Friday, June 28, 2013

Hospital Rock

Sequoia National Park

This is another worthy pit stop as you drive through Sequoia National Park.  I was baffled at how many people sped by without giving the sign even a glance, but then the name Hospital Rock is not only odd, but rather misleading.  Fortunately, we had done our homework and knew that the giant boulder was covered with Native American pictographs.  Native Americans settled in this area as early as the 14th century.  In my neck of the woods, so many of these ancient rock paintings are off limits, so it is always a thrill to be able to get up close to these beautiful, historic paintings.

I suppose the name adds another dimension to the site.  History, after all, is shaped by layers upon layers of stories passed down through time.  In 1873, a man named James Everton had the misfortune of stepping into a shotgun snare, set up for trapping bears.  He recovered from the gunshot wound under this rock.  Its been named Hospital Rock ever since.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tunnel Rock

Sequoia National Park

For those entering the park from the Three Rivers area, Tunnel Rock is often the next "official" stop after the visitor's center, located only 1.6 miles away.  The big boulder was crawling with tourists the day we were there, so it took awhile before my travel buddy got a photograph without a human being on top.  As I people watched, it suddenly occurred to me that I was hearing every language in the world except English.  German.    French.  Japanese.  People had crossed oceans to make their way to California and they would be taking a picture of Tunnel Rock home with them.

I confess, I had a "ho-hum" attitude about the rock.  I wish they hadn't re-routed the road to go around it, instead of underneath it, like the early days.  The old road is still there, and I could only imagine the thrill of driving beneath this massive boulder to make a grand entrance into the national park.  The Civilian Conservation Corps dug the tunnel underneath and then braced the dirt wall with rock, finishing the project in 1938.  It was yet another amazing engineering feat from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal era.  Our national parks are filled with such projects.

I left, thinking it was time to rename the thing.  Global Rock.  International Rock.  Friendship Rock.  Something along these lines.  The smiles, the chatter, the clicking of cameras, the brotherhood of tourists--this is what Tunnel Rock is all about.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mimi Among the Cedars

Sequoia National Park

We all go to Sequoia National Park to see the giants, but there are over 1,000 species of other plants in the park and many of them are trees, co-existing with their bigger and mightier sisters.  There are the gnarled blue oaks, ponderosa pines and white firs, all beautiful but dwarfed next to the sequoias.  For anyone who loves fashion, however, the paprika-red incense cedars, pictured above,  hold a special place in our lives.

Their fragrance is sweet and unmistakable.  Their bark is thick and fibrous, but more importantly, contains natural oils that are toxic to those pesky little moths which love to eat our cashmere sweaters and expensive silk blouses.  I keep chips of cedar in my closet and among the folds of my sweaters.  My travel buddy is building Mimi and me a storage unit in the garage for our ever-expanding wardrobe.  It's a beautiful cabinet all lined in cedar.

The sequoia may be my travel buddy's favorite tree, but for Mimi, it's the incense cedar.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Tree Named General Sherman

Sequoia National Park

"The General Sherman is my favorite tree in the whole world."

My travel buddy said this with total conviction.  Granted, this giant sequoia is magnificent, but how can someone claim to have a favorite tree?  There are many, many trees in the world.  We haven't even begun to see them all.  "What about the Hyperion?" I asked.


"The Methuselah?"  

"Nope.  This is it.  This is a manly tree."

He got that right.  To me, however, it's more than manly; it's a monster.  The tree belongs on a different planet--one the size of Saturn.  Or in a Tolkien novel.  How is it possible Mother Earth could create such a freak of nature?  By volume, it is the largest tree on the planet.  Its estimated age is 2,000 years old.  A sign at the base gives us a good description about its perspective:

Looking up at the General Sherman Tree for a six-foot-tall human is about the equivalent of a mouse looking up at the six-foot-tall human.

In January of 2006, a large branch broke off.  The branch's circumference was bigger than most tree trunks. Even with the loss of one of its limbs, the General Sherman did not lose its Claim to Fame.
We saw many other sequoias last week during our exploration of this wonderful park.  I will never tire of looking at these giants.  I am grateful that they are protected.  Even so, I am not yet willing to say that the sequoias are my favorite trees.  Ask me again in twenty years.   By then, I hope to have seen the cedars of Lebanon, baobabs and dragon trees, the giant Montezuma cypress in Mexico and the the great banyan in India.  Is bigger better?  I'm not sure.  I get teary-eyed when I see an aspen--its white bark and quaking green leaves glowing in the afternoon sun.   And what about those cherry blossoms in the Spring?

