The Visitors' Center at Grand Canyon National Park is a mob scene, consisting of intense Europeans with walking sticks plummeting down the Bright Angel Trail, Japanese tour groups posing in front of the gorge, Chinese gamblers from Vegas posing in front of the restrooms, and overweight American families buying tee shirts. Not so at Sequoia National Park. Visitors are drawn to its more famous neighbor to the north, Yosemite. If you want to go to one of our great National Parks, and you don't want the crowds, Sequoia is a good choice.
You run into even fewer visitors during the shoulder seasons. Gone are the screaming little monsters running up and down the trail, scaring away wildlife and throwing Pepsi bottles everywhere. They're in school. Where they should be. W. C. Fields summed up my feelings exactly: "Go away, kid. Ya bother me."
This time of year, visitors consist of retired folks—old farts like yours truly—and Germans. The first sign of the latter is the row of rented El Monte Class C motorcoaches in the parking lot. Somehow, the word is out in Germany. Ya wanna see the USA? Rent an RV and for God's sake, go in May or September. You can't believe how ungemütlich things are during the summer. The second sign is that in the hotel everyone—guests and staff alike—speak with accents. Staying with these two groups—Germans and Geezers—is very pleasant. Everyone is here to enjoy and respect nature. They're quiet, serious and reverential.
Sequoia has got it all: granite peaks, waterfalls, alpine meadows, lakes, panoramic views. And humongous trees.
Sequoias are the other Redwood tree. Much less prolific than the Coast Redwoods, they have survived the onslaught of civilization in part because they are not as valuable commercially as the others: they tend to shatter across the grain when felled.
They are the biggest trees in the world by volume. Jean is standing here in front of the biggest of them all, named the General Sherman Tree.
In line with the theme of getting away from crowds, Jean and I hiked away from the General Sherman Tree, where maybe fifty people were gathered. In less than a mile we found ourselves in silent groves, encountering other hikers only occasionally.
Here, Jean is sharpening her tree-hugging skills. The tree appears to be unmoved.
Having implied that we did some serious back-country trekking, I have to 'fess up. The trails we walked all were paved. Even so, 99% of visitors never take them. It's so easy to get away from it all.
The Rangers are playful when they build trails. There's at least two tunnels through fallen trees along the way.
A huge wildfire is burning over near the coast, in the Los Padres National Forest near Ojai. In Santa Barbara, we awoke one morning to what looked like snowfall—ashes drifting down and blanketing cars and driveways. WIth a shift to onshore winds, smoke has been blown hundreds of miles inland, affecting views in Sequoia Park.
On the drive home, we took back roads through Tulare County, passing through the little town of Orange Cove. Nearly 100% Mexican, we felt right at home. The U. S. seems a little alien to us—in some ways at least. We went into a little tiendita, bought a coke for $0.65 (half the California normal price). Jean asked for directions to the restroom and made no headway until she switched to Spanish.
A highlight of our trip.