I started my latest National Park adventure exhausted. There are times when I think nothing of driving to some place I’ve never been before and hiking up mountains, and there are times when I wake up and cannot imagine how I’m even going to finish packing. This time I was on my way to a place I had been before, and knowing what was waiting for me gave me the push I needed to get on the road.
Sequoia National Park was one of the first parks I visited this year. It was February and I pretty much had the place to myself. I could say this about every park, but it was the one that cemented the idea that this was something I wanted to spend my time doing: visiting National Parks. Climbing the steps of Moro Rock was one of the coolest and most surprising experiences I’ve had all year, and I have been plotting how to get back there ever since.
The first thing I saw when I entered the park was not Moro Rock--it was a tarantula. You know a tarantula when you see one--and you can see them from your car while driving--but tarantulas were so far out of anything I had considered since seeing Home Alone that it took a moment for my mind to catch up with what I was seeing. Turns out it’s tarantula mating season.
I continued up the main road to Moro Rock, tempted to stop at every view point, but trying to beat the sun. I’d expected the park to be a lot more crowded than it had been in the winter, but again it felt like I almost had the place to myself. I parked and as I was pulling my sweatshirt out of my trunk, I happened to look up and see two small bears walking up the hill.
The 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock were not as difficult as I remembered, but the view was just as spectacular. At the top, a small group of strangers and I took turns taking pictures for each other, and then we just sat and stared. Knowing it would at least be several months before I could return, I lingered until the sun was low.
Saturday I drove back up to higher elevations to see Tunnel Log, which I’d only seen before in pictures. It’s a log that you can drive through. That’s how big giant sequoias are. I drove through the log on my way to Crescent Meadow. From there I hiked the short distance to Eagle Point. The trail eventually leads to John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, so I turned around but kept dreaming of future adventures.
I continued driving until I reached Kings Canyon National Park, which is connected to Sequoia National Park, but that I had little chance to explore before, because it’s mostly closed in the winter. I ate late lunch and then hiked to Big Baldy, a granite peak that it is surprisingly easy to reach. I took so many pictures, but none of them could really capture the beauty of the Sierra Nevada.
The timing of this trip had everything to do with making it back to Kings Canyon before the road to the canyon was closed, so on Sunday I finally made the drive. I had seen pictures, but I still wasn’t prepared for the views from the road as you drive into the canyon. Though it looks more like Yosemite, it reminded me of driving into Zion, where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I drove until the road ended and then began my hike to Mist Falls. The first two miles were mostly flat, so I stared at the trees and kept looking up at the canyon walls. Then the path narrowed and began following the river more closely. I batted away gnats and watched out for the occasional tiny snake. The waterfall is beautiful, and I kept climbing beyond the view point to see if I could reach the top of it, but eventually turned around, thinking of how far I had to hike back.
I was back on flat ground near the river when I stopped to take a picture. When I lowered my phone, I saw a bear walking down the narrow path toward me. It was still a distance away and was in no hurry, so I just stood there frozen for a moment, then wondered if this was really happening, and then turned in a circle trying to figure out what to do. I wanted to get off the trail, but that was no easy thing to do.
Finally I slid down a boulder to a small clearing below the trail and waited for the bear to pass. It stopped and looked right at me and then continued on. What had looked like a full-grown black bear as it was walking toward me I could see was actually a pretty small black bear as it walked by. I climbed back up on the trail and kept walking, a little faster now.
There were all of these years where bears had metaphorical meaning to me, but this year they have become something real.