Monday, December 20, 2021

Kings Canyon National Park

Trip date: May 2021

Day 5. Sequoia to Kings Canyon - 50 miles

It's a short drive from the Wuksachi Lodge to the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon National Park, just about 50 miles. As I drove the weather turned pretty dramatically and got very cold. 

I checked in at the lodge, a 2-story log cabin style with a big fireplace in the lobby. My room was on the ground floor; nice and large and just a bit run down. Originally I had planned to do a couple of short hikes after checking in but it was so cold, foggy, and damp that I changed my plans.

The lodge didn't have a dining room, or maybe it does but was closed because of Covid, but there is a little village near by with gift shops, a convenience store, and a restaurant (outdoor seating only). I drove over, picked up some wine at the grocery and some warm chili and a salad for dinner and headed back to the lodge. The little storm that had swept in was really cold, the altitude didn't help.

Back at the lodge I hung out in the lobby with some of the other guests, we all chatted about our road trips, gave advice for the different parks, and shared tips on hiking. It felt so normal, so nice, after a year of being on edge around every stranger for fear of coronavirus. 

The front desk person finally made a fire in the fireplace, after everyone repeatedly requested one all afternoon. It was so cozy! A really nice and relaxing day.

The next morning was sunny and bright again. I was really happy that I had skipped hiking the day before, as it just wouldn't have been as enjoyable. I checked out, stopped back in the village for a quick coffee and to mail some postcards, and then made my way to Grants Grove. 

This super short and easy loop thru a grove of giant sequoias includes the 2nd largest sequoia in the world. The General Grant tree is estimated to be 3000 years old, is 267 feet tall and nearly 29 feet wide at the base.

But the grove has other really interesting trees as well! 

The Fallen Monarch, a hollow, downed sequoia fell about 300 years ago. There was a family who lived in it for 10 years in 1868. Then it was used as a hotel for a number of years. And in 1890 it was used as a stable for the US Calvary for 14 years! I just had my coffee in it :)

It was truly a lovely place to wander!

From here I drove down into Kings Canyon to Grizzly Falls. Kings River Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in North America, in fact it is deeper than the Grand Canyon with canyon walls reaching 8200 feet!

Driving that deep from 6000 feet altitude actually gave me quite the vertigo. The road is VERY windy with big drops down to the river below. I took it easy and it took me about an hour to get to the falls. 

It's a stunning area, and I wish I would have had a full day to do the drive more leisurely and explore a bit more. But I was very happy to get a glimpse. And what a glimpse it was!!

I drove back out, really feeling the drastic change in altitude and drove back out of the park the same way I had entered 4 days before. I now had a big 5 hour drive to my next destination; Yosemite!

All photos of Sequoia/Kings Canyon here

Other posts from this trip:

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sequoia National Park

Trip date: May 2021

Day 3. Sacramento to Sequoia - 252 miles

It took me just over 5 hours to drive from Sacramento to the Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park. Most of the drive was very boring; it was dry, dusty, and hot in central California and not a lot to look at. I took CA99 S to CA180 E and was sure to gas up in Dunlap, as there are no gas stations inside the park. That ended up not being entirely true as there is one station on Generals Highway that technically sits outside the park boundaries, but best to go in with a full tank.

My National Park pass allowed me free entry; even if you have a reservation at one of the lodges or campgrounds inside the park you will still be charged an entry fee if you don't have the pass. It was an easy but slow drive through the park to the lodge; it's a twisty road and you also need to be very aware of wildlife. It's also incredibly beautiful with huge groves of sequoias and pines everywhere. 

At the Wuksachi I checked in at the main lodge and then drove off to find my building. All rooms are located about 200 feet away and there are parking lots for each building. Spring is bear season in Sequoia and it is no joke! The front desk told me that EVERYTHING needed to be removed from my car- hand lotion, worn masks, cans of Lacroix, grocery bags, etc. Bears can smell possible food sources from over one mile away and have no problem breaking into car trunks to get at it. Luckily there were luggage carts to help, even if I had to push it up a gravel trail to the front doors of my building!

The lodge is at an elevation of 7200 feet;  I hadn't expected that and I could feel it as I hauled all my stuff, especially as it was also over 80F at 5:30pm! My room was really big with a comfy king bed, a full couch, table/chairs, and luckily maintenance came and put a window fan in for me. 

