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Over, Under, Up, Down The next stop: Sequoia national park

On the third day of my visit to California, I was not where I expected to be. Thanks to wildfire, I was in Sequoia National Park, as opposed to Yosemite. It was on my later-in-the-trip plans. It was here, nonetheless, that I started to settle into things. The weather wasn't the best for photography, for much of the day. And I woke up a bit later than I had planned (as in, 5-ish; woke up more like 6:30-ish), due mainly to being worn out from all that driving the day before. I found that I wasn't quite acclimated either.

By the end of the day, however, I briefly debated whether I should stick around. I was unsure as to what post-Ferguson Fire conditions were like in Mammoth Lakes, my next scheduled stop, southeast of Yosemite's eastern entrance in the High Sierra. At the same time, I loved the rustic feel of Sequoia. It did not have the grand vistas of Kings Canyon, but it had its own way-out-in-the-woods charm, and lower-watt splendor.

Then there was the whole Enchanted Forest feel of the central core of the park, that just suddenly appeared after the steep and ridiculously curvy General Highway on the way up (a road that was also being practically rebuilt in sections--looked like the most precarious highway work ever, right there beside cliffs, for at least a mile or so). I half-expected cartoon bird to start flying around, and appearing on my shoulders. (It was about 20 degrees cooler up here than in the foothills as well, which made me love the forest more.)

I tried to capture the surprise of that, in some off-the-main-road photos. It wasn't really doable, unfortunately. Even so, I would get plenty of what I thought were dramatic shots nearby--mainly, around and then underground, in Crystal Cave specifically.

From the winding, narrow road to Crystal Cave, not far from Generals Highway

I read about this place in a guide book, and online, long before making it to the park, and decidedly quickly that I wanted to go. That may be a reflection of my wanting to go to New Mexico first, and thinking that I would make it to Carlsbad Caverns. Sequoia had a cave, though! It was also the first one I ever visited.

To get to it, you had to walk a half-mile down to a waterfall, then wait to get inside--as in, you had to walk through the Enchanted Forest and then wait to get into this cave.

Imagine being one of the people who discovered the place a bit less than a century ago. You're already freaking out over the waterfall way down here, and then comes the big swoosh of cold air from the cave.

A staffer outside the cave entrance was gracious and informed enough to tell me, after saying that I could only bring a camera and one lens, to not bring my wide-angle lens, since most of the pleasures of this cave would be small-scale. At the same time, I would want to take some wider views, so I wouldn't bring the macro/portrait lens either.

The light in Crystal Cave was of course artificial. It is pitch dark, normally. The minimal lighting made for some wild light patterns, but solid views of the stalagmites, stalactites, columns, rimstone formations and straws found across the cave.

rimstone formation (very small, no more than a couple of feet wide here)

I really didn't want to leave Crystal Cave so soon, after the 50 minutes of the family tour (the one available to me that morning) was over. I was the next to the last person out, I think. Then, in any case, came the hardest part: Climbing back up the trail, about 320 feet or so, all uphill. A few days later, I would walk up twice this elevation over the same distance, only this time on a rocky trail.

I made it, eventually, and then headed toward the Lodgepole Visitors Center, passing giant sequoias on the way. (Getting these to look even slightly non-fake via my Google Pixel phone, but with true-to-life colors showing, was impossible, since it uses multiple HDR, or high dynamic range, processing of several shots to make photos. Yeah, "no filter" people, your phone may be doing things like this. The iPhone has it by default. Anyway, I tried! Did well enough, I think.)

Generals Highway, Sequoia

At the Lodgepole center, I had an actual, or sort-of actual, meal, then headed out for a hike, past a long parking lot for the campground, then up to Tokopah Falls. This is a hike labeled as "easy" in most guides. Check this out, though. This is what I came across in the last fourth of the trail, which had me winded for a bit already. (I wasn't quite acclimated yet!)

Uh, where is the trail?

Curiously, despite the "easy" rating, I saw nothing remotely like this for the rest of my trip, not even in the High Sierra on routes rated "moderate" or higher. I had to wonder if there had been a rockfall in the past year or two. Even so, I kept my sense of humor, stayed calm and careful, and kept going. It was a beautiful trail, for the most part, which helped.

The payoff, in the end, was the falls. They were gigantic, about 1,200 feet high.

To the right, you can see a dude with a toy car. (Later, I would come across him on the trail back. The toy car, he told me, died. Rest in peace, remote-controlled toy car.)

Now, another view, this one a bit closer in, via my macro/portrait lens.

After that, I made my way back down. I briefly considered touring some of the sequoia areas nearby. It was getting toward 6 p.m., however, and I knew I had to get past the road work on the way down Generals Highway again. It was time to move on.

Goodbye Sequoia!

I had to stop and get a photo in the tiny village of Lemon Cove (population 191), however, on the way back to Visalia. (It should get the large format treatment, given that population.) I did some laundry that night, slept hard and long.

Next: Devils Postpile National Monument, Near Mammoth Lakes CA

Created By
Ray Mikell
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2018, Ray Mikell

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