Bear Minimum

Trip Start Jun 22, 2010
Trip End Dec 15, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Saturday, July 23, 2011

We packed up our camp site in King's Canyon National Park then began the beautiful though somewhat long drive to Sequoia National Park. In the higher mountain peaks of Sequoia National Forest, Mike stopped for a morning dip in Hume Lake. Being a Saturday morning, several fishermen lined the lake. The swimming area was still largely deserted as the morning temperatures hung in the 60s. Trying to respect the tranquility, Mike swam stealthy while I enjoyed the scenery and thought about the plan for the day. Mike had a lot of homework he needed to finish before Monday, so he wanted to head back to Monterey by mid-afternoon. I knew I had to choose carefully as we were only going to see a few highlights in this national park.

The General Sherman Tree and the Congress Loop were "must-dos", so we began exploring in the Giant Forest section of the park. The parking lot at the trailhead was filling up fast, but we got a spot and began the short trek down to the largest living creature on Earth, the General Sherman Tree. As we walked I looked for differences between the closely related Redwoods and the Sequoias. It is often hard to gauge the height of tress that grow as high as city buildings. I knew that Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees on the planet, and the Sequoias are the biggest trees measured in volume. However, some of these trees were as tall as some Redwoods. As I gazed up, I noticed that their upper branches were much thicker than those on Redwoods. An overlook revealed the General Sherman. Around 2300 years old, 275 feet tall and over 100 feet around, this was a massive tree.  A lot of the surrounding forest appeared to be cleared, so that one could attempt to comprehend the true size. We continued down to the base of the trunk. Yet even walking around the tree it was hard to grasp the extent of this colossal creature.

The General Sherman Trail intersected the 2 mile Congress Trail. This was also a paved trail and with the crowds at the General Sherman tree I expected this loop to be busy too. Fortunately, fewer people were continuing past the main attraction. The loop travelled through the center of the Giant Forest with impressive groves of the amazing trees. As this was the second national park established, several of the trees paid homage to those in Washington DC.  The President was an impressive specimen as were the House and Senate Groves. Breaks in the trees along the southern edge of the trail revealed views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountain Peaks reminding us that we were hiking at 7000 feet. Towards the end of the loop, we walked under part of an enormous fallen tree that is said to have crashed decades ago, waking a sleeping ranger 2 miles away.

As we were driving away from the General Sherman parking lot, I spotted a small bear on the side of the road. Mike stopped the car about ten feet in front of the animal. “He’s cute,” Mike began then we both jumped a little as the bear ripped off half the bark of a tree truck in one swoop. Luckily he was not that interested in us as he appeared to scavenge the stump for bugs.  It was pretty thrilling to see the bear so close up, but I was also very relieved to be in the car.  When it did appear a bit more curious about us, we decided it was time to quickly move along.

On weekend days the road to Crescent Meadow and the Drive-Thru tree are closed.  Visitors either need to hike into these places or take the shuttle bus. If we had known just how crowded this area of the park would be, we would have left our car in the General Sherman lot and taken the trail. Hundreds of people flocked around the Giant Forest Museum. Wanting to get away from the herds as quickly as possible, Mike and I hopped on the first shuttle. Most of the people on the bus exited at Moro Rock, so we continued on.  A large family group got off at the Crescent Meadow Trailhead, but other than that it was us. The trail wound around the Sequoia and Pine rimmed meadow. Large fallen trees dissected the emerald meadow where the last of the wildflowers lingered. A fair amount of people were visiting the area and it we had to pass several trunks before we found an empty one. Using the fallen tree as a bridge we ambled across the trunk into the center of the field. It was a great place for a snack to soak up the scenery and watch butterflies flit about.

We continued to meander around the meadow before discovering a trail leading a few miles back to the Giant Forest Museum. Once we embarked on that trail, we did not see another soul. Giant sequoias mingled with other trees in this dense and lush section of the forest. I was very much enjoying the solitude, but made sure to keep my eyes out for more bears. We stumbled upon a Squatter’s Cabin and imagining taking up residence in the surreal setting.  We hiked up over a ridge guessing we were at 7500 feet.  We saw fire scarred trees surrounded by ferns and flowers. Informative plaques began to appear at the base of the larger trees, and we knew we must be approaching the museum.  It was a great jaunt through the woods. However, I wished it had lasted longer, especially since the center of the park was much more crowded than before.  It was amusing that by choosing to walk more than 2 miles we managed to avoid the mobs.

There was so much more I longed to explore in this park, but it was time to go. On the bright side, I got to smell, see and touch the extraordinary trees. I got to ramble a bit through the Giant Forest and the Sierra Nevadas.  I got to see a bear. It may have been a minimal visit, but I was still so grateful for the experience.
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