Carol writes: From Reno, it was just a short drive into the golden state of California, where we would make our “home” for the next 7 months. We selected the tiny little town of Chowchilla for the location of our first campground in California. Our intention was to use Chowchilla as a base camp from which we would visit two giants in our national park system—Yosemite and Kings Canyon.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Yosemite National Park is one of the crown jewels in the entire national park system. Originally created as a forest preserve by President Abraham Lincoln, Yosemite is known as a place of unrivaled beauty and is famous for its waterfalls… such as 620-ft Bridalveil Fall,
over which tumbles the stream of an ancient hanging valley left by the glaciers as they retreated;
phenomenal granite rock formations like Half Dome, which geologically never had another half;
and giant sequoia trees thousands of years old, which receive their specially required combination of water, sunlight, nutrients, and periodic fire at Yosemite.
Sequoias are difficult to capture in a photograph that does them justice, except when they have fallen... or have tunnels carved into their trunk.
We made reservations to stay two nights in the valley at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, thus checking off a bucket-list item for us. Our last visit to Yosemite was in 1989 during our family year on the road. At that time we camped in the valley where I remember our visit with great fondness.
The heart of the park, Yosemite Valley, was carved millions of years ago by glaciers and rivers. It requires a stretch of the imagination, but glaciers actually filled Yosemite Valley almost to the top of Half Dome!
A drive up out of the valley to Glacier Point brought us to a viewpoint of Half Dome,
then to the brink of Yosemite Valley for one of the most exhilarating looks on Earth. The impressive Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly and forever, The Ahwahnee) on the canyon floor 3200 feet below where trees were bedecked in fall colors while awaiting the blanket of winter’s coming snows.
Yosemite’s 3593-ft granite monolith called El Capitan has attracted rock climbers from all over the world. We took a short hike in the valley for a peek with our telephoto lens at the crazy people who find their thrills by hanging out on ropes for days at a time as they slowly creep up the rockface of El Capitan.
How these climbers manage any rest on overnight sleeping platforms that project out into space is beyond my comprehension.
A brief visit to the Yosemite Museum resulted in an appreciation of some of Yosemite’s early history. One of most influential naturalists and environmental philosophers of all time was intensely enamored with what is now Yosemite National Park. Often called the father of our national parks, that man was John Muir.
Muir lived in a primitive cabin in the valley for two years and explored every inch of the park. In 1903 he spent three days camping with President Theodore Roosevelt, during which time he pleaded that more acreage around Yosemite be granted federal protection.
At the conclusion of our second night in the valley we decided to enhance the bucket list slightly and treated ourselves to Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee. (The new name Majestic Yosemite Hotel will never slip easily on the tongue.) On the exterior, the Ahwahnee was a tour de force of rustic park service design called “parkitecture.”
Inside, the Ahwahnee’s style showcased elegance of the bygone era when it opened in 1927.
The dining room was a blaze of rustic ambience in what was a very tranquil setting for a delicious Sunday brunch.
On the way out of Yosemite we took a drive to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which was created as a result of damming the Tuolomne River that used to flow through the valley that was once considered a twin to Yosemite Valley.
|Hetch Hetchy before damming of the Tuolumne River|
John Muir led the opposition to damming this incredibly beautiful valley, but that was a battle he did not win. Development won out and O’Shaughnessy Dam
was completed in 1923 in order to supply much needed hydroelectric power and water to the rapidly expanding population of the San Francisco Bay Area.
KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Like Hetch Hetchy, Kings Canyon National Park was also almost flooded by a dam. Thankfully, that did not happen to one of the most spectacular glacial canyons in North America—Kings Canyon. The geography at the entrance to Kings Canyon was indeed grandiose.
However, our visit to Kings Canyon National Park was all about visiting the home of the giant sequoia tree. Sequoia trees grow exclusively along a narrow belt on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A thick protective bark makes them naturally resistant to fire and insects.
Once in the park, we headed straight to the easy-to-walk “General Grant Tree Trail” and were impressed right out of the parking lot.
Even though we had seen these impressive giants many years ago, we were in awe all over again at the enormous scale and majesty of the most massive living trees on Earth.
Nearly 40 of the sequoias on this trail were given names, most of which were names of states. However, the king of the grove belonged to the General Grant Tree, the world’s third largest tree, discovered in 1862 during the Civil War and named in honor of the leader of the Union forces. For purposes of scale, I am the miniature human in the foreground of the General Grant Tree, proclaimed "the Nation's Christmas Tree" by President Calvin Coolidge.
Perspective was easier to represent in photographs of the fallen giants. Al is pictured below in the bowels of the hollowed out “Fallen Monarch,”
and I am just a wee speck in the foreground of another toppled giant.
Two of our nations's first three national parks were created in part to protect rare groves of our country’s giant sequoia trees. These unique trees are considered so precious that the silhouette of a giant sequoia is featured on the National Park Service arrowhead logo.
We sure were grateful for the time we got to spend in the Sierra Nevada mountains at two of Nature’s greatest temples.
Al has always asserted that the Sierras are his favorite mountains for hiking. Back in his single days, Al often took overnight hikes without a tent and without water, as back then the water was pure and without contamination. He would often refer to the Sierras as a “tame wilderness.” Before we were married, I was introduced to that “tame wilderness” during a three-day backpacking trip with Al along a section of the John Muir trail. Clearly, I passed this prenuptial ‘trial by fire’ during which I also began to fall in love with the beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As I clearly recall, the water was pure and delicious, but I insisted on a tent...
“Life is uncertain; don’t sip.” Advice seen on side of beer bottle at the Ahwahnee