McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas

On our way to see the George H. W. Bush Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, we made a short detour through Fort Davis, Texas, with the goal of seeing the McDonald Observatory. The Twilight and Star Party programs were sold out so we signed up for the 2:00 p.m. guided tour and solar viewing. After the hour and a half drive and a quick set up at McMillen’s RV Park, we were off to see the show.

McDonald Observatory Visitor Center

McDonald Observatory is part of the University of Texas in Austin and open to the public daily for guided tours and solar viewing. Star Parties and Twilight programs are offered on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night when visitors can observe constellations and celestial objects through a number of telescopes in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park.

The quick meal we ate at the StarDate Cafe was surprisingly good. While we waited for the tour to begin we wandered around outside and enjoyed the view.

Patio Outside the StarDate Cafe
View of Hobby-Eberly Telescope from Visitor Center

The tour started with a lecture in an auditorium. The tour guide who gave the lecture talked so fast using stats and terminology beyond my comprehension that Jon had to nudge me before I fell asleep. It reminded me of being in a lecture hall in college. I wanted my notebook and pen to take notes and stay awake. The guide included views of solar activity from different locations around the world. Too bad the sun did not cooperate by displaying its spectacular solar flares. Although the sun activity was relatively calm, it was still interesting to see the views on the screen.

Mount Locke’s summit at an elevation of 6,791 has some of the darkest night skies making it an ideal location for monitoring celestial objects. The valley below is at an elevation of 5,280 feet.

View from Mount Locke

After the lecture, we all hopped in our vehicles and drove to the 107-inch Harlan J. Smith Telescope (constructed in 1968 by Westinghouse for about $5 million). The fresh air and climb up 70 steps to the top floor swept my drowsiness away.

While there, the tour guide explained the various components of the telescope, and how it was constructed. Then he showed how the top part of the building turned on steel wheels on a track rather than tires. Tires would not work for this telescope that weighs 160 tons.

Shannon the Tour Guide Explains the Telescope Components

Climbing up a ladder to view the sky through an eyepiece is not needed for this telescope. The view is transmitted to a computer and displayed on a monitor. The computer also collects data used by astronomers for their research.

Telescope Tube

The Smith Telescope has been used to study “the compositions of stars, the motions of galaxies, and to search for planets around other stars in our galaxy,” so says the observatory’s website.

Where the Primary Mirror is Contained

We then toured the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. The 11-meter (433-inch) mirror “is one of the largest optical telescopes designed for spectroscopy, the decoding of light from stars and galaxies to study their properties.”

Hobby-Eberly Telescope

The mirror is built in a honeycomb consisting of 91 hexagonal mirrors requiring each mirror to align exactly to form a reflecting surface. This telescope is currently the third largest in the world. Although the mirror segments form a reflecting surface of 11 by 10 meters, only 9.2 meters are used at any given time. Three instruments are used with the telescope: The Marcario Low-Resolution Spectrographs, a Medium-Resolution Spectrograph, and a High-Resolution Spectrograph.

The Green Pipes Support the Hexagonal Mirrors

Other telescopes at the observatory include the Otto Struve Telescope (completed in 1938 and used to discover Uranus’ fifth moon Miranda, Neptune’s second largest moon Nereid. It was also used in the discovery of carbon dioxide in Mars’s atmosphere and methane in Saturn’s giant moon Titan’s atmosphere.  The 0.8-meter Telescope (the smallest telescope at McDonald Observatory) is used for large search and survey projects, and the 0.9-meter Telescope, built in 1956, is used during the Special Viewing Nights.

For more information regarding the McDonald Observatory visit the website here. Plan ahead and make reservations for one of the Star Party events. They sound like fun.

Safe Travels




Van Horn, Texas, and Guadalupe Mountains National Monument

Day 18 Thursday, February 15, 2018, we left Willcox, Arizona, for Van Horn, Texas, for a two-night stay at Van Horn RV Park. The rain decreased around Las Cruces, and by the time we reached Van Horn, it had stopped. Plenty of cloud cover and windy but not too strong. A congregation of doves had settled at the RV park, waking us each morning with their cooing. Plenty of cholla had been planted around the park along with a few trees and the surrounding area consisted of dried grass. The next morning, nature treated us to the most amazing sunrise colors I have ever seen.


