I had some major ambition and booked 3 national park campgrounds for the summer months. This trip was the first of those 3, just a couple nights in the park which is simply not nearly enough time to do practically anything. This park is HUGE! and so are the trees. Teresa met Richie and me at Dorst Campground, which seemed to be in the middle of the park. It was a very hot and twisty road to get into the park and this is two parks in one, just massive with tons of driving involved to get from point A to B. I did want to get some hiking in after we arrived but we ended up just gabbing away and drinking at our campsite. Our drunkenness was not appreciated the next morning when we found a citation for leaving some of our things out of the bear bin with the note, “pretty messy.” Apparently the bears there are very active and known to frequent the campgrounds. Our bad.
The next day we headed to the very north of the park to where the road actually ends, right in Kings Canyon. The drive was very pretty, except for the burn area which would have been depressing to see, but just a year later, new little trees and shrubs were making a comeback. The Rough Fire blew its smoke all the way up here for what seemed like months, just last summer. It burned over 150,000 acres from a lightening caused spark.
Our adventures began with a stroll through Zumwalt Meadow as I read the brochure guide to my compadres at the designated stops. This is how we learned what a dike was, in the rock world: a crack in the rock allowing an intrusion of sediment or magma, forming a stripe effect. We had lunch under the trees with the Stellar’s Jays peering down at us, anixiously waiting for a crumb. It got to be so hot that all we wanted to do was find water to go into. All the rangers are brainwashed HARD to advise people not to go into any rivers in the park so they were no help in finding a swimming hole. We found our own where a bunch of cars were parked on the road with the sound of laughter and splashing all around. TT and I sat on a log and drank beer, the water was just warm enough to take a quick plunge, the Kings River is one cold son of a bitch. Richie took off downstream, literally, when he stumbled while fishing and was pushed down from the rushing water. Luckily he didn’t get very far.
We then had to meet the General Grant Tree -“The Nation’s Christmas Tree”, not the biggest but impressive no less. The General Grant grove was full of massive, towering trees with names like ‘the 5 sisters’ – and others that I can’t remember. I should have kept the brochure that I read to them as we walked through the grove. One felled tree, that people once lived in, you could even walk through. From there it was a quick stop at the Visitor Center as it was closing, in which the ranger told me a story of how Mono Lake saved his marriage that I wish I remembered too. Then on to Stony Creek Village for obvious reasons but mostly to fill up on ice and provisions.
The next day it felt like I was back in L.A. as we woke up to blasting Mariache music from our oh-so considerate neighbors. We slowly packed up and planned to hit a few stops on our way out of the park. The other General needed to be seen… Sherman, the most famous of all the trees. That sucker is the world’s largest living tree by volume and almost the oldest at 2,200 years. Its largest branch is 7 feet in diameter. We walked the trail and took in a ranger talk. From there it was an anti-climatic stop at the Giant Forest Museum and then out the park.
I wish the adventure stopped there but alas, we left facing two wildfires that were blazing, unbeknownst to Richie and me with not having cell service for a few days. We wanted to take a different way home, instead of through Yosemite, to see other sights and this lead us to a 6 hour detour around Lake Isabella due to a road closure from a fire. Ever heard of Bodfish? Me neither until now. We had to drive through farm fields and dry mountain roads, up 395 near Bakersfield and through the Mojave during massive winds that wanted to blow my car over. But that was only one fire, the other one was burning a mile from my work, friends and co-workers homes, just north of Lee Vining. We made it back around 1 AM and I went to work the next day not knowing what to expect. It was so disheartening to see the hills blazing around the north-west shore of Mono Lake but the amazing firefighters saved the historic Tioga Lodge and Mono Inn. Overall the Marina fire burned about 700 acres, narrowly missing my work and homes of people I care about.
I learned a lesson after this trip and that is 2 nights is just not enough time to spend in a national park. So I reluctantly cancelled Lassen, saving it for another time, when I’m not in high-season at work. I also learned to check road conditions the minute you get back in service after being off the grid.