Last weekend Danielle had Friday off, so I took it off as well. Not as early as we would have liked, Friday November 10, we drove off towards Sequoia National Park. Around Bakersfield we debated whether to follow the signs, which would have us take route 65, or our Google Maps directions, which recommended staying on 99 for a while. Sticking with our original plan, we stayed on 99. Then we ended up on smaller roads, which took us right past a mall with pretty miserable traffic. That was the only traffic we ran into, though, and finally we left the dreary agricultural desert for pretty foothills.
At the visitor's center we got a campground recommendation and info on construction. They were only letting people through the construction area on the top of every hour which wasn't due for a while. We spent some time eating and observing a woodpecker and another cute little bird. When we continued up, the construction was over and we could drive through after just a short delay. On the way up we caught glimpses of a great sunset, but we didn't stop because we didn't want to put up our tent in the dark.
We arrived at the Lodgepole Campground with a little light left. Unfortunately most of the campground was closed off for replanting which left just one small section open for tents. After driving the loop once, we eventually settled in the last open spot, which was a handicap site. I felt a bit guilty about that, but figured if somebody with handicap plates did show up, we could worry about it then. I chatted briefly with our neighbors who had taken the one-but-last open spot which was also labelled as a handicap spot. They felt the same way I did.
Setting up the tent was cold, as we were promised. Then we heated up chili that I had made a week before, even though neither of us were all that hungry. It made for a great dinner, and we ate it all. Then we went off to bed, there not being much else to do, and did I mention it was cold? I didn't sleep well. Some kids had driven up late into the closed section of the campground, and were running their car stereo by their campfire. Finally at 1am I went over there to ask them to turn it down. They did, and after that I did manage to sleep some.
Despite that, we were up fairly early, enjoying a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and very cold honeydew melon. When I was walking back from the restrooms (which are heated!), snow flakes were coming from the sky. This confused Danielle, who had to ask one of our neighbors if it was really snow. It was, and when we left to go see some sights, a little bit of snow had accumulated even. On our way out of the campground, the "chains are required" sign had been put up which was cause for some concern because we didn't have any chains. We headed towards a "village" in the park where, we reasoned, chains would be available. Instead of ending up at a village, we found a fine hotel where the receptionist assured us that chains were unnecessary. Our minds at ease, we headed to see the world's largest tree.
The parking lot was huge, and we felt lucky that we were out here on a cold but quiet day. After getting into our hiking boots, we hiked down the trail to discover all of it is paved. There are sequoias visible all the way down, but the Sherman tree is noticeably larger than those. Even when you stand there at the bottom it's hard to appreciate how huge the tree is. To drive this point home even more, a chipmunk crossed the trail as we were walking around the tree. It ran straight for the tree, up it a foot or so, and took a break. Then it ran up a few more feet and took another break. It kept doing this until we finally lost track of the chipmunk as it reached the lowest branches, 130 feet above the ground. To the chipmunk, this huge tree was just a very nice climbing wall. I took a picture but haven't been able to find the chipmunk in it yet.
Instead of heading straight back to our car, we walked the Congress trail. This was not paved, and made for a much better experience. We got to see more trees, including some interesting burnt ones and some that had violently fallen. All this time it snowed lightly, on and off. It was warming up though, and the snow was no longer sticking. When we got back to our car, the snow that was on the road had melted.
Because my back was getting achy, we returned to our campsite where we munched on snacks and read. A few times the sun even came out and it felt almost balmy. Eventually my back regained its strength and we decided to hike to Tokopah Falls. We started out going the wrong way, staying in the campground instead of crossing the bridge to the trail. When we reached the end of the campground and hadn't found the trail, I assumed that the trail must be on the other side of the river. Due to the season there was very little water flowing and we easily crossed the river where we did find the trail.
The trail followed the river and was never steep. It led us through a pretty pine forest with occasional views of a huge granite face on the other side of the river. Clouds were low enough that the top of this face wasn't always in view. When we finally reached the waterfall we weren't surprised to see that it was almost dry. Enough water ran through it to make some noise, but it was clear that in its prime it would be huge. We did have a nice view of all the surrounding granite from there. The way back was even less eventful than the way up and we arrived safely back at our campground.
Once there, Danielle decided she wanted to go for a drive. I think she just wanted to be warm. This was confirmed when she fell asleep about as soon as the car started moving. So I decided to look for a good place to photograph the sunset which had shown some amazing color the previous day. We found a decent spot and lingered there for a while, but the colors we saw last night didn't show up again.
Back at our campsite we made a dinner out of precut veggies, a tasty bite, and a ham steak. While Danielle attended the food I made a fire out of logs scavenged from abandoned camp sites. There were a lot fewer people at the campsite this Saturday night than the night before. Presumably the snow scared some people away. Happily the music people were also gone. So we ate our food and sat around the fire for a while. Then it was bed time again.
Despite the lack of music, neither of us slept very well because it felt just a bit colder than the night before. We both got some sleep, but not as much as we would have liked. We got up early again. Danielle prepared the warm parts of our breakfast while I took down the tent. It really was cold. Our tent was covered in frozen water drops, and the water bottles we took out of the tent had a significant amount of ice in them after just 20 minutes. We ate just the warm parts of breakfast and got out of there.
On our way down we stopped near Moro Rock. It's a large piece of granite which has a nice but steep trail carved out of it that we followed to the top. There we were treated to some spectacular views. We thought we could just make out the tops of the coast range, over 100 miles away.
On our way back to the car we took a side trail to the Roosevelt tree, which was not quite as impressive as many of the other trees we saw, but it was close. The trail wasn't paved, there were no fences, and no other tourists. This made this area a lot nicer to visit than the grove the Sherman tree was in. Back at the car we took off hour cold-weather clothes and drove down. At one curve we noticed a bunch of people stopped, and as we passed it Danielle shouted "a bear!" I saw it in the rear view mirror so we turned around as soon as possible and headed back up. As we got back the bear was still visible, but it disappeared into the brush before I could get my camera out. It didn't run away, It just went to forage in a different place.
We stopped at the Hospital Rock parking lot to eat the cold parts of our breakfast. Several deer were also having their breakfast, until some tourists tried to get too close to them and chased them away. After that we drove home, this time taking route 65. It's probably comparable to taking route 99 without the slow crawl through the mall, but it's more scenic and shorter.