Monday, February 7, 2011

Route 66 Journal - The Last Day

6:52 a.m.
Deer at Buckeye Flat Campground
Upon emerging from my tent, I was welcomed by a buck wandering around the campground and grazing on the shrubs as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The animal seemed almost domesticated, which of course made some sense considering the park enjoyed heavy traffic year around. Nevertheless, this did not make the sight of the unusual visitor any less exciting. Since I had never seen a wild deer from so close before, I felt it was a good sign to start the day with. I just hoped my good fortune would last for the rest of the day—perhaps even allowing me to see bears.

7:13 a.m.
As I was driving higher on the mountains and able to see my surroundings, three distinct layers of the Sierras began to appear in front of my eyes. At first, rocky cliffs with only small trees and bushes dominated the landscape, but the vegetation soon began to change. After a certain elevation, dense pine forests and redwood replaced the shrubs of lower altitudes, while the third layer consisted of the snow-capped mountain tops. According to signs scattered along the road, giant sequoias grew in the middle layer in secluded meadows—answering once and for all why I had not seen them so far.

Pictures: #1#2#3.

7:25 a.m.
Crescent Meadow
After passing through the famous Tunnel Log, my first stop was Crescent Meadow, a beautiful clearing surrounded by tall redwoods. John Muir called it the “Gem of the Sierras,” which, even though I knew almost nothing about the Sierras, had no difficulty believing in. The place emitted a remarkable sense of peace and harmony—helped not a small part by the fact that, thanks to my early arrival, I was alone in the forest.

As I was standing on the edge of the trail and trying to absorb as much of the wild beauty of the place as possible, I suddenly heard movement from the nearby bushes.

“Please God, let it be a bear,” I prayed silently. I wanted to see bears so much that it did not even occur to me that such an encounter could be dangerous. Much to my disappointment, however, it was “just” another deer. As earlier in the campground, this new visitor did not pay much attention to me either, just grazed on the vegetation as I were not even there. It amazed me how much animals in the park were accustomed to human presence.

Further pictures: #1#2.

8:33 a.m.
Tharp’s Log
I found Tharp’s Log on a lesser traveled trail not far from Crescent Meadow. The fallen giant sequoia—hollow and completed with a chimney and a door—provided shelter for early explorers, as well as an interesting point of interest for modern visitors. Walking among the trees and looking for hidden treasures of the forest would have been an idyllic way to spend the morning, if it was not for the myriads of mosquitoes. Much like in Palo Duro Canyon, they were eating me alive. Relief, however, soon came to me in the form of two elderly gentlemen who graciously offered me bug spray that lasted through the entire day.

9:20 a.m.
Moro Rock
On the way back to the main road, I stopped at and then climbed Moro Rock. From the top, the renowned peak offered extraordinary view to the high Sierras—for those who were willing to climb the seemingly endless line of steep stairs leading to the highest point, a tiresome though exceptionally rewarding exercise.

View from Moro Rock: Click.

9:50 a.m.
Round Meadow
Before making my way to the park’s main attraction, the General Sherman tree, I took a detour to Round Meadow. This grassy clearing was very similar to Crescent Meadow, only the trees around it grew larger. Before I would set out to explore the glade, however, I spent a few minutes at the nearby Giant Forest Museum where I learned a great deal about the plant life of the high Sierras.

After the museum, I began my slow loop around the meadow, stopping frequently to admire the Herculean frames of the nearby Sequoias. Towering high above, the trees—largest ones in the world—stood like massive guardians, silently watching over the lush, wildflower-covered glade in the middle. Although I had come across a few of these giants in the park before, I had not seen them grow quite so large—nor in such high concentration. While looking at their enormous, red trunks, I literally felt dwarfed; some of the trees exceeded the size of a small house in diameter. As I stood in awe beside one of the giant Sequoias, a couple coming from the other end of the trail engaged me.

"There are several bears in the bushes just ahead," the man told me in a just-wanted-to-let-you-know manner, pointing toward the northwestern corner of the clearing.

Once I heard the word bears, I immediately felt my heart beat faster. I thanked the couple for the tip and quickly set out to find the animals. My wish finally came true, I thought as I hurried toward the described location.

