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Fresno Blossom Trail To Sequoia National Park
February 23-25, 2018Dear Diary and Friends and Family,
Written February 24+
After Marianne's almost-week out of service due to the flu, we got to talking about enjoying ourselves while we can. Nothing like a sudden illness to put things back in perspective. I think that, for us, fun means travel, ideally the weeks-long or months-long European driving tours of days gone by. Our current reality prevents that, but we did plan out quick trips to Palm Desert in April and Portland in June. Cheered us up a little.
But even before that, and even before our patient was 100% cough-free, we convinced ourselves that a couple days in the Sierras would do us good. I booked a couple of nights at Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park, hoping the 7,000 foot elevation would help, not hurt, flu recovery. We will find out.
Before we left, I had one more camera practice session, backyard variety. Partly this was because the photo guides always say to try out one's cameras before a big safari, and partly because I just enjoy the process of looking at the world through the lens. Ordinary flowers and a whirly-gig somehow seem special. Kinda magic.
In winter, we need to use the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park because the closer northern entrance is closed by snow. This turns out to be a great excuse to zig-zag through the orchards south and east of town on the famous (?) Fresno Blossom Trail.
The first trees we saw in bloom were mostly almonds. There seems to be a wide variety in the trees for just this nut
In blossom season, farmers spend millions of dollars renting bee hives and the little guys have just two or three weeks to do their job. This week's cold spell, with freezing overnight temperatures and daytimes not much above 60F has been hard on the avian workers since they seldom leave the hive below about 50F. Farmers hope for a little warm up before all the blossoms are gone. If it's not one thing, it's another.
The other main crop of the area is grapes, for both wine and raisins. By now, farm workers have spent weeks trimming the plants and arranging plant branches just right. Not easy work and not not an easy life. (Made worse by this year's political persecution.)
The farther we drove, the more orchards we saw. Blooming apricots, plums, peaches were all scattered among the vineyards and almond orchards. And there seemed to be as many fruit and nut trees waiting to blossom as had already popped. Citrus, for example, are still a few weeks away from adding their fragrance to the fields. We drove for close to two hours and probably saw only a fraction of Fresno county fruit basket farms. It truly is remarkable.
Eventually we made it out of the flat San Joaquin Valley into the Sierra foothillls and mountains. The weather got colder and nastier as we went. Even the plants seemed a bit put off by the weather, although everyone knows we NEED the moisture.
At the Ash Mountain entrance to Sequoia National Park, the ranger explained that it was a chains-required day, but our four-wheel drive Jeep with all-weather tires would be good enough (R2). No guarantee it would not move to R3, so chains still needed to be carried. We knew all this, so we were good - but really did not want the mess of adding chains.
Inside the park, we wound along the twisty road slowly, sometimes very slowly as ill-prepared tourists barely crawled. At least it allowed my passenger to get some good window shots of the Sequoia giants. For the driver, I'll admit it was a bit stressy.
Our goal was to reach Wuksachi Lodge by lunchtime. We made it. The dining room had plenty of space and our window seat had a wonderful winter view. Nice.
After lunch, we checked in and were directed to drive up the hill to the Stewart Building, one of three hill-hugging buildings where all the rooms are. Our top floor room was simple, with a nice winter view - complete with ice cycles.
The walk from the Stewart Building down to the lodge was through falling snow on a path in the woods. A nighttime walk on lighted path through woods prepared us for a pleasant dinner. Simple food, as most National Park restaurants provide. All good.
Saturday morning started with another walk from Stewart to the lodge, with time to look around and enjoy the beautiful white blanket.
Down at the lodge, we opened and closed the breakfast room. The buffet was ample and the view was wonderful. Even the diseased tree's rust color showed well in the snow. We took our time at our "work", a diary for two for me and zentangle drawing for Marianne. We lingered from early breakfast to the start of lunchtime.
From Wuksachi, we drove a couple of miles south to Lodgepole, just to see what was there. Not much, as it turned out. The cluster of buildings held a country grocery store specializing in camping support, with no winter campers in sight. The ranger station was closed for the season as well. Good collection of ice cycles, however.
From there, it was back south on General's Highway, normally the busy road connecting all the tourist stops in Sequoia NP. On this Saturday, it was a quiet white pathway. This definitely is a good season for visiting, although hiking opportunities are limited.
The next stop was the Giant Forest Museum so we could collect a stamp for our National Park "passport". Of course we needed to take the obligatory pictures of the Sentinel tree, one of the largest in the park. I suppose I take the same pictures every visit, but it's impossible to not take the opportunity to focus on such a natural wonder.
Our hike for the day turned out to be the Big Trees Loop around Round Meadow, just north of the museum. It was an easy, flat walk, even if the snow had covered everything. About all the exercise we were up for.
After the hike, it was back to Wuksachi for a rest, a drink before our early dinner, a slow meal, and a little television, our only concession to modern communication. Wuksachi has no cell phone service and wifi is iffy at best. There is some controversy about establishing reliable cell phone service and better wifi in our National Parks, but for our flu-recovery visit, the isolation was welcome.
On Sunday we were up on time (early as is old timers do.) The walk down to the lodge was still nice, even if the white snow blanket already had holes.
At breakfast, we enjoyed the same special view, but my favorite tree was now pretty much snow free. Still, pretty in red. We took our time, as we usually do, but still had to get going in time to return to household duties in the afternoon. I think I could have stayed at Wuksachi for a few more days. Maybe next time.
On our drive out we passed through the Four Guardsmen, a row of Giant Sequoias that straddle the traditional southern entrance to the big tree groves of the park. We pulled over, blocking the narrow road, and I took my last Big Tree pictures. Don't worry, there were no other cars around.
From there, the road meandered down and down, with curves and mountain views we had barely noticed on the snowy drive up.
Farther down, we passed around and under Moro Rock. The upper road to the rock is closed by winter snow, but from a few thousand feet below, there was no hint of the snow cover. We took the picture from Hospital Rock picnic area, the first stop outside the "chains only" section of the highway. (And we did guard our food from bears, even if they stayed hidden.)
Near the community of Lemon Cove, we paused one more time to look out over Lake Kaweah, up to the Sierras. Those mountains should have more snow in February than they do this year, but we were glad we had gotten our sample.
From there, it was all just plain driving. We took the direct route home, via California Highway 99, reportedly the deadliest highway in America. I don't know about that, but it is always busy, generally with plenty of high-speed, heavy trucks. After a couple of days on almost-empty park roads, it was a reminder that we were back in the real world.
Back home, we were immediately immersed in normal life: unpack, shop for dinner, bring Mamo over, eat, show some of her old slides, drive her home, and settle in to our comfortable home. We ended the day with a discussion of the role we want for travel in our lives. Sometimes we think we NEED to repeat some of the extended road travel of 10 or 16 years ago, but then question if that can be repeated in any real sense. I think that, for us, travel is an existential idea and we don't know for sure what fits the existence of 70-year-olds-with -family-complications.
John and Marianne
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