On to Sequoia National Park!
We spent the night in a nice little Days Inn on Motel Street in Merced (at least I think it was Merced) and yes, it really was called Motel Street because, well, that's the street that all the little motels were on. We had our choice of like six different motels all lined up in a row. The Day's Inn was nice with clean rooms and a filled pool and even an exercise room which we didn't use of course. Even free continental breakfast in the morning! Free is good.
So, we got started after eating our continental breakfast and headed on down the road to the park.
We had to stop at the cutest fruit stand ever where we got some nectarines and peaches.
This was in the little town of Centerville, appropriately named because it's in the center of California- get it?
They had a really nice little bathroom, too, always a big plus for my weak always needing to find a bathroom bladder!
Then, up through rolling hills and more rolling hills and windy roads and on into the park.
We stopped at the visitor center and decided to have lunch at the restaurant which I don't recommend, not the best lunch I've ever eaten.
Then on to the first of the big trees, the General Grant tree. Or was it the General Sherman tree? I can't remember which is which and I already threw away the map so I can't look it up, but back when the first explorers explored the big trees they named them for Generals and States and whatnot, but stopped doing that when they ran out of names I guess. Anyway the Grant tree (or whatever it's called) is just off a parking lot with some lovely trails that wind around the area. Once you get onto the trails you feel like you are far from civilization what with the wind sighing through the trees and the birds singing and just a general quietness and peacefulness. That is until somebody's car alarm goes off.
We even got to see some wildlife coming out of the parking lot.
This deer was so busy eating in this little meadow that it paid absolutely no attention to us and showed no fear at all. I'm sure he is used to traffic and cars and weird creatures getting out of the cars to take its picture that he just doesn't care anymore.
Then, more driving through the park, narrow mountain roads and forest all around us. We were amazed to see patches of snow still on the ground the higher up we got.
Some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
Then on to the Sherman tree, or Grant or whichever one it was. You go off the main road and wind up to a big parking lot and then there are signs warning you that the trail is steep and there are numerous benches for you to stop and 'catch your breath' on the way back up. We started down the trail which is paved and has steps and were starting to wonder if we really wanted to see this tree after passing all the people huffing and puffing and looking totally miserable on their way back up. But, we persevered and went down far enough to see the tree but not quite all the way down. Out of shape much? Yes, we are, and the hike back up was not so fun and we did indeed use the benches to catch our breaths.
The pictures really don't do it justice, but you can sort of tell the size of the tree by the fence surrounding it.
I think there were more foreign tourists at the park that Americans, we heard lots of different languages. My favorite foreigner was the rather portly man who had his cowboy hat on that said Los Angeles on it and suspenders with American flags all over them. I think he was enjoying his trip to the States! We also kept running into a little shuttle bus full of French people at every stop.
On the way out of the park the road splits and goes right through the middle of these four trees- that was fun and I kind of wanted to turn around and go back through again.
There were some signs on the way out that warned of road work ahead and delays of up to one hour, but we didn't really believe it until we came to a stopped car and a worker holding up a stop sign. We had just missed the window out and were the second car stopped and the woman with the stop sign explained to us that the wait would indeed be one hour. Argghh.
Then up behind us comes the shuttle bus of French tourists. They certainly knew how to take advantage of a traffic delay and all hopped out of the bus and broke open some bottles of wine. They had come prepared with plastic cups and had a little party there.
After the hour of sitting there, but what better place to have to wait than in a beautiful forest even though I had to go to the bathroom REALLY BAD by then, the 'follow me' truck came up the road with a line of cars behind it, turned around, and we all followed him down. At a pace of about 5 mph. Down a very windy, very narrow road that was one lane where the workers were shoring up the sides of the road. Mind you, we are driving down the sides of very steep, very tall mountains on a very narrow, very windy road. We finally came to the end of the construction zone, the guide truck pulls over to let us on by, and what do we see on the side of the mountain about 5 feet from the road but a BEAR! Casually looking for something to eat.
All over the park there are signs warning of very active bears and warning to never leave food in your car because these bears are smart and know that cars and tourists=food and will rip right into your car in search of good things to eat. You are told to put all your food into metal lockboxes that are conveniently located at each trail point and picnic spot so that the bears won't smell it in your car.
We stopped at the first restroom we saw because I REALLY REALLY had to go by then, and again, behind us came the French wine drinkers, because after all that wine they had to go REALLY bad, too.
We had lost our park entrance fee receipt somewhere along the way and almost had to pay to get back out but they believed us that we had paid after showing them the map that we were given on our way in. I really didn't want to have to pay another $20.00 just to get back out of the park.
Then, on down the road heading home, past a beautiful river and huge lake and down into rolling hills again. We were going to go through Visalia and get back on the 99 to get home, but after looking at the map realized that the 65 that goes through Porterville would actually be a little shorter, so on we went.
Keith calls the Sierra side of the central valley the 'wet' side, because the other side is all desert and rather bleak. I had never been down the wet side and it was really pretty and reminded me of the Santa Paula valley, with orange groves and mountain views. We passed through the little town of Exeter, which reminded me even more of Santa Paula, and we are going to go back and visit Exeter sometime in the future, it looked like a really nice little place.
More orange groves and pasture land and rolling hills and then all of a sudden you are back in the oilfields outside of Bakersfield, which certainly aren't as pretty as orange groves, and back home.
It was a good trip and has satisfied my wanderlust for a while. I'm still kind of tired.