Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Lots of big changes in my life lately.. As such, things have been busy as ever! I’ve been spending a lot of time in the mountains, and there have been a lot of unexpected trips. This phase of my life is something I’m very grateful for; I’m learning that spontaneity is good, being busy is good, and I’m being reminded of just how strong my support system is.

Much of my down time recently has been giving me a “reset” of sorts – revisiting my past interests and trying new things that interest me. One of my short term goals (which I’ve been making good on) is to spend more time outdoors. I mentioned recently on Instagram that Ryan & I invested in an “America the Beautiful” pass while visiting Yosemite following the fires, and it’s already more than paid for itself in our travels.

Another of my goals is to be more diligent with writing. Despite that, this post isn’t very word-intensive. In my opinion, my blog posts about nature-y trips don’t need a bunch of words detracting from the quiet beauty of these locations.

In short, Ryan and I stayed at the Montecito-Sequoia Lodge. We spent one day of our trip exploring further along 198 through Sequoia National Park, and the next day up 180 into a small portion of Kings Canyon National Park. This trip was seen as a way to get a feel for the area, and we plan to go back and explore further!

Montecito Lake – on property at the Montecito-Sequoia Lodge where we stayed
General Sherman in the background

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Downed tree along the General Grant Trail

Fire scar on General Grant tree

Yosemite Falls Had Us Mist-ified!

Hiking is a hobby I picked up while I lived in Colorado. Towards the beginning, I was still experiencing joint pain that was most likely caused by my time playing volleyball, and that limited the types of hikes I could take on. Due to that, I tended to limit my hikes to those rated moderate or below. Three years ago, on June 18, 2014, Charlotte and I attempted Yosemite Falls, rated at moderate to strenuous, and only made it to Columbia Rock before opting to turn back and get into the pools below Lower Yosemite Falls. Reminder: All collages can be clicked on to see the individual images in a larger format.

Charlotte and I met in 7th grade and she has held a special place in my life since. She is one of the most strong willed, ambitious, and charismatic people I know. Our relationship has always been one based in a more “adult” perspective – we can go months without talking but there is no hesitation with picking up right where with left off. For undergrad, Charlotte went to Cal Berkeley, and is continuing her education with Law School at Ole Miss. This trip fell during a break in her school schedule when she happened to not only be in town, but have a full day free.

Our second attempt at the Yosemite Falls Trail (which we were determined to complete) was scheduled for Monday, June 19th, coincidentally just one day after the 3 year anniversary of our first attempt. We left town around 6 o’clock that morning, and by 8 a.m. we were in the valley.

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On our way through the valley just as we crossed the river to get to the north side of the park, we stopped to capture this gorgeous view of our only plan for the day:

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from the parking lot by Shuttle Stop #11

Spring into May and June is typically when waterfalls in Yosemite experience peak runoff, but due to last week’s snowfall, there is a tree-mendous volume (my dad gets credit for that one!) of water coming over Yosemite Falls right now.

We didn’t take any pictures of the trail while we were on it, but the National Park Service webpage for Yosemite National Park allows you to navigate to the information below about the Yosemite Falls Trail (also linked above):

Yosemite Falls trail stats - captured from nps.gov

Needless to say, we had quite a day ahead of us. We parked the car in the lot just across the road from the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, and had to walk from there to Campground 4 where the trailhead is located. At 8:53 a.m. we left the valley floor on our journey to summit Yosemite Falls. Note: The only two times we know for sure are when we left the valley and when we got back down, every other time listed is based on picture timestamps.

Around 9:30 a.m., we made it to Columbia Rock. This portion of the journey was much easier to accomplish than I remembered, though my memory served me correctly in just how steep and winding it was.

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View of Half Dome from Columbia Rock (yes, I’m wearing the same Maserati hat as I did the first trip)

From that point, we started the strenuous portion of the hike – 2700 ft elevation gain over about 2.6 miles. About a mile into that, we got gorgeous views of the falls and benefited from all the mist coming off the fall.

After the mist comes what seems like a desert. The trail coverage that is relatively abundant for the first half disappears, and all that is left is the sun and the sandy path. Around 11:40 a.m. we summited the falls and were pretty exhausted. The overlook was an open, rocky area that had signs pointing toward stairs which provided a closer look at the falls.

Excited to *finally* reach the top

Good news – thanks to my beloved Camelbak (this is the one I have), I didn’t run out of water, nor did I feel or exhibit signs of dehydration. Bad news – the muscle fatigue was very real. Getting to the top was a push, but let me be clear, the last few stairs to and from the actual edge of the falls were painful.

As we approached Yosemite Creek, we were expecting just that – a creek. We did not anticipate just how much water would be coming down the mountain. The staircase pictured above was very narrow and led down to a lower lookout point.

