South Through California

11th - 25th September 2011

In the Land of the Giant Redwood

Two Hours of Hard Sawing got them this far!

California seemed, on the whole, to be a little too proud of their public campgrounds, so on arriving at the Redwoods National Park on the North California coast, we settled in to a nice private campground. This was not only cheaper than it's National Park neighbour, but came with hot showers, laundry, internet and cable TV. We didn't have much use for the latter, having abandoned our TV in San Diego in April, but we spent an evening enjoying intensive chores.

Next morning, bright and early, we strolled across the road into the National Park and wandered through the aptly named "Stout Grove" of giant redwood trees. We found ourselves having Alice in Wonderland flashbacks, we hadn't sampled from that bottle labelled "Drink Me", had we? The surreal, ancient giants towered over us, making us feel as insignificant as fleeting ants on the planet's surface.

Overwhelmed, we pushed on along the forest's rugged coastline, taking in the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway. We tried to spot the "Big Tree Wayside" landmark marked on our map, but with all the trees being enormous, it was hard to tell which one was the "big" one! We did encounter a weary group of researchers, gallantly trying to saw a slice from a fallen Giant, this was to be part of their research into global warming. After two hours of hard labour, they hadn't got half way through the fallen log!

Patrick identifies Phil's catch.

We pushed inland later that day, to escape the oppressive sea mist hanging over the coast. By mid afternoon Christine's head was pounding, we had climbed several hundred feet and the cool murky weather had been replaced with searing heat. It was time to seek out a campground with electricity to run our air conditioner. As the head pounded harder, the need became greater and in desperation, Phil turned into the next private campground he spotted, The Del Loma Campground.

As fate would have it, this campground was home to Patrick, the local Steelhead Trout Fishing Guide. It seemed Phil's steelhead fishing days maybe weren't as numbered as he'd assumed on leaving Oregon.

Christine took to her bed, meanwhile Phil picked Patrick's brain for information about the local fishing conditions, before heading to the adjacent Trinity river. A short while later he returned, excited, amazement on his face. "I think I just caught a steelhead, surely I can't have caught a steelhead already!" he muttered to himself whilst seeking out Patrick for confirmation. Indeed he had caught a large, native steelhead, a strong fighter. Finally it had been landed and on spotting the adipose fin, which identified it as a native wild fish, it was safely released again in accordance with the local fishing regulations. Fish bred in the hatchery have their adipose fin clipped off for identification purposes and these were the only ones which could be taken.

According to Patrick many of the campground's guests were there in search of their own steelhead, often staying for a couple of weeks, some never landing one.

It had to be beginner's luck, nevertheless, Phil enthused with a new passion for steelhead fishing, headed to the river again early the next morning. Here he was joined briefly by a rather curious black bear. Again, he hooked a steelhead, this one a hatchery bred fish. Now he was becoming blasé, this time we weren't treated to his ecstatic "steelhead dance" but did enjoy a tasty steelhead supper, which was shared with our Alaskan neighbours.

Incredulous of his luck, Patrick not only divulged to Phil his secret fishing hole, downstream of our campground but also lent him his car in which to get there, so he could leave his recuperating wife in peace. Here Phil struck out but back at camp that evening, another 5 lb hatchery steelhead was bagged. His luck still wasn't over, next morning he hooked another large fish but this wily trout managed to shake out the hook with a well timed leap. Serendipity had lead us to Del Loma but it had brought and end to Phil's run of being "skunked" by steelhead.

As we were in the neighbourhood, relatively speaking, we decided to make another attempt at visiting Lassan Volcanic National Park. In July we had been prevented in our attempt by lingering snow, hard as it was to believe. Now, in September, the road was open, at least until the snow began to fall again and we were able to enjoy the fabulous scenery on the drive by Lassen Peak, a mere 8512 feet high.

Harvey huffed and puffed his way over the summit and we arrived at the park's most active volcanic area, named Bumpass Hell. Hell was quite an appropriate description at the time of our visit, which coincided with that of around 60 schoolchildren on a field trip. We became entangled with their party somehow and passed the time on the hike down to the bubbling geysers counting the number of times we heard the words "like" and "awesome" during our trip!

Some old geyser lets off steam, oh and there's a volcano there too!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

On the south side of Lassen Park we returned to the NFS campground at Battle Creek, a fishing wonderland on our previous July visit. We were in for a disappointment though, not having taken into account the drop in water level (and fish population) over the hot summer. However the determined fisherman still managed to hunt out several small trout to keep him happy.

Somehow we stopped in the town of Quincy, actually it was to deal with a soy yoghurt crisis, when we spotted a wonderful health food store. They pointed us in the direction of the local fly shop, whose wonderful proprietor, Allan Bruzza, in turn headed us towards the campground at Sardine Lake, where there were trout to be caught. We arrived late Friday morning to find the campground almost full, it was a popular spot. We spent the weekend getting hot and bothered in our canoe catching the lake's resident trout, which proved pretty frustrating for a while.

A Hard Day's Fishing at Sardine Lake!

On Sunday we moved on past the tourist hub of Lake Tahoe. We couldn't bring ourselves to stop and join the madding throng, besides in the heavy traffic we were passing the sights slowly enough to take them all in. Big lakes are too intimidating for us in our little inflatable canoe in any case, so we tend to pass them by.

We had decided on a route which would take us back to the Eastern side of the Sierra mountains, of course we hadn't taken into account the fact that we'd be passing over Monitor Pass at 8314 feet. Normally this would be no big deal but Harvey had been huffing and puffing a lot lately, now he'd added a weird whirring noise from his back end and in addition we were painfully aware that his rear brakes were practically non-existent. We were just living in denial, hoping that he'd make it back to his favourite mechanic in San Diego, so at least we'd have somewhere to stay with our family there, whilst he got some much needed attention.

In any case he struggled slowly over the steep and winding Monitor Pass, before almost being assassinated when a bungling driver (he shall remain nameless) accidently slipped him from drive into reverse at 60 mph. Luckily those clever Japanese folks at Toyota must have built idiot proofing into their vehicle. Despite stalling in protest and rolling eventually to a halt, the brakes also having lost their power servo in the stall, Harvey gallantly started again and pushed on. To nurse him gently after his trauma, he dragged him back over the Sierras, towards Yosemite, over 9945 feet Tioga Pass. Relieved at reaching the top, we camped at the summit at Tioga Lake and spent a day enjoying very frustrating and fruitless fishing and worrying about Harvey's recent lacklustre performance. We just kept hoping that he'd make it to Doctor Dave's workshop in time. This niggling worry lessened our enthusiasm for Yosemite a little, as did the traffic chaos and teeming crowds of visitors. Had it been like this on our last visit in 1997? Perhaps we'd just become used to having beautiful spots to ourselves in the National Forest.

Harvey gets his breath back at Tioga Pass

Classic Yosemite view from the front of the crowd at the parking lot at Inspiration Point.

Our faith was restored a little and poor Harvey was subjected to yet another trial on our subsequent visit to Kings Canyon. Sequoia and Kings Canyon were both part of the same park, however the minuscule percentage of the visitors who made the left turn to visit Kings Canyon, meant it was still a peaceful haven. To reach the base of the canyon involved a 30 mile steep and winding drive down through gorgeous wilderness scenery. Not having realised that the drive was 30 miles one way, just to add to the stress of the drive, we weren't entirely convinced that we had enough fuel to make it back up but having, in our stupidity, reached the point of no return we were just left to wonder for the duration of our stay in the canyon. There was a gas station part way up, which may possibly be open on our return trip and which boasted ownership of the country's oldest gravity fed gas pumps, which didn't really reassure us much. This also seemed to be the only spot in the USA where petrol was sold in litres, presumably to keep the customers confused about the price! In any case Harvey did us proud and steamed boldly back up the hill without needing to be gravity fed.

If we make it down into the canyon......

......will we make it back up?

We made the most of the light traffic, enjoying a day of cycling the road along the canyon's fast flowing river in search of fishing spots. The return trip took us across an upstream bridge onto the opposite bank of the river. We had to take the long way home, due to the bridge being "out". The ranger's casual expression that "the bridge is out", made it seem that perhaps it had just popped to the shops and would be back soon. When you actually took in the extent of the construction works needed to rebuild the absent bridge and the resulting major detour, the description of the bridge as being "out" seemed a serious understatement. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to state that the bridge was "swept away in a raging torrent, forcing a team of men and heavy machinery to wind their way down the perilous canyon road for 30 miles each way, every day, as they struggled to rebuild it"!

View on the way into King's Canyon

Fish biking? Cycle angling?? Whatever..

We couldn't put it off indefinitely, eventually we had to make the return journey up the canyon. As it happened, it passed without event and we even made it to a source of cheaper petrol at the top. The kind folks at the Christian Camp on the Hume Lake, in the park, not only filled Harvey's tank but supplied us with ice cream.

We spent an unrewarding day trying to fish Hume lake in the baking sun but enjoyed the hike around the lake's shore.

Next day we rejoined the crowds in the Sequoia section of the park. At least here we enjoyed the free shuttle bus to take us between locations. We headed out to see the General Sherman Tree, apparently the world's largest tree by volume, although not particularly imposing to look at when surrounded by his many other enormous relatives. To escape the sightseers, we hiked off into the forest, which we had more or less to ourselves. Here despite the crowds not too far away and the nearby traffic noise, we encountered a black bear. He seemed unperturbed by our presence, of course we kept our distance allowing him to pass on his way barely paying us any attention. Strangely enough, despite the relative crowds in Sequoia park, we saw three black bears during our brief visit.

Sequoia Trees

Yikes! I'll just pretend I'm not here!

Half Girl half hobbit!

Back at camp, our neighbours seemed a little lost, so naturally we befriended them. It turned out they were one half of two couples visiting from the Czech republic. The other couple had headed to the nearest city of Fresno, to deal with some kind of work crisis back home. Now darkness was approaching, our new friends sat at their camp site, all their camping equipment in the back of the car in Fresno. With no means of contacting their friends, they just sat and hoped they would return.

Meanwhile we set them up with a loan of our gazebo tent (turned out they didn't actually have a tent between them anyway, so it was very welcome). We kept them hydrated and kept them company whilst they anxiously awaited the return of their friends. Sure enough their friends did return after dark, bearing raw pork steaks for dinner and serious amounts of liquor! It was already late, so we helped them cook their dinner on our camping stove to save them waiting for their fire to reach cooking temperature. In the meantime Phil also helped them reduce their liquor stores!

Our new friends from the Czech Republic

Next day Christine and a somewhat reluctant, bleary-eyed Phil set off between thunderstorms on the shuttle bus, in the hopes of taking another hike. The weather wasn't particularly conducive, very gusty winds and intermittent thunderstorms threatened our fun. As we strolled around the grounds of the Giant Forest Museum debating what we should do, we were startled by a large branch of giant sequoia crashing to the ground nearby. Our decision was made, we got back on the bus back to Harvey then drove southwards through the park until we reached a lower and very much hotter and sunnier location. In fact, the weather here was such a contrast that whilst Phil trying to catch the fish in the beautiful Kaweah River in the camp ground, Christine felt compelled to jump in the river to cool off and scare them all away!

Early next morning we were headed south to brave the traffic nightmare and smog of Los Angeles on our way to Diane and Graham's House in San Diego. Thank goodness for GPS!

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