Posted by: carogouin | August 6, 2010

the pacific highway

The beautiful Yosemite Valley.

After a great few days in LA, we left the heat of the valley and headed to the beautiful and cooler Sierra Nevada’s to continue our tour of this nation’s bountiful national parks (we’re up to 20 now).  First on our list was Sequoia National Park, home to the world’s Big Trees – the biggest on the planet.  We were so excited to meet some of these giants as we followed the remote and mountainous road up to the Mineral King canyon.  Sequoias grow between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation, so we were getting into optimal range.  They are not hard to miss.  This gargantuan tree sticks out amidst red pines and cedar trees.  Their trunks are massive and stay that way all the way to the top.  Based on their voluminous trunks, they are the world’s biggest tree.  Not tallest, not widest, but largest.

The only possible way we could fit this Big Tree (aka Sequoia) in the picture.

When we reached our campground (now above 7,000 feet), we started up on a 7-mile return hike up to the beautiful alpine Eagle Lake, passing rushing waterfalls, large sinkholes and even snow patches at almost 10,000 feet.  We witnessed a few kids going for a dip, but we refrained and warmed ourselves by the edge. Later that evening, we did as all other campers do at national parks – attend an evening ranger program.

On our hike in Sequoia National Park through Mineral King canyon.

We reach Eagle Lake – a pristine alpine lake in the park.

Our camp at Mineral King – cooking up some pasta.

After a cool night up in the Sierra, we descended the 35-mile road down to the foothills and entered the most commonly visited section of the park into the big Sequoia groves. We were once again in prime elevation and saw Sequoias jutting out above us next to the road.  We hiked the short distance around the Big Tree loop and spotted a total of 6 black bear that day!  A few cubs here and there, and also a mother bear at a safe distance.

We are also very proud to have visited the biggest tree on earth – the General Sherman – 1,487 cubic meters, 275 feet high, and about 2,300 and 2,700 years old!  A truly impressive sight.  It’s very difficult to grasp the grandeur of this tree (and of all Sequoias for that matter), without looking up at the giant column, impervious to insects and fire.  It has been able to withstand what no other trees (besides the Redwoods) could, and easily dwarfs human existence.

A little bear cub roaming around.

And there’s Momma!

Peering up at the biggest tree on earth - not widest, not tallest, but biggest.

There it is, from top to bottom – General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, by mass.

The world’s second biggest tree – General Grant, also the nation’s official living Christmas tree.

Once our necks became sore from looking up so much, we continued north into the next national park – King’s Canyon. Although we didn’t spend the night, we drove down and back up this canyon along the white water rapids of the King River that seemed to go on forever.  It was breathtaking!

The view from the road going into King’s Canyon National Park.

Next up: one of the most famous National Parks in the United States – Yosemite.  With 3 million visitors a year, we were not surprised to see so many cars on the road, especially during the summer.  But once you ge through the road work and past the main tunnel, and have a first look at the valley, you understand why. You’ve got thousands of feet of granite walls, one of North America’s highest waterfall, beautiful meadows and miles of back country that are barely visited.  We got lucky and headed out north of the valley (mostly because the valley was full and by reservation only) and found a campground tucked in the forests away from the crowds (no running water, only vault toilets – that’s why).  There was a trailhead right there,  and we chose to do a 17-mile round trip hike that took us all the way to the top of El Capitan.  It was a long and tough climb, but gorgeous, and we had it all to ourselves!  And once we reached the top, it was an amazing feeling.  I felt like we were on top of the world.

The great Yosemite Valley behind us.

Starring up in amazement at El Capitan – no wonder it attracts so many hard-core climbers.

At the beginning of our 17-mile hike up to the top of El Cap.

The first sign of El Cap!

A great view of Half Dome as we near the top.

Here we are – on top of El Cap.

We couldn’t see the edge of El Cap yet, so we continued walking down and saw another hiker braving the trek down to the precipice.  We finally arrived at the edge, or at least as far down as we were comfortable going.  It was amazing!  We even saw a helicopter flying through the valley that was hundreds of feet below us.  We were high.

We had to walk down a ways before reaching the edge – another human soul braving the descent.

On the very edge of El Capitan – terrifyingly steep.

You can see what I mean – holding on for dear life.

After a wonderful tour of national parks, we headed back to civilization to recharge and visit family. We entered the Bay area, and Pat’s cousin Tim, his wife Marlena and their four lovely children Madigan, Daniel, Adam and Cara welcomed us into their home in San Carlos with open arms. We arrived on a Friday and spent a fun-filled weekend together that included picnicking at an open air concert, visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, biking and playing lots of cribbage (fabulous card game). We had tons of fun with the whole gang and were grateful for their company and hospitality. Thank you Tim, Marlena and co. for hosting us and showing us a great time! We will certainly be back to visit again!

Adam, Daniel, Madigan and Cara trying out the roof-top tent.

Awesome jellies at the Monterey Aquarium.

A cool Sea Dragon.

We left the San Fran area a little before dusk on a Sunday night and had the privilege of driving through Napa Valley as the sun was setting. Although we camped in the Napa Valley State Park that night, we essentially passed through wine country without sampling any. A bit too pricey for our budget these days, so we’ll have to come back another time to do it justice.

We drove through Napa Valley.