The lodge had limited tables in their restaurant available, and an outside deck, but the menu was mainly pizza so I decided to stay in for the night, make a martini and finish my delicious sandwich from Corti Bros. The wifi was pretty much non existent so I watched a movie that I had downloaded before arriving. And when it got dark I could see about a billion stars from my window.  

In the morning I had a quick breakfast and coffee outside on the lodge's deck. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and I had a couple of hikes planned and was super excited to get started.

My first stop was Moro Rock, a large granite dome and a very popular hike. Normally you need to park pretty far from the trailhead and take a shuttle because the parking lot gets so crowded, but the shuttle wasn't running yet and I got very lucky with a parking lot right up front.

There are 350 steps that go directly up ½ mile to the top. It's not difficult but it is steep, the steps are very narrow, and it's at an elevation of 6725 feet. The views of the Great Western Divide from the top are absolutely amazing! Also I am supposedly the 4th generation of my family to have hiked up it, my great grandmother being the first to do it when she was 74! 

Mountains √, next up BIG ASS TREES.

Giant sequoias are related to coastal redwood trees but they are one of three different species of redwoods (dawn redwood being the third). These massive trees naturally grow only in a 260 mile area of forest on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation. And while coastal redwoods are the tallest trees in the world (Hyperion is thought to be 900+ years old and is 379 feet tall!) giant sequoias are the largest. 

I drove to the parking lot for the Congress Trail, a 2 ½ mile paved loop around the largest groves of sequoias in the Giant Forest area. 

First up, the General Sherman Tree, the world's largest tree. It's 275 feet tall and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base. It's absolutely massive to say the least! Did I mention this tree is also estimated to be 2200 years old???

This grove also has the oldest living giant sequoia on earth, the President Tree, estimated to be 3,308 years old and still growing! The President also is estimated to have 2 billion leaves! I had to google what was going on in the world 3000 years ago, do you know? Egypt was building pyramids and they invented paper. And this tree was a sapling. It's hard to wrap your head around!

Originally I had intended to veer off this trail and connect to a longer loop thru one of the meadows, but as I was solo and it was bear season I got a little uncomfortable when I was about ½ mile in and realized there was absolutely no one else around. So I backtracked and finished the loop, thoroughly enjoying every tree. This grove called The House was especially great as you could walk in between and around them.

I had a lovely picnic lunch surrounded by these giants (and a few hundred other tree appreciators), it's an unmissable trail in my opinion. And although it's very easy, it is at 7,000 feet. I found myself catching my breath as I walked back to the parking lot which is an uphill climb.
There was a well deserved beer on the deck when I got back to the lodge!

The next day I packed up and checked out, I was moving on to Kings Canyon National Park, but not before doing one last hike in Sequoia. 

It was a little risky as I'd be leaving my parked car with my cooler, case of Lacroix, toiletries, etc. in the parking lot of the Lodgepole campground. As I've mentioned, this was bear season and there had been a lot of bear activity in the area. I hoped that since it was a busy campground people would deter any thieving bears. 

Tokopah Falls Trail is a 4 mile out and back hike with about a 530 foot elevation gain. It's an absolutely gorgeous hike along the river, through granite canyons, past meadows and forests. It really has it all!

The trail turns into boulders near the end, and you have to scramble a bit to get to where the falls are. Thankfully there were a few people in front of me so I could navigate better!

I enjoyed my lunch on one of the boulders while taking in the falls and the surrounding cliffs. It's a great spot! 

And while taking some photos I noticed something in the rocks move, my first marmot sighting! And these guys were not shy about looking for a hand out!

About ½ way back to my car it started to cloud up and drizzle so I had timed it perfectly. And luckily my car had not been broken into by bears, or anyone else for that matter.

I absolutely LOVED Sequoia National Park. 

All photos here

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Three National Parks, One Road Trip

Trip date: May 2021

After my fall road trip to California's redwood forest I was even more interested in visiting the Giant Sequoias on the other side of the state. I decided to do a spring road trip, this time visiting Sequoia National Forest, Kings Canyon National Forest, Yosemite National Forest, and Lake Tahoe. Unlike the redwoods, I had never been to any of these places!

With the world still dealing with the Covid pandemic I felt this would again be a safe way to explore, and made my plans to revolve almost entirely around outdoor hiking and exploring. As an unexpected bonus I was able to get my vaccine a month before my trip so I was fully vaxxed when I left.

