California National Parks, Dramatic and Serene

Travels in Review 2019Part 4

We left Cambria from our three-night stay in San Simeon/Hearst State Park, shrouded in dense fog, to find bright blue skies as we headed into Paso Robles. We encountered lovely vineyards on rolling hills as we drove to our first Harvest Host location, Tobin James Cellars. It turned out to be a great dry camping experience in a tree-lined gravel parking lot adjacent to the vineyard. There we enjoyed a free wine tasting from Jill who, offered up a sampling of many of their wines. We especially appreciated their Petite Sirah and dry rose and, of course, purchased a few bottles for the road.

Leaving Paso Robles, we traveled through the central valley of California to find a fantastic variety of agriculture. Almond, pistachio, peach, and tangerine trees followed our travels. I later found out that this region provides nearly half the fruits, vegetables, and nuts in the US.

We arrived at a very tight and crowded Princess campground in Sequoia National Forest to visit our next national parks, King’s Canyon and Sequoia. There we were amazed at the sheer size of the most massive tree on earth. Restricted to an altitude of 6000 to 7000’, needing the appropriate weather to grow and with no known enemies but man, they can live to be over 3000 years old. Groves were cut for lumber before John Muir brought them to the nation’s attention to preserve them for future generations. We enjoyed the hikes beyond the major attractions and did get a glimpse at our first bear strolling by the visitor center parking lot.

Each National Park offers unique visual interests, but Yosemite National Park is among our favorites. The sheer cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, the roaring water of Merced River and, the dramatic Bridalveil Falls were all within a short distance apart. We hiked the Valley Floor Loop, which was about 7 miles long and took you by many of the major attractions. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon how you like to hike, the second half of the trail offered a challenge. Previous years had washed out the trail, so we had to snake through downed trees and tumbled rocks to find our way back to the main route.

Next was a long but scenic drive north through California’s central valley and the state capital of Sacramento to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Again, as we traveled, we were amazed by the abundance of crops, now including cherries, walnuts, and corn.

At the park, we were surprised by the amount of snow at Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center still had on the ground in late June. They had 135% more snow than average with, many of the southern hikes closed. As we headed north through the park, the snow-pack cleared, and the temperatures rose, allowing us to hike around Manzanita Lake. A beautiful lake with great views of the silent volcanoes behind it.

Our last visit to California was Redwood National Park, where redwood trees tower above everything else, as the tallest living thing on earth. The drive there took us past the snow-covered Shasta Mountain before the road turned very narrow and curvy as it passed the edge of river gorges.  The next morning we took the not-to-be-missed scenic dirt Howland Hill Road through the Redwood Forest.  It is hard to believe that at one time before logging began in the 1850s that nearly 2 million acres of old-growth redwoods covered the Pacific Coast. Today only 5% remains, and of that, only 35% remain protected.

We truly enjoyed the beautify and diversity of our National Parks in California that included the arid deserts with strange rock formations, lush meadows, roaring waterfalls, towering trees, and snow-covered volcanic peaks.

Favorite nightly stays on this segment:

Tobin James Winery – This was our first Harvest Host location, and we loved it. Ample dirt parking lot against trees just across from their tasting room. Free to stay the night, but you can’t help but purchase a few bottles of their tasty wines.

Madera County Fairgrounds & Speedway – Spacious treed location for $25/night with hook-ups. We stopped here on our way to King’s Canyon/Sequoia NP.  Most sites had electric with a limited number having water and sewer. There was a modified stock race going on at the time, but it was quiet by 9:00 pm.

Horseshoe Bend Recreation Area – We used this as our base camp for Yosemite NP. A little too far away from YOSE but a quiet and pleasant park during the week. We were the only one there until it filled up for the weekend. Our site, on G-loop, had full hook-up, including sewer. This loop also sits up higher with great views of Lake McClure. Enjoyed using our kayak here.

Klinkerbrick Winery – Another fun Harvest Host location in Lodi, CA. Again tasted some phenomenal wines and purchased a few. Took advantage of their patio seating after hours to enjoy a glass of wine and the vineyard kitty cats.

Merrill Campground in Eagle Lake Recreation Area – Having been rebuilt in 2000, this was not your typical US Forest Service campground. Our site was paved and had full hook-up. Some of the most beautiful sites have no hook -up but back up to the lake. We did enjoy the bike path to the Eagle Lake Marina.     

Next up: The Pacific Northwest

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