Disclaimer: Beware! Long state = long post
As I write this post we are driving east on I-40 heading to Flagstaff, AZ. We left California early this morning after spending 5 nights here. We entered California in the wilderness of Mt. Shasta and exited it through the Mojave Desert so we saw a portion of this state’s diverse landscape within a span of a few days. And, as predicted in my last post, we turned off the heat once we hit Sacramento, and the air conditioning is running again though if we weren’t parked in a tin can, the need for AC would be debatable.
Our first night was in the small town of Yreka not too far into California as you are coming from Oregon. By this time, the weather had cleared a bit but was still chilly. When you cross into any border of California you will find agricultural checkpoints that require you to stop so they can ask if you are bringing in any fruit that they have determined is “hazardous” to their thriving ag industry. I kind of get it in theory, but in practice it’s really ineffectual. You drive up to the booth, they ask if you have any apples, you say no, and they say have a good day. I mean, we are driving an RV with a kitchen and they take our word that we don’t have any apples in it?! Maybe we don’t fit the profile of an apple smuggler, but still, who does?
After leaving Yreka, we made our way to Sacramento for the night leaving behind most of the bigger grades we will encounter on this trip. Even though we are still on I-5 and came through this way going north, everything in reverse looks a bit different. Mt. Shasta is in front of us now but when we were northbound it was off to the right – different perspective means a different picture! Yay!
From Sacramento, we say goodbye to I-5 and head southeast on 99 to our next stay in Lemon Cove. This route, like I-5, takes you through the heart of the San Joaquin valley and once again, we are surrounded by groves of citrus trees, vineyards, and assorted other crops heavily irrigated in this arid climate. A truck passed us with a load of garlic and it smelled like we had walked into an Italian kitchen for miles down the road…not good when it’s too early to stop for lunch!
We spent two nights in Lemon Cove (guess what kind of citrus this area grows?) for the purpose of visiting Sequoia National Park on our no drive day. This tiny town sits about 13 miles from the park’s entrance so it was a no-brainer though the campground itself was only okay. It’s the first time Art refused the site given us because it was so un-level that even our jacks wouldn’t have helped. We debated about not opening the slides and just dealing with walking askew but determined that the blood would have pooled in our heads as we slept and that didn’t sound fun so we asked for another site. Fortunately, it was not crowded and they were able to accommodate. Phew, crisis averted!
Now, about Sequoia National Park. This park encompasses 631 square miles of vast wilderness along the southwestern slopes of the Sierras. It is home to the giant sequoia tree, thus the name, and is accessed by vehicle via the Generals Highway. Our planned foray into the park was a short one – drive in approximately 40 miles to the Lodgepole Visitor Center and stop along the way to 3 sites: The Giant Forest, the General Sherman tree, and Moro Rock. The drive in from the Lemon Cove area to these locations is a doozy! Starting at an elevation of approximately 500 feet we climbed to 7,000 via a narrow and winding road with a posted max speed of 25mph. Most of the climb is accomplished through hairpin curves at 10mph so you are going slowly the entire way. If you are prone to carsickness this would be a deal-breaker of a road. As far as heights goes, there are plenty of steep drop offs but, guardrails and stone walls offer some small comfort that you aren’t going to hurdle to your death. As a result of such an elevation gain, the temperature dropped 20 degrees so the sweaters we had thrown in the back for “just in case” came in very handy!
Our first stop at the Giant Forest should have been a clue as to what awaited us as far as crowds were concerned. I think I took the last spot in the parking lot with a long line of cars behind me. We were able to get out of the car here though, so, so far so good! At this stop is a museum where you can read about these magnificent trees and then take a walk amongst some of the largest of the park on the Big Trees Trail.
Sequoias are the largest trees in the world not necessarily by height – the redwoods have them beat there – but by mass. The General Sherman tree is the largest living organism in the world weighing in at 2.7 million (yes million) pounds, standing 275 feet tall, and a base that is over 30 feet in diameter! They are also long lived reaching upwards of 3,000 years. And like the redwoods, they are particular about where they grow naturally – on the southern slope of the Sierra between 5,000 – 7,000 feet elevation! John Muir considered them the “noblest conifers in the world”!
Unfortunately, the crowds the day we visited prohibited us stopping to see the General Sherman Tree or the territorial vantage point from the summit of Moro Rock. We tried! Driving down the narrow access roads to these sites, the parking lots overflowed and people teemed. And, though I am not like Art in his anti-national park stance (see Mr. Sour Grapes viewpoint below), this was ultimately a disappointing day because of the crowds. So after stopping for a quick drink at the Lodgepole Visitor Center (we did find a parking spot there!) we called it a day and wound our way back down to lower ground.
The last night we spent in California was in Newberry Springs. This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-town sits on the Historic Route 66 in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The desert is vast and dominates our drive as we pass over Tehachapi Pass, north of Edwards AFB, and south of Death Valley. The flora changes and it becomes more sand than dirt. This day also marked our turn east as we picked up I-40 at its western terminus in Barstow. It is official…we are heading home.
Mr. Sour Grapes Point of View
Those of you who know me understand I have an opinion on most everything. Being on this planet for 63 years, I’ve got a pretty set view of things. In other words, the world according to Art! For instance, courtesy. I think people should consider how their actions affect others and should be ready to modify their behavior when necessary even if it’s a little inconvenient. And people should abide by the law. It doesn’t matter one bit if you think the law doesn’t apply to you, it does. Driving cross country you run into all sorts of rudeness, selfishness, and stupidity. From the drivers’ texting while going 40mph in the fast lane to the guy turning right from the left lane. Leaving their car at the pump while they go inside to browse, use the facilities or whatever takes 30 minutes. We’ve all been there but they add up fast when it happens day after day on the road.
An aside, went to another log jammed National Park the other day. Thought since it’s late September the crowds might be gone, nope! So many people don’t care how they treat a national park, it astonishes me. I can’t bring myself to enjoy the natural surroundings when first I have to wait in a 30 minute traffic jam just to enter. Then, with cars lined up for miles, someone wants to take a picture (from out of the car window) so they stop in the middle of the road. I guess that’s my que to enjoy whatever view it is they’re enjoying because I’m not going anywhere anyway. And then you get to a designated parking area, well forget that. In fact not only is every parking space taken there are cars pulled partially off the road for 1/2 mile. And partially means don’t try to go around if there is anyone coming from the opposite direction. Many tourists I run into are me, me, me….trying to get there first, be the first one in, take it all and let the next guy fend for himself. Not much common courtesy to be had. I like it the way we do it in North Carolina, we make eye contact, we say mornin’, we even wave to the farmer on the tractor instead of nearly running him off the road. We hold the door open for the next guy and let someone holding fewer groceries ahead of us in line. You can even hear the occasional please and thank you, or yes ma’am or no sir. Yea, we’re headed home now after being tourists for a few months and I’m looking forward to giving my neighbor a wave from the truck as I take my grandson to baseball practice. Being a tourist is hard on the soul.