Bears! :)
A few hundred yards ahead, exactly where the man said, I found my bears: a mother and three cubs. They were playing out in the open, partially hidden in the tall undergrowth of the meadow. As I got closer, the pack suddenly left the grassy field and walked on the trail, right in front of me! Fortunately, these bears seemed to fall in the same category with the other animals I previously encountered in the park, looking almost domesticated. Standing only about ten-fifteen yards from me, the furry visitors did not seem to care about me, nor was I, for that matter, concerned about the possible dangers a mother bear presented. For some reason, the idea that I could be in danger did not even cross my mind; I felt perfectly comfortable around the wild animals. I quietly pulled out my camera and started filming.

I spent about ten minutes in the company of the bears before they decided to retreat back to the woods. As the animals disappeared behind the tall trees, I too set out to complete my loop around the meadow, a bit shakily from my recent experiences.

Further pictures: #1#2.

10:50 a.m.
General Sherman
Once I felt I had sufficiently explored every corner of Round Meadow, I drove to the General Sherman tree, the park’s most well-known attraction and, supposedly, the world’s largest living plant. Down in a deep valley and accessible only by a long concrete pathway, the tree enjoyed relative protection from the elements. Although the trail leading to it was long and tiresome, I did enjoy the numerous signs regularly showing me of what height of the tree I was at my current altitude.

Unfortunately, reaching the famous tree did not trigger the state of awe and admiration I expected. On account of my own ignorance, I inadvertently thought of height when I heard I was going to see the world’s largest tree, incorrectly imagining an extremely tall specimen. Therefore, I was a little disappointed when I came face to face with the bulky but, compared to some of the other trees in the park, rather short General Sherman. It was not until I read the information tablet at the base of the tree that I realized my mistake: the tree earned its title by its volume and not by its height. Of course, this quality did not make the General any less impressive; it simply meant I needed some time to adjust to its new image. And, once I did that, I was able to truly appreciate the spectacular sight in front of me. Estimated around 2500 years of age, the tree stood as a living memento of nature’s glory.

The attributes of General Sherman: Click.

12:18 p.m.
I found a relatively secluded spot and took a short nap under the shadows of the giant trees, one of the most relaxing I have ever had.

2:33 p.m.
After my nap, I drove around for a little while but ultimately decided to leave. Even though I would have loved to spend more time in the park, possibly even visiting King’s Canyon, it started to get too crowded for my taste, and I found it increasingly difficult to enjoy all the natural wonders of the Sierra Nevada with so many people around. Besides, I really wanted to reach the Pacific Ocean before nightfall, which was going to be a long drive.

Although my time at Sequoia National Park was brief, it was one of the most memorable among the many destinations of my trip. If God allows, I would love to go back one day and explore more of its rare beauty.

8:34 p.m.
Thanks to road constructions and a few particularly slow eighteen wheelers, it took me longer than expected to get back to Bakersfield. As a result, since it was already too late to make it to the ocean in daylight, I decided to look around in the town. Besides, I needed to get gas and food anyways.

Bakersfield made a good second impression. Not too large and incredibly clean and tidy, the town fit perfectly into its surrounding area of orchards and plantations. The streets I drove through were all clean and well taken care of, reflecting perfectly the neatness of California’s Central Valley. I am not sure I would like to live there, but it was definitely a nice place to visit.

10:24 p.m.
I had just passed the 3000-mile mark outside of Los Olives.

10:32 p.m.
I pulled over at a rest stop near Santa Barbara to spend the night; there was no point to continue driving in the dark. I moved my trusty sleeping bag on the payload bay of my truck and quickly fall asleep after the eventful day. Halfway through the night, however, I had to retreat back into the cabin because of the chilly air outside. Hard to believe that I was in southern California in the middle of summer and was shivering from the cold in my thermal sleeping bag.

Note #1
Unfortunately, with day nine, my Route 66 journal has reached its inevitable end. Although, technically, there would be one more day left, I decided not to write about it because of its incredible dullness. I had spent the majority of the next day in my truck, and I doubt that anyone would find me stuck in the L.A. traffic for seven hours a good read.

Nevertheless, this in no way means the end of my ventures on Route 66! I still have hours of video footage waiting to be made into a road movie, as well as, a guide I am writing based on my experiences. So, if you are interested in Route 66, it would be wise to check back here from time to time.

Note #2
Also, I posted earlier a five-minute long movie about my visit to the Sequoia National Park, basically summing up what you had been reading about here. In case you missed it, the video is available here.  

Distance covered on the ninth, and partly on the tenth, day 

No comments:

Post a Comment