Service. Open year-round, the lodge houses a full service restaurant and cocktail lounge, plus administrative offices and guest services. Across from the lodge are three buildings with 102 rooms.
Sequoia was first inhabited by the group of Paiute American Indians, more commonly known as the Monaches or Western Monos. The oldest national park in California and second oldest in the country, the sheer drama found in every corner of the park represents California and America and its first indigenous tribes. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times one visits Sequoia; the mammoth redwoods stretching to the sky are always awesome and humbling.
In 1873, naturalist John Muir visited Kings Canyon and was impressed by its similar to the terrain of his beloved Yosemite. In 1877, Muir climbed to Converse Basin, six miles north of Grant’s Grove and discovered a sawmill had cut down every mature tree but one in the basin. As Muir did for Yosemite, he took his formidable legend and strength of will to Washington, D.C., and convinced President Benjamin Harrison to sign a bill in 1890 that made Sequoia the second National Park in the nation and the first in California.
(Above): A winding road in the Sequoia National Park flanked by tall redwoods.
Yosemite National Park, known worldwide for its wild beauty, roaring waterfalls and unique giant rocks and mountains overshadows Sequoia in terms of celebrity, but, Sequoia is not bereft of its own unique and wonderful surprises to the visitor. Naturally they are going to be overwhelmed by Sequoia’s centerpiece — the legendary General Sherman Tree, which stands 274.9 feet tall and is estimated to weigh 2.7 million pounds. Relatively young at 2,100 years, like America, it is still growing; the General Sherman Tree is one of the five largest living giant sequoia trees in the world.
Climbing Moro Rock (400 steps and 500 feet elevation change), we could see a 360-degree panorama of the Great Western Divide that is literally breathtaking. We looked down at the entry road curling its way up the 7,000-foot elevation of the lodge and remembered similar roads in the Italian Alps. Looking down on the never-ending series of hairpin bends and full-drift roundabouts brought back the exhilarating drive the day before.
One trip to this national treasure cannot do it justice.
Along with the comfortably posh accommodations of the Wuksachi Lodge, Sierra National Park has is a veritable cornucopia of outdoor and adventurous experiences. Campers and RV enthusiasts are a natural audience and will find superior camping facilities to choose from. In addition to the posh Wuksachi Lodge, nearby is the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, a tent hotel open June through September. Bearpaw is complemented by seven more campgrounds located throughout the park. The largest is the Lodgepole Campground; open year-round, Lodgepole features a market, snack stand, laundry and showers.
(Above): The Sequoia National Park offers a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of the Great Western Divide.
Hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are but a few of the seductions that give Sequoia National Park its individual signature. One day I packed up a bag lunch and separated myself from all the visitors and just wandered with no particular destination. About noon I found myself in Crescent Meadow. John Muir called it a “gem of the Sierra” and he was so right. This high mountain meadow is so lovely with its blanket of wild flowers and most important, the absolute serenity that surrounds you. To enjoy all this in comfort there are picnic areas and restrooms. From Crescent Meadow the hiker can find several trailheads. One of the most adventurous is the High Sierra Trail that ends 71 miles away at the stately Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental U.S. at 14,494 feet.
Spelunkers aren’t forgotten as Sequoia National Park is home to more than 200 caves. The most popular is Crystal Cave with its massive marble walls and cover of stalactites and a floor seemingly a maze of stalagmites. The only access is a twisty 7-mile trail where no vehicles are allowed. We started early and walked out way to the Crystal Cave. If you’d rather, 45-minute guided tours are available and only open in the summer months. We felt a little guilty when we ran into one of the tours and realized we were cave sneaks.
Home to hundreds of thousands of animals and birds, Sequoia is a constant delight to the visitor. Distinctive experience such as walking through one of giant redwoods or even driving through one is a story to bring home. The Rangers who run the Park have created a special Just for Kids section offering activities that not only will be a fun thing but also teach them what surrounds them. Memories to bring home and never forget.
For more information on reservations on camping and tours can be found at www.recreation.gov. There’s a definite caveat emptor involved here because I have a problem understanding all the convoluted information on their Web site concerning reservations and information. Information on Wuksachi Lodge accommodations can be found on their Website www.wuksachilodge.com. For more detailed information on the Park go to www.visitsequoia.com
Al Auger is a freelance writer. He lives in Redding, Calif.