Day 1. Seattle, WA to Ashland, OR - 480 miles

My first day would consist of an almost 8 hour day of driving. That's a lot for me, I prefer to keep things around 5 if possible. I stopped in Portland on my way to Ashland and had a nice lunch and catch up with a friend. 

I was on my final hour, driving over Grant's Pass when all of a sudden my BMW lost power. I was able to get over to the side of the road (semi trucks everywhere!) and call BMW Road Service. They connected me to Medford BMW and I was able to persuade the service guy to let me bring the car in first thing the next morning after explaining my situation. Luckily the car was driveable, although still acting strange even after a "re-boot". Definitely not how I wanted this big solo 2-week road trip to start!

My first night stay was at the Lithia Springs Resort, just outside of Ashland. Friends had stayed there just a couple of weeks prior and really liked it. It seemed a little silly to stay at a hotsprings resort for just one night, but it was actually cheaper than the Best Western I had originally booked!

Knowing that the on-site restaurant was not open because of Covid, I stopped at Blue Toba for some Indonesian take out before I checked in. Once I got into my room I made a quick change into my suit, grabbed a chilled wine spritzer from my cooler, and hit the natural springs hot tub. After the stress of the car, this was exactly what I needed. Never mind the warning on the spa gate that bears had been sighted in the area recently!

I was so happy to be staying at this gorgeous little retreat. Natural spring water is also in all of the rooms so you can take advantage of it in the shower and bathtub. The grounds are gorgeous and my room was huge and very comfortable. 

Also my beef rangdon from Blue Toba was super good but VERY spicy! 

Day 2. Ashland to Sacramento - 308 miles

I was up early in order to be at the BMW dealership by 7:30am. I had to arrive before the first appointments so they could squeeze my car in for diagnostics. I was out of the dealership by 10am only $120 lighter and they included a car wash! Thank gawd!

Before hitting the road to Sacramento, I stopped at Lithia Park in Ashland and did the easy loop hike around the creek. This was such a great suggestion made by some friends of mine, highly recommend if you are in Ashland!

I had about a 5-hour drive and it was a gorgeous sunny spring day for it. Unlike the last time I drove past Mt. Shasta and couldn't see a thing because of forest fire smoke, this time it was directly in front of me until I passed her.

I stopped again just past Shasta to do another short hike at Hedge Creek Falls. It felt good to get off of I5 and get into a little nature for about 30 minutes.

By now I was starving so I stopped at an In-n-Out burger in Redding. As I sat outside eating my delicious burger I couldn't help but notice that there were a lot of cowboy-looking guys also grabbing a bite. One of them who was chatting with me mentioned something about moving cattle that time of year. My BMW looked a little out of place next to all the big dusty pickups in the parking lot!

I arrived in Sacramento and checked into the Inn Off Capitol Park. The hotel was fine but the location and the $12 overnight and secure parking made it great! I originally planned to do a little walking tour around town since it was my first time there, but it was crazy HOT and a cool beverage sounded much better.
I walked over to The Snug and had a couple of absolutely lovely drinks. This cocktail bar had been on my list to check out for quite some time, and even though the inside was closed due to Covid, the patio, service, and cocktails were wonderful. Highly recommend!

I walked to The Waterboy for dinner, checking out the neighborhoods as I went. Sacramento has some beautiful old houses!

My dinner was great and the service was really good. I was a little confused as to why they were able to have indoor seating and most of the staff went unmasked. But since I had my vaccine I was still feeling ok with it and enjoyed my goat cheese salad and duck breast entree. 

The next morning I did a big walking self-tour of the city. I strolled past the Governor's Mansion, spent some time in the Rose Garden, and absolutely adored all the trees and plants on the Capitol Mall (they say there is plant species from every place on the globe!). 

Then I made my way past the court buildings and walked around the grounds of Leland Stanford Mansion before heading to the Tower Bridge and Old Sacramento. 
There's a lot to see in Sacramento! I thought it seemed like a super nice city and could definitely have fun spending a couple of days there. But I had a national park to get to so I walked back to my hotel (after hitting 10k steps before lunch!), loaded up the car, and hit the road.

Before getting on 99 South towards Fresno I stopped at Corti Brothers for a sandwich. This had been a recommendation and what a stellar one it was! Corti is a HUGE Italian grocery store and their deli is very popular with the locals as I could see from the line of business folks, policemen, parents with their kids, etc. 

I thoroughly enjoyed ½ of my sandwich at one of the highway rest stops on the way to Sequoia National!

