Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Day 24 - Monday, September 21 - Three Rivers, Sequoia Park, Big Bear Lake

Starting mileage:  6664 Starting time: 8:00 am

Ending mileage: 7049 Ending time: 8:00 pm
Travel mileage: 385   Travel time: 12 hours

One of the largest forest fires in California history has closed the northern part of Sequoia Park for several weeks but it has finally opened up today so that we can travel from the southern entrance along the Generals Highway to the north entrance.

The drive up from Three Rivers to the Giant Forest Sequoia grove is a slow and very winding trip with many hair-pin turns. The view is a bit disconcerting if one looks at the sheer drop-offs at the side of the road. This grove is over 2200 acres and has many of the largest trees in the park. Nearly all of them have bases that have been scarred by fire but the thick bark protects the trees.

Our first stop was a walk up to the top of Moro Rock, a granite outcrop overlooking the valleys below. Fortunately, there are steps and handrails for the steep climb up to the top. It must have been much more exciting when John Muir and other adventurers climbed up here in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, the smoke from the fires to the north obscured the views to the distance.

We went for a short loop walk around the Crescent Meadow which John Muir called an "Eden" when he visited here. It is surrounded by many huge Sequoia trees. We were surprised to see a marmot charging towards us on the trail but it veered off when it realized we were on the trail.

There is a nice museum and visitor center for the Giant Forest grove. For many years, forest fire suppression had been aggressively pursued before foresters realized in the 1960s that this had completely stopped the sprouting of new Sequoia trees which require fire to open the cones and release the seeds. It had also resulted in the accumulation of debris which caused even more severe fires when they occurred. Now there are prescribed burns and fires which don't threaten buildings or special areas may be allowed to burn.

We traveled on to the Grant Grove near the north park entrance which was supposed to open this morning but we were waved past as the park officials decided at the last minute not to reopen this area due to smoke and fire-fighting personnel still in the area. This was a bit disappointing but at least we had a good experience at the earlier grove.

From here it was still a 300 mile drive to our hotel in the afternoon. Much of it was on the CA99 and CA58 freeways down the valley. Once again it was a largely agricultural area with huge expanses of citrus groves, vineyards, cotton and pistachios. By the time we got to Bakersfield, it was 105 degrees! From there we headed east - much of the trip was through the Mojave desert. 

When we came up through the Alta Pass, it was like a scene from Star Wars. As far as we could see, there were huge and smaller wind turbines. The smaller ones looked like lawn ornaments in comparison. This area is famous for being the first large wind power installation after the oil crisis of the 1970s. Unfortunately, this was also when scientists discovered large numbers of birds were being killed by the wind turbines which are positioned closely at 3 different heights and turn very quickly. The newer turbines are much larger, are spaced further apart and don't spin as quickly. This is the largest wind farm in the US.

It was getting dark by the time we approached the mountains surrounding Big Bear Lake and we enjoyed quite a spectacular sunset. The road up goes from 3000' to over 7000' with many switch-backs - it was an interesting drive in the dark. We didn't have to descend much as Big Bear Lake is at an elevation of 6700'. 

It had cooled down to 63 degrees by the time we got to the Best Western Big Bear Chateau. The rates for hotels here are very reasonable during the week and off-season. This area is a popular cool retreat in the summer and has a ski slope and other activities during the winter.

Day 24 route

Top of Moro Rock

By typical 2000 year old Sequoia

7000 miles into our trip

Wind turbines at Alta Pass

Sunset leaving Mojave desert

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