Sequoia, June 2013 Day Three

Tuesday, June 18, 2013
IMG_8619For Tuesday’s breakfast, I decided against the “Frontier Biscuits,” since they didn’t go over so well and made pancakes over the propane stove, along with scrambled eggs and bacon.

Allie had her nose buried in her guide book again. We walked to the bathrooms and on our way back, we identified several trees again, including a Ponderosa, White Pine and Lodgepole Pine.

We also saw some blue jays and common robber flies (which don’t look anything like what I might classify as a fly).

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Here’s a picture of Allie and Zach in front of a Lodgepole Pine. Allie’s holding the guidebook and Zachary is holding the pine cone we used to identify the tree.

The lack of general civilization noise is remarkable up there. Unfortunately, during certain hours, everyone in RVs run their generators to recharge their batteries, which sort of interferes with the silence.

Fortunately, that silence gets restored, because they’re only allowed to run their generators during certain hours. There are also RV-free campsites up the road, which I might opt for in the future.

Wolf Lichen

Wolf Lichen

This is one of the most fascinating things I remember from biology class in high school — that green stuff on this dead branch is lichen.

Lichen is not a single organism, rather it is two organisms in a symbiotic relationship. Lichen is normally an algae and a fungus. The algae, which is photosynthetic, produces energy, which the fungus used to grow. The fungus in turn protects the algae from the arid environment.

This is wolf lichen, and according to Allie’s guidebook can be used as a poison or dye.

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Instead of doing a tourist thing, I took the kids back up the mountain slope to see if we could reach the top. Heather stayed at camp and read her book (World War Z — we fought over this book more than once on the trip).

I blazed the trail up the slope, making sure there were no critter holes were were stepping on or around. I also doubled back a couple times, as some of the ways up were a little steep for the kids.

After about 20 minutes or so, we came across a trail. After our hike, I went to the visitor center and looked at their map of the area. My guess is that it was the Lodgepole-General Sherman Trail, and had we followed it all the way, we would have ended up at the same trail head we were at on Sunday afternoon.

IMG_8663As we started walking along the trail, we found a felled tree and were able to acquire some serviceable walking sticks.

We found several flowers, including a brilliant red one that stood out among the greens and browns of the forest.

Two hikers passed us as we walked along the trail. We were stopping every few minutes, as Allegra insisted on making markers about every 100 yards so we could find our way back.

IMG_8666Allie was very afraid we were going to get lost, even though I kept explaining to her that we were on a trail and that we had marked the spot where to came across the trail. Unless there was a branch or fork in the trail, we couldn’t get lost.

She and Zachary made their markers anyway.

Had it been just me and Zachary, we probably would have skipped the trail and tried to make it to the top. As it was, we followed the trail, all the while Allie was asking when we were going to turn around.

TREE WITH BENT LIMBAfter we walked the trail for maybe an hour, I finally relented and we turned around back to where we originally found the trail.

We spotted a small creek, and we could tell there was going to be water there as the vegetation was a brilliant green (including what looked like a lot of stinging nettle).

I had the kids knock over their markers, as it looked like rangers might occasionally drive these roads, and their markers would have done a number on a tire if it hit it wrong.

We made our way back down to our campsite and prepared for dinner with Sarah and Greg, who were in the neighboring campsite.

The next morning, as were were packing up to leave, I finally saw a bear. Our neighbor on the other side, a gentleman from Ontario, came and got me, saying there was a bear digging in a tree trunk. I called the kids and grabbed my camera. Again, zoom lens means shaky picture, but here it is:

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Sequoia, June 2013 Day Two

Monday, June 17th, 2013

I woke up Monday morning with the sounds and an aching back and ribs from our deflated air mattress. Turns out the birds start up as soon as day breaks. Since I get up pretty early anyway, I didn’t try to sleep in on the bed of rocks clearly detectable beneath our flat air mattress. IMG_8419A couple of deer wandered through the campsite. I was able to get a couple of pictures, though my 300x lens isn’t stabilized, and I’m not steady enough to get  very many non-shaky pictures — especially when the lens is all the way out.