We were excited to head back to the coast and follow the famous 101 & Route 1 up the Pacific Coast. Once we reached, we were greeted with creeping fog over a dramatic cliff-side coast with intermittent stretches of beach. It reminded us a lot of the western coast of Ireland. We tried to camp in some of the many California State Parks, but with the fee jacked up to $35 a night (and sometime $45), we settled for cheaper private campgrounds and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas for significantly less, much calmer, isolated and right up on the beach!

It was considerably cooler and windier, but much more enjoyable in our opinion. Of course you always have to look out for “sleeper” waves, riptides and such – we stayed out of the 60 degree water. The BLM campground was part of the King Range Conservation Area, which spans over 35 miles of uninhabited Lost Coast. We hiked about 7 miles of it through sand, wheat fields and unpaved roads until we reached a small, abandoned lighthouse. We were met with a whole school of seals warming themselves on the sand. They were a bit shy, so we didn’t get too close.

The striking northern California coast.

Our camp by the beach – remote and wonderful.

Wildflowers lining the hills.

We hiked up to an old light house.

Seals warming themselves on the sand – they were a bit shy so we didn’t get any closer.

We continued our journey north into the Coastal Range, natural habitat for the world-famous Redwood trees. Once again, we were awestruck by these wild trees, though this time not as much for their girth (though they are quite large) as for their height. They are the world’s tallest trees. Unlike Sequoia National Park, they have kept the tallest Redwoods a secret from the public. Although we have read about their general location, there’s something thrilling about walking through the old growth and potentially passing by the world’s tallest tree without even knowing it.

Entering the Redwood forests.

Like Sequoia's, Redwoods can withstand forest fires. Sometimes the fires carve out caves in the bottom of the trees.

We spotted a herd of Elk feeding in the prairie

Redwood trees are the world’s tallest trees.

We found a great swimming hole in the Redwood State Park.

Shortly after, we crossed the border into Oregon and began passing miles and miles of lush forests, as well as patches of devastatingly logged forests. Biggest producer of lumber in the country, makes sense. We arrived at Crater Lake on the very last day of our one year National Park Pass membership – it has served us well. We reached the banks of the steep crater, or caldera, and were blown away by its beauty and size. The lake is 6 miles wide and also the deepest lake in North America. Its blue color is so piercing, because, as we learned, of the untainted water coming only from rain and snow. No rivers flow into or out of it. It was amazing to read about the history of this volcano – Mount Mazama, a 12,000-ft mountain, erupted and collapsed onto itself over 7,000 years ago.

On the steep caldera of Crater Lake.

Learning about the colossal volcanic implosion of Mount Mazama that created Crater Lake.

Kicking back and enjoying the vista.

The electric blue color is due to the its pure and untainted waters.

Wizard Island jutting out of the lake.

A couple of hours north of Crater Lake, we arrived in Bend, Oregon – a place that had been recommended to us many times on our trip, so we had to check it out. We understood why right away. It’s an outdoor mecca, the next Boulder, Colorado, with endless miles of biking and hiking trails, winter skiing only 30 minutes away, and a plethora of parks. We parked ourselves in a nearby RV park and used the bikes as our primary mode of transportation, checking out the suburbs and parks, downtown area and old mill district. Pat went for a fantastic mountain bike ride on nearby single track trails. The weather was fabulous – it was a definitely a place we could see ourselves living in – we’ll see!

Our camp in Bend, Oregon – dryer sheets in my pocket to keep away the mosquitoes.

Once again, we made our way back west and onto the 101 to drive up the Oregon coast. We discovered that the locals love playing on the beach and dipping their toes in the water although it is 60 degrees out, without sun, and the water is even more glacial. But sometimes the sun does shine through and illuminates the rock formations and slick sand. Luckily, there are also a few stretches of beach where vehicles are allowed to drive on. The wet and packed sand makes it relatively safe for Jeep-ing around. Something we don’t get to do on the East coast. Pat was loving it!

Soaking in the sliver of sun in Manzanita on the Oregon coast.

The clouds make for a dramatic sunset.

Driving on the beach!!

Pat loves this stuff.

A natural bridge carved from the rough waters

Peering over the steep coastal 101.

Manzanita beach cleared from the fog.

Next stop: exploring the vibrant city of Portland, Oregon.



  1. Guys,

    Be sure to check out Bellingham, WA, if you get a chance. Wonderful town, North of Seattle w/ a ferry to the San Juan Islands. My best friend and I visited there a few years ago and had a great time.

  2. Awesome guys! Hope you find a great place in Portland. Hope to see you guys back here in a couple weeks. I’ll be super busy moving and such, but give me a shout when you’re back and hopefully we can meet up.

    FYI: According to the NPS annual visitation in 2009 from Yosemite NP: 3.7 millon and Smoky Mountain NP: 9.4 million. Smoky Mountain is consistently (by several million) the most visited NP in the country. Don’t have a clue why…

  3. Wow, solid post!! Vickie and I are planning to go to Sequoia in October, now we’re super pumped.

    Thought about you guys yesterday while biking near State College, PA – amazing trail network; hundreds of miles all well used and well mapped.

    Have fun guys!

  4. Do the dryer sheets really do the work to keep the marinGOUINs away?

  5. you ought to try to hook up with aaron morehouse if you get the chance… he’s in Hood River OR… and do the dryer sheets work??

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: