Saturday, September 2, 2017

Lodgepole campground (Sequoia National Park)

Wanting to take full advantage of my wife's maternity leave, I decided to do something I haven't done in 4 years.....make an actual campground reservation. I originally was going to reserve a site at Yosemite but was informed that there were air quality issues due to some nearby forest fires. Although we will attempt to visit Yosemite next year, we couldn't have been happier with our experience in the Sequoia National Park. We recently visited the coastal Redwood forest which are the tallest trees in the world but the Sequoias have their own massive beauty and hold records for largest mass due to their incredible diameters that are maintained almost all the way to the top.

As the total distance from home is about 250 miles, we decided to split the drive up and stayed at Horse Creek campground. This campground would have been nice if the temperatures weren't so hot and our neighbours weren't so loud. It was over 100 degrees and didn't really cool off till about 2am which was also when our noisy neighbours decided it was time to end their game of "Never have I ever".

After surviving the heat we woke up early and made our way up the mountain to our home for the next 4 days at Lodgepole Campground. At 6,700 feet of elevation the temperatures were perfect and the weather was beautiful. This popular campground is right beside Lodgepole Village which offered a visitor center, daily Ranger programs, a market, deli, snack bar, gift shop, post office, coin-operated showers and laundry facilities.

We arrived at campsite 96 which was supposed to be a tent only site but worked well for us to stay in the camper. Bears are a major concern in this area (there was one sighting while we were there) and we stored our food in the huge bear locker. The sites were clean with a new picnic table and fire ring as well as nearby water and flush toilets.

The best part of our site, however, was being right beside the river.

As always, the van provided an excellent place to eat, play and just hang out.

With 4 days of camping, we all had plenty of time to enjoy nature and the beautiful scenery.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is the second oldest national park and is home to the General Sherman Tree. At 275 feet tall and weighing an estimated 1,385 tons with a trunk circumference of 103 feet and 52,500+ cubic feet in volume, it is the worlds largest living tree.

Sequoias have the potential to grow over 300 feet but they tend to lose their tops due to lightning strikes once they outgrow the surrounding trees usually around 275 feet. The root system is only 12-14 feet deep even at maturity but are wide spreading and can occupy over 1 acre of earth and over 90,000 cubic feet of soil. It is impossible to determine the exact age of the living sequoias but ring counts on fallen trees have provided age estimates of around 3,200 years old!


Some of the fallen trees were big enough to walk through.
Others were big enough to live in. Hale Tharp is described as the first Non-Native American to enter the Giant Forest and used a fallen tree as his home with a table and bed inside. It also had a fireplace, door and window at the wider end.

Of course some of the trees were big enough to drive through which was the highlight of the trip!
There is a free and very convenient shuttle service throughout the park that picked us up from our campground and took us to all the major destinations. That being said, we had to visit Moro Rock to witness the vast beauty of both the forest the Sierra mountains.
 The Sierras in the distance were about 7,000 feet higher.
And on the other side was a 5,000 foot drop which was quite scary with 2 young kids!
The 21 mile road back down to the park entrance took over an hour mainly due to the extreme curves but also because of all the beautiful places to stop along the way. Here is a shot of Moro Rock near the bottom looking up.
With our 4 days of camping complete, we reluctantly made our way back home but managed a final stop at the Tunnel rock before leaving the park.

We eventually made it back home despite the immense and uncomfortable heat but were thankful to avoid this fire sparked by lightning that occurred just before we passed by.
This blog entry will be a reminder of one of the best camping experiences we have had yet and I look forward to returning to the Sequoias again. The beautiful sights were made possible because of our incredible and versatile Vanagon (the memory maker) and were only exceeded by my amazing family that I have the pleasure of sharing it with.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lake Nacimiento, Artichokes, and GoWesty

Owning a Vanagon generally means travelling at a slower pace and enjoying the drive as much as the destination. We purposefully avoid major highways when we can and this portion of our trip brought us through vast areas of California farmland. One such place was Castroville which is known for it's artichoke crop and the annual Artichoke Festival, leading to it's nickname as the "Artichoke Center of the World"
Seeing all this produce also had us stopping to pick up some fresh fruits and veggies.

The next stop on our journey back home took us to beautiful Lake Nacimiento. An 18 mile long lake along the Nacimiento river and due to the many arms, it is sometimes referred to as Dragon Lake.
Although the lake is a very popular spot for watersport activities, I discovered that it has high levels of mercury due to runoff from two closed mercury mines and is the reason for it having a low fish population. Lake Nacimiento Resort had several campgrounds to choose from but only a few are first come first serve. We chose the campground closest to the water which was convenient and scenic but very busy and a little noisy. After setting up camp, Brooke promptly made a new friend.
We arrived late in the afternoon so after playing for a bit, we only had time to cook some dinner and get ready for bed.

A fun part of this Lake was that you were allowed to drive right on the beach, so of course we did (along with several Humvees!)

This campground had running water with bathrooms and showers but was very busy and sometimes noisy. There was minimal shade and all the sites were basically on dirt but if you're looking for great water activities, this is a fun place to be!

After packing everything up we decided to continue driving along the coast and made a quick stop at GoWesty. I have purchased many parts from them over the years so it was nice to see the establishment in person.

For our next camping experience we thought it would be nice to camp along the coast before we arrived home but every ocean-front campground was fully booked and it turned out to be an extra long day driving all the way back home.

Overall this was a great way to break in and test the new engine. Although it needs some further fine tuning, it ran strong and smooth. We travelled almost 1,100 miles over 7 days and averaged 16.9MPG which just makes me more excited about where our next adventure will take us!