Walking Amongst Giants 

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Sequoia National Park

My trip into the Sierra Nevada Mountains was nearing it's end as I drove south on Generals Highway from Kings Canyon to Sequoia National Park. In Kings Canyon I had already seen many of the Giant Sequoias, but would be seeing even larger trees in this park.

I camped in the Lodgepole Village area, this time pitching my own tent next to a stream. While there was not a very large flow of water due to the drought in California and the dry summer, it did provide the music of a very pleasant and calming flow throughout the night. Lodgepole Village has many campsites and was a very popular place. Many of the visitors with families enjoyed just being by the river and played in the stream during their stays. Being me, of course, I preferred to seek more solitude and avoid the crowds. That said, and my sore toe now well on the mend, I chose to hike back to a waterfall on the Tokopah Valley Trail. I had been told that the waterfall at this time of year was not much more than a trickle but, above all else, I wanted to get out and hike and explore. This trail, at just 1.7 miles one way would not be difficult and ended up being one of the most pleasant walks I'd had in over a week.

The Tokopah Trail followed alongside the stream, or near it, for most of the distance. On several occasions I walked off trial to the river and just enjoyed the water flowing over the rocks and boulders. Many smaller waterfalls and pools were inviting which tempted me to immerse myself in them, but I was in no hurry and just meandered along the trail, stopping frequently to just take in the views, the quietness and the beauty of the day. Many times on my walks and hikes I feel as though I am incapable of seeing all the magnificence that spreads out before me, as though my eyes are not large enough to absorb it and my brain, so overloaded, can not process and store the scenes. So, as I often try to do, I just take my time and will sit and admire, in wonder, what Nature presents me.  The calming effects of being out in and seeing natural beauty are priceless to me.

The trail was not heavily traveled this day, but others were out enjoying their hikes also. At the end of the trail, I scrambled over boulders and over to the waterfall which was at a volume of about a bathtub faucet wide open - not much for a waterfall, but a steady flow just the same. For the next several hours I hung around, away from others, who came back on the trail. Some came down over the boulders and to a lower pool of water, where they got in and relaxed. I preferred my higher perch and looked back down the valley, up at the surrounding cliffs, the sound of the falling water behind me providing a soothing sound. While there I sat and just watched as hikers filtered in, some ventured out toward me, others down to the water pool and others who ventured no further beyond the lookout point at trails end. Spreading out on the flat granite surface, I laid in the sun and dozed off. 

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Eventually, though, it was time to move on and start my return to camp. I took even more time returning than on the hike into the canyon. The changing light of the day intrigued me, shadows falling across the path, a patch of sunflowers highlighted in a spotlight of the sun, the glint of light on the water, a spider web backlit in sunlight. It all helps to slow my pace and want to just stop and see it, savoring the scenes. And so I did, I went to the stream, off to see the flowers, out onto the rocks. 

No hurry, no worry. 

On the return, off the trail but along the river, I found a small waterfall and then a couple of rounded out bathtub size pools, through which the water continued to flow. This looked perfect for slipping into and letting the water flow over and rinse  me off. But alas, it was also discovered by a few others and offered no real solitude for me. Still, I was tempted and decided to try coming back to this spot the next day. 

The following day I took the shuttle bus down to Giant Forest to see more of the Giant Sequoias. One of the largest, the General Sherman is there and it is one HUGE tree! I sat nearby and enjoyed my lunch as I watched the crowds who were surrounding the area, looking at the tree taking photos. I knew I needed to be away from all those crowds. Looking at my trail map I decided to hike a trail that led through the forest and then to the Giant Forest Museum a little more than a 2 mile walk. There I could catch the shuttle bus and return to Lodgepole Village.

This was an impressive hike. Not for any difficulty, but rather for the opportunity to walk amongst these giant trees. I was awe struck, looking up, the giants standing tall, their sprawling girth and sheer size overshadowing me. I had a very satisfying walk in the midst of the giants.

The further I went along the Congress Trail, the fewer people I saw. Again, taking a leisurely stroll on such a pleasant day suited me just fine, deep in my own thoughts, marveling at creation. With very few people on this end of the trail, the stillness and solitariness fit me quite nicely.

After a brief visit to the Giant Forest Museum, I jumped on the next shuttle bus back to my camp. The bus stopped near the Tokopah Trial, so this offered me the chance to hike back to that ideal looking bathing spot I had seen the day before. Again enjoying just hiking along the path, I found  even more people than the previous day were now enjoying the waters. So, not being deterred, I simply hiked a distance further, went off trail to the river and found another spot, more secluded and with no other people nearby. 

What I found was a narrow cut back into the granite from which flowed a narrow waterfall. This was a perfect setting, off the trail, and back into a narrow vestibule. 

Wasting no time I changed into my bathing suit, and cautiously walked into and the chamber and sat under the falling water. While chilly, it was not extremely cold. It was delightful! Rinsing and cleansing me, the cool waters also felt very good on my feet. Coming back out to the granite rocks, I laid down in the sunlight, absorbing the heat from the rock as well as from the sun itself. This was precisely the kind of place I sought and was able to now fully savor. 

