Tuesday, January 15, 2013

California - Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park, what a special place to spend the first day of 2013...

The drive over to the park was pretty...vineyards, streams, lots of green (yes, even in the winter!), all set against a backdrop of snow capped mountains.  The road took us through a couple of cute little towns along the way and then into the foothills section of the park.  At the Foothills Visitor Center we picked up Jr. Ranger books and found out which roads were open for the day and which would be closed (due to heavy snow).

As we left the visitor center, the road began to climb higher, higher, higher.  It was neat to pass through all of the different life zones so quickly and see the changes in vegetation.

Part way up we started to see patchy snow that quickly changed to deep snow and some icy roads.  California law requires all vehicles traveling roads with snowy conditions to carry tire chains.  There were Rangers stopping all vehicles to inspect for 4 wheel drive, mud & snow tires, and tire chains.  Our suv has 4 wheel drive and mud & snow tires, so they didn't make us chain up.  They did verify that we had chains in our possession, though.  There were many cars pulled to the side with the drivers out putting on chains before they would be allowed to continue.  A few unfortunate folks apparently didn't have any chains and were made to turn around and go back down.  That would stink!  So, if you go in the winter you better have chains.  They will check your car! 

frozen waterfall

see the little tree inside all of that ice?

Anyhoo, there was way more snow than I expected.  It was beautiful...

Our first glimpse of the giant Sequoia trees had all of us speechless.  The only thing we could manage was "wow"...  We were glad for our sunroof, that's the only way we could see the tops of the trees.  I have never seen anything that even compares to the massive beauty of these ancient trees.  Simply stunning.  Pictures don't come close to what it was like in person, but maybe you can imagine...

We made our way through the amazing forest of giants to the Lodgepole Visitor Center parking area.  While we waited for the shuttle that would take us to see the largest tree in the world, we had a quick and quite chilly picnic lunch (the kids stayed warm in the car while Dan & I quickly threw it all together and passed it in to them).  Brrr :)

The shuttle bus was toasty warm for our short ride over to the General Sherman Tree.  The bus dropped us off and we enjoyed a little walk to see the tree.  Have you ever walked in the forest when it is blanketed in a deep snow?  It is awesome :).  The silence is like no other, so peaceful.  Obviously there were other people around, but with the snow muffling all sound it almost felt like we were alone. 

We walked through a fallen Sequoia...

General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world.  It is so huge that it seems like it can't be real.  But it is very much alive and still growing.  Amazing...

One thing to watch out for...snow bombs!  These huge, super tall trees with the large clumps of snow on their branches?  Yeh, when it falls on you it stings!  Just ask Trevor about that :)

The shuttle took us back to the Lodgepole VC, so we checked out the displays in there before starting our drive back down.  A few snowballs were thrown before we left:)...

On the drive down, we saw quite a few deer and even a bear!  It was a small bear and it was moving way too fast for me to snap a picture.  Oh well, maybe next time :).  The views going down were great...

We parked at the Foothills Visitor Center for the kids to get out and finish up their books.  One requirement was that they sit quietly for ten minutes outside.  They were supposed to note what they saw and heard.  Great activity for us parents, too :) haha.

The difference several thousand feet in altitude makes is huge.  We went from deep snow and ice to green grass and warm sunshine.  Crazy :)

enjoying the sunshine

With books completed, the kids turned them into the Ranger.  She was happy to go over everything with them and award them their badges.  She told them that they were the very first Sequoia Jr. Rangers of 2013.  They thought that was pretty cool :).

I can definitely say, we've never had a New Year's Day quite like this one :)!

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