All photos from Ashland and Sacramento here

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Westport WA Beach Vacay

Trip date: August 2021

A few friends and I decided to head out to the Washington Coast for a little summer get away, I'm always up for a beach even if sand in the PNW is colder than most places. After looking at a few rental options (we wanted a house with a room for everyone and pet friendly so one of the pooches could join) we decided on a house in Westport. A pretty easy drive and a new destination for me! 

Our drive would take us past Olympia, which we decided was a good place for lunch. We had a great meal at Chelsea Farms, outside on their cute covered and heated patio. Luckily all of us love a seafood tower, and the one here was so huge that four of us could barely finish it! I also had an amazing clam chowder. I highly recommend this spot if you are passing thru the area. 

Another little gem in Oly was Left Bank Pastries. We stopped in after brunch on a Sunday so they were pretty picked over, but we still ended up with some delicious Kouign Amann and lemon tarts. 

We drove out towards Aberdeen, which is where I have always headed north to go up to Ocean Shores or Lake Quinault, but this time we turned south and were quickly in Westport. We found our house, a big A-frame with a huge deck running the width of it. 

Since the house had three levels, we each got one to ourselves, as well as a private bathroom. We immediately went about setting up the kitchen and the bar. Happy Hour was had out on the deck, and some of the neighbors sauntered by which was very exciting to pooch Selah.

We could hear the ocean but we didn’t have a view which was a little disappointing. But the next day we drove to the public beach access and realized just how close we were. We had a great time walking along the shore, and Selah especially loved all the smells of the beach!

Afterwards, our lunch at Merino's Seafood was exactly what a beachtown seafood lunch should be; absolutely fantastic fish and chips, crab melt, crab cocktail, chowder, fries, and beers. Highly recommend this spot if you are in the area.
That evening we took our happy hour drinks down to the beach, having found the path that cut through the seagrass and was just a short walk from our house, and toasted to the beautiful sunset.

After a bit of work the next morning for most of us, we decided to do some tasting at the Westport Winery. The winery is very popular in town, and also has a restaurant, a distillery, and some very cool gardens on the property.

The wines however are a bit unique, as are the tasting notes. We had a good time here but I don't think anyone was overly impressed. Bottle purchases do benefit a variety of charities which I thought was great.

We were cooking all of our dinners at the house for the week and had brought most everything that we needed. I was going to be making a crab boil for dinner this night though so we stopped into Brady's Oysters for our cleaned Dungeness crab. Brady's has an amazing selection of fresh and canned seafood and we found their crab to be the best of our trip!

Later that day we drove to another beach access location that was right near Westport proper. It was a lovely long walk along the shore and then exploring the town. 

While in town we stopped at Seafood Connection, which is a floating seafood shop in the marina, for some prawns for the crab boil.
My friend Leslie lives fairly close so she drove out the next day to join us for lunch at the Tokeland Hotel in nearby Tokeland. My gawd what a cute spot this is! 

We had a delicious lunch followed by a nice walk around their property which goes all the way out to the bay. The hotel also has a farm with goats, pigs, rabbits, pheasant, bees, etc. Us city kids had a ball!
We stopped at Nelson Crab in Tokeland for some fresh picked Dungeness as well as some seaweed salads which are quite popular in the area. That night Sandra and Travis made two styles of crab rolls for dinner which were amazing!

Before hitting the road home, we stopped back at Brady's for some fresh picked crab. It's amazing how just a few hours closer to the sea, how much sweeter this crab was than here at home! 

I found Westport to be a sleepy town, one that seems to revolve completely around seafood which I found to be both fun and relaxing! And delicious!

All photos from Westport here.

Monday, October 25, 2021


Trip date July 2021

With COVID making international travel difficult, and I haven't been ready to do any long haul flights yet, I've been doing some road trips around the PNW. Which, let's be honest, is an amazing place to be able to explore! 

I've lived in Washington State since about 1975 and I had never been to Mount St. Helens. I had however experienced first hand the eruption of the volcano on Sunday May 18, 1980, which also happened to be my dad's birthday. I was outside riding my bike with friends in Spokane Valley where I lived at the time, and we were all called home. The sky was growing dark even though it was only around noon. I don't remember if my mom told me a volcano had erupted and we had to stay inside or not. But I do remember having to stay in the house for days, school was cancelled and our entire street was blanketed in dirty toxic ash. I was pretty obsessed with this occurrence for most of my childhood and collected zip lock bags filled with ash.