We headed out to the Clark Hotel Museum only to find a closed sign and thought that perhaps it would be open later.

Clark Hotel Museum

Off to Hotel El Capitan to take photos and a drive up and down the main street to snap pics of other buildings, which are great examples of mid-century architecture.

Hotel El Capitan

Hotel El Capitan, designed by Henry Trost and built by McKee Construction Company, operated from 1930 into the late 1960s.

Front Courtyard of Hotel El Capitan
Entryway to El Capitan Hotel

The hotel was converted into the Van Horn State Bank in 1973. All of the original bathrooms were removed during the conversion.

Hotel El Capitan Lobby

Lana and Joe Duncan purchased the property in 2007 and restored the hotel replacing all the plumbing and electricity. I think the Duncan’s did a great job in bringing back the rustic look of the hotel.

Sitting Area Next to Lobby

Guests can now reserve one of the forty-nine rooms with private baths, order a cocktail at the bar, and enjoy a meal at the restaurant.

Gopher Hole Bar

We stopped by the museum again, but the closed sign was still there so we drove up and down the main street to find other restored buildings.

Magnolia Station
Raul’s Diesel

Another cruise by the museum that was still closed required us to find something else to do. Let’s drive to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Maybe we could find a hike. But first, we had to have lunch. No telling if there were any restaurants near the park. In business since 1959, Chuy’s looked popular with all the cars and trucks out front so we gave it a try.

Chuy’s Restaurant

Football fans might recognize the name on the sign and on the bus on the mural inside. Apparently, John Madden stopped at Chuy’s on a Monday night in 1987 to enjoy a meal while he watched a football game on the television.

Portion of a Mural inside Chuy’s

So impressed with the restaurant, Madden wrote flattering articles about it and named it an All Madden Haul of Fame. He continued to visit the restaurant every year always ordering the John Madden Chicken Picado No. 21.

With our bellies full, we were off to see the Guadalupe Mountains. Overcast skies and cold winds did not prevent us from braving the elements and enjoying the nature hike near the visitor center. As visitors enter the park, El Capitan is hard to miss as it rises to 8,085 feet.

El Capitan Peak

The Guadalupe Mountains National Park, established September 30, 1972, is located where erosion has exposed a portion of a Permian (251 to 299 million years ago) fossil reef that includes Carlsbad Caverns National Park to the north and extends to The City of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Other exposed areas of the reef can be seen in the Apache Mountains near Van Horn, Texas,  to the south and the Glass Mountains near Alpine, Texas, to the southeast.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The park is also home to four of the highest peaks in Texas. Guadalupe Peak tops out at 8,751 feet. The fourth peak is Bartlett at 8,508 feet.

Views of Canyon and Peaks from Trail

Archaeologists have discovered evidence that suggests humans have inhabited the mountains on and off for the past 10,000 years. More recent history of the people who called Guadalupe their home, begins with the Mescalero Apaches, which viewed the area as their last stronghold after Comanches drove them from the plains.

Jon checks out an information sign

The Buffalo Soldiers, enduring significant hardships and prejudice, entered the area to fight the Mescaleros and protect the settlers. They also were instrumental in exploring and mapping the region.


After the cavalry and Buffalo Soldiers had driven the Mescalero Apaches from the Guadalupes, farmers and ranchers entered the area. Most of them failed. Three families survived and worked their property for decades until Judge J.C. Hunter owned most of what became the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Hunter’s son sold the land to the National Park Service for $22 per acre after his father’s death.

Ruins of Pinery Station used by Celerity stagecoaches for eleven months from 1858 to 1859.

To learn more about the geology, people, and other features of the Guadalupe Mountains, visit the NPS site.

Alligator Juniper

There is so much to explore, we’d like to make it back to the Guadalupe Mountains someday when it is warmer. There are spaces for RVs in what looks like a converted parking lot, which would be just fine for a couple of nights.

Coming up next is our tour of George H. W. Bush Library and Museum. After visiting the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in 2016, we have added other presidential libraries to our list of places to see. Time to see the two Bush libraries.

Safe Travels

Kicking it in San Diego, California – Part 2

Top on our list for choosing San Diego was, of course, our favorite resident. Our son Kevin moved there shortly after graduating from high school and has adopted it as his hometown.