This is one of the two deer. You can see the bear locker behind it. It’s the big tan box that says “EXTRA” on it. All food — and anything that smells like food — goes in these. They post the rules for dealing with bears on them. They even suggest you take baby seats and boosters out of your car (probably because of all the food that gets dropped on them) so the bears and sniff them without tearing your car apart (which they can probably do).

I tried to take a shower across the road when I woke. They cost $3 in quarters, but they don’t open until 8:00 am.

So when I woke, I gathered some more firewood so I could start breakfast. I made what I dubbed “frontier biscuits,” which was Bisquick mixed with a little water to be tacky and cooked on a griddle over the fire. I would say they had a smokey flavor, but it was more sooty. I also made eggs on the camp stove.

The kids didn’t like the frontier biscuits. All said, “I peeled off the frontier part and ate the yummy part in the middle.”

After we were all ready, I went to the Lodgepole Visitor Center across the street and got tickets for the 11:30am Crystal Cave tour. The ranger told me the whole thing takes about three to four hours. It’s about a one-hour drive from Lodgepole to the Crystal Cave parking lot (and it was — even though it’s only 12 miles, it’s 12 REALLY curvy miles), about a 15 minute hike from the parking lot to the cave entrance. And you’re in the cave for 30-45 minutes, I’d guess.

At the entrance to the Crystal Cave.

At the entrance to the Crystal Cave.

We were told that the summer schedule for the cave tours had just started, and they were giving tours every 30 minutes.

We met the curator at the top of the trail to the cave, and he gave us a talk about White Nose Syndrome, which is a fungus that’s affecting bats in caves in the Eastern United States. They’re afraid this will spread, so they ask everyone not to wear clothes or bring items into the caves that have been in any others caves since 2005. They also make everyone walk through a big mat saturated with a bleach solution.

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The hike down was strenuous, as it’s one-half mile that’s downhill and steep. I was not relishing the trip back up. We passed a waterfall on the way down, but didn’t stop at it until we were finished with the cave tour.

Crystal Cave was discovered by Alex Medley and Cassius Webster in 1918. It’s estimated to be about 1.2 million years old. According to our guide, there are hundreds of such caves in the park, but this is the only one accessible to the public. They have found that the presence of people in the cave dramatically affects the wildlife in the caves.. There are animals, mostly microscopic, that only eat a couple times a year and their heart rates measure a few beats per day. They’ve recently discovered that the dead skin cells we drop while inside may increase the food supply and unbalance the ecosystem within.

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The temperature within the caves in 48-deg-F year-round. It’s very damp within the caves, which is a kind of refreshing change from the arid air of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The caves are very well-lit using solar powered LEDs. Some of the passageways are rather tight, and for those with claustrophobia, it’s a great challenge to your will or a place to avoid at all costs (depending how you look at it).

Our guide gave us a glimpse into the past when Crystal Cave was first discovered. Once everyone was inside the Dome Room, he asked all of us to turn off our flashlights. Then he turned off the lights within the cave, making it absolutely dark.

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The Dome Room

He had us imagine ourselves as those explorers in the early 20th century, using only a single lantern for light. He turned on his flashlight and shielded it with his hand, simulating the flickering light they had at the time.

On the way out of the caves, we stopped by a small waterfall before the hike back up.

The hike up wasn’t nearly as strenuous as the hike down. Maybe I was refreshed by the  cool moist air in the caves. I went on ahead with Zachary (who had to go potty bad!). The rest of our group saw a fox with a dead squirrel in it’s mouth during their hike back up.

When we got back to Lodgepole, I went to the market across the street. While I was gone, a mama bear and two cubs crossed the mountain slope behind our campsite.

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Bear Poop!

When I returned I decided to take the kids up the mountain slope a bit to see if we could find anything interesting.

While at the gift stand by Crystal Cave, Heather bought a book on Sierra Nevada wildlife, showing pictures of many animals, plants, rocks, animal excrement, etc. As we wandered around, Allie would look up in the book and tell us the name of the critter or plant we saw.