The sunlight, too soon, gave way to shadows which spread over the boulders where I lie, giving me little option but to abandon my little piece of heaven and head back to camp. As I had the day before, I strolled along and admired all I could see, thinking I would love to return to this place some time in the future. Already, I found myself contemplating returning to the Sierra Nevada Mountains for further adventures and exploration. Time will tell when that may become a reality.

Early the next morning, I packed up my camp and drove south, to the last major stop in Sequoia. From there I took another shuttle to Moro Rock and then Crescent Meadow. Moro Rock, is a granite dome with a ¼ mile trail up nearly 400 steps to it's top. Narrow stairways, at times, meant standing aside as others were coming down, but the hike up was well worth the effort. The views are great, although there is considerable pollution that makes for a hazy vista. Part of the hazy pollution is due to the farming in the distant San Joaquin Valley. Still, I enjoyed looking out over the land in all directions. Of particular note to me, from this height and vantage point, was the road down below. It revealed the route I was soon to follow which had many hairpin turns as it wound down out of the mountains. Once I was upon that road, it was even more winding and wild than what I could see from Moro Rock.

Reboarding a shuttle, I got off at Crescent Meadow and set off on a long trail, through Giant Sequoias and pines, the slopes of which were blanketed in ferns, sunlight casting dappled shadows and light over the land. 

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Not far into the hike, a family further ahead of me suddenly were heard shouting in excitement. 

I could imagine why…

Yes, as I suspected, as I came into their view, a bear was just ahead off them off the trail, and simply grazing in a small brook. It was merely 12 feet away and was unperturbed by our presence. Still it pays to be cautious and I was glad to see this family not trying to feed the bear or otherwise disturb his own tranquility. The bear wandered off in his own good time. I watched from a distance and kept it in sight as he wandered off and then back across the trail further along the way. 

My first bear sighting during the whole trip! 

So they DO exist. I had begun to wonder if I'd ever see any.

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At the beginning of this whole trip, the one thing that made me hesitant, even afraid, was all that I read and was warned about concerning bears. All the precautions we were to take, storing food and scented items in bear boxes everywhere I went, keeping cars free of tempting, tasty items from the bears, not getting between a mother and her cubs - gee, yeah, I was a little more than just scared. All the cautions made it seem like the bears were swarming the forests, lurking behind the boulders and trees lying in wait to attack and devour any hapless hikers. Ha, as it turned out, bears were scarce wherever I wandered. But to actually get the chance to see even one, was a thrill. These are black bears, though they may be brownish in color. I was surprised by the bear's size - much smaller than I had imagined, not the ten foot monsters, standing on their hind legs, rearing up and ready to pounce. 

With the bear ambling off into the forest and out of sight, I continued my own ambling along the trail, again, simply enjoying my day and another pleasant hike. Following along the meadow's edge, eventually I came upon Tharp Log, a small cabin made into a fallen Sequoia and occupied in the summers by Hale Tharp, an early pioneer. 

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As I returned to the shuttle stop, a family stopped me to ask if I had seen a bear and cub, which I had not. I had heard some commotion across the meadow from other people prior, and imagine that was had caused their excitement. While not having seen that pair of bruins, I was content to be able to say I had seen one bear on this trip.

That changed not long after I had gotten back to my car and began my drive down out of the mountains. 

Still in the forest, enjoying by final leg on General's Highway, rounding a bend, there, in the road was a mother bear and a cub. Immediately I came to a stop, as did a car approaching from the opposite direction. She and her cub were in no hurry, but continued across the road and then up an embankment into the woods. As soon as I had stopped I grabbed my camera and took a couple of pictures. I did NOT get out of my car. 

Wow! Two bears sightings in one day. How cool is that?

Now,  back on my way, I was soon to reach the twists and turns that I had seen from atop Moro Rock. This was a thrilling ride. The road began descending quickly, steeply. Using my lower gears, I saved my brakes as much as possible. Down and down and down I drove, slowly. Sharp curves, hairpin turns, steep drop-offs, amazing views, all demanding my attention as I slowly dropped down from and out of the the forest above. Occasionally I did stop at viewpoints so that I could get better glimpses of the scenes. It was amazing.

That slow drive down from Sequoia Forest finally brought me down to the small town of Three Rivers, CA. where I spent the night at a motel. This is the eastern side of the San Joaquin Valley still on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The next morning I continued south now through part of the farm land of San Joaquin Valley, with what I believe were large groves of nut trees. Then heading East on Hwy. 178, I found myself back in the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The hills there were brown and dry, trees sparsely rooted up the slopes. 

But what surprised me most was that I continued to ascend, higher and higher, along more steep climbs, winding back up into the mountains. This climb seemed even more intense, possibly because I thought I had seen the last of steep mountain roads, only to be confronted with more. Highest point was near 6000 feet before descending on the eastern side through Walker Pass. On the other side, I connected with Hwy 395 and stopped overnight in Ridgecrest, CA. This area is on the southern end of the China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center, so, more or less, a military based community. Ridgecrest was a good sized town, much to my surprise, and had many motel choices available. Not so much so with restaurant choices however, at least other than typical fast food and chain eateries. I typically avoid chain restaurants, but had little choice but to have dinner at a Denny's. It was sufficient. 

Counting down to the final days of my vacation, the next morning I began heading further south and continued on to Joshua Tree National Park, one of the newest National Parks. 

That is where I will pick up the rest of my story.



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