"The General Sherman is my favorite tree in the whole world."

I won't be able to agree with him until I've seen them all.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Climbing Moro Rock

Sequoia National Park

Something within me has changed.  The greater the anticipation, the greater is the anxiety that follows.  I had been looking forward to climbing Moro Rock in California's Sequoia National Park for weeks, but doubts plagued me the minute I saw the giant granite monolith framed in the windshield of our car.  Did I have the stamina to climb all 400 steps to the top?  What about heatstroke?  My acrophobia?  The strong winds?  The long line of climbers?  Would someone yell at me because I was going too slow?

I almost told my travel buddy I'd wait for him at the bottom, but I didn't.  I hid my fear and started to climb.

And climb.

And climb.
 I've also noticed that anxiety fades and then disappears completely once the act is being accomplished.  Once I started climbing, I realized there was nothing to fear.  The views of the park were breathtaking and there were many places to stop and rest along the way.  I had one of those "no place else I'd rather be" moments.

This incredibly engineered stairway was built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of FDR's New Deal.  Some steps are cut into the rock; others are poured on top.  When I reached the peak, I was 6,725 feet above sea level.  I stood above the mighty sequoias themselves!
I could see the ridge of peaks that form the Great Western Divide.  I could see the long windy road that we drove to get here.  I could see the entire park.  It is a panoramic view of intoxicating beauty.

I was on top of the world.

On the way back down I met a young woman, no more than twenty,  She looked at me and asked with gasping breath, "Is it worth it?"

I could tell she wanted me to say "no", but I didn't.  "It is absolutely worth it.  Listen, you've made it this far.  Don't you dare turn back now."

This brief encounter gave me a surge of energy.  I started to scramble down the rock like a mountain goat, but then I forced myself to slow down.  What was the hurry?  I needed to soak in the view and carry it with me forever.

  I tell you, this rock was nothing.  A piece of cake!  Mt. Kilimanjaro, here I come.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mimi Wears a Peacock

Mimi and I will be fighting over this top all summer.  She loves the floral background.  I, of course, adore the peacock--another bird print for my growing collection.

Happy First Day of Summer!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Paradise Cove Saloon

Favorite Pit Stops

"Want to go to Lake Isabella with me?" my travel buddy asked.

Oh, dear.  I knew it was coming.  He has gone to the lake every summer for the last thirteen years for its epic winds.  While he's out on the water windsurfing, I roam the local towns.  By now, I've covered most of the surrounding territory,

"How about trying out a new spot for a change?" I ask, hoping, hoping, hoping.

He gives me that look.   He's not going to budge.

"Tell you what.  I'll go to Lake Isabella with you if you take me to Paradise Cove for a prime rib dinner."  He smiles.  He knows he's won.   "And we drive up to King's Canyon," I quickly add.


Ah, the art of compromise.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Real Matterhorn

Zermatt, Switzerland
A Room with a View

Like most American kids, I grew up thinking the Matterhorn was a ride at Disneyland.  I discovered the truth somewhere in the Rockies during one of our family camping trips.   We were sitting around a camp fire one night talking about the mountain climbing classes my brothers were enrolled in.  One of them said, "I'd like to climb the Matterhorn some day."

What?  The Matterhorn is real?

My brothers didn't get there, but I did.  My travel buddy and I were in Milan several years ago and decided on a whim to take the train up to Brig and catch the cog railway into Zermatt, Switzerland.  Trust me.  Don't ignore those whims!  It was one of the most delightful two days of our lives.  For one thing, the view from our hotel window was stellar.  There it was--the most well-known, most beloved, most perfect mountain in the world.  A 14,000 foot pyramid in the sky.  The Matterhorn's peak has become an icon of Switzerland and as the Zermatt website states:  It "symbolizes the link between nature and culture, landscape and history."  I doubt if the writer intended Disneyland to be that cultural link, but I couldn't have worded it any better.  For a little girl who thought the Matterhorn was a roller coaster, this was an eye-opener.

We set out the next morning with a group of about twenty people.  Our goal was the base of the mountain.  It soon grew apparent that the Matterhorn was a lot farther than it looked!  One by one we kept losing fellow hikers to the charming little restaurants and pubs that lined the road.  By the time we made it, nearly six hours later, we were the last two standing!  We didn't make it back to town until 5 p.m.  Then we had that beer!

And let me tell you, I'll take the real Matterhorn over the roller coaster any day!