Kevin Catches Me Taking a Candid Photo While Jon Shows Bailey Something on His New Phone.

We understand his choice given all the beaches, hiking trails, and nightlife that is available. And don’t forget the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and Balboa Park. Who wouldn’t want to live in this subtropical zone with high temperatures that range between 66 and 77 degrees and lows that dip between 49 and 67?

Sunset Beach

After a day of hanging out at the trailer, we met up with Kevin and his girlfriend Bailey Bishop for a walk along the cliffs at Sunset Beach. The popular spot draws people out of their homes and apartments to enjoy the last hour or two of the day before the sun sinks into the Pacific Ocean. With clear skies and temperatures in the high 70s, we joined the fun.

Swimmers Check Out Conditions
Catching Dinner

When I stepped out of the car, moist ocean air reminded me of another reason I come to San Diego. The whiff of the ocean breeze and the moisture that settles on my skin provokes a sense of calm I rarely experience anywhere else.

Boulders Piled Up On Beach Prevent Cliff Erosion

I hadn’t realized I missed the beach so much. We would have stayed at Campland on the Bay Resort as usual if they had not raised their rates to $96.00 a night. La Mesa RV will have to do for future stays as long as I remember to visit the beach more often.

Beautiful Day at the Beach
Nice of This Pair to Pose for a Photo

Ocean Beach Brewery

Ocean Beach Brewery’s rooftop restaurant was another great place to watch the sunset from our bistro chairs and table we were fortunate to snag. The place was hopping when we arrived with barely any standing room near the bar.

Ocean Beach Brewery Rooftop. How Many Cell Phones do You Count?

Jon said the El Diablo double burger with a red onion spicy aioli on a brioche bun was the best he had ever eaten. I enjoyed the Mona Lisa, a marinated grilled chicken breast, roasted red pepper, fontina cheese, with a spread of spring mix basil pesto on a ciabatta roll. Crispy French fries and a glass of Hidden Gem Dunkelweizen on tap accompanied our dinner selections.

The Gulls

Kevin surprised us with tickets to the Gulls, an American Hockey League team affiliated with the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks. None of us knew anything about hockey, but with tickets around $20, it seemed like an inexpensive way to spend a few hours.

The San Diego Gulls on Ice

We watched with excitement as The Gulls managed a goal on the Tucson Roadrunners, then the Roadrunners scored, and back and forth, the players skated from one side of the rink to the other. With mere minutes left on the clock, the Gulls took advantage when the Roadrunners replaced their goalie with another player leaving their net vulnerable to attack. The Gulls pulled ahead and won the game when they easily shot the puck over the undefended Roadrunners goal line, not once, but twice. After this game, I might adopt hockey as a sport to follow in the future.

The Big Game

The Super Bowl is the one and only football game I watch each year, often hosting a party for friends and family. Our fifth wheel with it’s 32” television hardly has space for a party. Fortunately, Bailey’s parents invited us to join them for the big game.

Jon Watches the Game with Ray and Cherrie Bishop
Oops! Bailey Catches Me in the Act.

We were treated to a spread that included chips and queso, guacamole, and salsa; pulled pork sliders with a tangy slightly hot barbecue sauce and coleslaw to cool it down; and a variety of hot wings. These cute little football deviled eggs were delicious.

Cutest Little Deviled Eggs

Even after all that food, none of us could resist the Knock-You-Naked Brownies. They were gone before I had time to take a picture.

The Super Bowl for me isn’t at all about the game. It’s about the food, great company, halftime, and the commercials. The food and company was a hit, the halftime show entertaining, and a few commercials made me smile while I shook my head at others.

Although I’m not into football, I did find the game entertaining this year and managed to cheer along with everyone else when the Philadelphia Eagles won. Who could not wish a close game win for the underdogs? Maybe the gamblers who bet on the Patriots were peeved, but we were ecstatic.

Our San Diego stop had come to a close and it was time to say good-bye. The next day we hit the road headed east for who knows how long.

Safe Travels

Kicking Off 2018 Winter Tour in San Diego, Part 1

San Diego is a favorite destination for us so selecting the location for the kick-off of our 2018 Winter Tour on January 30, 2018, wasn’t difficult. During our stopover in San Diego, we searched for places we had never stumbled upon before.

Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park was our first pick. I’m glad past city leaders realized the benefit of setting aside a swath natural habitat for future generations to enjoy.  Although the town encroaches near the edges of the park, urbanites and visitors alike can spend a few hours in the wilderness and learn about the history of San Diego in the early 1800s.

We started at the Visitor Center located off Mission Gorge Road. After grabbing a map and discussing trails with the volunteer, we escaped the busload of school kids that had arrived shortly before we did.

Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center
Hello Up There

We drove directly to the Old Mission Dam, which is registered as both a National Historic Site and a California State Historic Landmark. Kumeyaay Indian laborers, under the supervision of engineers trained in Mexico, constructed the 250-foot dam to provide a year-round water supply for Spanish settlements.

Old Mission Dam

Construction consisted of cementing rocks and boulders together using mortar made of lime and crushed seashells. The dam created a reservoir that spanned the length of three football fields. A flume lined with hand-made tiles delivered water from the reservoir to the Mission San Diego De Alcala crops about three miles away and another 2.5 miles to the Mission. Today the reservoir is now a pond and the flume is no longer present.

Old Mission Dam

We followed the Oak Canyon trail along the San Diego River, through sagebrush, chaparral, oak trees, and grassland. Critters rustled through the underbrush as we approached and birds flew from grass to tree tops.

Bridge Across the River
Are You Coming?

Every once in a while, I forgot we were so close to an urban setting. Then a plane would fly overhead, the roar of the highway traffic would seep into my ears, or a semi would rattle its exhaust brakes as it slowed.

Stop Awhile and Rest in My Shade
Edible or Toxic?
Just a Puddle

At one point I heard rushing water. I picked up my pace at the prospect of seeing a waterfall or rapids in the desert environment. I knew it was just around the corner only to find more grass-covered hills. Around the next hill, still no water, nothing around the next hill either. Then I finally looked up.

High Tension Wires

What I heard was not the rush of water flowing but the rush of electricity through the high tension lines. Silly me.

There are 24 trails to explore in Mission Trails Regional Park with plenty of choices whether hikers prefer easy, moderate, or difficult levels. I envision future trips to San Diego so we can experience more of what the park has to offer.

Trolley Ride to Historic Downtown

The Trolley has existed since 1981, yet we had never jumped aboard.  I suspect the reason is due to the ease of getting around town in a vehicle. Since our RV site was adjacent to the 70th Street stop, we hopped on for a ride to the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown.

The Trolley

A day pass was $5.00 plus $2.00 for a reusable Compass Card. We saved the Compass Card to use during our next trip to San Diego.

Craving tapas, we stopped in at Cafe Sevilla for a flight of sangria, bacon wrapped dates and empanadas. It turned out to be a great choice.

Cafe Sevilla’s Place Settings

The rich bacon wrapped dates melted in our mouths and the trio of empanadas contained generous helpings of meat wrapped inside. Next time I think we will stick to the traditional red sangria, although the apple and citrus glasses did have a crisp taste.

Yummy Bacon Wrapped Dates
A Flight of Sangria

Cafe Sevilla also offers Spanish music and dance lessons, making it a great place to have a birthday or anniversary party with family and friends.

Not Your Ordinary Bar Stool

Harbor Drive led the way toward the Midway Aircraft Museum where ships are often docked in port along the Embarcadero. First we came across The Headquarters.

The Headquarters

Once the San Diego Police Headquarters, the courtyard is now home to restaurants, shops, and art galleries. The hallway to the restrooms contains a height chart to use as a background for taking selfies and a jail room with mug shots of prisoners.

Along the embarcadero is a memorial to the USS San Diego (CL-53).

USS San Diego (CL-53) Memorial

The memorial was sponsored by the USS San Diego (CL-53) Memorial Association, Inc. to honor the “valiant and remarkable service of the cruiser USS San Diego and the men who served aboard it during World War II.”

Take a look at this stealth-like ship. They offered tours of the USS Independence (LCS-2) but did not allow bags, a no go for us since we both had backpacks. Instead, we gawked at the ship from the pier. The trimaran build allows flexibility for the military crew to employ different types of operations.

