Death Valley fades quickly as one drives away, the barren wind-carved rocks recede into what eventually becomes grazing land followed by speckled communities that either are government functionaries or towns with some past that’s dwindled away. Â The China Lake Naval Air Weapons Stations supports a generic suburbia well stocked with big box stores and a Carl’s Junior and for the first time on my trip I stopped for genuine groceries. Â I’d never shopped at Wal-Mart for food-stuffs, in my head, they serve the singular purpose of providing me either things I need for Scout events or for 1 gallon containers of Sugar Free Hawaiian Punch. Â The notion of Wal-Mart branded peanut butter made as much sense as Preparation H’s failed attempt at toothpaste or something like Baby’s First Butcher Block. Â I drowned my skepticism in verifying that the peanut butter contained just peanuts and high fructose corn syrup and it went into the cart along with an assortment of standbys like Pop Tarts and saltine crackers.
The drive to Sequoia National Park largely took place on county roads thatÂ comfortablyÂ fit in the category of “back roads” as their ability to hold two directions of simultaneous traffic seemed entirely theoretical once one witnessed the width of the road versus its penchant for hairpin turns. Â Luckily, the turnouts on these roads allowed for excellent views.
I don’t recall the road, the name of the mountain range and can only verify the state being California but they were sufficiently high that I put on my fleece to take this sequence after downing a Pop Tart. Â I added a few hours to my trip by pulling into these stop outs as each one as they seemed to be arranged so that each hill crest was successively more impressive. Â Driving the other way is probably depressing.
Giant Sequoias, as their name suggests, are simply massive. Â They defy sense of scale when someone says “plant” and begin to creep into the “building” category of the circuitry the brain uses to identify objects in its peripheral vision. Â But when they fill the center of view there’s a grandness to their presentation brought about by their power of shade that crowds out other trees creating natural perimeters of the viewing area. Â I’ve never seen a tree that I’d qualify as regal until today but their presence is deceiving, just as there are small and large supermassive black holes, Sequoias haveÂ echelonsÂ of hugeness and most visitors pulled over at the first one on the main park road despite it only being “huge”. Â This hugeness shrinks as one goes into an area like the Senators’ Grove or into the lair of the General Sherman tree. Â Clocking in at over 5000 cubic meters this guy reminds us of the fleeting nature of mammalian life.
There are only one or two other massive trees in the area and a recurring theme of seeing Sequoias is the idea that they seem transplanted, like they were added after the fact, or alternatively they started growing and somehow a forest popped up around them. Â This dusting of greatness diluted the size of the other trees and seemed to perpetually impress the hordes of German and French tourists who stared on. Â I felt bad for the visitors in some cases as they often seemed to miss the signs that indicated the significant trees. Â The General Sherman was located in an area that required walking behind another Giant Sequoia whose plaque explained basic facts of Sequoias, completely missing the most massive singular lifeform (depending on definition) to exist. Â I don’t imagine this error changed their experience but it’s the kind of mistake I’m terribly afraid of making in similar situations.
I don’t want to say the tree was humbling nor inspiring nor moving or any other such adjective as at the end of the day it’s simply a tree, a big tree that’s really long-lived, but still a tree. Â The view had the elements of enigma of Death Valley and a certain sense of awe but the latter was tempered by the fact that so many other people had seen it and apparently not been moved to change the world because of this. Â In fact, some people apparently experienced the exact opposite of the revelation of imposing timelessness as witnessed by the carvings on a downed tree nearby littered with exclamations of love. Â I wonder which is more temporary.
The drive to King’s Canyon and its associated campsites were long but enjoyable and the magnificent slope of the road reminded me of the “Canyon” part of the second park’s name. Â After I set up my tent, paid the overnight fee and made a victory PB&J sandwich, I walked around a bit and was rewarded by one of the nicest shots I’ve had to mark the end of an evening.