We found bear poop! We also found some tracks leading to it and away from it, which we didn’t follow.

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Darkling Beetle

This is one of about a dozen different varieties of stink bugs, or darkling beetles in the area.

I knew from childhood that these things squirt a stinking liquid from their butts, and I made sure the kids knew that (and didn’t find out the way I had).

We identified several different plants while we wandered up the slope as well.

We found a couple of felled trees up there as well, and we took that as an opportunity to gather more firewood.

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While we wandered around this felled tree, I slipped and caught my fall with my right hand, which landed right on what I thought was some Poison Oak.

Either the poison oak soap and lotion from the market works really well, or I misidentified it. I had a little itching, but not as much as I expected. Stinging Nettle is much worse (don’t ask).

Allegra kept telling me we should turn back. I think she was afraid the bears would come back. I told her with the amount of noise we were making, no critters with ears would come anywhere near us.

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Zachary was fixated with sticks, and picked up nearly everyone he could find. He used them as swords, dragged them in the dirt, hit his sister with them, drew on the ground.

He was constantly wanting to go back up the slope and see if we could reach the top, which we tried to do the next day.

Meanwhile, I went back to the market and bought some huge potatoes, because I suddenly really wanted a backed potato for dinner.

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Allie LOVED the guide book Heather bought for her. Here nose was buried in it constantly.

While the potatoes were cooking, we wandered around our campsite and tried to identify the different trees.

She discovered that not all pine trees are the same. Some have short needles, some have long ones. Some have single needles, some are in pairs and some are in threes. Using this information, along with the shape of the pine cones and the appearance of the bark, she was able to identify pretty much every tree we saw.

After dinner, we were visited by another deer.

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Since I didn’t want to use the flash and scare the deer away, I opened the aperture in my camera all the way out and slowed down the shutter speed, resulting in this blurry picture of Allie and the deer.

It wandered around for a few minutes, and I was able to get some good video of it (turns out my camera takes really good low-light video — who knew?). Then it wandered off.

We spent the rest of the evening eating roasted marshmallows and popcorn, singing songs and watching the campfire.

 

 

 

Sequoia, June 2013 Day One

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Sunday, June 16th, 2013

On Sunday, June 16th, we left our house around 7am for Sequoia National Park. Sequoia National Park was established 1890 and is named for the Giant Sequoia Redwood trees.

We arrived at the park entranced at about 11:30am. We made it to Lodgepole Campground about 12:30pm. We set up camp and then headed out for the upper trail head of the General Sherman Tree Trail.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world by volume, though it is neither the tallest nor the widest tree. It is about 275 feet tall and about 75 feet in diameter. It is estimated between 2300 and 2700 years old.

The General Sherman Tree.

The General Sherman Tree.

Sequoia has changed a lot from what I remember from my last trip here. My wife was kind enough to remind me that my last trip here was probably nearly 40 years ago. 

The trail to and around the General Sherman Tree is paved and lined with split rail fencing. As one might expect at around 6500 feet, the hike to the tree was pretty strenuous.

While we were there before the Tree, we got to hear the ranger/curator’s speech about it (that’s where I got the “neither the tallest, widest nor oldest” part.

Giant Sequoias only grow in a handful of areas in the Sequoia/Kings Canyon/Yosemite areas.  If you go a couple of miles in any direction, from a grove, you’ll stop seeing them altogether.

I sort of feel bad for the other trees — like the Ponderosa pine trees, as people would stare at them in wonder for their massiveness if it weren’t for the Sequoias.

IMG_8398After that hike back up to the trail head, we returned to our camp for a dinner of franks and beans and fruit. We discovered that our air mattress had a leak (boo!). We sat around our campfire, sang some songs and played cribbage.

There was a mountain slope behind our campsite (we were at Site #10 in Lodgepole). A quick hike up the hill and I was able to locate some firewood for our fire.

The altitude really took it out of me, so I was in bed soon after nightfall.