USS Independence (LCS-2)

As we walked back to catch the trolley we admired a unique characteristic of San Diego’s skyline. One America Plaza, the tallest building in San Diego, sports a Phillips screwdriver roofline,

One America Plaza

while the Hyatt’s roofline resembles a standard screwdriver.

The Hyatt

Other buildings also have unique designs that makeup San Diego’s skyline.

Next week we finish up with Part 2 of our visit to San Diego.

Safe Travels

Ravenswood Historic Site in Livermore, California

One November Sunday, the house filled with the aroma of nachos and a blaring television. The crowd roared, announcers babbled, and Jon yelled, “Catch the ball,” for the umpteenth time. It was time for this NFL widow to get out of the house.

Ravenswood Historic Site in Livermore, California, called me to visit the restored Victorian country estate built by Christopher Augustine Buckley, Sr.

Ravenswood Historic Site

Known as the “Blind Boss” of San Francisco politics in the 1870s and 1880s, Mr. Buckley, a saloonkeeper and Democratic Party political boss, built the cottage on the left side of the photo in 1885 for his family. He later planted a 100-acre vineyard and finished the main house in 1891.

Historic Ravenswood Site

The Buckley family spent summers at Ravenswood from 1885 to 1920. They did not ignore the once rural area that served as their part-time home. Generously donating to local charities, and appearing regularly on the society page of the Livermore Press earned Mr. Buckley the nickname “Lord of Livermore.”

Main House

The Ravenswood Progress League docents conduct guided tours of the 1885 cottage, the 1891 main house, and the grounds on the second and fourth Sunday from January through November and the second Sunday in December. Tours start at noon and run from 20 minutes to one hour. Special events during the year include an ice cream social the second Sunday in August and a Victorian yuletide the second Sunday in December. The tours are free but don’t be shy about leaving a donation. The docents use the funds to help maintain the property and purchase period antiques to fill the home.

The day I visited, preparation for the Victorian Yuletide celebration was well underway in the cottage.

Cottage Entry Halltree
Decorated Christmas Tree
Mantel Decorations
Chairs for Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus

The city rents out the main house for weddings and other events, so the rooms do not contain furniture. My footsteps echoed on the hardwood floor while wandering inside admiring the artisanship in the doorknobs and hinges and in the stain glass windows.

Main House
Stain Glass Window
Architectural Detail of Main House

Had I lived in this house, my favorite place would have been the benches next to the fireplace. Pillows, a worn quilt, and a good book would have provided hours of pleasure during a cold spell.

A Cozy Place to Read a Book

An outbuilding holds a collection of period pieces that the Buckleys could have used on the property when they spent their summers in the valley.

Typical Farm House Supplies

Outside a baby carriage sat on the porch of the cottage, a statue of a boy is given prominence as the centerpiece in a garden, and a sundial tells time nearby.

Baby Carriage
Boy Statue

From the parking lot, vineyards spread out in the valley, and the Livermore hills rise in the south.

The historic site, located at 2647 Arroyo Road in Livermore, California, is part of the Livermore Area Recreation Park District. Livermore, known for the Livermore and Sandia National Labs, is also home to award-winning wineries, breweries, and a lively downtown.

I felt restored after my trip back in time at Historic Ravenswood with its vineyards decked out in their fall colors and views of the golden hills. The trip made for a perfect place to escape the cacophony of the football games blaring at home.

Safe Travels

Sequoia National Park and Lemon Cove, California

The next day we managed to get through the 10:00 a.m. traffic flow through the construction zone with no delays. The Giant Forest Museum in Sequoia National Park was our first stop where we listened to a ranger talk about the sequoias. Inside the museum, he had planted a couple of seeds, which had sprouted into tiny seedlings. It was difficult to imagine how those seedlings could grow to the size of The Sentinel that stood outside of the museum.

The Sentinel

Capturing the Sentinel from base to crown was a challenge even though it ranked #42 in the Wikipedia list of the largest sequoia trees.

Our next stop was Moro Rock where we climbed up 350 steps to an overlook. I could have stayed there half a day gawking at the views of the High Sierras, the valley below, and the road leading to and from the Lemon Cove.

