We left Culver City later than I had hoped. Instead of leaving at 8:30, we weren't on the road until 10:30 AM. After a pit stop at Sprouts to pick up some plantain chips and a bottle of water, we realized we had forgotten Robin's hat and an unexpected return home didn't get us back on track until 11:00 AM.
The roads were fine until the 405 North hit the 5 North. However, for the next 30 minutes it was pretty much stop and go. After passing the 14, the roads cleared up and we were finally on our way, properly. Over the Tejon Pass we went, down the mountain side, past the Grapevine and up the 99 to the 65. Pretty road that 65, at least once you get through all the oil fields. Golden hills for sure. We continued the drive through the town of Exeter which reminded me of Footloose, with it being a smalll town with a water tower. I even saw an old and white VW beetle. If not Footloose then What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
At the end of the 65 we hit the 198. We drove the road east and finally reached the foothills of the Sierra in Three Rivers. Drove past Lake Kaweah and couldn't help but notice the low levels of the water lines. Continued east as we made our way to the gates of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and paid the dues of $20 at 2:31PM. A solid and relatively close 3.5 hours away from home.
From the gates it was another 15 miles/60 minutes of winding mountain roads (sorry Robin), with Moro Rock towering above us in the distance. After a few stops along the road for some carsick breaks, we finally made it up to the the Giant Forest parking lot. As we meandered up the final miles of road, we were greeted by not only the Giant Sequoias, but also by some beautiful blankets of snow from the night before.
This was Robin's first full on snow experience, and it was a delight to see her brighten up in the crunch, crunch, crunch of it all.
"This smells like Home Depot." she said. She wasn't wrong.
We walked through the parking lot and down the stairs, caught a quick glimpse of The Sentinel and checked out a trail map to gather our bearings. The plan was to hike to General Sherman (the largest tree in the world), then over to Moro Rock and climb the stairs to the top. We started the Big Tree Trail with plans to connect to the Rimrock Trail then the Congress Trail to see General Sherman. However, at our first junction we saw the sign for General Sherman saying it was a 2.5 mile hike away, and with sunlight winding down, we didn't think we could spend the next two hours hiking 5 miles. So, wisely (and thankfully), we stayed on the Big Tree Trail and continued walking a little path around the Round Meadow.
This turned out to be the best case of all. It was absolutely beautiful walking around the meadow. Surrounded by the trees, open to the wonderful woods. The crispness of the air, the white blanket on the ground, truly made the place better than I could have dreamed up.
We made our way around the little loop admiring the perceived stillness of the outdoors, when we came across a trio who pointed out a little black bear out about 100 yards into the middle of the meadow. A bear. A real life wild bear, just doing it's thing around the tall grass and branches. After watching it for a few minutes, we continued along through the loop to come up a bit closer to him around the other side. Along the way we came across a woodchuck/muskrat looking like animal making its den in the base of a fallen Giant. Robin and I stood there wondering what it might be.
After finishing the loop we came across an older couple, thick with southern accents telling us that there is a mama bear and her three cubs heading our way. Honestly, I was unsure what this meant. Was it a warning or an invitation to see some more bears? We decided it was simply an observation and walked the path we planned, until we overheard a Ranger in the distance clapping and yelling out, "Get out of here bears!" He wasn't yelling at us, but instead the bears themselves. Robin and I decided that maybe it wouldn't be the best thing to run into a mama and her cubs, so we turned around and looked for a different path back to the car.
Again, with limited time and daylight, when we arrived back at the car we thought we'd go see how close to Moro Rock we could get. Along the way we also came across another black bear hanging out by the road. Robin and I were alone in the viewing and we were much closer than before. Say 15 feet, give or take. Granted, we were in the car, but still, being 15 feet away from a bear is something that'll make your blood flow. After observing the bear and then letting it go on with life, we continued up the narrow road to see some more wildlife. This time it was two deer munching on some leaves.
As for the drive up to Moro Rock, turns out you can park right near the base of the top and then climb up about 400 stairs to reach the top. After about 10 minutes and some narrow stairwells and overlooking cliffs, we made it to the top, with a brisk chill on our faces. Joining in with the crowd of everyone else taking pictures, it really is quite a view. While the top isn't necessarily a better view than any other view along the road, there is something in just saying, "yeah, I've been to the top of that thing," not that it was that difficult at all.
We returned to our car with the hopes catching one last sight, General Sherman. However, first, we would take a slight detour to drive through the Tunnel Log for some kicks.
After following the signs to General Sherman, we found the parking lot. After another 10 minute walk down a paved pathway, the largest tree in the world finally came into our sight. There it stood, much like all the other giants and all the other animals in the forest, simply doing what it needed to do. It didn't need to be doing anything else, it just had to be a tree. We stayed to stare at General Sherman for a little bit, took a few photos for memories' sake and watched other people come and go do the same thing.
We saw some bears. We climbed the the rock. We saw the tree.
We spent the morning on the road, the afternoon among the trees, and the night back with the road. It was a simple day, but a worthwhile day. It was the day I wanted and the day I hope to have many more of in the future.