Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, California - September 9-16, 2000


There once was a boy who loved trees…

It was 1971 and I was 10 years old. I sat an un-air-conditioned classroom at McAdory Elementary School in McCalla, Alabama. My 5th grade geography teacher, Mrs. Henry, had traveled extensively around the world and this day brought her slides to show the class. I watched with only academic interest as the images blinked by on the silver screen. But then there was one… the only one that I remember to this day. A picture of a tree so huge that a tunnel had been cut through it and a car was passing through the tunnel. I could not fathom such a tree. There were big trees in the woods where I played, but none nearly so large as that. My family never traveled much and to my 10 year old mind, these trees may as well have been on the moon as far as me ever getting to see them. Fortunately, things have changed.

I have always loved trees, especially climbing trees. One of the earliest photos of me shows me clad in a diaper standing in the low crotch of a Mimosa tree in our yard. I’ve spent countless hours sitting in trees, whittling, talking with my childhood buddies, escaping all manner of imaginary creatures, or just plain ol’ enjoying being a kid. I built a few treehouses as a child, but mostly preferred just finding a comfortable place on a limb and hangin’ out. Later, in my adult life, I even spent the night in a tree – voluntarily.

As my camping and backpacking interest grew, I headed more and more to the mountains. But now having seen and climbed on some of the biggest and highest in the country, I decided it was time to finally see those big trees. So this trip was planned, reservations made, thousands of miles traveled, and finally - like a 10 year old boy from Alabama - I stood wide-eyed with wonder deep in a forest filled with giants.

Day 1 - Saturday, September 9

Suzie and I left the house around 4:30 am, picked up Owen and headed for the airport. Our flight was to leave at 6:22 and did so on schedule. First to Dallas, then Los Angeles, and finally Fresno where we arrived about 2:00 local time.

We had reserved a full-sized car from National and when we went to pick it up, they were out of full-sized cars, so they gave us a 4x4 (a Chevy Blazer) for the same rate. Bonus! We loaded our stuff and started on the two hour drive to Yosemite, stopping in Oakhurst for groceries.

Our first view of the valley as we rounded a curve was so striking we had to stop and photograph it. Then, just a mile or two down the road, was Tunnel View. We stopped again and did some more photography and video. From there we drove up to Glacier Point to watch the sunset on Half Dome. It was quite impressive and we said we’d come back and see it again on another day.

Now it was on to our hotel, the Yosemite View Lodge to check in and then to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner.

Day 2 – Sunday, September 10

We drove into the valley to gather some information about hiking. I bought a trail map of the valley and we started on our way to hike up to the base of El Capitan. The route we took provided us with a pretty tough scramble over some large boulders before taking us up to the wall. Once there, we realized we did not take the "official" trail but one of many used by climbers to reach the base. We broke for lunch and watched several groups of climbers overhead working their way up the wall. Seeing someone hanging up there really helps bring into perspective just how huge the monolith is. I looked at it again and again, continually amazed at it’s size. After a couple of hours and several photos, we headed back down to the car.

We then drove around in the valley a little, exploring Yosemite Village and stopping to take some photos of Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge. Finally we went back to our hotel in El Portal and got a sandwich from the pizza restaurant there for dinner.

Day 3 – Monday, September 11

We started today by driving back to Yosemite Village. We visited the Ansel Adams gallery for a few minutes then made a quick pass through the Yosemite Valley Museum. Outside the museum is a cross-section of a 1,000 year old Giant Sequoia with markers denoting prominent events in history, starting at 923 AD. Pretty cool.

Then it was on to the first of two planned hikes for today, Taft Point. The easy one mile trail took us through the forest out to the bluff area. Wow! The view from here of the western end of the valley is tremendous! We dropped our packs and ate lunch, then set about the business of photographing the area. This was probably my favorite view of all that I saw while in Yosemite. While here, I saw a Peregrine Falcon and what may have been a Golden Eagle. It was way cool to see them soaring in the valley below us, then riding the wind past us and eventually out of sight.

We headed back to the car at the trailhead to replenish our water supply and then started on our way to Sentinel Dome. (These two trails start at the same place) This too was a one mile hike but a little harder as there is a climb involved, but still it was not too difficult. Sentinel Dome at 8,122 feet is second only to Half Dome in elevation in the valley and provides a great view of the eastern end of the valley. At the summit is a Jeffrey Pine made famous by Ansel Adams when he photographed it back in 1940. It has since died, either due to drought or people climbing on it to have their picture taken. Anyway, we spent an hour or more here photographing and just looking around, then started back to the car.