Stairs, Stairs, and More Stairs
High Sierra Peaks
Moro Rock Trail


Generals Highway Twists and Turns. Line of Cars Waiting for Construction Pause.



Valley Leading to Lemon Cove


Tunnel Tree was our next stop.


Tunnel Tree


A short drive from Tunnel Tree was Crescent Meadow where there were plenty of picnic tables. Unfortunately, the insects were so fierce we ate in the cab of the truck. I braved the onslaught of flying pests long enough to fast walk to the meadow and grab a few shots.


A Little Buggy Wanted to Share our Lunch



Crescent Meadow
Dried Out Ferns on Crescent Meadow Trail


Back on Generals Highway, we continued to the Sherman Tree trail. Parking close to the tree is only available for wheelchair accessible parking. Everyone else needs to follow the signs up the hill and then take the ½-mile downhill trail consisting of steps, ramps, and places to stop and rest.

General Sherman, considered the largest tree in the world, tops out at a height of 274.9 feet, has a circumference of 102.6 feet, a diameter of 32.7 feet, and bole (trunk) volume of 52.508 cubic feet.

Taking a selfie with the tree required a long wait while a group of six guys and gals took photo after photo of each other. They took close-ups, far away shots, this person, then that person, one couple and then another couple, turn to the left, turn to the right, and oh, don’t forget to stretch out your arms. Eventually, we had a chance to stand near the tree.


Finally, Our Selfie with General Sherman.
This Would be a Nice Shelter


Sherman’s healing fire scar.


General Sherman Fire Scar


Don’t forget to look up once in a while. It’s a way to see the forest in a whole new light.


Sequoia Tree Crowns


Walking up the trail back to our truck did us both in at the end of the day. We skipped the Big Tree Trail on our way out of the park and headed toward Lemon Cove for our last night of our 2017 Fall Tour.

As we waited in line for the construction crew to finish up for the day and release the traffic, we reminisced about all the places we had traveled and all that we had seen. Utah gave us the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, colorful cliffs in Kodachrome State Park, a rushing river, and steep cliffs in Zion National Park.

We walked where dinosaurs once roamed and gazed at Coral Pink Sand Dunes. The drive into Arizona to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon took us through meadows and gave us a glimpse of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, including Humphreys’ Peak, from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and close up in Flagstaff from the observatory.

Prescott, Arizona, offered us trails to hike, rocks to climb, and introduced us to Sharlot Hall. California gave us trails among the Cholla, Joshua trees, and jumbo rocks in Joshua Tree National Monument and the Giant Sequoias in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

Moro Rock from the road


Moro Rock From Road


Here’s a Mystery Tree. Can anyone identify?


What Kind of Tree am I?
Mystery Tree Silhouette


After our white-knuckle ride back to Lemon Grove, we stopped for gas and took photos of some of the old buildings in this tiny town.


Old Timey Richfield Station
Quaint Green House


These buildings could use some tender care to restore them to their previous beauty. The name Victor Allred is barely visible on the one building expressing pride to be the owner of the enterprise that once occupied the space. When did businesses cease to use the owner’s name? It seems now most businesses make up words or some kind of catchy acronym to name their businesses.


A Little TLC is Needed Here


After 33 days, we were ready to head home on October 27, 2017. It was time to enjoy the holidays and recharge for our 2018 Winter Tour.

Our main destination for our next tour is Galveston, Texas, for our niece’s wedding. We haven’t quite worked out which route to take or what we will see along the way. Where will we go after the wedding? Who knows which direction the wind will blow us.

Safe Travels


Lemon Cove, California, and Kings Canyon National Park

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.

Mountains Tower Above Kings Canyon Floor

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 through the Trees Doesn’t Look so Big Here

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.

General Grant Crown

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.

Fallen Monarch Measures 124 Feet from Roots to Top. No One Knows When it Fell

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.

Centennial Stump is Partially Seen Behind and to the Right of the Sign

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.

Hey, What Are You Doing Here?

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.

Example of Burned Trunk

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.

Gamlin Cabin Built 1872 To House the Gamlin Brothers who Grazed Cattle Until 1878

Kings Canyon

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.

Contrasting Rock
Kings River
View Through the Forest

Montecito-Sequoia Lodge

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.

October Colors

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.

Forest Mushrooms

 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.

Safe Travels