USA 2015

Sequoia, Kings Canyon And Yosemite National Parks (and skunks): USA 2015

Big trees are always impressive, and they don’t come much bigger than the grand Sequoia trees of the Sequoia National Park. (For pedants, the Sequoias have the greatest base circumference and are the largest single organisms on earth, but redwoods grow taller).

In truth, they both look similar to the non-expert eye and are impressively large and indestructible, to the extent that they need periodic forest fires to aid the germination process. Sequoias exist in a world that is almost beyond time. Mature trees can be 2,000-3,000 years old, and the sequoia’s cones can remain on the tree for 30 years before dropping to the forest floor.

Sequoia trees
Very big trees — and these weren’t the biggest ones!
Giant trees! Kings Canyon
This photo gives a better idea of the scale of these trees, although it was taken in Kings Canyon, not Sequoia National Park.

A highlight of our brief visit to Sequoia National Park was the climb to the top of Moro Rock. Excellent views from the top. After that, rather than getting back on the shuttle bus we walked up the road to the Tunnel Log, a fallen sequoia with a hole cut in it through which you could (although you’re not allowed to) drive a car. It’s only a mile or so and is a pleasant walk, shaded by the trees.

You can then catch the shuttle bus back down from Tunnel Log to the parking area.

Moro Rock stairs
Climbing Moro Rock has been made pretty simple…
View of Sierra Nevada from Moro Rock
The view of the Sierra Nevada from the top of Moro Rock
Tunnel Log
Tunnel Log — big enough to drive through. In the 1930s, this kind of thing was popular in US national parks. No longer — it’s all about conservation today.

Our visit to Kings Canyon was limited by road closures due to fire (and by time) but we did spot a small bear that appeared to be on its own — so perhaps its first year away from its mother?

Young bear in Kings Canyon NP
A young bear apparently on its own in Kings Canyon NP. We watched it for quite some time from the car, it didn’t seem phased by us at all (this was taken with a telephoto lens!)


Yosemite National Park

It sounds strange and ungrateful of me to say this, but Yosemite National Park just didn’t float our boat. I think it was partly the sense of being down in a large valley a lot of the time — we like open spaces — plus it didn’t seem to handle the visitor numbers as well as the Grand Canyon.

The choice of eating places was also poor compared to the Grand Canyon, especially as some had already shut for the season despite all campsites and car parks being pretty much full.

The highlight of Yosemite, the one bit we really enjoyed, was the view from Glacier Point (which looks down on Yosemite valley) and subsequently the walk to Sentinel Dome, which is also above Yosemite. The Sentinel Dome walk takes you through the trees before emerging above them onto the dome, from which the views are fantastic.

Yosemite valley from Glacier Point
Yosemite valley from Glacier Point
Yosemite from Sentinel Dome
Yosemite from Sentinel Dome

We also saw an adult bear a short distance away in the woods on the way up to the Dome. Happily he/she was more interested in inspecting the contents of a fallen tree trunk than in us, but it was not far away and was an experience that really made you feel alive…

Bear in Yosemite NP
An adult bear in Yosemite park, on the walk to Sentinel Dome. Also through a telephoto lens.

One final comment: we left Yosemite park by way of the Tioga Pass through Tuolumne Meadows. It’s a good drive but is probably better driven from east to west if you want to get a real sense of the drama and altitude of the scenery.

Pothole Dome walk Tuolumne Meadows
View from the top of Pothole Dome in Tuolumne Meadows. Great views but shorter than the nearby Lembert Dome.

Another thing — skunks. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but if driving in rural areas, you will probably come across skunk roadkill occasionally. We did, several times. Just driving by one allows some of this animal’s famed smell into your car.

If you’re European and haven’t smelt skunk before, it’s surprisingly unpleasant and penetrating. You really do not ever want to have one spray inside your home, or god forbid, your (rental) motorhome.