Being so close, we drove back out to Glacier Point to watch the sun set on Half Dome. This is quite a popular event and there were several people there. We hung around for a while, then started on the drive back. On the way down from Glacier Point, I noticed we were quite low on fuel, the warning light was even coming on intermittently. Being all down hill, I coasted as much as possible. My guidebook listed a gas station in the valley so we made a bee line and stopped at the general store to find out where the station was. We grabbed some drinks and sandwiches and when checking out I asked the girl where the nearest gas station was. "Oakhurst" she replied, "Or maybe Crane Flat". "What!?" I said, "There’s no gas in the valley?" "Nope". In disbelief I found another employee and asked them the same question. "Crane Flat, about 16 or 20 miles from here. But if you’re really hurting, you can go over to the garage and get 5 gallons for twelve dollars." We decided not to push our luck and risk ruining our night (it was already about 9:00) so we went over to the garage. The guy there met us out back and retrieved a 5 gallon can from a shed and emptied it into our tank. We asked about the gas station and he said the government shut it down. We gladly paid him the twelve bucks and were on our way. Whew!

On our way out of the valley we stopped at El Capitan meadow and took some long exposure photos of the rock under the light of a full moon. We could see the tiny lights of climbers in several places on the wall. It was a beautiful night.

Day 4 – Tuesday, September 12

Having seen several sights in the valley, we decided today we’d go to the other side of the park and visit Tuolumne Meadows. Out first order of business was to fill up at the gas station in Crane Flat. Fortunately, this was on our route. We paid $2.31 per gallon for the cheap stuff, with premium being $2.51. We were currently paying about $1.43 at home.

Also along the way we stopped at Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake, each offering it’s own version of something nice to see.

Our goal upon arrival was to find and climb 9,450 foot Lembert Dome. We found the trailhead/picnic area and readied ourselves and packs for the hike. This was another one mile hike but was a bit harder than the others as it was pretty steep most of the way. However, about the time we really needed a break, we were at the summit. It was extremely windy so we stayed only long enough to document the views on video and with photographs. It was actually difficult to hold a camera still enough to take a picture. We made our way off the dome and stopped in a nearby subalpine meadow for our lunch break.

As we continued back along the trail, we came upon two deer. They didn’t seem alarmed at our presence and we watched them for several minutes as the foraged through the forest. Then, as we were crossing a small rocky area, we spotted a Marmot. He watched us rather intently for a while and as we neared, ducked into his burrow.

On our drive back, we stopped again at Olmsted Point to photograph some Foxtail Pines we had noticed on the trip over. The day had turned cloudy by now but it was not raining. This would be the only cloudy day on our entire trip.

We once again ate at the restaurant at the hotel for dinner and were back in our room by about 7:30, the earliest yet on the trip.

Day 5, Wednesday, September 13

We left El Portal and headed for Kings Canyon National Park. We entered at the Big Stump entrance and proceeded to Grant Grove. Here we saw the General Grant tree and several others as we walked around the paved trail. The trees here were fenced off so you couldn’t get "upclose and personal" with them, but you could still get a sense of their immense size. Still, we wanted more of an "out in the woods" experience and hoped the trails we would visit the next day would provide that. After leaving Grant Grove, we stopped by Panoramic Point and enjoyed the view of the Sierra Nevada.

The day was winding down so we started on our way toward Three Rivers where we would be staying the next three nights. En route we drove through an area called Giant Forest which we would visit the next day. At one point, the road splits and the single lanes go right through a stand of four of the huge trees. It's way neat and I made Owen jump out and shoot a digi-shot right quick.

The road out of the park (the General’s Highway) is the most curviest, hair-pin turning-est, steep-mountain-roadiest road I have ever seen. My Dad would say (remembering driving a mule and wagonload of sugarcane to the mill as a child) that the curves were so sharp that the mule could eat hay out of the back of the wagon while going around the bend. There were also construction delays along the way and after we finally hit town and found a place still open to eat, (a place called "The Indian" with family dining in the front and {as Owen says} a honky-tonk in the back) it was after 9:00 before we got into our room at the Holiday Inn Express. Whew!, another late night.

Day 6, Thursday, September 14

We made good use of the continental breakfast offered at the hotel, and then started on our way back into Sequoia National Park. Of course we had to do the official touristy thing and have our pictures made with the Indian-head sign. A little further along, we came upon a three-foot rattlesnake crossing the road. Fortunately it was near a pull-out so we stopped and videoed and photographed it.

Once in the park, we headed for the Auto Log. Just before we got there, a mother and cub bear ran across the road in front of us, it was a neat sight. They were dark black with honey-colored muzzles and continued to hurry on their way through the woods. We only had time to stop and watch them disappear.

We parked the car atop the Auto Log and took some photos, then moved on to our next stop, 6,725 foot Moro Rock. From the top here we enjoyed yet another view of the Sierra Nevada range and a good view of the curvy General’s Highway far below. We headed then for Tunnel Log, but first came upon a group of trees named the Parker Group. Well, with my friend, Owen Parker in the car, we of course had to stop to photograph and video these trees. While we were shooting video of ourselves walking among the trees with the camera mounted on a tripod, a deer came bounding by. We were sure he had crossed the path the camera was taping, but later discovered we had not been that lucky. Still, it was another neat experience. We proceeded on to Tunnel Log and did the requisite photo and video there. By now it was near lunch time so we handled that at the Lodgepole Village deli.

