I made my way across Nevada, past the soon to close Mojave Desert mirror power plant, and into California. I was greeted by an Agricultural inspection which I thought was a bit out of place but all they asked was if I had any plants or flowers and I drove right through. I headed to Sequoia national park first, even though my itinerary was to go to Yosemite, I realized milage-wise is made more sense to switch them.
Without sunlight the mist seemed to thicken. Visibility dropped to 5-10ft rather frequently so I took my time. I had to watch the white sidelines on the road to determine If I was still going straight. Corners occasionally startled me, seeming to come out of no where, and the possibility of wildlife jumping out at any moment kept me on edge and alert. I didn't realize how hard I was riding my brakes until about 15 minutes in and I started smelling burnt rubber. I quickly switched to riding 2nd gear most of the way back down.
It took twice as long (nearly 90 minutes) but I made it down safe and sound. I captured one of my favorite nighttime photos of the trip at one of the less foggy turnouts overlooking the mountain side with Fresno in the far distance. I Found a gas station around 11pm (as there are none in the boundaries of the park) and gritted my teeth to pay $3.29 a gallon ($0.50 higher than stations further from the park). While filling up I searched for free campsites in the area and was disappointed to find all the ones listed on the website were located further up the road I had just come down! So far on this trip I was able to find free camping relatively close, so I slightly chastised myself for not looking ahead of time when I decided to change my itinerary. The distance to the nearest listed free site was fairly close as the crow flies however the roads to get there would take 3-4 hours.
I decided to drive back up into the park (ascending the misty roads was actually a bit easier), and I stopped at the same rest room on the way. I noticed the same van parked but now there was also a sedan in the same lot. I realized (it being midnight now) that these people were car camping so I decided to follow suite and parked in the lot and dozed to sleep.
I found the history of restoration of the Sequoia National Park incredibly interesting. During the 1900's a small city was practically built in the giant forest causing damage to the ecosystem, killing trees, and preventing new ones from growing (mainly from forest fire suppression). As the impact was realized, the resort area of roughly 300 building was slowly restored to natural land, removing buildings, excess infrastructure, and pavement until in 1999 the last building was torn down. Now there is simply a leftover market building used as the museum as well as restrooms with self guiding plaques for tours. It gave be a sense of hope in humanity recognizing its impact and making changes to preserve a limited resource.
I traveled the rest of the afternoon, excited for my next stop at Yosemite, not having any idea what to expect...
I would argue that Sequoia is as beautiful as Zion but in a different way. The grandeur of the Zion canyon and the colors of the cliffs made for a more breathtaking view. And while Sequoia didn't take my breath away in that regard, being able to walk up next to the monolithic trees, touch them, move around them and change perspective, gave me a sense of oneness with the energy (something thats harder to achieve with a mountain).
There were many great moments of reflection as I enjoyed this park. I felt inconsequential walking amidst the wooden giants of Sequoia. Their monumental energy (and the fact you couldn't see the tops in the mist) made for a humbling experience. I did my best see as much as I could. I felt like I was jumping in and out of my car for brief moments of enjoying nature before the motivation to see more kicked in. A few times I felt the sense of only experiencing the park "though the camera" and reminded myself to take in the sights with my own eyes which helped calm some of the rush of getting to everything.
The first night of mist also gave me an unforgettable memory I may not find again in my life (unless I go looking for it). I felt like I was one with my car, navigating a treacherous pathway that not all are intended to survive. It got my heart racing and my thrill meter going.
I also sensed some odd adventurous nostalgia as I hiked thought the trees (maybe because trees haven't seemed so big since I was a kid) and parts of the forest smelled like fresh Lincoln Logs =).