We selected Lemon Cove RV Park in Lemon Cove, California, on October 25, 2017, for our three-night stay 25 miles outside Sequoia National Park. Although close to the road, the campsites sit below street grade dampening the vehicle noise. After getting settled, we drove to the Sequoia National Park visitors’ center to pick up a map and newsletter and inquire about the signs we had seen about the construction delays.
I’ve heard stories about drivers ending up in precarious situations if they rely too much on their GPS. I have to admit our trusty GPS backup, a map, got the better of us. Having missed the traffic release window on Generals Highway through Sequoia, our map showed a straight shot north to the Kings Canyon entrance. Thinking it would be faster than waiting to get through the construction zone, we took the Highway 245 detour. It was a lovely drive through citrus, nut, and olive orchards, a few vineyards, and small farm towns. Then the road turned dicey when it became narrow and curvy and increased elevation with each hairpin turn. What happened to the straight line I saw on the map? Once committed, it made no sense to retrace our route. Onward we continued through forested areas and remote property until the road intersected with Highway 180, which took us to the Big Stump Entrance of Kings Canyon.
General Grant Tree Grove
Our first stop inside the park was at the General Grant Tree Grove, which contains a 1/3 mile paved loop trail to General Grant Tree, the Fallen Monarch, the Centennial Stump, and Gamlin Cabin.
General Grant, believed to be 1,650 years old, was named in 1867 after Ulysses S. Grant, a Union Army General and the 18th president of the United States. The tree stands 267.4 feet tall, has a girth of 107.6 feet, and estimates peg it at 46,608 cubic feet of wood and bark. What I find impressive is that the tree continues to add board feet and bark, increasing in not only height but also girth.
All about Sequoias
Although Sequoias are the largest living individual thing on the planet, they are not the tallest, widest, or even the oldest. Their trunks, however, occupy more space than any other single organism.
The trees occur naturally in groves on the western slopes of the California Sierra Nevada Mountains within a 260-mile long by 15-mile wide strip between 5,000 and 7,500 feet above sea level.
The trees’ bark, containing very little pitch and an abundance of tannins, provides built-in protection from burrowing insects, fungi, and fire. In fact, fire is one of the ways the tree reproduces. It clears the undergrowth and low branches and allows the tiny (.16 – .20 inches long by .04 inches wide by .04 inches broad) seeds to open up and flourish. Squirrels and insects also can cause the seeds to release from the cones and sprinkle the forest floor. A cone holds on average 230 seeds, but a tree may only produce one offspring during its entire lifetime of thousands of years.
A sequoia can even heal itself, after it has been burned, by generating new bark around its blackened trunk. The sequoias are also self-pruning, shedding lower branches as it grows taller and reduces sunlight escaping through the leaves.
It is a good thing that the wood of the Sequoia is fibrous and brittle and not ideal for construction. Otherwise, the Gamlin Brothers may have destroyed all of them. They held a logging permit in the area. At one point, loggers did fell the ancient trees for shingles, fence posts, and even toothpicks. Imagine how many toothpicks one of the beautiful giants could produce.
A drive through Kings Canyon gives visitors a snapshot of some of the attractions that make California a favorite place to visit. Towering granite cliffs, a rushing river, golden grass, and yuccas captured our attention as we drove beside the Kings River. Most of the campgrounds had already been closed for the winter, and even gates prevented driving down some of the roads. We stopped at Canyon View expecting a spectacular landscape only to find the view blocked by overgrown trees. I think someone needs to rename the overlook.
On our way toward Sequoia National Park, we stopped in at the Montecito-Sequoia Lodge, an all-inclusive rustic resort. The property reminded me of the setting in the Dirty Dancing movie. Open year round, room rates include lodging, meals, and activities. I wouldn’t mind staying there a night or two. It sure would be more convenient than driving in and out of the park each day.
As the sun fell lower in the sky, we continued out of the park, with no delays through the construction zone where the crews had finished up for the day. Low gear was required to avoid burning up the brakes while descending into the valley. With growling stomachs, we watched for the first restaurant to grab a bite to eat before we continued back to Lemon Cove.
Gateway Restaurant & Lodge in Three Rivers looked like a good bet, and we were not disappointed. We sat at a table overlooking the Kaweah River illuminated by outdoor lighting. The snapper, the best I had ever eaten, was accompanied by a fluffy baked potato, plenty of butter and chives scooped on top, and perfectly cooked squash. The memory of the meal makes my mouth water.
Join us next time for a peek at Sequoia National Park.