Finally we came to the General Sherman tree. Wow it’s big! But still, it’s fenced off so about all you can do is stand and gawk for a while, but awesome gawking it is! We spent several minutes around the area photographing and videoing it, and here is the only place we had any delays because of the crowds. Like everyone else, we took our pictures in front of the tree by the sign.

Then we started on our circuit of the two mile Congress Trail. This was closer to what we had hoped for, a more natural setting to view the trees sans fences and crowds. Seen in such environs, it is more easily impressed upon you just how large the trees really are. We enjoyed our hike around the trail, stopping often to burn some frames and roll some tape. We spent quite a while documenting the group of trees named The Senate, and just as we were about to leave, noticed movement in the woods. "A bear!", Owen excitedly whispered. Sure enough, about 50 yards or so away, what appeared to be a large cub was trotting down the hillside. Well, we were "loaded for bear" with cameras in hand and hurriedly put eyes to eyepieces and began to record. He did not know we were there evidently and stopped to sniff around on the ground for several seconds, then resumed his ramble. Owen made a noise and he stopped for a second and looked our way. Then continued on, jumping up on a fallen log and walking along it for a few steps before hopping off and disappearing on the other side. He was quite a different color than the ones we had seen earlier, being a dark-blondish-honey color all over. The experience made for an exciting diversion along our hike.

We made the hour-long drive back into Three Rivers, stopping in town at the Café Raven for a pleasurable dinner.

Day 7 – Friday, September 15

I had asked a ranger at the visitor’s center about a hike that would take us further into the forest and yet offer plenty of big trees to view, and she suggested the Huckleberry Meadow trail. So, we made that our objective for this day. We drove down to the Crescent Meadow trailhead and would start there, then intersect the Huckleberry Meadow trail.

We had only been hiking for a few minutes when two deer crossed our path very close in front of us. They stopped as did we, and we watched and photographed them for several minutes before moving on.

The meadows were pretty and it was nice to see the big trees along the edges from a more open perspective. There were several places where huge fallen logs reached out into the meadow like sidewalks allowing you to walk out on them and not step on the sensitive, marshy meadow. Further along the trail we came to a log cabin known as the Squatter’s Cabin and explored it for a few minutes, then headed on.

Finally we reached the Washington Tree, the second largest and our lunch spot for today. We dropped our packs and stood around looking at the tree. It is unbelievably large. Standing next to it and looking up is like standing by a building downtown. It’s like you just can’t accept what you’re seeing - like your brain is calling your eyes a liar. You look at it, then look away for a while, then look back at it and again, you just laugh in disbelief. Owen called these trees "funny trees". You look at them and just laugh in amazement, seemingly unable to process the information being fed to you. My words fail me here, as nothing short of standing in their presence could convey their enormity.

Anyway, we spent a couple of hours around the tree, photographing, videoing and just looking. All the time we were there, we only saw two other people. It made for a pleasurable day and one I will remember for a long time. On the remainder of our hike, we passed by countless more beautiful specimens as we walked through the very appropriately named Giant Forest. At one point, there was an antlered buck standing regally off to the side of the trail. He stood absolutely still as we took the time to change lenses for photographs. He remained motionless as we walked by and left him there, stately and silent, fulfilling his role among the behemoths.

We saw no bear today but ample sign of them in the area. Upon completing the five mile loop and returning to the car, we changed out of our boots and began the drive back to Three Rivers one last time.

As we had each night prior, Owen downloaded images from his digital camera into his laptop and thus began the process of sending emails out to friends back home. He would edit the photos and get them ready to go, then I would compose a synopsis of the day’s activities and send out the message. This was neat to do, but we spent at least two hours every night in the process, often putting us past midnight before finally shutting down for the night.

Day 8 – Saturday, September 16

The drive from Three Rivers to Fresno through the San Joaquin valley was quite scenic in it’s own way. We passed orchards of orange and olive trees along our route. We arrived at the Fresno Air Terminal around 11:00 am, returned the rental car, did the check-in thing and were ready to go when our flight left minutes after noon. The remaining flights went smoothly and we found ourselves touching down in Birmingham at about 10:15 pm. Suzie and Tyler met us and it was good to see some familiar faces. We got our baggage and hit the road, dropping Owen off along the way and finally getting home at 11:00 pm. As always, it was good to get home and see the finish of a long day and a great trip.

* * * * *

When we were at the Lodgepole Village store, I purchased a Giant Sequoia seedling. I planted it in a large pot a few days ago and am curious to see how it does. If it continues to grow and do well, I’m not sure where I may plant it, but who knows, maybe one day, decades or even centuries from now, someone may look upon it and realize that… there once was a boy who loved trees…

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