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Go West Young Man! Day 7 & 8

Hold on!  What happened to day 6?  Well, after all of our hiking and camping… we needed a day of recovery.  Fresno, California unfortunately isn’t much to look at(and at the time was boiling hot in the 108-110F range).  We planned on going to see a movie, The Dark Knight Returns, but instead watched the Olympics and took multiple lengthy naps.

Day 7: Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon

In the early stages of our planning, Howard and I were very ambitious.  We originally had an idea to do a four or five day backcountry hiking trip.  There is a trail loop that is about 46 miles long that visits the picturesque Rae Lakes which we looked at.  Thankfully we reconsidered this(especially in light of our experience on Telescope Peak).  But the start of our trail would have been from deep within Kings Canyon National Park.

We hopped in the car early, again hoping to beat the crowds and heat(the high in Fresno that day was 109F).  The Central Valley is a huge agricultural producer; the Fresno area is known particularly for its raisin production.  And the area is also notable for its cotton, pistachio, almonds, citrus, tomatoes, and garlic.  I knew California also produced oil, but I had thought all or most of it was in the Los Angeles area.  So it was a bit of a shock to see oil pumps nodding away in the midst of green fields.

An oil pump in the midst of the table/raisin grapevines

The road wound up into the hills east of Fresno, and after about an hour and a half we were in Sequoia National Park.  Ranger Dan’s cousin, Ranger Rick was in his booth to collect our fee and have a chat about the park.  There was some road construction, but it was well away from the parts of the park we wanted to see.  And we wanted to see the big trees!

Howard checking out a sequoia

These monstrously large trees can be thousands of years old.  The largest one we saw, General Grant, was 267 feet tall and its circumference at the ground is over 100 feet!  Its age is estimated to be about 1600 years old.  For some perspective, ol’ General Grant was a seedling when Venice was founded… in 412 C.E.

The mighty General Grant giant sequoia

Another often ignored tree in the same grove is the Robert E. Lee.  Two photographers measured and calculated the total volume of the tree at 40,102 cubic feet.  Now to get a handle on that number… imagine all of that made into nice square boards 1 foot long, 1 foot wide, and 1 inch thick(aka a board foot).  Robert E. Lee would make 481, 224 board feet!  That’d be enough to cover a football field including the endzones… almost 8 1/2 times!

Robert E. Lee, the Fallen Monarch is at its feet…

The Fallen Monarch hit the ground before recorded history made it to this area.  For reference… the tree was used to stable 32 horses of the US Cavalry in 1872.  No joke.

After taking a lazy walk among these giant sentinels, we headed deeper into the hills to Kings Canyon.

Kings Canyon

We decided to drive out to where we would have started our planned multi-day backcountry hiking trip, the suitably named Road’s End Permit Station.  The station itself was unremarkable, so we opted to to a little walk in one of the few areas that was green: the Zumwalt Meadow.

Howard and I both knew our trip was nearer the end than the beginning and were brainstorming ideas for what our next trip should and shouldn’t be.  1. No crazy 20 mile hikes up insanely hot mountains in August.  2. Something that didn’t require long hikes.  3. Car camping is very flexible.  And then as we were talking and walking the path around Zumwalt Meadow… we see a guy fly fishing.  (Lightbulb on).  Yeah, let’s do that.

Fly fishing in the Kings River

The loop path we were walking on wandered through a variety of landscapes.

Grand Sentinel looming over Zumwalt Meadow

Evidence of an old fire

Simply beautiful!
This area floods in spring, but was dry and green in August.

A western whiptail lizard(I think) sunning on the lichen encrusted granite

So peaceful…

Simply stunning views…

As we were leaving(mostly because it was getting hot and we were being eaten alive by mosquitoes) we followed the trail over a raised wooden path way.  I had my head down fiddling with my camera as I followed Howard back to the parking area.  Suddenly he stopped and I nearly plowed into him.  He didn’t say a word, so I peered over his shoulder.

There on the pathway was a curled up rattlesnake.  He gave his tail a quick rattle and slid off the trail.  I was so stunned to be so close to the snake that I only clicked a photo as it slid into the high grass.

The tail end of that adventure…

Counting our blessings we headed back to Fresno(stopping off for some tasty pizza along the way) and getting organized for tomorrow… my flight home.

Day 8

We left Fresno at about 7 and made good time headed south to Bakersfield.  There we turned east and up out of the lowlands.

Into the hills…

There was a stronger haze up in the hills to the north.  The smoke from multiple wildfires hung in the air.  We couldn’t see the fires(they were about 50 miles away).  And a little further on we came upon the Techchapi Pass Wind Farm which produces 705 megawatts.  There are plans to increase this to 1,500 MW and perhaps even more in the future.

Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm

We followed the highway out past Edwards Air Force Base, the setting for Top Gun.  However, we didn’t see any cool jets.  The geography was pancake flat.

Desert, and more desert, and still more desert

Near the Mojave Desert

Joshua Trees near the Mojave Desert

The remainder of the trip was(thankfully) uneventful.  We returned the rental car, Howard got his flight, and I had a lengthy wait before my red-eye back to Philadelphia.  The coolest thing of the flight back(other than being able to sleep) is that when I woke up and looked out the window and tried to figure out where we were I looked down and saw Harrisburg.  The ‘Burg looked almost peaceful.  The clouds closed in just after Hummelstown and Hershey came into view.

Final Reflection

There are heaps of things I’d do differently if I were to plan the trip again, but that said… if I had to do it all again… I’d do it all again.  Yes, down in the devil’s anvil of Death Valley and even the Bataan Death March up Telescope Peak.  They’re experiences you don’t want to do again, but looking back on them… they’re extraordinary.  You don’t trade moments like that even when they were painful.

I think the best way to explain it is a line that stuck a chord with both Howard and I when we first read it in college.  It’s from the Odyssey.  Odysseus has finally after ten years of wandering made his way back to Ithaca.  Athena has disguised him as a beggar and Odysseus shares a meal with his shepherd.  Homer, speaking through his characters as all authors do, reminds us that we humans are storytellers.  We share the story of our lives with friends, relatives, even strangers.  The stories of our lives help us define who we are… who we think we are.

“We’ll drink on, you and I, and ease our hearts of hardships we can remember, sharing old times. In later days a man can find a charm in old adversity, exile and pain.” The Odyssey, Book XV, Homer (Fitzgerald translation).

Later Days…


About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...


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