June, 2007. My youngest daughter and I are headed to the Sierras for five days, flying into Las Vegas and immediately bolting for Barstow, despite our late night arrival. It’s the last of a series of trips with each of my kids, which, when this most recent adventure is concluded, has resulted in meeting Yo-Yo Ma, seeing Ringo live, and fulfilling this child’s dream of seeing sequoias up close and personal.
As we planned the trip, I pointed out that an awful lot of beautiful places lay within several hours of each other. Sequoia National Park was our main objective (and next door neighbor Kings Canyon was a given), but if we were willing to put on some miles, we could pull Yosemite and Death Valley onto the itinerary, too. That proved too tempting to ignore for the owner of several dozen Junior Ranger badges, and I mapped out a plan that took us from McCarran International on Thursday night, on a huge, northwest loop around the Sierras, returning to Vegas for a Monday afternoon flight home. The rest of the trip, and the bulk of the driving, are in the next journal, California Bold Rush.
Bold rush, indeed. Immediately leaving the glitz of Vegas, we drove for three hours on the main route to LA, arriving in Barstow after midnight, feeling like we’d been on a desert-bound turnpike for the entire trip. As we crossed the hills and ridges, the line of receding red taillights and onrushing white headlights made an impressive pair of streaks, bound on either side by empty, empty desert. We were in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve, one NPS location we simply had to pass by (or through).
We decided not to backtrack on our trip: we would spend the night, explore all day, and push on. That would give us plenty of time to talk and reflect in car, and that plan worked perfectly.
We spent four nights traveling, the first a seven-hour layover at a standard issue but comfortable Holiday Inn Express in Barstow, and the next at Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia. Wuksachi was OK but overpriced, leaving us thinking that camping in the Sierras would have been a great alternative (and would have saved Dad some serious money).
We saw a lot of beautiful places on this trip, and didn't feel too rushed in doing so. Sequoia was our first stop, and although it draws a lot of people, it had a much different feel than Yosemite: you feel like you’re among friends, rather than fighting for a seat on the subway. The trees are awe inspiring, and I was more than a little sorry to leave, especially since they gave rise to this trip in the first place. Bears are everywhere here: we encountered five in half a day. So take the warnings and advice seriously.
We approached Sequoia from the south, from Visalia through Three Rivers. You're still in the foothills when you hit the park's southern boundary, with a lot of climbing to do on the outdated Generals Highway. It was under repair when we were there, but even if that's complete by now, staying outside the park isn't much of an option. It simply takes too long to reach Giant Forest, Crescent Meadow, and the other places in the center of the park. So prepare to pay well over $200 at Wuksachi in high season, or pack a tent.
I'd come back here in a minute. In addition to the stately trees, the combination of the mountains, the beautiful meadows, the alpine views from Moro Rock, and the bears made this a memorable experience. It was hard to leave on the second day, but we knew we had other great things ahead of us.