let’s have some arm-chair travel!  the pebbles has gone off to canada and england for a few weeks, and while i am partly jealous (he’s spending the weekend on vancouver island – hard not to be), i can’t say it would have been a terribly good idea for me, with just ~10 weeks to go until dragon baby arrives.  (yay! but also OMG NOT READY!)  so, with my old laptop intermittently playing nice, and a shiny new version of photoshop, i will try to wrap up the california trip from the end of 2011 (three national parks to go!) and console myself with the memory of some pretty good recent travel of my own.

the day after we drove through death valley, we awoke early in panamint springs and took stock of our plans.  our room had warmed up substantially overnight (it was about 4C/40F when we arrived the night before), so we were slightly reluctant to face the chill outside, but knew we had a big day ahead: we planned to drive to and through sequoia national park, hopefully seeing some impressive trees along the way, and staying on the far side – about 6 hours on the road, plus stops.  although our gas tank was nearly empty, we opted to skip filling up before we got underway, since the local price was $5.48/gallon ($2 higher than anywhere else we’d seen).

we were on the road in good time and enjoyed our final vistas of death valley, then turned southwest and skirted the strange, salty owens lake.  as happened often on this trip, we were amazed by how rapidly the landscape could change, as we passed stony, scrubby mountains backdropping lowland fields (with a few coyotes in one, playing among a herd of unperturbed cows) and then found the rather gorgeous (if artificial)  isabella lake nestled in a golden hollow, followed shortly by a little mountain town called kernville where we stopped for additional information about sequoia national park.  here we encountered our first and only real glitch of the trip – the road we had planned to take through the park is apparently closed in the winter, or at least unpassable to most vehicles.  i confess that i had naively not anticipated the possibility of california roads being only seasonally accessible.  a helpful ranger did point us in the direction of ‘some large redwoods’ by continuing along the road we had planned to take but then branching off toward a dead end; this would be about an extra hour in each direction but the scenery was lovely as we followed the kern river.  the higher we climbed, the more apparent it became how the roads could truly be problematic to normal vehicles; we passed iced-over waterfalls and, toward the end of the road, enjoyed a few exciting moments of skating along icy ruts in the shadiest parts of the woods.  the rock formations around us became increasingly dramatic and the trees larger (though we didn’t see any that really fit our mental image of ‘giant sequoia’ — apparently this tree was around there somewhere, but we didn’t find it, and from a political standpoint: good riddance), and the people fewer (from already not many).  when we reached the end of the road we parked and went for a short forest walk, crunching through the thin layer of crusty snow and hearing nothing other than our own footsteps, a few jays and crows, and the wind sighing in the tops of the trees.  while not as spectacular as we had hoped on the tree front , it was still gorgeous and peaceful.

the rest of the day was largely food-centered, which was not a bad thing — we had a delicious late lunch at the big blue bear cafe back in kernville (toasted pide wrap of pesto, goat cheese & fresh tomatoes, with my umpteenth arnie palmer to take advantage of the land where ‘lemonade’ doesn’t mean sprite), then made our final driving push to visalia, where a large and colorful mexican dinner finished the day off.  many miles covered, much scenery taken in, and more to do in the morning!


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