So it seems weird that I had never been, but it's a 6-hour round trip drive and that just makes for a very long day trip. Cue pandemic and also working virtually...

I rented a very cute lakefront cabin via Airbnb right on the shore of Lake Tanwax. I drove down late in the afternoon on a Wednesday and stopped in Tacoma at Southern Kitchen to pick up takeout dinner- fried chicken, mac & cheese, cornbread stuffing, and cornmeal pancake. To be clear, I didn't actually order all of that but that is what they gave me!

Of everything I had I really liked the fried chicken and the cornmeal pancake. I could have used a green salad though!!

It was such a gorgeous evening when I arrived. I made a cocktail and sat outside with my book and this awesome view! And when it got dark there were sooooo many stars!!
The next morning I did some work outside while having coffee and breakfast; it was an absolutely beautiful day. I was excited to get on the road and start exploring.

It was a 2 ½ hour drive to Mount St Helens, so still a big round trip, but I would be stopping at Mount Rainier the next day so was making the most of it. It would be pretty much impossible for me to do both of those in a day trip from Seattle. 

The day was really heating up, by the time I got to Toledo, the self-proclaimed "Gateway to Mount St Helens" it was already 80F.

There was little traffic on the drive up to the mountain. I stopped at a few viewpoints, the mountain was completely visible which was great as many friends had warned me that sometimes you get all the way out there and it is socked in.

One of my stops was at the western edge of the blast zone, it was pretty cool to see an area which had 150,000 acres reduced to basically nothing during the eruption, now covered in forest.

At the Johnston Observatory the exhibits inside were closed because of COVID but the restrooms were open. There was also a food truck set up in the parking lot. 

My plan had been to hike the Boundary Ridge trail out towards Harry's Ridge, it's an out and back and I had planned to hike about 6 miles total. You start at the Observatory where there is a ½ mile loop with excellent views as well as some informational plaques. 
The Boundary Trail was dry and dusty, the only shade came from brush that was about as tall as me and only here and there. I had plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat but even at 4,314 feet elevation it was over 90F!

You are looking right at the mountain pretty much the entire time on the trail. It was a little surreal! I also was so surprised to see zero snow on or inside the crater. And there was a bit of wind up at the peak which was stirring up dust, making it look like the crater was smoking!

I caught glimpses of Spirit Lake off in the distance and really wanted to make it out to the ridge for a better view but after only 2 miles I was so overheated I had to turn back. I finally sat on the ground at a trail marker, the only shade around. And then nearer the Observatory I sat under a lone tree for a bit.
It was a long drive home and I honestly didn't feel good. I had lots of water with me but I could tell I had a slight case of heat exhaustion. I stopped in Elbe and picked up a burger at the Elbe Tavern (it was good!) and headed back to Lake Tanwax.

That evening the power went out on the entire lake. It was so dark and still, and HOT without a fan. But I was exhausted so went to bed early and the next morning the power was back and it was another gorgeous day. And hot.

I finished off the cold fried chicken for breakfast along with some coffee while working out on the patio table. Then I packed up and started my drive to Mount Rainier. It was about 1 ½ hours to the Naches Peak Loop trailhead. 

I'd never been on this trail and unlike the day before on St Helen's the green and lush fields were so pretty and inviting! I had also never been on Rainier during wildflower season and was just amazed at all these little flowers!

Starting from the parking lot and facing Lake Tipsoo I started the 3.7 mile hike heading left up the trail and heading clockwise. I recommend this direction as you will have the mountain in your face for the whole last part of the hike. It also seemed a bit less hilly this way.
The hike intersects with the Pacific Coast Trail for about ½ of it. I mean that is as close to hiking the PCT as I will get so that was quite fun!

It's little wonder why this trail is so popular, it is just gorgeous! Meadows, lakes, mountain views... it has it all!

Even at 5,500 feet elevation it was hot, almost 80F. And after my heat exhaustion the day before I was trekking pretty slowly. I took about 2 ½ hours and stopped for a snack along the way. 

At about the halfway part Mt. Rainier makes her appearance and stays there for pretty much the rest of the hike. It is soooo stunning, even for someone who can see it from her bedroom. The view of that mountain just never gets old to me. 

Finishing back in the meadow completely blanketed with wildflowers was fantastic as I was a bit tuckered out! 

Hiking on two different volcanoes in the course of two days is certainly something I think might be only done in the PNW!

All photos of Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier here

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