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July 17, 2006

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

The Travel Channel

This weekend it was time for another roadtrip, this time to see more of the Californian national parks and great trees, and perhaps even a redneck or two. We headed out early on friday afternoon with Øystein, Carina, Alex and myself in one car and Martin and Camilla (M's danish girlfriend) in another. We had booked accomodation at the Sequoia Motel in a small town called Three Rivers just outside the Sequoia National Park, about a 5 hour drive from the Bay Area.

Since we had planned to leave early I had the friday off from work, but as usual there were delays so we didn't get underway until about 3p.m. After meeting up with Martin & Camilla, and picking up Alex & Carina and stocking up on food and water we headed out and after an eventless drive we arrived at Three Rivers around 8p.m were we stayed in a real american white-trash trailer. Not that there is anything wrong with that, as it was about the same size as our apartment here, with a living room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms, and equipped with both airconditioning and cable tv. Not exactly the kind of mobile homes we usually have in Norway :-)
Since it was already kinda late when we got there we just headed down to the local store to get some last minute items before firing up the BBQ and having a great american steak-out, followed by a dip in the pool and drinking into the wee hours of the night.

On saturday-morning Martin woke all of us up around 9a.m with a scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast. It was delicious and all, but we would really have liked it better a bit later in the morning... But since we were all up we could just as well get ready and head out for a day to see Sequoia. As we headed into the park we decided to go see the Crystal Cave first. It is a beautiful water-carved natural but lighted cave with amazing rooms filled with stalagmites and stalactites. The temperature inside is only 10°C year-round, so those who forgot their jackets did get really cold during the 45 minute guided tour, but the half-hour outside walk uphill back to the car got them heated up again.
After the cave we went on to see General Sherman, the largest living entity on the planet. A giant Sequoia tree standing 84 meters tall and with a circumference of more than 30 meters and 11 meters in diameter it is an impressive sight, and not the least dimisished by several dozen other Sequoias just slightly smaller in the immediate area around it. We also got a sight of some local wildlife, as a squirrel we encountered while munching on a nut didn't mind us taking photos from less than half-a-meter away, quite cool :-) When we had taken in the immense trees for a while we headed over to the Giant Forest museum for lunch, souvernir-shopping and to get some more information about the park from the exhibits. A day passes way too fast on a tour like this, so while Øystein and I wanted to see some more of the park before nightfall the others decided to head back to the trailer after we had eaten, and boy did they miss out on some great stuff! After splitting up we first went to see the Tunnel Log, a fallen sequoia through which a single-lane car tunnel was cut instead of removing the entire trunk when it blocked the road. Neat, but it seemed a bit artificial as it would have been easier to cut straight through it... but we quickly forgot all about that as we started heading up Moro Rock just nearby! A granite outcropping at 2000 meters elevation with a set of stairs cut into it that allows access to the top. A breathless climb up the steep stairs with just a low handrail to protect you in some places ends in one of the most amazing panoramas I have seen. The view was simply incredible, and the one thousand meter vertical drop off the ledge made it an awesome thrill to be up there. But the fun didn't stop there, as we were lucky enough to see more wildlife when a wild deer came walking up close just meters from our car for several minutes, and not long after that we just caught a glimpse of one of the famous black bears that roam these forests and makes storing food in your car a hazard, so it was truly a special trip. But with the darkness falling we returned to our trailer in Three Rivers for another night of BBQing and drinks, but since we got started a bit earlier this evening we also headed down to a local waterhole that actually played *both* kinds of music, Country AND Western! The long line of trucks parked along the road clearly marked the spot, and while sceptical at first we actually had a great time there most of the night. However just after closing time an unfortunate talk about Bushie nearly got us into a fight with some local rednecks, but with some female touch things were smoothed over and we got back to our motel without any serious incidents, so we got to enjoy the rest of the night as well before going safely to sleep.

Once more we were woken early by Martin and after a short trip to the store for more eggs breakfast was served. After checking out of our trailer at the Sequoia Motel we went down to the river across some private property to a spot some locals from last night had recommended as a great place to chill out, and boy were they right! There was a large quite area of the river with some rapids both before and after that was awesome to swim through while going with the current, so we stayed there for several hours until a cop showed up around 3p.m to chase everyone away since the river was private property... even the locals weren't allowed to stay without a permit. Luckily we were just about to leave anyway as we wanted to see both Grant Grove and Kings Canyon before heading back to Mountain View, so we still had quite a day ahead of us. Martin and Camilla decided they had seen enough nature for a weekend, so at the same time they decided to split and go back to SF in their car.

The rest of us spent almost two hours on the windy Creek Drive to get to Grant Grove, only stopping by a tour-bus that was stuck in a narrow turn, a worn down but beautiful and pittoresque old saloon, real western style(!) and at the park entrance to report the broken down bus as there was no communications available in the area. After entering the park we first headed towards the dissapointing Kings Canyon and Redwood Mountains Overlooks, where there really was nothing special to see, so when we got to the Grant Grove visitors center it was about time for dinner. We decided to just have a quick bite at the resturant there, but we ended up waiting ages for our food, which wasn't even any good! This wasted precious hours of daylight which was really annoying on our last day, so when we finally got out of there we headed quickly for General Grant, another of the really large Sequoia trees just a short drive away. This one was was if possible even more towering than General Sherman, and in the same area was also a fallen and hollowed out shell of another tree. It was large enough to walk through from end to end without any problems, and has been lying there for several hundred years! The trees are actually so compact that they neither rot, nor burn, so how it got hollowed out is anyones guess. Here too did we get close to nature when we spotted another deer wandering around inside fences of the Grant tree-zone just meters away from us, so we got a really good look at it before we had to leave. It was now getting close to sunset, so it looked like we might not make it into Kings Canyon after all, but we decided to try and make it anyways. After less than 30 minutes we started heading down into the canyon, and suddenly a vista point ahead showed us the most amazing panorama of the entire Kings Canyon valley! It was absolutely stunning and even more fantastic than the vista from Moro Rock, but after a stop we pushed onwards to try and enter the park proper in time. However as we were getting low on gas we were forced to get some more despite beeing warned that gas is prohibitively expensive in the park areas, but by chance we got to see something really amazing. At the Kings Canyon Lodge they have the oldest operating double-gravity fuel-pumps in the United States! So despite the gas price beeing double the regular rates it was worth it to see them in action before heading along the scenic valley floor of the deepest canyon in the U.S (deeper than the Grand Canyon!) towards the park. Against all odds we actually made it past the park signs and arrived at the Cedar Grove Lookout just in time to catch the last of the fading daylight, however that was actually a dissapointment as the view was far from spectacular and nowhere near the vistas we passed earlier that day, so after getting the mandatory photos we turned around and drove back up the more than a thousand height-meters to Grant Grove, just to go back down again towards Fresno on the other side after a short stop to get some great night-photos of the Fresno "skyline" and a starry sky. The difference in air pressure was very noticeable as we were all getting headaches from the rapid change, and also our waterbottles were visibly compressed to three-quarter size on the way down! Simply amazing :-)

As the trip was nearing its end we didn't stop long in Fresno, but just the short pause to top up on fuel and get some snacks showed us the shady side of California, a raw rural city with rednecks, gangsta's and pimped up cars, so we didn't waste any time there but headed straight back to the bay area, arriving at around 3a.m and going straight to bed.

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