SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #12 SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – PART TWO

BLOG # 17, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #12

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – PART TWO

APRIL 25, 2012

 

 

Because Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon National Park are administered as a unit, we will move to Kings Canyon next week.  Together, they encompass 865,257 acres.  Elevation-wise they range from a low of 1,300 feet to a high of 14,494 (Mt. Whitney), the highest point in the lower 48 states.  Nearly 808,000 (or 93.4%) acres are officially designated as wilderness, which means that no roads mar its pristine beauty beyond the few paved roads tourists know.  All the rest are known only to backpackers (80,000 a year), which strains the capacity of the park rangers to oversee.

 

OUR MEMORIES

 

Early in the morning, around 5 a.m., Bob and Lucy Earp and Connie and I arose, quickly packed the car, and nosed the car out of Furnace Creek Ranch onto road #190.  Here we made a fateful—and, it turned out, “stupid” mistake, in not paying over $5 a gallon for gas and filling up the tank.  Surely we’d find cheaper gas once we got out of the park!  Instead, we twisted up and up and up serpentine roads where we finally crested the Argus and Panamint Mountains; meanwhile, as the gas needle continued to drop, all four of us grew tenser by the mile.  Then the crest.  We breathed a sigh of relief; surely we’d find gas once we left the park. We did not, and even though Bob kept his speed down, and the needle slowed, neither town nor gas station did we find.  Our last hope turned out to be the town of Olanche on Highway 395; if we failed to find a gas  station there, with the needle solidly on empty, we’d be stuck.  By that time, we’d have been willing to pay $20 a gallon!  Mercifully, we found one, and the price, though still high, was still considerably less than Death Valley’s.  And not just the car was empty—so were we!  Here we stumbled on Ranch House Café, a place where, we were told, the locals frequented.  Turned out to be straight out of the Old West, the customers mainly ranchers and cowboys.  We were served by a pretty waitress who’d been transplanted from Tyler, in Texas rose country, to here where she’d fallen in love with a cowboy.  She “darlinged” us through a wonderful Southwest breakfast—and we were ready to face whatever the rest of the day brought us.

 

Though our destination was west, we couldn’t cross over at Olanche, but had to head south.  Reason being the massive wall of Sequoia/Kings Canyon/Yosemite that barred access to Sequoia.  As we drove south we could look up at the towering rampart crowned by two snowcapped fourteeners, Mt. Whitney and Mt. Langley.  Several hours later, once again, we headed west on #178 via Lake Isabella followed by an unforgettable ride down Kern  River Canyon.  Because of the massive snowfalls the Kern thundered rather than merely flowing.  After which we headed north again, through oil wells and orange groves, strange bedfellows.  Even though I knew the great San Joaquin Valley was the breadbasket of the nation, I’d never known  before that its orange groves rivaled Florida’s.

 

Finally, it was mid-afternoon; by then, we turned east and began to climb into the Sierras.  At the Foothills Visitor Center, we were greeted by potentially bad news; because of recent snowstorms, the roads into the heart of the park had been closed.  However, there was the possibility we could now make it up into the Big Trees.  After Death Valley’s heat, the mere thought that we might be back into snow by nightfall seemed preposterous to us.  Yet as we climbed, the temperature gauge dropped from the 80s to the 70s to the 60s, to the 50s, to the 40s—and eventually colder yet.  For a while, all traffic came to a complete halt.  Just behind us was a long caravan of motorcyclists from Brazil (the same ones we’d seen in Death Valley earlier).   Since I spoke Spanish, I was able to chat with them about their American tour—they loved it! (Portuguese, being also a Latin language akin to Spanish, it wasn’t too difficult to communicate with them.) Finally, we were all permitted to move again, and we moved into the snowy foggy high country.  As we reached the Sequoia groves we could only see part of them, for their trunks disappeared into the mist.

 

 

It was early evening before we reached Wuksachi Village, where we’d stay for the next two nights.  Sadly, there are no venerable national park hotels gracing Sequoia and Kings Canyon, so Wuksachi is the only game in town.  It is one of the resorts run by DELAWARE NORTH COMPANIES.  At the front desk we were welcomed with the gladsome news that the water main had broken in the extreme cold, so all the water was contaminated—not potable.  But not to worry, we could still eat in the dining room, and a truckload of bottled water from Bakersfield arrived by early evening so guests could at least have drinking water.  After dinner, we retired to our rustic sleeping quarters, exhausted.  It had been a long day, where we’d moved from one world to another, so we collapsed early.

 

 

Awoke early next morning to a clear sky that didn’t stay that way.  After a great buffet breakfast, we returned to our rooms, where our ablutions were possible thanks to bottled water.  Then it was time to visit the great sequoias.  Cold clammy misty fog now closed in on us, but we took the several-mile-long walk through the sequoias anyway, though the snow, and shivering.  It got progressively difficult to see, but eventually the mist cleared enough so we could see the world’s largest living thing, the General Sherman Tree, as well as other giants.  In a meadow we encountered a mother bear and cub.  Keeping a “safe” distance, we shutterbugged—which was dumb, because a bear can run 30-40 mph, and if the Mama Bear had taken issue with us we’d never have been able to get to safety in time.

 

 

Back in the lodge, we had a good dinner, after which we played Phase Ten—Lucy beat us.  Then in the quietness of our room we turned on the TV and almost wished we hadn’t: a tornado in Joplin, MO had killed 120, wiping out a quarter of the city.   One catastrophe after another in months before: the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami; over 300 killed in a string of tornados; terrible oil spill in the Gulf—and earlier that day, a volcanic eruption in Iceland, closing down European air traffic.  Then, unable to sleep, Connie and I watched John Wayne in Rio Bravo and The Sons of Katie Elder.  Then—finally—sleep came.

 

 

Will have to give a lot of credit to the Wuksachi folk: in spite of the terrible odds against it, given the broken water main, they did their utmost to give us a good stay.  The only other negative: unfitted bottom sheets that strayed off the mattresses during the night.

 

SOURCES USED

 

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Kinopf, 2009).

 

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, AZ: K. C. Publications, 2009).