From the higher point, we could see a bridge up the Yosemite Creek which was surrounded by a bunch of rocks on the bank that would be great for laying out on. Based on trail markers we saw just before reaching the outlook, we figured the bridge was a short way up the Yosemite Point Trail which branches off of the Yosemite Falls Trail. After crossing the bridge, we opted to go opposite the direction of the trail to get to the rocks on the edge of the creek (this part is definitely not recommended by the NPS as the creek is fast moving and directly above the falls, you should stay on the trails, kids).

While down by the creek, we had the lunch we had packed – crackers, salami, and cheese, various bars, and PB&J sandwiches. We also took this time to soak up some sun, and give our bodies some reprieve from the hike up. The water was quite possibly close to freezing, but it felt great! We spent quite awhile up there, and around 1:30 p.m. or so we started our descent.

Truth be told, we didn’t take many pictures during our ascent because of how strenuous it was and our focus being on reaching the top. The descent was when the bulk of our scenery pictures were taken, and I’ve provided a compilation below.

The trip down the mountain was much faster than the trip up, and we made it back to the valley floor at 3:20 p.m. According to Charlotte’s Fitbit, with all of our adventures included, we took just over 31,000 steps, traveled about 13 miles, and climbed the equivalent of 380 staircases. I am so proud of what we accomplished and the view was worth every muscle-screaming step. On our way down the hill, we stopped at Robert’s Frosty in Coarsegold for soft serve as a reward for making it all the way to the top of the falls.

This trip also marked Lil’ Blue’s first to Yosemite! I greatly appreciate Charlotte letting me be *that* person who stops to take artsy pictures of my car.

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My Outback below the Three Brothers rock formation on the North Side of Yosemite Valley

3 Days in Redwoods National & State Parks

It has officially been one year since Shannon and I went to Redwoods National and State Parks just north of Eureka in Orick, CA. This was a trip we first conceived shortly after finally meeting in our Senior Honor’s Seminar at Colorado State the semester before we both received our Bachelor’s degrees.

Shannon and I had been Facebook friends because of common interests realized from a “CSU Class of 2016” page for four years before we actually had a class together (and realized that we should have been real friends the whole dang time). We are both fans of adventure and loosely structured plans. Our seminar got us talking about National Parks which led Shannon to bring up the Redwoods, I mentioned I hadn’t been before, so we decided right then and there to make a trip together. We got closer over the course of the semester, too, and that definitely encouraged follow through. After graduation, we figured out when we would be in California at the same time and planned from there.

We decided that we would leave on June 5th, and come home on June 9th. It didn’t make sense for either of us to go to the other to begin the journey because of our relative starting points in California, so we opted to meet just off I-5 in Los Banos because it was the least out of the way for Shannon and the most reasonable for me to get to. From there, we got back on the 5 and headed north towards Eureka. We hardly needed directions as Shannon has been going there throughout her life to visit her paternal grandmother. Additionally, her older sister now lives in the Santa Rosa area, which is conveniently on the way to Eureka. We made a stop in Santa Rosa in the early afternoon, and met Shannon’s sister and brother-in-law for lunch.

As we drove up, we searched hotels online and made hotel reservations at the Eureka Inn. From Los Banos to Eureka is about a 6 1/2 hour drive without any stops, and we figured we may as well make it scenic. The next detour we made on the trip was at the Chandelier Tree in Leggett, CA. Unfortunately, Shannon’s truck wouldn’t fit through this tree because of the height, so we settled for walking the property.

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We left from there and continued the journey north. We made it to Eureka in the early evening, checked into the hotel, and settled in for the night.

The next morning, June 6th, we got up bright and early and drove north about an hour to the parks. These parks are particularly unique in the National Park System because there is no true park entrance or exit gate, and thus, no standard park entrance fee (though there are a couple areas that are pay areas, Fern Canyon being one of them).

To start the day we parked in the Big Tree Wayside parking area and sprayed copious amounts of bug spray on our bodies. Our first move was starting up Circle Trail and moving on to Cathedral Trees Trail before crossing the road with the intent of hiking Prairie Creek Trail and finding the Corkscrew Tree. During the latter part of our hike, we definitely got a little bit lost and ended up stumbling upon the tree we were in search of, but there are much worse places to be a little lost. On the way back to the hotel for the day, we stopped in Klamath for lunch. Across the street from the diner we ate at was a drive-thru tree, and Shannon was hell-bent on getting her truck through one, so we went. Spoiler alert, success was hers!

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Shannon is in the truck which very narrowly fit inside the tree

That night, we drove into town and met Shannon’s grandma for dinner. After eating, we went to Humboldt Bay for ice cream.

On the morning of June 7th, we made our way back into the parks early, and decided we would go to the visitor center to get a permit to hike Tall Trees Trail. The road to get to this trail is relatively narrow, tree-lined, and unpaved, and requires passing through a gate that is locked and the code is changed daily. The drive was easy, and we reached the trailhead quickly.

The trail starts with 800 feet of elevation change, going down in order to get to the Tall Trees loop area. This trail was the first we encountered with wildlife that wasn’t flying or trying to bite us – I could hardly contain myself upon finally getting to see banana slugs in person (sorry Shannon!).

The path became relatively leveled out just before reaching the loop portion that runs alongside a river. These trees seemed so diverse in form despite being in such a relatively small area, and the walk was relaxing.

The trail where it levels out just before the loop
Shannon on the loop portion of the trail

Tree burned through the middle
Me getting really excited about the trail and the trees (and the possibility of more banana slugs)

When we were done in the park for the day, we headed south towards Eureka. We stopped in the town of Trinidad for lunch and to sight see.

When we got to the hotel that night and were beat, so we decided to have burritos delivered to our room (yes, to the door of our room) from a local restaurant. They were AH-mazing.

Our final morning to go in the parks, we decided to stop for brunch on the way in downtown Arcata (also known as the cutest little town I’ve seen to date). We went to a local cafe where we could order crepes, and it was a delicious choice! When breakfast was done, we headed north with Fern Canyon on our minds. The 1 1/2 lane “road” that Davidson Road becomes looks like an extended, unintended off-roading adventure through Jurassic Park. This entire day in our trip blew my mind – most of the road in and the trail for the hike looked like it genuinely hadn’t been disturbed for 325 million years.

After we made it back from the trail, we decided to walk out on the beach.

From there, we decided to go to Patrick’s Point State Park. This area was a pay area, and there were a lot of campgrounds, but we also found some fun stone buildings and got to see some whales.

Shannon and I concluded the day with her grandma on the way back towards Eureka. That evening we went back to the hotel and began packing so we could leave as early as possible (and reasonable) the next morning.

The trip was so memorable, and was just the beginning of a string of adventures that Shannon and I have shared in. Since this big trip, the scale has been much smaller (mostly spending time on the Central Coast of California), but there are already more big trips in the works for the two of us, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Yosemite During the NPS Centennial

While I lived in Colorado, I came to realize that I grew up an hour away from the park gates of Yosemite National Park and I took it for granted. In preparing to come back to California, I took it upon myself to make a conscious effort to be more of a tourist in my own backyard.

This past Wednesday, my dear friend Lela and I took a day and headed north on 41 toward Yosemite. If you’re planning on going that way soon and are not yet aware: traffic patterns are different in the park right now, namely traffic is two-way on the vast majority of the south side and the north side drive is either changed access or inaccessible.

As we drove into the park, we listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. After making our way past the tunnel and into the valley, we drove through to Half Dome Village (Curry Village). We ate sandwiches out of the back of the car and then hopped on the shuttle that loops through the valley.

Our first activity for the day was a hike to see Vernal Falls. Both of us failed to realize that the mile and a half-ish each way hike is labelled “strenuous” because of the approximately 1000ft gain in elevation. By the time we reached the bridge, Lela was very pleased to see water because she was beginning to wonder if it was all part of an elaborate lie.

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The good news is that you can’t see the silent screams in our eyes as we reached the bridge

The last ~0.3 mi from the bridge to the fall was a push and involved a lot of rock touching, but we made it. It was comforting to know that some of those who summit Half Dome have to follow the same path.

After we made it back down from Vernal Falls (which was much faster, but equally painful), we stopped at a body of water that was downstream next to the road.

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Lela being adorable by the water

After stopping at the water, we got back on the shuttle to go to the next stop: the trail to Mirror Lake. Something we learned upon arriving is that Mirror Lake is a seasonal lake (and not actually a lake, so this trail was also suspect).

After the shuttle looped us back around to the car, we started our way back through the park the way we came, stopping at a few more locations as we went. Through the valley, our soundtrack was Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits.

Shortly after 4 p.m., we left the valley and headed up Glacier Point Road. This road (I discovered) is narrower than the rest of the roads in the park once you get above the pull off for the ski area, and not very accommodating of the tank. Gorillaz got us through this part of the trek.

We climbed the rails at Glacier Point, like the rebels we are, and spent the next hour and some leading up to sunset sitting on the overlook.

Also during that time, Lela assumed her rightful place as queen of the ravens.

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At sunset, we made our way back to an overlook (for those of you who haven’t been to the lot at Glacier Point, it is not good for sitting at) slightly down the road towards the main drive through the park.

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Our time being tourists in the park concluded somewhere after 9 p.m. following some stargazing, which was slightly obstructed because the moon was nearly full and the air was smoky from the controlled burns that the park service had been conducting. In my opinion, one of the most surprising and beautiful things about being that high up in that part of the park that late at night was seeing the campfires on the trail up Half Dome and on paths to other domes deep in the valley.

Glacier Point Road at 9:30 p.m. (on the other hand) looks like the set of a horror film, which we contributed to by listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Our trip back into town concluded with The Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers.

This was a very long day, but it was 100% worth it. I am now a proud Yosemite National Park Annual Pass holder, and I am determined to go at least once each season through September 2017.