With the sporadic influx of pseudo-Winter weather in Southern California over the last few weeks, a fresh blanket of snow had dusted over the local mountain ranges and springtime blossoms were peeking out with pastel colors against fifty shades of green. Once I caught wind of the awe inspiring pictures of Yosemite’s fabled February Firefall, the itch for wanderlust had flooded back through my veins. Twenty minutes and an excited conversation with Danny later, and we were scheming about what shenanigans we could get up to for the weekend. Since the weekend before was a beautiful three day Valentine’s Day and President’s Day twofer, we realized that there would be very few people on the roads traveling about – which made it perfect timing for a quick weekend adventure.
A self professed ‘city kitty’ of sorts, I can easily count the number of times I’ve played in the snow on one hand. So, the genuine prospect of an outdoors adventure prancing around a crystalline cloud makes me giddy, like a school girl crush on the first day of Summer. After consulting the map, we realized a 36 hour trip to Yosemite was a bit lofty – but the good news was that we could cut our travel time in half and finally enjoy the stunning scenery that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have to offer.
After some quick research of the area, we devised what I thought was a genius game plan. First, we jotted up to Project Survival Cat Haven for a quick stop and a Caturday inspired tour of the big cat sanctuary and conservation center. Between the gorgeous Lions, Bengal Tigers, Lynx, Leopards and more – the feline fanatic inside me was absolutely satiated. Then, we headed off to King’s Canyon to frolic in the snow and gallivant around Grant’s Grove.
A full day of snow filled adventure later, and we were ready to turn down for a delicious meal overlooking the Kaweah River in the sleepy town of Three Rivers, right outside of the southern entrance of the park. Once we found our cabin for the night, we nestled in and reflected on our incredible day, while memories intermingled with the rich aroma of a Winter night’s fire and laughter. The next morning as the sun slowly soared over the mountains, we found ourselves enraptured by beauty at each and every angle, from geometric reflections in the pool to the warm aroma of rosemary and lavender. After some hearty conversation with some of the locals, we were off, off and away – but this time, into Sequoia National Park and the Giant Forest.
Founded back in 1890, Sequoia National Park stretches to over 400,000 acres of land with topographies that range from 1,000′ to 12,000′ – including the highest point within the Great 48, Mount Whitney. The park contains 34 separately stunning groves of Giant Sequoia Trees, accounting for nearly half of the Sequoia groves in the world. A member of the Redwood family, Sequoias are considered to be one of the oldest living entities on Earth with it’s oldest members dated at an awe inspiring 3,266 years old; for some perspective, the oldest living tree is an astonishing 9,550 years old. Featuring fibrous, fire resistant bark – the Giant Sequoias rank in as the world’s largest single trees, and largest living thing by volume. The world’s largest tree by volume, the General Sherman clocks in at over 52,000 cubic feet, stands over 280′ tall and is aged between 2,200 and 2,700 years old. The park also contains the next four largest trees in the world – including three additional Sequoias that lie within the Giant Forest.
One of my favorite things (and there were a lot of favorite things) about the park is the varieties in the terrain, yielding a complex menagerie of landscapes within a small area. In addition to the incredible Sequoia themselves, the flowing Kaweah River was roaring with delight while wildflowers sprang out sporadically from behind bushes and gold dusted rocks. Waterfalls peeked from around each and every bend, with small off the beaten path hikes and trails, while incredible granite monoliths like Moro Rock and Hospital Rock towered above us like a watchdog.
Heading up the mountain one more time, we ascended in direct proportion to our excitement – with changes in elevation causing me to constantly bundle up in more warmth around each and every turn. Eventually, we arrived at Big Trees Trail – the home of the General Sherman, and you better believe there was a whole lot of tree hugging going around. Their warm rich color paired with vibrant evergreen needles against the pristine white snow made for a nearly spiritual moment seeped in serenity. Ravens and red tailed hawks flew to and fro while the trees beckoned to us gently in their stillness; standing in their shadow, a wave of humbling calmness washed over me as I finally felt like I understood the true gravity of the world. Stuck within a moment of lucid beauty, I found I’d lost track of time and couldn’t tell if we’d been standing there silent for moments, minutes or hours. I left the forest feeling transformed, transfixed on what felt like a life changing experience underneath the stunning Sequoia.
Hands down, the National Park Systems is one of the best gifts that the United States Government could give back to the people and slowly but surely, the country mouse is coming out of me and I’m truly enjoying submersing and submerging myself within its ubiquitous beauty. If last year I could find the time to work and play at a new music festival every month, this year I can certainly commit to a new national park every month. And now, with this past trip under my belt, I have to admit that Sequoia now has a special place in heart and is my favorite park that I’ve visited so far, with Zion and Red Rocks coming in as close seconds. If you have grandiose plans of traversing the park soon, be aware that Generals Highway is closed between Lodgepole and Grant Grove – and the depending on your proposed route, your detour can be an incredibly narrow and windy road (trust). The closure will be reopening in Mid March.
What’s your favorite National Park and which ones are on your bucket list?